Dover is a place where most people have been, but only to get on or off a cross-channel ferry, and have rarely stopped to look around. At first sight the town is unprepossessing, but it really is worth a closer look. The Dickens connections are strong, and bring to life an older, affluent, and imposing Dover.
Dickens first came here as part of a theatrical troupe in the 1830s. From 1844, when the railway arrived, he used it frequently when crossing to Boulogne where his sons were at boarding school, and in the 1850s and 60s spent long periods here. In 1852 he wrote of it, ‘the sea is very fine, and the walks are quite remarkable’.
This Dover town trail is one of 17 walks described fully in my new guidebook, Walking Charles Dickens’ Kent. You can get a copy here and get a full guide to the walk, and details of all the locations on the map above.
For a GPX file of this route you can download and follow on your phone, go here: https://www.plotaroute.com/route/1713227
Dover features in A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, and Dickens also wrote a good deal of Bleak House, Little Dorrit and The Uncommercial Traveller here. A Tale of Two Cities contains an atmospheric description of Dover:
‘The little narrow, crooked town of Dover hid itself away from the beach, and ran its head into the chalk cliffs, like a marine ostrich. The beach was a desert of heaps of sea and stones tumbling wildly about, and the sea did what it liked, and what it liked was destruction. It thundered at the town and thundered at the cliffs, and brought the coast down madly.’
It is to Dover, and his Aunt Betsey Trotwood, that David Copperfield flees after his mother dies and his stepfather puts him to work in a London bottling factory.
Although the model for Betsy Trotwood – and her home – were actually in Broadstairs, and covered in Walk 11, the house’s actual location is in Dover. By the time he wrote David Copperfield, in 1848-9, Dickens was falling out of love with Broadstairs, his holiday home from 1837-51, and chose to set significant segments of the novel in his new favourite place.