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Posts Tagged ‘World War I’


I am proposing to run twice, possibly thrice, weekly walking tours of Folkestone next summer (May to September 2017).

There are many practical considerations, including health and safety, marketing and potential licensing, that need to be addressed in the opening weeks of the New Year, but the crucial issue is the integrity of the tour itinerary itself.

Below are my initial thoughts on what route to take, and the issues to highlight at each stop and during the walk itself.

Currently, I envisage the tour lasting no longer than two hours.

These are still early thoughts and are subject to change. Being still a relative newbie, there is a distinct possibility that I may have missed something. This is where long term residents of Folkestone and others who have, like myself, come to love the town, can help me in fine tuning the details. I would be extremely grateful for their input and support.

I intend to finalise this by the end of February, allowing two months to work up the detailed commentary and supporting material.

I am extremely grateful for your assistance in this. Don’t feel you need to be gentle with me!

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Start: By the Earth Peace sign in front of The Grand Hotel on The Leas

Stop 1: The Grand Hotel
a. outline of tour – duration – route – stops – toilets – refreshments – approach to questions
b. history of The Leas and Folkestone as a holiday destination – English & French coast highlights
c. history of The Grand, including rivalry with The Metropole & links to royalty

d. introduction to Folkestone Triennial & Folkestone Artworks, specifically Earth Peace (Yoko Ono)

Walk 1: Along The Leas, passing the View Hotel, Ruth Ewan (clock) and Mark Ballinger’s (Folk Stones) artworks & talking benches

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Stop 2: Leas Cliff Hall 
a. history – construction – programme
b. William Harvey statue

Walk 2: Along The Leas passing the Leas Pavilion Theatre and the Leas Lift

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Stop 3: Step Short Arch
a. Folkestone’s role in war
b. construction
c. War Memorial
d. poppies

Walk 3: Down the Road of Remembrance

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Stop 4: Harbour Station / Harbour Arm entrance
a. role of trains bringing soldiers/holidaymakers
b. history of ferry / hovercraft services
c. Hamish Fulton’s metal sign
d. Grand Burstin Hotel
e. regeneration plans

Walk 4: Along the Harbour Arm, taking in views of the Harbour 

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Stop 5: Lighthouse on Harbour Arm

a. history
b. Weather is a Third to Place and Time artwork
c. Champagne Bar

Walk 5: Back along Harbour Arm and towards Harbour

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Stop 6: Harbour
a. fish market
b. history of fishing c/f activity today
c. seafood stalls
d. Rocksalt

Walk 6: Along The Stade to Sunny Sands

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Stop 7: Sunny Sands
a. beach & Coronation Parade
b. views to France, Harbour Arm, East Cliff, Dover Strait, the Warren & Samphire Hoe
c. Folkestone Mermaid (Cornelia Parker)

Walk 7: Back along The Stade and across to Creative Quarter entrance


Stop 8: The Old High Street
a. history
b. role of Creative Quarter
c. Quarterhouse

Walk 8: Up the Old High Street and onto The Bayle, highlighting galleries, restaurants and coffee shops

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Stop 9: The Bayle
a. history
b. Parade Steps
c. Shangri-La
d. British Lion
e. pond – child’s mitten (Tracey Emin)

Walk 9: Around The Bayle into Church Street

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Stop 10: Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe
a. history of christianity in Folkestone
b. life & sainthood of St Eanswythe

Walk 10: Through churchyard and along The Leas towards the Leas Lift

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Stop 11: Leas Lift
a. history – construction – importance
b. take lift down to Marine Parade

Walk 11: Along Marine Parade to entrance of Lower Leas Coastal Park


Stop 12: Lower Leas Coastal Park
a. background, construction & awards
b. Fun Zone
c. Amphitheatre
d. Adam Chodzko’s Pyramid

Walk 12: Through Lower Leas Coastal Park to beginning of Zigzag Path

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Stop 13: Zigzag Path
a. history

Walk 13: Up the Zigzag Path and along The Leas to The Grand Hotel

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Stop 14: The Grand Hotel
Finish by the Earth Peace sign in front of The Grand Hotel on The Leas

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A fanciful proposition?

Maybe.

Probably.

After all, there are no breathtaking bridges (unless you count the Foord Road railway viaduct), no crippling hills (no, not even the Old High Street), no $40 million properties (how much IS the Grand worth?) and no former high security prisons once claimed for Indian land sitting off the shore in Kent’s garden resort.

But, having spent a lot of time in San Francisco over the past twenty years, and written extensively about it in the past five years, I believe there are enough similarities to entitle me to suggest that it has more in common with my childhood playground, and now home, of Folkestone than one might at first think. The only differences are ones of scale and international repute.

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Before I plunge into this pool of fantasy, a brief disclaimer.

