In an excerpt from her book Walks For Each Season, Julia Smith leads us on a hike along the coast and hinterlands of Folkestone — a seaside town that's easily reachable from London.
BEST TIME: June to August.
LENGTH & DIFFICULTY: 9.5 miles (15km); moderate, one strenuous climb with stairs and a couple of other steep ups and downs. Small boulders have to be crossed on one beach. No stiles.
APPROXIMATE TIME: 4-5 hours.
TRAINS: St Pancras to Folkestone Central (once an hour; 53 minutes), Charing Cross to Folkestone Central, one change usually needed (twice an hour; 1 hour 30 minutes). Buy a day return to Folkestone Central.
FOOD & DRINK: Around 1.8 miles (3km) into the walk, lots of places to eat along the harbour arm.
PICNIC: Plenty of benches, walls and grassy banks throughout the route.
TOILETS: Folkestone station, Sunny Sands Beach and on the green on the return leg.
After walking along the seafront the route leads you out into the countryside, along a wilder beach and culminates in a clifftop stroll with sea views across to France.
The impressive Folkestone Triennial is held every three years in the summer and pieces from the town's growing public art collection crop up along the walk. Look out for: the Folkestone Mermaid by Cornelia Parker, pink houses in unexpected places, a huge upside down jelly mould and an enormous clifftop horn.
The day begins with a walk through Folkestone to the sea. As you near the front, the streets are filled with bright seaside light. The Leas along the clifftop, designed in the mid-1800s, has a wide strip of manicured lawn and promenade, an iron bandstand and neat flowerbeds full of slightly garish bedding plants, reminding me of childhood holidays spent along the south coast in the 1960s.
To reach the beach you descend the listed Zig Zag Path, with secret grottos and seats set in its artificial rock face. Blue and white pottery shards can be found in the Pulhamite, the cement made from waste material and used by unemployed men to build the path in the 1920s.
The award-winning Lower Leas Coastal Park fills the thin strip of landslip below. To the right a series of play areas hide among the trees. To the left a more formal section ends in contemporary flowerbeds. Three inviting pebble coves, ideal for swimming, lie in front of the coastal park.
A long boardwalk, made of railway sleepers, leads you across a wide shingle beach to the old harbour arm, now buzzing with bars and restaurants. The station, which once serviced Sealink ferries, has been brought back from dereliction and cleverly transformed into a public space. A footpath filled with wildflowers runs down the middle and leads you over the old railway viaduct with views of the quaint harbour below, still home to a fleet of small fishing boats.
Before leaving Folkestone, you walk around Sunny Sands, a large, flat expanse of bucket and spade beach, hidden at high tide. A climb up to the Martello Tower rewards with fine views of East Wear Bay and its long band of chalk cliffs, the North Downs falling into the sea. These forts were built in the 19th century along the south coast as a defence against Napoleonic invasion. Folkestone's best-kept secret are the ammonites, fossilised shark teeth, shells and belemnites found in the unspoilt cove below. The top finds are to be had around the headland at Copt Point, back towards Folkestone, but you can still discover fossils here among the rocks. Pick up the small black pieces of rock among the boulders and you are certain to find a fossilised shell and probably more.
The walk along the concrete sea defences of East Wear Bay is not the most beautiful, but it delivers a good dose of sea and feels remote. An unexpected, enchanting wood, lush with glossy hart's-tongue ferns and fairytale steps leads you to the clifftop and a cafe with views. Then it's along the clifftop with uninterrupted views across to France and back into Folkestone.
1. Outside the station turn right and walk to the end of Station Road. Turn right, pass under a railway bridge and follow the road round. Cross over Kingsnorth Gardens and keep going.
2. At the roundabout keep walking and just after the roundabout turn left to cross the road (signposted to the Leas). Turn left and then right down Castle Hill Avenue. Make your way to the middle of the avenue and turn right along the tree-lined path.
3. In about 350m, when you reach a small roundabout, cross the road on the right to walk along Augusta Gardens. At the Kent Police building turn left along Trinity Gardens (still named Augusta Gardens on a street sign on the left). Cross Sandgate Road and continue straight ahead to the end of Clifton Road.
