Saturday, 15 December 2018

Folkestone Warren sloe gin

Fight your way through tangles of brambles, nettles and blackthorn bushes, and keep your footing on the narrow, uneven paths that lead down to Folkestone’s Warren, and you’re rewarded with access to the town’s most attractive beach.

The Warren is a bay at the foot of the white cliffs, looking across to the low-lying coast of France on a clear day. Despite being geographically close, it feels a world away from the Folkestone’s most popular beach, Sunny Sands, where the raw bodied and raw faced holiday people observed in Ted Hughes’ poem Work and Play

Are laid out like wounded
Flat as in ovens
Roasting and basting
With faces of torment as space burns them blue.

Although out of town, the Warren is well worth the trip. As part of an exposed coastal landscape that has been remade by landslips over the years, the cliffs are shored up by a wide concrete apron constructed after the Second World War. When the tide is right, regular rows of concrete groynes create the impression of a series of private beaches, both separated from the promenade above and cut off by gently lapping waves to the side. At low tide, the concrete is coated in a springy carpet of vivid green moss that’s treacherous under foot. At high tide, fishermen cast their rods out to sea and concrete steps provide the perfect entry point for swimming in the English Channel, which turns a Mediterranean turquoise under the summer sun. In winter, when stormy grey waves slap unpredictably against the edge, it’s wise to keep your distance.
Although the Warren is home to a small campsite – and the occasional illicit camper and hermit residing in shacks built into the cliffs – it’s mercifully free of crowds. It’s overlooked only by a couple of Martello Towers, a lone clifftop cafĂ© at Capel-le-Ferne and a clifftop artwork, Siren, by Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od, inspired by the improbable early twentieth-century wartime technology of concrete listening ears, and installed as part of the 2017 Folkestone Triennial.

It wasn’t always this way. The Warren, which had a reputation as Folkestone’s ‘Little Switzerland’, was once a destination for daytrippers and pleasure seekers, served by its own train station.

The Warren is separated from touristy Sunny Sands by an expanse of rocks, popular with fossil hunters. Sifting idly through the beach’s mixture of sand and pebbles reveals its own treasures, though: pebbles made from brick in various shades of red and yellow, worn smooth over the years, and translucent, gem-like ‘sea glass’, delicately frosted ovals of white, green, brown and blue glass created from decades of discarded bottles being thrown around and ground down by the tide.

Follow the cliffs in the other direction, past Abbot’s Cliff nudist beach, and eventually you’ll reach the port of Dover. The Folkestone to Dover trainline, too, takes this route, through the cliffs and past the Warren. Though short, it’s a dramatic ride, as the train emerges suddenly alongside the sea. Although spectacular, the route has its perils. In December 2015, storm damage closed the trainline for a full nine months, a reminder that the conceit of man’s control over our island coastline is illusory at best, and that its shape, form and the nature of our relationship with it is something we should never take for granted.

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