The only photographs included in this piece are those of Folkestone – for a variety of reasons: 1) Many people will already be familiar with some of the sights I refer to in San Francisco; 2) If they don’t, there are probably millions of images and billions of words on the internet to fill them in, and 3) I have posted hundreds of images elsewhere on this blog and I’d be delighted if you were inspired to go hunting for them!

Back to the proposition.

Firstly, they are both marine ports with world famous stretches of water/land on their doorstep (the Golden Gate and the White Cliffs of Dover) as well as glorious bay/sea views in all directions and weathers.

The boats in Folkestone’s pretty harbour hardly match up to the million dollar vessels you will find docked in Sausalito or Tiburon across San Francisco Bay. But the scene has a timeless charm that is endlessly captivating, whether at high or low tide.

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Both places teeter on the edge of their nation. Folkestone, with its proximity to mainland Europe, cemented by the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, has long vied with neighbouring Dover for the title of “Gateway to England” (personally, I think it’s a draw), while San Francisco is on the seismically challenged tip of a vast continent.

And because of that position, they have both served as major embarcation points for their nation’s military in time of war. In the 1914-18 conflict, it is estimated that as many as eight million soldiers marched down Folkestone’s Road of Remembrance to the Harbour Station en route to the fields of Flanders and France, while in the Second World War, more than a million and a half soldiers left for the Pacific conflict from San Francisco and its neighbour on the other side of the Bay Bridge, Oakland.

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“The City” (as (we) San Franciscans call it) is consistently placed high (invariably first) on culinary surveys. The Foodie Capital of the U.S.A is no idle boast. Folkestone may not have attained that elevated status (for a start it’s not in the U.S.A. but you know what I mean), but a number of fine cafes and restaurants have sprouted in the town in recent years, a visible and tasty manifestation of the regeneration, courtesy in no small part to the beneficence of Sir Roger de Haan.

Rocksalt, the seafood restaurant perched alongside the small railway bridge that separates the inner from outer harbour, has recently been named the thirtieth best in the U.K and Googies has been adjudged Restaurant of the Year in the 2016 Taste of Kent Awards.

There are a number of other quality restaurants (Copper and Spices, Blooms @1/4 and Follies are personal favourites), both in the town and dotted along the recently reopened Harbour Arm, capped by the lovely Champagne Bar at the foot of the lighthouse.

And one can’t forget, this being a seaside resort, that there are many establishments serving up fish and chips (not forgetting the mushy peas, white bread and butter and mug of tea).

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Coffee culture is strong too – many shops provide coffee and cake in addition to their primary products – and there is a distinct hipster vibe about Folkestone that mirrors – on a smaller scale of course – the atmosphere in neighbourhoods like the Mission, Cole Valley and Potrero Hill on the “left coast” of America.

Any self-respecting coastal resort would not be complete without its harbourside seafood stalls selling freshly caught crab and lobster as well as cockles, whelks and prawns. Bob’s, Chummy’s and La’s are all well established and popular purveyors of the denizens of the sea. A Fisherman’s Wharf in miniature you might argue.

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Home to Jack London and Dashiel Hammett, the Beat poets and the Summer of Love, inspiration for the WPA and Mission muralists, San Francisco has always had a reputation for being a town for artists, writers and musicians. After all, it provides a gorgeous natural canvas upon which to create. However, one of the consequences of astronomical rents in recent years has been to drive many artists out of the city.

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In contrast, Folkestone’s star as an arts venue of international repute is rising. Every three years – the next is in 2017 – it becomes host to a prestigious arts festival (Triennial), where artists are permitted free rein about town to create public artworks (there are already twenty seven pieces on display by luminaries like Yoko Ono and Tracey Emin).

This is the most high profile manifestation of a burgeoning arts scene centred on the Creative Quarter where galleries and performance space adorn the once run down Old High Street and Tontine Street. Indeed, it is the arts that has been the fulcrum of the regeneration that has become the envy of other coastal resorts around the UK (which, admittedly, have not had the benefit of a sugar daddy like de Haan.

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The City by the Bay is renowned for its year round cavalcade of neighbourhood and city wide festivals and fairs celebrating its cherished devotion to diversity, including Pride, the Haight Ashbury Street Fair, North Beach Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Folsom Street Fair.

In contrast, Folkestone’s admittedly more modest, but nonetheless impressive, calendar of annual events, notably Charivari, the Harbour Festival, Leas Village Fete, Armed Forces DaySkabour and the Folkestone Book Festival among many others.

I cannot resist including a pet (not literally) subject of mine – gulls.

Both places boast a feisty, ravenous population, hardly surprising given their coastal position, but these, reflecting their human compatriots in each town, are genuine “characters”. The giant seagull artwork, now serving on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm as an unconventional tourist information kiosk, has become an unofficial poster boy (or is that gull?) for the town. But generally, so far, I’ve found the local birdlife noisy but reasonably friendly, especially when I cross Radnor Park of a morning when they waddle up to greet me (but don’t let me get too close).

