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Image for Celebrating Our East Kent Coast

Article by Neill Barston | 15th June 2019

Celebrating Our East Kent Coast

From East Kent’s reinvented lighthouses and harbour arms, to Cinque ports and the multi-million regeneration of Folkestone Harbour, seafront and town, we journey through history from the defence of the nation to a charming and quirky coastline.

With East Kent’s renowned beaches claiming a clutch of awards for their quality, including seven coveted Blue Flag honours, the area is perfectly primed for the vital summer tourism season. The history of our corner of the county has long been closely associated with the sea, so it is no surprise that it continues to play a key part in the area’s fortunes. This is underlined by research that has placed the value of tourism to the county at £3.8 billion a year, with more than 65 million annual visitors to the county.

However, as a recent House of Lords report highlights, there remains a concerning lack of government-led investment in our coastal areas. This seems unlikely to change with the advent of Brexit – in which more outlying areas had received added support for economic development from the EU. Yet our pending political departure may just have given our coastal communities a boost, as many families plan more local UK holidays this year.

Consequently, traditional East Kent seaside destinations, such as Folkestone, could stand to benefit from the situation and have long welcomed tourists.

Fashionable Folkestone

Like many towns of its size, during the late Victorian period from the 1880’s it developed its pleasure pier, theatre and bathing facilities that saw it rise as a fashionable resort in an age before cheap overseas package holidays. Visitors of a very different kind were welcomed en masse during the First World War, when the town hosted a total of 65,000 refugees escaping the conflict.

Fast forwarding into the 20th century, the town, much like other seaside communities in Kent, experienced decline as such resorts fell out of favour. But there has been significant regeneration of the area through investment from business entrepreneur Roger De Haan over the past decade into reviving its old quarter, as well as the town’s harbour area.

While the Victorian train line no longer operates to the waterside, its platforms have been revived to their former glory and a series of boutique stores, eateries and even rather ingeniously a champagne bar has emerged from the harbour arm’s lighthouse. The extensive quayside area now hosts regular live music events that have reinvigorated a once tired and derelict spot.

Such innovative reinvention will be required to meet the challenges faced in other areas, including the high street, given the recent announcement that Debenhams is closing its Kent outlets including its large store in Folkestone. However, the council is already looking to put a plan of action into place at the earliest opportunity.

The town can perhaps take inspiration from nearby Thanet, with Margate’s seafront experiencing considerable regeneration following the revival of the famed Dreamland amusement park and delivery of Turner Contemporary, which has attracted an international audience.

A council spokesperson said: “Our regeneration plans will show how the town centre can continue to thrive and accommodate changes in shopping behaviour. In particular, we will demonstrate how new uses can make Folkestone an even more attractive and vibrant place to shop, visit, work and live.”

Engineering Feat

Beyond the economic regeneration of our area, one of the most pressing issues down the generations has been the defence of our coastal locations. This is demonstrated very visibly just along from Folkestone, with the Royal Military Canal, between Seabrook and Cliff End near Hastings. This was completed in 1808 against the very real threat of invasion of Napoleon’s forces massing on the French coast. Thankfully, the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 ensured that those plans were never enacted, but the canal was completed at considerable expense.

Today the area, which is maintained by the Environment Agency as a drainage control facility for the Romney Marsh, has become highly valued for its walks and as a site of special scientific interest, attracting a wide range of wildlife.

Meanwhile, on the north coast of Kent, Faversham is equally proud of its maritime heritage, known as the market town of Kings, having been in the possession of the monarchy for much of its early history. The town is reported to have more than 300 listed buildings. Once a bustling route for traders, the creekside area is now undergoing its own regeneration process, with plans under consideration for its future usage. A number of small businesses have set up by the riverside, and the harbourmaster’s house has been refurbished as part of ongoing works in the area. The creek’s management plan was given the blessing of residents in 2017, and includes a mixture of housing, business facilities and improved access.

Residents, who had contributed £125,000 in a campaign for a swing bridge that would revive the silted-up back area of the creek for maritime activities, are still waiting after four years for Kent County Council to deliver on its pledge to enact this key element of the plan.

Further along the coast lies Reculver, which itself has plenty of its own intriguing history. Notably, the site reveals the remnants of an old Roman Saxon shore fort, devised to hold native tribes at bay from coastal attack, which was abandoned around the 5th century. The location later became renowned as a Saxon monastery, with St Mary’s Church being built near the former fort, and it was later remodelled in the 12th century.

The church was partially demolished in 1805, but its distinctive twin towers were saved and to this day act as a strong maritime navigational aid.

The area is also particularly renowned as the stretch of coast used in 1943 as a test sight for bouncing bombs that would be used by a British “Dambuster” RAF squadron against dams in the strategically significant German Ruhr valley.

In Our Defence

But perhaps East Kent’s most striking military jewel remains the stunning Dover Castle (pictured above) and its imposing 12th century keep, built under the reign of King Henry II. The site is said to have been of strategic importance since at least the Iron Age period, and it was used by Romans, who placed structures including a lighthouse on the site in
the 2nd century, which remarkably still survives.

Furthermore, the site has become equally noted for the wartime tunnels built into the cliffs – originally dating from Napoleonic times. These were re-used during the Second World War as a strategic operations command centre and military hospital, which saw Prime Minister Winston Churchill visit senior military staff on a number of occasions.

Holiday Hires To Inspire

East Kent’s superb beaches have often inspired some equally fine seaside accommodation and properties for holiday hires. Among the most intriguing is the Beach Sun Retreat at Dymchurch, a seven-bedroom seafront residence that sleeps up to 13 people, has a private sandy beach access, 3D cinema room, and themed bedrooms that span everything from a surfing safari, through to a “timetraveller bedroom” which offers something for everyone. Visit beachsunretreat.com

• Another gem in the landscape is El Ray in Dungeness, which has transformed an old 19th century railway carriage in a distinctly contemporary styling for a very alternative holiday getaway. It sits close to the Dungeness Nature Reserve, and has easy access to the nearby old lighthouse and Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway, for the ultimate nostalgic getaway. Visit coolstays.com

• Meanwhile, a little inland from the coast, the Fishing Shack at High Halden, offers another quirky retreat for those looking for something out of the ordinary for their accommodation. Visit brickhousefarm.com

Image © Claire Noble [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

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