Those white cliffs

A couple of weekends ago we packed a picnic and headed towards the coast in search of open skies. A desire to seek out countryside is becoming more and more of a frequent occurrence for us (as you may have noticed!) and it's taken me a little by surprise.

I grew up on the edge of fields and mountains and "going for a walk" was a regular weekend activity when I was little, met as often as not with groans and protests. Maybe because of that, as soon as I left home I was desperate to move to the city and thought I would never want to return to living in the countryside. The busyness and grime of city life, the endless stimulation, appealed to me so strongly at that time. But now, 10 years on, I find myself increasingly seeking out green and thinking about the sort of place I would like to live the next 10 years of our lives. I wonder what 18 year old me would think of me now! 

Anyway, I digress! We wanted to see the sea, and so we chose 

this

 walk from Dover to Deal. We shortened it a bit as we got off to a rather late start...

We drove to Dover and parked near the start of the walk, although you could easily take the train from London and walk through town to get to the start. The first part of the walk took us along the most incredible little street running parallel to the dockside, with the gardens and yards of dockside hotels on one side and a clutch of pastel coloured terraces on the other.  

The houses backed directly onto the foot of the cliffs above, looming above, bathing the lower depths in dark, damp shadow. 

At the end of the street, the path started to climb above the docks and we got a view of the ferry terminal below, bathed in sunlight but grey and unlovely all the same, P&O ferries making their slow entry and exit, buses and lorres lined up in wait. 

To our left as we ascended, Dover Castle stood proudly above the city.

After climbing for a little while longer we emerged onto the coastal path and into the most glorious early spring sunshine.

We spotted a line of wild ponies making their way together, in search of a quiet spot to graze. 

The colours of the sea, the blur of the horizon and the wide wide sky. So beautiful. I spent a lot of time staring out at it all, straining my eyes to see France in the distance. Below us, tiny sheltered coves cut into the crumbling cliffs, inaccessible to all but seagulls. 

At a certain point, the clouds gathered and everything was plunged into shadow, but then moments later, the sun broke through, illuminating the sea like a great silver sheet. 

The next part of the walk took us past the beautiful Victorian South Foreland lighthouse which was apparently the first lighthouse in the world to use an electric light. 

The lighthouse is now owned by the National Trust and houses what looked like a very nice tea room, with wonderful views across the channel. 

The coastal path was busy up until that point but when we got to the lighthouse, most people either went in for a cup of tea, or headed back the same way, meaning that the for the remainder of our walk, we had the coastal path pretty much to ourselves. 

We passed this beautiful little flat roofed cottage that I fell totally in love with, before heading inland for a kilometre or two and then joining the coastal path again. 

As we hit early afternoon, the light started to grow softer and the colours became gentle hues of blue and green, lavender and pale grey. 

We had a short stop to eat our picnic huddled on our blanket, looking out over the sea as we ate our sandwiches and sipped our cocoa. 

The welsh cakes went down very well!

Picnic finished, we headed down to the sweet little St Margarets Bay, with its shingle beach and dramatic cliffs. We beachcombed for a little while in the golden light. 

The path then took us directly up from the bay onto the headland above, where the views back over the bay and the sea beyond were unbelievably lovely. 

After a short uphill walk, we came in sight of the obelisk ahead, a memorial to those in the merchant marine and Royal Navy who died in the Dover strait during WW1 and WW2. 

Very near to that, at a point which feels like (but isn't actually), the end of England, is the Blue Bird tearoom which must have the most incredible views, but which we were too late to experience!

By this point, we were heading into early evening and so we decided to cut the walk short by heading inland to St Margarets at Cliffe rather than carrying on to Deal. Next time I would love to get to to Deal as it's meant to be a lovely place and I've been meaning to go for ages!

Anyway, the last part of our walk turned out to be just as beautiful, passing through rolling pastures and under dramatic skies.

And the very last stretch brought us face to face with these two, who ran straight over to us and tried their best to get a nibble of the camera, the smell of soft grass and plumes of breath warming our hand as the air started to turn cooler. 

Dover gets a pretty bad rep and people are usually very rude about it, maybe justifiably, maybe not. Growing up in an area which supposedly has some of the worst places in the UK makes me suspicious and also sad about labelling places in that way - after all, those places are home to many people and not everyone has the option to leave the place they grew up in, and nor would they necessarily want to. I think that it is always possible to find beauty in the most unlikely places, if you look for it and keep an open mind. This walk is an example of exactly that.