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The same cannot be said for those that begin to circle San Francisco’s (base) ball park during the late innings of a Giants game in anticipation of feasting on leftover garlic fries. Fans remaining until the end of evening games have to have their wits about them.

There is one aspect of San Francisco life that I would not want to see replicated in Folkestone. San Francisco rents and the broader cost of living are the highest in the States, due largely to the influx of tech workers from Google, Facebook and Oracle to name but a few.

Now, the Alkham Valley doesn’t have quite the same cudos as Silicon Valley (pretty as it is – Alkham not Silicon), but there are other forces at play – improved accessibility to London through the high speed rail link, continued development and gentrification and relatively cheap house prices (for now) – that increase the risk of Folkestone becoming a town split between affluent “transplants” and residents who cannot afford to live in the place they were born and brought up in.

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There is a more substantial analysis called for here, and I may attempt it in due course. Moreover, there are other issues I might have explored – dogs and drinking spring to mind (that’s not about the bowls left outside the Leas Cliff Hall for the delectation of our canine colleagues but rather two very distinct subjects).

But, for now, there is certainly one further similarity between the two places that I must mention – I left my heart in both, in Folkestone as a ten year old gleefully gambolling (not gambling) in the rotunda and in 1995 on a fateful West Coast tour of the U.S.A.

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A clear, crisp November morning in Northern France has given way to a chill pall of fog and drizzle.  A young, slim French mother guides her three, maybe four, year old daughter around a muddy field full of stone and flowers.  They hold hands, but, occasionally, the small girl cannot contain her curiosity and runs to a rosebush that catches her eye.

This is no family Sunday morning stroll, however.  It is Remembrance Day and they are walking among the 2,681 burials of the men from the UK and Commonwealth, slain during the Great War of nearly a century ago.  A large white memorial, which forms the entrance point for the cemetery, commemorates on its walls 34,785 forces of the UK, South Africa and New Zealand, with no known grave, who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and August 1918, many of whom killed in the Battle of Arras during April and May 1917.

The Arras Memorial and Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery is the first world war battlefield that I have visited, despite passing dozens over the years and, each time, blithely proclaiming that “we must visit” some one day.  Well, that day has arrived.  But, even then, this two mile pilgrimage from the centre of Arras on a morning more suited to the month of November than any others have been so far this year, was not planned.  The weekend away with friends had been booked four months ago and the timing determined purely on our respective availabilities.  It is only in recent days that I have felt drawn towards the location at which Siegfried Sassoon placed Harry and Jack in his poem called The General, of which more later.

Aside from the nationalities I have already referred to, there is a separate plot for 17 Germans. That might be understandable, but then there is one, Max Klemt, who died on 15th February 1917 (his age is not known), who is placed in the middle of row upon row of the British fallen.  There are so many unanswered questions and forgotten stories in this place.

Each stone provides the information, where known, about the name, rank, regiment and date of death of the individual.  The most telling fact, however, is age.  Whilst there are a number of men who died in their thirties, even forties, the large majority were untimely ripped from the world between the ages of 18 and 25.  I am moved especially by one group of stones, placed closer together than any others in the cemetery, that hold the graves of five privates in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, none of whom lived past 24.  Another comrade, equally mysteriously, stands a little apart from the others. They must have been as close friends in life as they are physically close in death.

I scour the walls of the memorial for sight of my family name in vain.  I have no reason to believe that I would have come across it, and am thankful in a sense that I have not – I would hope to have prepared myself first.  But then again I am desperately disappointed.  This place plays havoc with your emotions.

Although I am haunted by the names and especially ages of those laid out before me in neat rows in this sodden field that tests the impermeability of my new boots, Harry and Jack in that Sassoon poem seem more real, and their fate captures my overriding emotion, not of worthless grief, though that is strong enough, but of anger and contempt for the politicians and officers that bullied and hoodwinked such men to their early deaths:

“Good morning, good morning” the General said

when we met last week on our way to the line.

Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,

and we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.

“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack

as they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

I suddenly remember the mother and daughter and look around for them.  But they have slipped away.  I ponder what their story might have been.  Were they, perhaps, the descendants of a teenage “tommy” and a local girl? I cannot think what other reason might have brought them to this grim, dank scene this morning. I hope that they have returned to a warm, welcoming home, an ordinary, everyday event that we take for granted but which was snatched from those young men with whom we have shared this space over the past hour.

But I have stayed here, at least for today, long enough.  Having had no breakfast, the call of lunch is insistent.  And we have a 70 mile drive back to the shuttle terminal this afternoon before returning to our lives of comfort and plenty.

Already, my thoughts turn to my next visit to one of the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium. We will certainly not pass one by so casually in the future.

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