The diamond in the rough has regained its sparkle
It had been years since I’d last visited Folkestone, and my mum kept saying to me that I should return, as Folkestone was turning the corner of rejuvenation.
FOLKESTONE by Patrick Tuttofuoco
I must be honest with you, my hopes still weren’t too high, as from memory it needed more than a just a lick of paint.
How to get to Folkestone
You can catch a High-Speed direct train from London St Pancras International to Folkestone Central Station, which takes around 55 minutes.
But I thought I’m going to give the coastal town of Folkestone the benefit of my doubt, and I was hoping to be proved wrong.
And to my astonishment I was, I kept saying to Gary this is incredible, why had we not visited sooner, as Folkestone is only around 40 minutes by car from where we live.
Stand up and be heard
Folkestone, like many port towns, has seen a decline in its industry over the past years, and with that comes a lack of money. However, no longer is Folkestone succumbing to this stereotype, its townsfolk have decided to do something about it.
Pastel coloured homes around The Bayle
Folkestone has played a significant role in our maritime history over the years. In 1155 a Royal Charter was established, and Folkestone became part of the Cinque Ports, by being a Limb of Dover.
Poppies from the clifftop
Then during the first and second World Wars, these coastlines were used by a large number of our troops to head into the unknown across the English Channel.
Two Great Dames
From the clifftops, along the Leas lie some beautiful majestic buildings. During the late 19th and early 20th century’s two elegant hotels were built next to each other The Grand and The Metropole.
The Grand Hotel
These two hotels continued to vie for the attention of the stylish and the rich, with The Grand perhaps becoming the victor. As regular guests were King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra, and the King’s mistress Mrs Alice Keppel.
It was within the walls of The Grand hotel that Agatha Christie wrote 'Murder on the Orient Express' in 1933.
The former Metropole Hotel
The Metropole also hosted many notable guests and was the last resting place for many British Officers before heading into war. One of which was the World War I poet Wilfred Owen, who wrote to his mother from here prior to heading off into battle.
Upper and Lower Leas
We actually started our day at Folkestone from the clifftops. Strolling along the picturesque promenade overlooking the sea. All along were beautifully laid out colourful flowerbeds, grand homes and a spectacular view across the bay. We could even see France.
Is that France ahead?
Along the top here is also Folkestone’s Victorian Bandstand, which during the summer months hosts local bands, to entertain the residents on a Sunday.
The Victorian Bandstand
From the clifftops we head down the Zig Zag Path to the seafront. Once again, I’m taken aback at how pleasant it was and how well it has been managed and the thoughtful planting.
The path was originally laid out in 1921; however, regeneration projects during the early 2000s have seen the whole coastal path brought back to life for all the family to enjoy.
The start of the Zig Zag Path
Winding through the Zig Zag Path
The Zig Zag Path winds its way leisurely down the Leas cliff, passing under arches and through little caves and grottos.
At the bottom, we continue along the lower coastal path towards the harbour. Some of the plantings almost feel tropical, rugged palm trees, soft grasses blowing in the breeze and delicate, vibrant flowers.
Tranquil stroll along the Lower Coastal Walk
Grasses along Lower Coastal Walk
Leas Lift is actually a funicular railway and was installed in 1885, to transport passengers from the seafront to the promenade above.
Certainly, in need of some TLC, the lift has been closed since 2009 but is currently under restoration. It’s due to reopen in 2020.
Head to the beach
Now, don’t get your hopes up here, Folkestone’ beach isn’t actually awash with golden granules, what it lacks in sand, it makes up for in pebbles.
But, that’s the appeal, take a stroll along the wooden boardwalk and enjoy the gentle breeze brush past you from the shores of the English Channel.
Ok, so I lied there is a sandy beach around the bay, head to the other side of the harbour to ‘Sunny Sands”.
What also appealed to me about Folkestone’s seafront was the lack of amusement arcades. Now I don’t want to sound old here; however, they are not usually the most attractive of buildings to look at.
Now, what I have omitted to mention up until now is the urban art exhibition that is on display through the whole town.
Holiday Home – By Richard Woods
It is the UK’s largest urban contemporary art exhibition and is accessible 24 hours a day and 365 days of the year.
The Folkestone Mermaid by Cornelia Parker
Dotted all around town in places you’d least expect it, are quirky pieces of art. Currently, there are 74 artworks to be found, by 46 artists. You can download the maps and routes here and head off and search out your favourites for yourself.
