Within his book ‘Rural Rides’ published in 1830, William Cobbett commented that it ‘…is now a little place; probably a quarter part as big as it was formerly.’ and in the 1952 book ‘The Cinque Ports’ by RF and FW Jessup it is referred to lovingly: ‘as handsome a watering-place as England can show’.
For a town that in Henry VIII’s time would have most likely appeared on a map as a village, a limb of the neighbouring Cinque Port Town it has since outgrown, for somewhere that once rang fine praise, what you find today is one of Kent’s underappreciated treasures.
Where are we discussing?
It is a port, a town that suffered badly in the bombings of the second world war. It has a lovingly restored ancient heart of twisting streets that wind down to the harbour and a grand walk along its west end that provides beautiful views across the English Channel to France. Stately Victorian and Edwardian buildings line its Leas and provide a backdrop that welcomes visitors through much of the year. It is of course Folkestone.
The town was the site of a nunnery, the first in England, founded by Eanswythe grand-daughter of King Ethelbert. She was buried here around the year 640. Folkestone’s history stretches back much further though. A project to uncover a roman villa became winner of the Rescue Dig of the Year category in the Current Archaeology Awards 2013.
Why is it underappreciated? Perhaps its distance from London and the reputation that ports often has held some back. Those ‘in the know’ have loved it through all its changes. Tough economic times hurt its high street as they did some many of England’s towns but local entrepreneur and philanthropist Roger de Haan has helped breathe live and colour back into parts of the old town. He championed the Artists Quarter and strolling around you can see what a wonderful goal he had in mind.
There are many delights and surprises to Folkestone. I fondly remember the first time, as an estate agent, I stepped into one of the apartments that look over private gardens. The west end is blessed with a number. Majestic homes rising up, striking architecture that can’t be rivalled in todays construction industry and built around gardens that remind you of classy London addresses. The image has stayed with me ever since, it was a warm spring day and as we stepped into one of the rear bedrooms of this first floor apartment the owner opened the french windows, a gentle breeze ruffled the net curtains and a delightful view of Folkestone greeted me, one that was reserved for the residents of these particular homes.
Folkestone is very much a working town, from the port to the hillside businesses provide work and workers need homes. You’ll find a little of everything from studio apartments to grand landed houses and all things in between. The surprise often is the affordability in comparison to many other parts of Kent. Something that is changing and will continue to.
Folkestone became much more accessible int the early nineteen nineties when the M20 connection was completed from junctions eight to nine. Nowadays it is much more of a commuter home than ever before with the advent of HS1 and the fast route to St Pancras.
Lovers of continental europe find this a great base with the tunnel on their doorstep and ferry services nearby.
Many enjoy a coffee or lunch at The Grand, overlooking the Leas and fine dining is to be enjoyed within the town and nearby.
The recently opened Harbour Arm is a regeneration of the former railway terminal for the Folkestone – Boulogne ferry. Enhancing the towns growing reputation as a foodie destination you’ll find many interesting things here including a bakery, brewery and regular farmers market.
How you choose to enjoy Folkestone is up to you, but enjoy it you will.
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