We needed a really good walk and found this hidden gem in one of our Kent walking books. The Warren is in Folkestone, in east Kent and is just around the coast from the white cliffs of Dover.
If you want a really good hike and to get away from it all, then this is the perfect place. It’s remote, with spectacular views and a beautiful secluded beach which can be reached after walking for about half an hour so it’s perfect for some space, peace and quiet. We packed a flask of soup each and some rolls and headed on down to see what we could find.
Folkestone is a coastal town in East Kent.
The name Folkestone is said to have come from “Folca’s stone” which is a rock that marked a meeting place for locals. The actual spelling of the name Folkestone is believed to have come from a 19th Century Lord.
Did you know that Agatha Christie is said to have written Murder on the Orient Express from the Grand Hotel in Folkestone and that King Edward VII spent a lot of time there apparently with his mistress Alice Keppel?
Another famous Folkestone resident was William Harvey. He was the Doctor who first correctly described blood circulation. The hospital in Ashford in Kent is named after him.
Now Folkestone is mostly known as the English terminus to the Channel Tunnel which goes by train from England to Calais.
The Channel Tunnel
The Channel Tunnel, or Eurotunnel, is a railway tunnel built under the Channel for freight and passengers. It’s 31 miles long and is the longest underwater tunnel in the world.
It has 3 tunnels, two for trains and one for services and security. It runs from Folkestone to Sangatte, near Calais in France and you can either travel in your car or in the passenger cars. It takes about 35 minutes and the train can reach speeds of 100 miles an hour.
The tunnel was started on both sides of the Channel in 1987 and was completed in 1991 but it wasn’t officially opened to the public until May 6th 1994.
Folkestone dates back to Prehistoric times. It was originally a small fishing village that grew into a main shipping port after the railway line was laid in 1843.
In the Edwardian Era it became hugely popular with the social elite, Royals and English Aristocracy and was a busy seaside resort. Queen Victoria and Edward VII were said to have been regular visitors.
It became a busy ferry port taking passengers and cargo to Boulogne and then by the 1960s Calais and Ostend. Big hotels, parks, gardens and ornate buildings were built and the town was thriving .
The town was heavily bombed during the Wars and then during the 60s and 70s travel abroad became more popular for holiday destinations so the town became a lot quieter. The ferries stopped running from Folkestone in 2001 but you can still get to France from Folkestone but it is now by train via the Channel Tunnel.
As with most of the coastal towns in East Kent there was a lot of smuggling in Folkestone. Wines, silks, tobacco and luxury items were smuggled across the channel.
What is The Warren
The Warren, in Folkestone is a stretch of coastline that used to be a popular tourist spot back in Edwardian times, it used to have it’s own train station and cafes on the beach. It was apparently named after all the burrowing rabbits in the area hence the name “The Warren”
Now it’s a secluded area that you can only reach by walking for about half an hour. It’s got amazing coastal views and is part of the Kent Downs and Heritage Coastline. It’s even in the Lonely Planet Guide, the only UK place to have ever made the Top 10 world-wide selection list.
We parked up and walked up the hill towards the Martello Tower at the top of the hill. It’s quite a steep climb but with some stunning views of the harbour.
A few of the pathways were closed due to landslides but we found a path that led us around the hill, past another Martello Tower and to the slopped road that goes past the railway line and down to the beach.
27 Martello Towers were built along the coastline of Kent from 1805-1809. They were built to defend Kent from invasion from France during the Napoleonic Wars.
They were smaller, round, look out posts which housed around 15-25 soldiers.They varied in sizes and had two main floors, one for storage and another for living quarters.
They had cannons situated on the very top that could be moved around 360 degrees on top of the tower so that they could be fired in any direction. There are apparently 5 of these in Folkestone.
Tower number 1 is more hidden away and slightly larger. It’s a Scheduled Ancient Monument and was partially converted to residential use in 2015
Tower number 3 can be found standing proudly on top of the cliff above Copt Point. It was built in 1806 and after 1850 it was used as a residential coastguard lookout.
During the second World War an observation point was added at the top. From 1990 until 2011 it was a visitors centre and now it is disused.
