Kent has all the benefits that a coastline should. Spectacular natural landscapes, picturesque villages, characterful towns, magnificent castles, and forts spanning more than 2000 years of history – and unique to the county, the iconic White Cliffs. To discover more, Sabi Phagura headed down to White Cliffs Country for a few days.
Kent will always be close to my heart because it’s the county I was born and raised in. However, I flew the nest at 18 for university and haven’t felt the need to return. While I still have family on the county’s tip, I’ve never ventured too far from the M25. Almost three decades later, I have a reason to head back to the Garden of England.
I’m based in Berkshire, so getting to White Cliffs Country took me around three. As soon as I entered, I could hear the unmistakable sounds of life-affirming seagulls in the distance. But before I checked into the hotel, I decided to stretch my legs, so my first stop was Boonies Outdoors within Betteshanger Park in Deal.
This outdoor adventure park was founded by Jay Ingram, a veteran with 17 years of service in HM Forces. When he left the army, Jay had a clear vision to empower people of all ages and abilities to reach their full potential through fitness.
But unlike ‘military style’ bootcamps, Jay’s focus on fitness is beyond the physical. It’s about helping participants conquer fears, push limits, and become the best version of themselves – all while having fun.
The Boonies’ all-weather, army-style outdoor assault course with 30 different obstacles ticks all the above. Based on tried and tested military training techniques, the course challenged me both physically and mentally.
“How do I get over that? Should I leap or straddle the log?” The questions arose as I navigated my way around, under and over vertical walls, monkey bars, and tunnels, performing commando crawls. “It’s a mindfulness exercise. And about being present as much as it is about getting fit,” explained Jay. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had stayed ‘in the moment’ as I tackled the entire course.
My efforts were suitably rewarded as I checked into Dover Hotel Marina and Spa, a stunning Victorian building perched on the seafront. I was allocated the newly refurbished Presidential Suite, complete with an enclosed glass balcony overlooking the English Channel.
The super king-size bed, living space complete with a glittering chandelier and a sizeable bathroom add an extra touch of elegance and royalty to this capacious room.
A real English natural treasure, a trip to Dover wouldn’t be complete without a walk along the White Cliffs of Dover. It’s one of the best places to devour those unrivalled views of the English Channel and the French coast. Walkers can choose from several dramatic cliff-top walks depending on their fitness abilities and needs.
Being a fitness enthusiast, I naturally took the longest to South Foreland Lighthouse (above). Built to warn mariners of shifting sands and guide them safely through the Strait of Dover, it’s two miles from the White Cliffs of Dover Visitor Centre.
American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was spot on when he said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” for it pays to take stops to admire the beauty around you when taking any one of these paths. It’s worth pausing to take in the surroundings and savour the rare flora and fauna that can only be found across this chalky grassland.
Technically closer to France than London, don’t be surprised when your phone notifies you that you’re on a different tariff.
Steam Punk Sauna
An early morning visit to Steampunk Sauna was very much welcome, not least to accelerate muscle recovery after the vigorous walk the previous day. Conveniently situated on Dover’s seafront, the mobile wood-fired sauna is housed in a converted horse box suitable for up to seven people.
The brainchild of tattoo artist Tim Smithen, the venture began as a mere pipe dream following a chat worth a sauna enthusiast. So enthralled was Tim that he set the wheels in motion for the sauna stand.
“I started looking into the holistic benefits of sauna,” Tim explained. “I had another conversation with a guy from Cedar Sauna Company, and I set about building a high quality, high spec mobile sauna.”
A keen climber and yogi, Tim said he was all too aware of the benefits of sauna after a workout. With wild swimming on the rise, he figured this would also bring about benefits to keen swimmers.
The fresh sea and sauna’s hot and cold therapy are further extended with an ice-cold therapy pod.
Tim added, “What I’m trying to create at Steam Punk Sauna is a safe, sweaty therapy session in a womb-like space where you can escape the world for a moment and relax, meditate, chat, offload, catch up with friends or even get to know strangers.”
Tim regularly teams up with Stef of Beam Massage Therapy.
Relaxing on a face-down massage chair, I listened to the distant waves rolling in while Stef worked her magic on my back, neck and shoulders. Self-care is always a good call, and quite frankly, I couldn’t think of a better place to destress in that very moment. Bliss.
Deal and The Royal Hotel
If you’re a keen walker, you can take your pick from plenty of walks from Dover, including Deal and Sandwich, which fall under the White Cliffs Country umbrella. The Dover to Deal walk is one of the finest coastal walks. Despite its 11 miles with much time spent on airy heights, the flat route will give you a healthy dose of sea air.
To fuel, you’ll be spoilt for choices to eat along the route, including the Grade 2 listed White Horse situated in the shadows of Dover Castle, which dates back to 1365. It’s recorded to have begun as an ‘Ale tasting house’ as early as 1574.
The Smugglers Inn, a bit further along the route, is a traditional English pub and restaurant dating back to 1674, nestled in the closest English village to France in St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe. Both offer outstanding food choices.
Deal is earning a reputation as one of the country’s most popular seaside spots with its thriving food, music and cultural scene. The town’s promenade overlooks a sloping pebbly beach, and its pier is home to a restaurant.
To prolong your stay in this town with its quaint fisherman’s cottages and well-preserved Georgian townhouses, I can highly recommend a stay at The Royal Hotel. Regally positioned on the seafront, the hotel dates from the early 18th century and is full of charming period features combined with modern comforts for a luxury stay.
Frequently visited by Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, Deal’s rich naval history echoes throughout its décor.
While Deal has a burgeoning food scene (not to mention the weekly Saturday market), the hotel’s The Boathouse Bar and Terrace invites guests to take in glorious sea views while indulging in expertly crafted dishes. Looking for something to wash down the food? You can sip on a pint brewed just a few miles away by Britain’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame.
Whitemills Wake & Aqua Park
With a full belly and just a few more hours to go in Kent, I needed to embark on one final activity – wakeboarding. Never having engaged in the water sport, I was both excited and a tad nervous. But any worries I had were quelled by my host and wakeboarding expert Santiago.
Having opened just over a year ago, the five Tower Ski Rixen Cable System is positioned on a purpose-built lake in Sandwich. A fun-filled aqua park is also on the site, and guests can dabble in open-air swimming.
With the briefing and safety checks complete, I ventured onto the board in a kneeled-down position in my wetsuit. Santiago controlled the cable as I hit the water and was pulled around the tower points of the cable system. I navigated my body to work with the board and remain on it with enthusiasm.
I managed four out of five of the towers before being flung off the board and submerged into the lake. Defeated, I swam to the banks, but Santiago said that as a first attempt, it was a triumph. I will need way more practice than my session allowed, but I was glad I had dipped my toe into this thrilling sport.
Listed as one of the best regions to visit in the world, Kent’s Heritage Coast must be explored to be truly appreciated. And the White Cliffs Country section is the perfect place to start. With easy access to London by car and rail, get ready to feel at one with nature by allowing tension and stress to be washed away just by being by the sea.
White Cliffs Country – Where and How?
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