It’s now not breaking information that Kentish seaside cities are again in style. There’s Margate, now an embarrassingly gentrified hipster parody; Whitstable and its sweet coloured beach huts and genteel customers; Broadstairs and its sweeping sandy beaches apparently borrowed from across the channel; and Dungeness, its barren seascapes famous with artists and emo students lower back from college. Then you have got Folkestone, the scrappy underdog with its developing artwork scene and seafront pubs wherein locals stare with fleeting suspicion as you walk inner.
It’s not a especially photogenic place upon first sight. Anyone whose arrived at Folkestone Central looking forward to sandy beaches and colorful architecture could be disappointed – the 2 most distinguished homes that greet visitors are the Saga HQ building and an Asda so big the BFG ought to happily shop internal it. This isn’t a metropolis overburdened with visual appeal. Folkestone is not any Brighton, Whitby or Falmouth and it honestly isn’t Margate and that’s no horrific element.
It was the Channel Tunnel that in the end spelt the give up of days for Folkestone. At the begin of the 20th century, the metropolis become a thriving port and a popular vacation destination among royalty and the British elite. Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express from the town’s Grand Hotel, and King Edward VII reputedly spent so much time there that locals could peer into his lodge to spy on him and his mistress, Alice Keppel. The first and 2nd international wars weren’t extraordinary for business and, if ever there has been a truth to demonstrate how unlucky Folkestone has been over time it’s that the Germans used to drop their leftover bombs on the town earlier than they headed domestic. The 60s and 70s welcomed remote places travel for the loads and Folkestone slipped into decline. The commencing of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 intended that its port turned into extra redundant than ever before.
I don’t know how to deliver enthusiasm apart from with enthusiasm, so apologies if what comes next reads like tour Mills & Boon. I have usually cherished Folkestone. I just like the regeneration of it, but handiest as it appears to be an instance of one of the few seashore gentrifications that has managed to accomplish that in a respectful way. The locals are still included and it hasn’t attempted to arrogantly recreate Peckham by means of sea, then blithely, righteously quip that it’s boosting the neighborhood economy through seasonal employment and by way of erecting craft breweries that the locals can’t find the money for to drink in. More of the gentrification later, but first to the skin and bones of Folkestone.
Unlike some of Kent’s maximum aesthetically gifted seaside cities which include Whitstable and Broadstairs, Folkestone radiates a stoic, dour first-rate this is so singular to coastal towns that had been once popular – if you’d spent centuries being battered via storms and icy, salty water, being picked up and dropped by DFLs (Down from Londons), you’d be pretty grumpy too. Its high avenue – not the cobbled stone-included ‘innovative area’ – isn’t a whole lot to observe, despite the fact that I mission you not to experience the Italian ice cream at La Casa Del Bello Gelato. It stays steadfastly and resolutely undeniable in evaluation to its old fashioned postcard-ideal siblings further alongside the coast. This is an area in which Banksy created a mural and a resident spray-painted a penis over the top of it. And but, notwithstanding itself, Folkestone has continually possessed sure charms – the majestic Leas, a picturesque clifftop prom overlooking the ocean. It changed into designed within the mid 1800s by means of Decimus Burton, who additionally worked on homes and gardens at London Zoo and Kew Gardens, which offers you an illustration of its visual prowess. In the middle stands a Victorian bandstand, surrounded via deckchairs inside the summer season. Folkestone has quite a few crummy resorts (examine the TripAdvisor critiques of the Grand Burstin Hotel if ever you want an amazing chortle), however The Grand on the Leas is unarguably beautiful – a century-vintage building designed to be metropolis’s sunniest spot with towering home windows and views looking across the sea to France.
I also have fond recollections of being handled to a experience within the Grade II-indexed Leas Lift, which for the duration of the forties and 50s carried lots of travelers every day to and from the prom to the seafront. It changed into closed in 2016 for health and protection motives, however there are plans to repair it returned to its former glory. If you keep on taking walks alongside the seafront you’ll attain the Lower Leas Coastal Park, which boasts the most important unfastened adventure play vicinity in the South East. There’s an amphitheatre that hosts kids’s workshops, live music, opera and theatre, some of which might be unfastened – Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale is on the agenda for this summer. This award-winning space offers masses of picnic tables and picturesque spots to sit with a drink, or there’s the Mermaid Café which sits high above the beach below and has long been reenergising walkers and worn-out families with paninis, jacket potatoes and huge cups of tea.