We walked down the steep pathway down to the beach path. On the right hand side you could see the railway line nestled under the huge, steep cliffs at the side. We walked right to the bottom of the slope and through another gate down to the beach.
The Warren Railway Line
The railway line here was built in 1884 as part of the Ashord to Folkestone line. The station was opened in 1886 so that people could enjoy the fantastic beaches at The Warren.
Sadly in 1915 a massive landslide buried the line and it had to shut until 1919 when it was rebuilt. The cliffs have now been fortified to prevent further damage to the line.
Plants at the Warren
The Warren is a site of special scientific interest and a local nature reserve. Grazing animals have been banned from the area so that plants are allowed to grow naturally.
You can find Horsetails and Marestails, Equisetums. They are very similar looking to weeds but apparently millions of years ago they were as big as trees and great food for dinosaurs!! You can also find wild orchids and more than 40 different species of plants here due to the chalky terrain. Wild Cabbage, Samphire and rock sea lavender are also found here.
Wildlife at the Warren
You can apparently see over 150 different types of birds at The Warren and some rare breeds of butterfly, harvestman and millipede. Over 330 species of moths have been seen here. The Grayling butterfly is to be found here and it is said that it’s the only place in Kent it can be found.
The White Cliffs
The white cliffs here along the coast are constantly in a state of flux due to erosion. Bits constantly break off the cliff and this is why the cliffs stay their distinct white colour. They are trying to slow this down by the railway line so that it doesn’t damage the tracks again.
The geology at the Warren makes it a great place to find fossils. The sand and chalk in the cliffs apparently dates back to around 90 -112 million years ago. The clay has been there a little less longer. The sand is called “lower green sand” and dinosaur prints have been found in this sand. It is considered a geological phenomenon and is of great importance to geologists.
The secluded beach at the bottom of the Warren is spectacular and on a clear day you can see France from there. While we were walking along the seafront our phones bleeped to say that we were now in France and that we were now roaming in Europe !!
There are large concrete structures and pathways along the beach which are apparently great for fishing. They were built after World War II.
It’s a lovely golden, sandy beach with rocks and rock pools with stunning views of the cliffs. It’s a great place for exploring and searching for Fossils.
Cross Channel Swimming
Swimming attempts across the channel to France are often done from the Warren as it’s so near. It’s around 21 miles and takes around 7-27 hours to swim depending on your ability. There is a Channel Swimming Association that will help you with everything you need if you would like to try it.
Did you know that the most popular and successful day to swim across the Channel is the 22nd August and that you are not allowed to touch anyone while you are making the attempt so if you would like anything to eat or drink while swimming across this needs to be passed to you via a long pole by someone on your escort boat !!
Apparently you must book a slot 1-2 years ahead if you would like to make an official attempt.
Please do not try it without proper training, advice and help.
Fishing at The Warren Beach
It is said that The Warren is great for beach fishing and is really good for catching Bass, Cod and Plaice with spinning and floats.
We climbed back up again from the beach, this time up the steep steps in the cliff at the end of the bay which led us back up to the Martello Tower at the top of the hill. We stopped and had our soup and rolls while looking out onto the stunning views of the Harbour.
We walked back down to the car and on our way down the hill we stopped and had a look at the Siren horn set back on the cliff top looking out onto the harbour.
The Siren is a horn that can amplify sounds from a long distance or can be used as a megaphone. You can hear the sounds of the waves through it, much like a seashell.
It was designed and built by Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od in 2017 as part of the Folkestone Triennial. It was built to raise “awareness about sustainability, nomadic culture, ecological decentralisation and democracy by means of contemporary art”.
This is a fabulous place for a good hike. It’s quite hard going in places and very hilly and slippery underfoot. I would recommend a good pair of walking boots and warm hardy clothing if you are going in the colder months. There are spectacular views and the beach is lovely so it’s definitely worth the trek.
There aren’t any facilities or cafes along this path so best to take a flask and snacks as it takes a while to go around. There is free parking available and a pub just by the Siren if you fancy a drink of something to eat afterwards. It’s such a rewarding walk and you really feel that you’ve discovered a timeless spot in paradise.