Spotlight on: Dover and St Margaret’s
- Credit: Archant
It’s best known as the place you drive through to board a cross-Channel ferry, but we invite you to stop a while and explore everything this fascinating and beautiful area has to offer
1 Dover Castle
The largest castle in England, Dover Castle has played a vital role in protecting our shores since the 12th century, but it’s the part it played during the Second World War that make this ancient structure stand out from the others. Thanks to its unique position overlooking the Channel, the old castle became an operation command centre and underground hospital.
The deep tunnels beneath the castle offered the perfect location and cover to run Operation Dynamo and pull off one of history’s most audacious rescue missions.
2 The White Cliffs
A well-loved symbol of Britain and stretching from Kingsdown for eight miles to Dover and a further eight miles on to Folkestone, thousands of tourists walk the majestic white cliffs each year for the scenery and the wildlife. There is a coastal path along the top and the best views of the cliffs themselves are probably from St Margaret’s Bay. You’ll also be passing through an important habitat of chalk grassland which is home to rare plants and insects, www.whitecliffsofdover.co.uk.
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3 The Pines Garden
Part of the wider St Margaret’s-At-Cliffe village, Pines Gardens was founded by a businessman interested in teaching children about the environment; that ethos continues today. Opened to the public in the early 1970s, the gardens feature a lake and waterfall, a grass labyrinth, an organic kitchen garden, as well as a sustainability trail for children. There is also an excellent tea room, and a museum with a changing programme of displays on the environment and local area, www.pinesgarden.co.uk.
4 To the Lighthouse
The South Foreland Lighthouse in St Margaret’s Bay was the first to use electric lighting to warn mariners about the dangerous Goodwin Sands. Built in the 1840s, it was used by Marconi during his experiments with radio waves, receiving the first ever ship-to-shore message and the first international transmission in 1899.
As well as a tour showing you what life would have been like for the lighthouse keepers and the chance to see the old clockwork mechanism that made the light flash, you can also enjoy a cup of tea in Mrs Knott’s Tearoom. Climb to the top on a clear day and you’ll see across to France. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk.
5 Dover Museum Dover Museum is one of the oldest in Kent, founded in 1836, and now housed in a modern three-storey building behind its original Victorian facade. Among its more recent additions is a gallery telling the story of the excavation and preservation of Dover’s Bronze Age boat. Displayed in a climate-controlled glass case the boat, discovered locally in 1992, is thought to be 3,000 years old, making it the oldest-known seafaring boat, www.dovermuseum.co.uk.
6 Dover Sea Safari
Leaving from Dover Marina and expertly navigated through the busiest passenger ferry port in the world, Dover Sea Safari’s Dover Explorer is a purpose-built 10.5 metre speedboat that whisks passengers away on adventures.
Head out for a picnic on Goodwin Sands, take in the other-worldly Maunsell Forts, visit the secret seal colony or simply whizz along beneath the famous cliffs.
7 Roman Painted House The Roman Painted House is one of 50 ancient structures to have been uncovered around Dover; this one is thought to have been part of a large hotel used for officials travelling across the Channel. Dated to around 200AD but demolished by the Romans not long after to make way for a fort, three of the elaborately decorated rooms were effectively buried intact and have been unearthed by archaeologists. Visit www.theromanpaintedhouse.co.uk.
8 Shopping and eating
Dover is also a modern shopping venue with restaurants, cafés and gift shops. Try locally caught seafood at The Hythe Bay (01304 207740) or Cullins Yard (01304 211666). The town also has De Bradelei Wharf (CT17 9BJ), a discount centre just off the promenade with its own waterfront restaurant, Waves.
Thinking of spending the weekend? Try the White Cliffs Hotel (01303 852229) or Walletts Court Hotel (01304 852424) – both lovely hotels with great restaurants. While in St Margaret’s Bay, do enjoy a cream tea at Shelly’s Tea Rooms (01227 730303).
9 Beaches and rock pools Beautiful St Margaret’s Bay is a great choice for those who love a paddle; with the cliffs as a backdrop, it’s also a dramatic place for a beach walk. Good for fishing and beach combing, the steep shingle beach at Shakespeare Beach, near Dover, is off the beaten track, whereas Dover Harbour Beach is much more commercial and has facilities like a café and toilets. Popular with water sports enthusiasts, you’ll also find sea swimmers around here, practising to cross the Channel. For some of the UK’s best rock pools, go a little further afield to Samphire Hoe, between Dover and Folkestone.
10 Crabble Corn Mill
Crabble Corn Mill may not get the same attention as Dover’s better-known attractions, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Most famous for its annual Beer Festival (22-24 May), it is a wonderful example of a Georgian watermill, saved from demolition in 1990. Now a working museum with six floors of exhibits and milling machinery, it still produces its own wholemeal flour. Visit www.ccmt.org.uk n