4. Cross the grass and turn left along the clifftop promenade. At the bandstand turn right and then left to descend the Zig Zag Path to the Lower Leas Coastal Park. At the bottom, continue ahead to
the main path. Here you have two options.
5. To enjoy the flowerbeds, turn left and walk almost to the very end of the park, then turn right under an arched bridge and turn left along the seafront promenade and continue along the boardwalk.
6. Alternatively, to reach the shingle coves ideal for swimming, find one of several paths ahead leading to the promenade. As above, then turn left along the promenade and continue along the boardwalk.
7. Follow the boardwalk across the shingle beach until it ends at the harbour arm. To explore the harbour arm turn right and walk to the end of the higher section. At the lighthouse, descend the steps and walk back along the lower section. Otherwise turn left along the renovated station platform and then over the railway viaduct, with harbours on your left and right.
8. Near the end of the viaduct, descend the steps on your left, walk ahead and turn right under the arches along Fish Market. Continue ahead until the harbour finishes and bear left to join the promenade circling Sunny Sands (the beach is covered at high tide). Walk around the beach almost to the end of the promenade and climb the stairs.
9. At the top, walk up the grass bank and turn right along the green next to the cliff.
10. When you come to the end of the grass continue along the tarmac path. Near the end of the path, turn left following the sign for the English coast path and keep to the right of the golf course.
11. Walk to the right of the Lookout Station and down to the corner of the tennis courts. Cross a gravel track and take the footpath on the right, leaving the coastal path. When the path forks, take the right fork, which leads down to a small bay, where you can find black fossils among the rocks.
12. Turn left along the beach and at the end climb onto the concrete sea defence. Continue for about 0.7 miles (1.2km) along the concrete promenade. First the concrete is just a promenade, later it widens to the size of a football pitch. It then narrows again, this time with a lower level to the right. The path then dips and joins another football-pitch sized area.
13. About 100m from the end of this large area, turn left up a wide gravel track which almost doubles back, with a footpath sign pointing left to Four Seasons Nature Trail (the sign was broken the last time I visited), having ignored an earlier similar turning where the same signpost points to the right.
14. After around 50m climb the stairs on the right up the bank. This path will take you to a footbridge over the railway. Once over, turn left along the path, which will eventually lead you into a wood. Well into the woods the path forks; take the right fork and continue along this footpath as it winds up to the clifftop.
15. After passing the cafe at the top, continue along the coastal footpath (in front of the car park). Later you pass a series of back gardens. When you come to a concrete drive, turn left and then right as you pick up the coastal path again.
16. After around 200m you come to a large grass area and the Battle of Britain memorial. Pick up the coastal path again on the other side. In another 400m at a three-way footpath marker and a Warren information board turn left downhill.
17. The path ends at a Martello Tower. Turn right along a road. Before the green on the left begins, go through a gap in the fence on your left, signposted Coastal Path. Make your way across the large green, aiming for the far left corner and walk up to the Martello Tower. From there retrace your steps to the station.
18. In more detail: drop down to the path and turn right until you meet the steps, which take you down to Sunny Sands. Follow the promenade round to the harbour. Go under the arches, and up the stairs on the left, which take you up to the viaduct.
19. Pick up the boardwalk on the right after you have walked through the station. When you reach Lower Leas Park, walk along the promenade. In the middle of the second cove, turn right up steps between beach huts. Turn left and aim for the path in front of the columns. After the columns turn right and follow the path until you reach Zig Zag Path, which you climb to reach the top.
20. At the top, this time turn right along the Leas and then first left along Clifton Gardens. After the first roundabout the road becomes Castle Hill Avenue. Continue ahead across two more roundabouts.
21. At the second follow Cheriton Road half-right ahead, and after you’ve passed under the railway arch, turn left up Station Approach Road.
Walks for Each Season: 26 great days out in the Countryside near London by Julia Smith is available to buy now, RRP £14.99.
All images from the book, unless otherwise stated.