Saturday, 26 April 2014

W is for The White Cliffs of Dover


W is for The White Cliffs of Dover


Today we travel to Kent


The White Cliffs of Dover

View of White Cliffs of Dover

The White Cliffs of Dover form part of the English coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France.  They are part of the North Downs formation with a striking façade made up of chalk accentuated by streaks of black flint and reach up to 350 feet (110m).  The cliffs spread out East and West from the town of Dover in the county of Kent which is a very important English port.  

The cliffs themselves were formed at the same time as the Straits of Dover, by ice-age floods.

I live not far from this great symbol of Britain (40 minutes drive away) and have known them all my life.  I have seen them from France as I returned home from holiday on a ferry.  I have walked along the cliff tops.  I have seen France from them (on a good day with the right weather conditions) in the distance and I have also sat on Cap Gris Nez, in France and seen the White Cliffs from there.
Dover was the primary route to the continent before the advent of air travel and the white line of cliffs formed the first or last sight of England for travellers.

The White Cliffs are at one end of the Kent Downs designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

From France: 

The cliffs seen across the channel from Cap Gris Nez, France

The cliff face continues to weather at an average rate of 1 centimetre (0.39 in) per year, although occasionally large pieces will fall. In 2001 a large chunk of the edge, as large as a football pitch, fell into the channel. A further large section collapsed into the English Channel on 15 March 2012.  Visitors are, therefore, urged to remain well away from the cliff edge.

Close up of the cliffs from the walk along the ridge
Wikimedia Commons

South Foreland Lighthouse above the cliffs at Dover
South Foreland lighthouse above the cliffs at Dover

South Foreland Lighthouse is a Victorian lighthouse in St. Margaret’s Bay, Dover and was used to warn ships approaching the nearby Goodwin Sands.  It went out of service in 1988 and is now owned by the National Trust.  A lighthouse has stood on this site since 1730 and during most of this time was manned by the Knott family of lighthouse keepers. 

I have climbed up this lighthouse and stood in wonder (and wind) viewing the aspect from the cliff top. 

The best way to see the cliffs is to take a walk along the coastal path towards South Foreland Lighthouse. You’ll get a great view of the cliffs and also see the chalk grassland that’s home to so many unusual plants and insects like the chalkhill blue butterfly and the pyramidal orchid.

The cliffs also have a special place in our national history and they were used for defence in both World Wars. You’ll see reminders of this past all along the cliffs from the slit trenches dug by soldiers to the concrete remains of the range finding station.

Watching the ferries from the Port of Dover

Watching the ferries from the Port of Dover

During the summer of 1940 reporters gathered at Shakespeare Cliff to watch aerial dogfights between German and British aircraft during the Battle of Britain.   

Vera Lynne sung the famous song The White Cliffs of Dover


But of course blue birds are an American bird and are never seen in Britain. 

There'll be blue birds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There'll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free.
The shepherd will tend his sheep,
The valley will bloom again
And Jimmy will go to sleep,
In his own little room again.
There'll be blue birds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.

Words - Nat Burton
Melody - Walter Kent
Published - 1941


I sit quietly on top of a cliff

The wind curling my hair to a quiff

The smell of the sea wafts up from below

The sound of the seagulls as they squawk and crow

I gaze across an expanse no more than 20 miles distance

I wonder if my life would have been different in that instance

Perhaps I should have said yes to my beau

All those long years ago

Maybe he would have survived

With my love to keep him alive

He gave his life so others might be free

As his plane came down over the sea


  1. Your description of the cliffs as the first thing you see when returning from France reminds me of how people describe seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York.

    Your poem brings sadness to all the beauty of the cliffs -- a fact of life though.

  2. Thanks for an excellent tour of the White Cliffs of Dover! My friend told me they aren't always so white, but still are impressive. One day I hope to see them, perhaps on my next trip to France. (in the future) And thanks for stopping by the WEP entry at my 21st century blog. I'm doing the A to Z on my Rainforest blog.
    Have a great Sunday.

  3. They are beautiful - a wonderful national symbol. I've never seen them in person. Someday.

  4. I've always wanted to visit the White Cliffs of Dover. I didn't know you could see them from France!