This is the last post in the series, and is a mish-mash of random Dover and environs information that may be useful for travelling swimmers.
- Pilot boats and Dover Marina and Parking
Many of the pilot boats are kept in the Dover Harbour but equally others are berthed in Dover and move to Dover for swims. You should make a n effort to visit the boat with your crew before your swim. Since Dover Marina is protected, you’ll need to get the access codes from your pilot.
Parking for the Marina is under the Clock Tower. During the day, like most of Dover it’s Pay and Display. If you are going out on a Channel swim you need 24 hour parking which is available from the Dover Marina office.
- Channel grease
As I mentioned in the second post, Channel Grease, contrary to Lynne Cox’s book, is no longer available for purchase in Dover or Folkestone. You may be able to buy it in Varne Ridge, but it’s easiest to just make your own.
- Maxim or other feedstuffs.
Neither Dover or Folkestone, nor Canterbury have anywhere where you can buy Maxim or similar, even in the Holland & Barrett or so-called Sports Nutrition retail outlets. You can order Maxim from Freda Streeter via Irene Keel on the Google Channel Swimmers chat Group, if you are a member, to collect on the beach, on Saturday or Sunday… So yes, again, just bring your own.
- Electronic night lights.
Lights as with Maxim, can be ordered from Irene, but could also may be readily available from Irene on Saturday and Sunday mornings on the beach during Channel training without ordering, but that’s a risk to take, especially late in the season. May also be in stock in Varne Ridge for guests to purchase. Bring your … you got it by now?
- Shakespeare Beach and Samphire Hoe.
Shakespeare Beach is the departure point of Captain Webb and many subsequent Channel swimmers. It begins just outside the South Harbour wall and runs down about a kilometre to under the rising cliffs toward Folkestone. Shakey is a steep shingle beach like the harbour beach and is generally not used for swim training as it is exposed and popular with beach anglers during the day. Access to the beach can be difficult to find, but is past the Dover Port Building. Take the next turn after the Marina bridge when travelling toward Folkestone. There is (paid) parking outside the Port building and it is a very brief walk tot he beach.
Samphire Hoe is built of the spoil from the Channel Tunnel excavation and is a large wildlife area beneath the cliffs south of the town. Many swims start from Abbott’s Cliff on the south side of Samphire, a couple of kilometres from Dover. Access to Samphire Hoe is via a one-way tunnel (no pedestrian access) through the cliff off the London/Folkestone road. Parking there, like seemingly everywhere else, is paid. Access is only open from 7am to 9pm. In rough weather very large waves beach over the seawall and the area is considered unsafe in such conditions.
Dover has a few places that are popular for Channel swimmers. For those going on a pasta binge there is Dino’s in Castle Street, La Scala opposite the Town Hall, and Il Rustico in the town centre on the other side of the pedestrian underpass. All are good. Dino’s is good and has a place in Channel history having been the great Des Renford’s favourite restaurant in the seventies. It is more subdued and requires a more respectful customer, but it’s worth it. There’s a photo of Des on the wall there amongst press clippings cover the decades of operation, and the now-elderly Italian chef is the same Chef who attracted Des as a repeat customer.
A cheaper and close to the beach location for traditional takeaway is the Castle Street Fish ‘n Chip shop, two doors up from Dino’s. Open times are short, lunchtime from 12 until 2pm and evening from 4pm to 9pm. Danny Walsh and I first noticed it 2008 when we saw a queue of locals outside, the best possible sign. The last two years the quality seems a bit more variable, but I rarely got to Dover without a visit.
You should be in Varne Ridge of course. But if you’ve left it too late, there’s a reputedly good and expensive Best Western right on the esplanade.
Up on the hill just off Castle Street, near The White Horse, is Hubert House, a Bed and Breakfast guesthouse that has long been popular with Channel swimmers and which has some of the record-setting charts on the walls. Rooms are variable in size, with the one I only stayed in once being tiny and hot. Not ideal for a prolonged stay but popular with repeat customers.
Amongst the many other accommodation venues used by swimmer are the Castle View B&B, another much larger and general (no special accomodation for Channel swimming) mobile home/ holiday park close to Dover in St. Margaret at Cliffe.
