|Folkestone harbour on a beautiful summer’s day|
In the Victorian times the railway came to Folkestone, linking it with London and creating a booming seaside resort. Grand hotels were built along with rows of stately villas. The once ailing harbour began offering cross-channel ferries to France and Folkestone grew in size. The affluent holiday-makers found new attractions and amenities popping up: boating ponds; rollerskating rinks and even an early form of rollercoaster – the switchback railway. Folkestone’s popularity continued past the war years. My grandparents actually honeymooned in Folkestone in July 1955. Folkestone was a busy seaside resort until the 1970s when air travel and foreign package holidays became the norm. The town became rundown, the attractions were bulldozed and the recession of recent times has hit the town hard. Now the town is on the up again and I want to share with you just a few reasons to come and visit. Without more day-trippers and holiday-makers the town will not prosper as it should. We need a few more tourist pounds please!
|Church Street in February 2012|
Folkestone has ancient roots. The remains of a Roman Villa were found in the last few years and there was a fishing village here since Norman times. In the 17th century, Folkestone was home to William Harvey, the man who discovered blood circulation. Other notable residents of the past include Hattie Jacques of Carry On fame, June Brown from Eastenders, the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the first black officer in the British Army, Walter Tull, to whom I am distantly related by marriage.
Folkestone is recreating itself as a creative hub. The new Creative Quarter is found in the once crumbling Old High Street and Tontine Street below. It’s still a little rough around the edges but it’s reminiscent of Brighton with little independent shops painted in pastels lining the winding road down towards the sea. There are art installations to be found in some obscure places, many of which are permanent works left over from the Folkestone Triennial art festivals. The bustling shops and burgeoning cafe culture give the Creative Quarter a European feel.
|“The Folkestone Mermaid” – sculpture by Cornelia Parker – photo by Andy Lowe|
Down in the harbour there is a new fountain that is a mecca for young families. On a warm day you’ll find lots of little children squealing in delight with the water feature that has been designed to create fun for kids. Adults can relax at the edge enjoying a beer from The George pub or some fresh prawns from the popular Chummy’s seafood stall in the square. At night the fountains are lit creating a multi-coloured spectacle. Walk under the arches to find fish and chips, more pubs and the sandy beach. The chips from The Smokehouse are cooked in beef dripping and are divine! If you’re feeling flush why not splash out on a meal in Rocksalt, the new restaurant owned by Mark Sargeant who was trained at Claridge’s in Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin starred restaurant. The building is designed to fit in with the existing architecture from street level but from the harbour it’s an all-glass modern design, offering each diner a superb view.
|Rocksalt restaurant overlooking the harbour|
|“Out of Tune” art installation by A K Dolven|
In the opposite direction you can walk along the seafront promenade (look for the bell) towards The Lower Leas Coastal Park. Located beneath the cliffs are beautiful gardens that have been cleverly landscaped to look natural. There are plenty of places to sit and relax and dedicated metal bins for discarding your disposable BBQ. Further along is a grass amphitheatre where you may stumble across a show. One Bank Holiday Monday I came across a performance by The Noise Next Door, a hilarious improv troupe who perform skits and songs based on suggestions by the audience. One of my favourites that day was “Give thanks to Armitage Shanks” after a little boy shouted out toilets as one of the suggested words. They perform across the UK and I highly recommend checking them out if you have the chance.
|Natural landscaping of The Leas Coastal Park|
|The Lower Leas Coastal Park|
Next to the amphitheatre is the Zig Zag Path, a sedate path up the cliffs to The Leas, a Victorian formal promenade and park. The man-made caves and seating areas along the way provide the excuse for a little rest should you need it. If you’re feeling really lazy or have mobility difficulties opt for the Victorian water-powered Leas Cliff Lift to be whisked from the entrance to the Lower Leas Coastal Park up to The Leas in a jiffy. Along the Leas you’ll find two of the remaining luxury hotels from the Victorian era, The Grand and The Metropole.
|View down to the Lower Leas Coastal Park|
There are events all year round to be enjoyed in Folkestone, including rounds of the British National Powerboat Championships (taking place on the weekend of 1st and 2nd September 2012), the annual Skabour Festival, the Book Festival and the aforementioned Triennial.
Folkestone is just 20 minutes drive from Dover and just 10 minutes from the Eurotunnel terminal. Why not extend your holiday on the continent with a night in my town? There is a selection of accommodation options, although to be fair, not much in the budget price range. The Grand Burstin overlooking the harbour has an enviable location but is a bit of a blot on the landscape. Someone in the 1960s thought that building a hotel the size and shape of a cross-channel ferry was a good idea. The hotel plays host to hundreds of coach holiday passengers and is basic but cheap. My parents stayed there for a few nights back in May while on their first holiday to the UK from their new home in France. They booked it because it was about £40 a night for B&B. Their room overlooked the harbour and was clean. If you’re just looking for a bed for the night it’s not bad at all. There’s a scattering of boutique B&Bs starting to appear from The Relish up near the Police Station to Rocksalt Rooms above The Smokehouse right in the harbour but these start at about £80 per night so don’t really suit budget travellers. Due to the proximity to the ports there are also the ubiquitous Holiday Inn Express and Premier Inn, these are a bit further out of town but you know what you get with these chains.
|View from the Grand Burstin Hotel – photo by Andy Lowe|
|Folkestone at night – photo by Andy Lowe|
It’s really easy to get to Folkestone. We’re right at the end of the M20 motorway and there is plenty of parking available. Alternatively, the town is accessible by train from London on the new High Speed 1 service. It’s only a 50 minute journey from St Pancras International, or 1 hour 40 minutes on the slower (and cheaper) service from Charing Cross. Full price returns start at around £30. The town is also served by a National Express coach on it’s way to Dover. It’s possible to pick up “Fun Fares” for less than £10 to or from London.
|” The Rug People” by Paloma Varga Weisz|
So with all this to do and so accessible what’s your excuse for not making the trip?