Jelly Mould Pavilion – By Lubaina Himid
Another Time XVIII” by Antony Gormley
On display are pieces from artists such as Cornelia Parker, Tracey Emin, Yoko Ono and the one that I was most excited to see was “Another Time XVIII” by Antony Gormley.
Timing is everything
One thing I would add regarding the Antony Gormley piece is that it is under the Harbour Arm. So, it is tide dependent, and if the tide is high (queue for a Blondie song here), you won’t be able to access it.
Harbour Railway Station
Another fantastic part of Folkestone’s regeneration is the old Harbour Railway Station and viaduct.
Completely restored back to its 1950’s glory days, the canopies and cast-iron pillars have been given a new lease of life. Along with the traditional platform lighting and bilingual station signs.
Folkestone old Harbour station
The Customs House has also been renovated, and the old signal box is now a quaint café. It is such an incredible use of resources and adds so much character to the harbour.
Café in the old signal box
The other special touch is the pedestrian walkway across the harbour viaduct, which would once have had locomotives passing across.
This open space is now free for everyone to use and enjoy, take a stroll along the platforms passing more unique artwork,s and you’ll seamlessly wander onto the Harbour Arm.
Rug People – by Paloma Varga Weisz
Catch up on your French
As ferries gradually ceased to run from Folkestone and the fishing industry has been slowly declining, so has the bustling life around the harbour. So, what better way to revive it than make it a social part of the town.
Stroll along the harbour arm towards the lighthouse and all the way you’ll find eateries serving food from all around the world, pop up bars and live music at the weekends.
Take a wander along the top and watch the local fishermen trying to land their ‘catch of the day’. You’ll also get wonderful views around the bay stretching for miles.
Horsebox turned eatery
The Folkestone Harbour Company should be proud of what they have achieved here, it really is an asset to the town.
Around the harbour
Gary and I headed back across the viaduct with boats bobbing up and down below us. To discover the other side of the harbour.
Holiday Home – By Richard Woods in Folkestone Harbour
Here so many stories could be told along the cobbled streets and another side to Folkestone’s renewed charm.
The Mariner pub
The Ship Inn
There are old pubs, seafood stalls and a quaint little museum dedicated to Folkestone’s Fishing Heritage, which is free of charge to visit.
Folkestone’s Fishing Heritage and History Museum
The Creative Quarter
For vivid colours and relaxed vibes, I think Folkestone could give Camden a run for its money. The Old High Street and the Bayle area are a must to visit. As the narrow, cobbled lane winds its way up through the town, there is so much going on.
Folkestone Lightbulb – by Michael Craig-Martin
The Old High Street
Passing by boutiques, galleries, cafés, antique shops, cake makers and tattooists, Folkestone’s Old High Street appears to have it all.
Although the shops have a modern twist below, take a lookup as the architecture from years gone by is still there to be seen. It’s lovely to see the old and contemporary blending so well together.
Narrow lane through Folkstone’s town
A blend of the old and new
Beautiful ceramic tiles and old shop façades, it brings so much character and charm.
The Bayle area
This little area of Folkestone is full of so much history, old pubs dating back to the 1500s. Shops still displaying their trading past and picturesque pastel-coloured homes so immaculately kept.
British Lion Pub
It was just near here at the Albion Villas that Charles Dickens lived in 1855 and where he penned part of his novel Little Dorrit. He was also believed to have frequented The British Lion from time to time.
Stained Glass Window shop
Blue plaque to Charles Dickens
Where to eat?
There are so many restaurants, cafés, quaint old pubs and fish bars to choose from, you’re spoilt for choice. There’s Chummy’s seafood stall and also Bob’s, the Rocksalt restaurant that overlooks the harbour.
However, for us, if we are at the seaside, then it has to be fish and chips, with lashings of salt and vinegar.
We chose to eat at the Smokehouse along the harbour. On this occasion sat inside, as the fear of being nosedived by the looming seagulls was looking inevitable.
Fish & Chips from the Smokehouse
Of course, there are the usual shops you'd find in any busy residential town; however, I feel that Folkestone townsfolk can be proud of their rejuvenated port town. It was a pleasure visiting, and I will be returning.
Inspired to visit Folkestone?
Enjoy an overnight stay in the re-energised historical town of Folkestone, you won’t be disappointed.
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