- Self-catering shopping
Dover town centre itself is not good for shopping.
There’s a poor Co-Operative in the centre. There’s a large Tesco Extra outside town, and being able to find your way to it from the Town Centre through the one-way is a sign of a very seasoned Dover-goer. I’ve given up and think it exists in some kind of spatial Klein Bottle anomaly. The easy but longer way to travel the Canterbury Road until it appears on your left. It’s always slightly further than you think it will be. Getting back into Dover via the one-way system is much easier!
Folkestone has a large ASDA in the town centre below a multi-story car park and an Sainsburys between the Dover Road and the Harbour, that is easy to find and get to. It’s also only about five minutes drive from Varne so it’s most popular with Channel Swimmers doing a weekly food shop … every day.
Channel swimming can lead to a lot of time on your hands.
Dover’s pre-eminent attraction standing above the town is the 12th Century Dover Castle. It’s a large site and an excellent way to pass most of a day containing as it does the Secret World War Two Tunnels which were headquarters for the Dover evacuation and central to the Normandy Landings; remains of the Roman Lighthouse; the large surrounding enclosure and buildings which were used for various functions during WWII; the large central Tudor Castle and Keep; and a British Military history museum, which is you come from one of colonies may leave you with an entirely different impression than the glorification of military conquest and might. There’s a coffee shop also, so you don’t starve by being away from food for an hour. There are two ubiquitous gift shops, which contains not a single item of Channel swimming memorabilia. Dover Town Council and English Heritage which operates the Castle are at best dismissive of the not-insignificant income brought into the local economy by visiting swimmers and crew every year.
Dover and Folkestone town centres are grim but Folkestone is the better of the two. The nearest town of historical and shopping interest is the medieval town of Canterbury, birthplace of playwright Christopher Marlowe (Doctor Faustus). Canterbury is a very popular tourist location, especially during the summer weekends when parking and driving can be challenging. It’s about twenty-five minutes drive from Dover. The town centre retains much of the old layout and architecture. Most famous is the twelfth century Canterbury Cathedral, the original Anglican Mother Church and location of the murder of Thomas Beckett by Henry II to facilitate Henry’s remarriage. It’s a paid tour, but entry is free during Evensong.Driving Day-trips to France can be done by ferry, with booking the previous day the best option, with an online booking discount, or by Channel Tunnel. Either lead to Calais and Cap Gris Nez is within easy driving distance.
Travelling to France for a day trip is also popular. If you are in rented car you probably can’t bring it outside the UK. But if you can or you have your own car, then you can choose either the usual fast ferries, or the train through Channel Tunnel. Ferries go from Dover, with multiple crossing every hour. The closest/last Chunnel station is outside Folkestone. Ferries drop you in Calais, the Chunnel outside and a trip south-west to Cap Griz Nez only takes about 45 minutes drive, with a car park right at the Cap. The view down onto the Channel is very interesting for a swimmer with the strong currents often visible.
The important pub in Dover for Channel swimmers is The White Horse. Some swimmers, particularly those living closer, don’t seem enamoured of it, but I really like the place, given its place in our shared culture and I have spent more a little amount of time there over the past five years. Successful Channel relays and more importantly Soloists may, on production of proof, sign the walls or ceiling. If you do this soon after your swim it’s far easier. Much time can be spent searching for your friends, and discussing their various swims and the legends of the Channel.
The Royal Oak up near Varne on the Capel-le-ferne road has recently started replicating this in a fashion, with whiteboards for swimmers to sign. Given its closeness with Varne there is a close connection between the two and those staying at Varne especially will sign The Royal Oak which just needs to commit to a more permanent record for swimmers to feel this is not a short-lived fad.
Colllins Yard is closest to the beach adjoining the Marina and also serves food. When it can actually manage to get service right. Repeated experience has shown its food is poor and service is worse.
- A guide to Dover for swimmers – Part 1 – Dover Harbour (loneswimmer.com)
- A guide to Dover for swimmers – Part 2 – Varne Ridge Caravan Park (loneswimmer.com)
- HOW TO: Crew selection in marathon swimming (loneswimmer.com)
- HOW TO: The greatest sport on Earth. Follow a swim during Channel season (loneswimmer.com)