On the other aspect of metropolis, you’ll locate Sunny Sands – a small, however perfectly fashioned sandy beach left out by grassy hills decorated with wild thyme and vegetation. Charles Dickens got here here to write the primary chapters of Little Dorrit and described the view from his window as “the cliff overhanging the ocean seashore and feature the sky and the sea, because it had been, framed before you like a lovely image.” In fact, he persisted, his vista turned into so quite that he determined himself distracted constantly and slightly wrote something. If you keep taking walks above the hills, you’ll come to The Warren and the East Cliffs, in which overgrown grassy meadows descend to a usually empty pebbly and sandy beach below. It’s pretty overgrown now, however I like that about it – there’s nothing manicured or polished about this side of metropolis. Steep grassy corridors of foliage and rock sea lavender lead down to the sea and the tiny bays themselves appearance out throughout to the White Cliffs of Dover. A uncommon colony of butterflies called the Grayling has made the Warren its home. You can swim right here, but the water may be freezing so approach with caution.
A lot has been said about Folkestone’s rising arts scene. This small coastal town is the biggest urban outside of cutting-edge art within the UK. The converting exhibition presently consists of seventy four works of art through 46 artists, maximum of that have designed their respective piece with the precise website online in thoughts. Think a treasure hunt of out of doors artwork and you received’t be artwork. There’s Cornelia Parker’s mermaid sculpture, which sits high on the rock above Sunny Sands; below the Harbour Arm’s arches stands Anthony Gormley’s solid iron human statue, which resolutely stares out to the sea; Lubaina Himid – the primary black woman to ever receive the Turner Prize – created a massive ceramic jelly mildew where Folkestone’s former fairground, The Rotunda, used to be; after which there’s my preferred, Richard Woods’ Holiday Home, six colourful, cartoon-like bungalows that are dotted in uncommon or unlikely spots around the town – within the middle of the shingle seashore, floating within the sea or perched on top of rocks in a parking lot – to open a discussion about 2d homes. The idea is that no site is too small, too not likely, or too inconvenient for its neighbours, for a vacation home. There is an argument that the long-status locals couldn’t care much less approximately public artwork, but there’s a novel great approximately these installations that eludes an artwork gallery which people often sense intimidated via. Public art is inclusive – whether you decide to engage with it or now not is entirely up to the viewer.
My favorite manner to do Folkestone is to start at the harbour. You could consume at Rocksalt, the town’s Michelin-starred restaurant, however you’d be daft to miss the fresh prawns and crab sticks at seafood stall Chummys. If the weather’s bad, head along the cobbled road and below the railway arch to The Ship Inn for hearty pub meals in a warming, cosy setting. The fish and chips are specifically precise. Afterwards, stroll throughout the new landscaped walkway to the Harbour Arm – considered one of Folkestone’s largest latest success tales and an example of gentrification achieved respectfully. The Harbour Arm turned into firstly a railway terminal (and also a departure point for soldiers on their way to the Western Front), but remained desolate and unused until five years in the past, while it became regenerated.
Now, it’s peppered with unbiased food and drink trucks and stands that span Greek food to exquisite flat bread pizzas. Live song is a large a part of the interest down on the arm, because the locals name it, and there’s no fee to observe any of it. In the summer time, there’s a regular vintage marketplace, wherein charges experience truely inexpensive, as well as film screenings in which two tickets cost simplest £10. Picnic benches and tables and deckchairs appearance out across the ocean to the majestic White Cliffs of Dover. Yes, there’s the own family-run champagne lighthouse at the end of the arm, which plays a mix of reggae, blues and funk vinyl, but the great factor approximately the Harbour Arm is that people from Folkestone sincerely use it. There are as many people consuming canned beer and sandwiches bought from Asda inside the metropolis centre, as there are DFLs. Everyone is invited to look at the stay song, take in the atmosphere and look out to sea.
Once you’ve walked up and down the arm, explore the Old High Street or the ‘Creative Quarter’ as it’s now called, which offers a combination of colorful independent stores, cafes and bars, from file and antique shops to galleries selling unusual neon works of art. My favourite is Rennies Seaside Modern, a superbly-curated shop which sells fixtures, antique beach posters, ceramics and textiles through twentieth Century British artists. Its proprietors, Paul and Karen Rennie, have such in-depth know-how and a contagious enthusiasm for each single object in their keep. You won’t need to leave this tiny cabin of unique curiosities.