Walk 16: Dover to Folkestone and Folkestone town trail

Map: Emily Duong

Dickens wrote that the cliff-top walk from Dover to Folkestone was ‘lovely and striking in the highest degree’, running as it does over ‘a chain of grass-covered hills of considerable elevation [which] are enchantingly fresh and free.’

I follow that route in my new guidebook, Walking Charles Dickens’ Kent, which features 17 itineraries in the county. You can buy the book from any bookshop, or from Amazon and read more about this and the other routes at my website www.andybull.co.uk/dickenswalks.

To download a GPS file of the full route, which you can follow on your phone, go here: https://www.plotaroute.com/route/1728728

Dickens wrote to friend and collaborator Wilkie Collins of how, jokingly referring to himself in the third person, he ‘had taken to expend his superfluous vitality in a swarming up the face of a gigantic and precipitous cliff in a lonely spot overhanging the wild sea-beach. He may generally be seen (in clear weather) from the British Channel, suspended in mid-air with his trousers very much torn, at fifty minutes past 3pm.’ Elsewhere Dickens wrote of the great energy such walks gave him: ‘daily on the neighbouring downs and grassy hill-sides, I find that I can still in reason walk any distance, jump over anything, and climb up anywhere’.

This walk is a stupendous one, climbing hard out of Dover and then following the roller-coaster rise and fall of the downs, and hugging the cliff-top all the way to Folkestone.

Folkestone was one of Dickens’ regular holiday resorts after 1851, when the old favourite of Broadstairs became too noisy. In 1853 he stayed at the Pavilion Hotel while writing A Child’s History of England, and returned in 1855, renting a cliff-top villa. As well as these long stays he made many shorter visits to the town. His sons were at boarding school at Boulogne, and it was easy to visit them from here. They joined him in Folkestone during their summer holidays. From 1862 Dickens used Folkestone as a base to visit his mistress Ellen Ternan, who was banished to France at that time so as not to tarnish his reputation. Some accounts suggest she conceived a child, which did not live, while he visited her there.

Dickens wrote about Folkestone in an essay called Out of Town, published in Household Words, in which he gave it the name Pavilionstone, after the town’s Pavilion Hotel. Folkestone had been transformed, in the decade before Dickens started holidaying here, from a little fishing village into a major port. The railway arrived in 1843, and the steamer service to France began a year later.