Sunday 1 October 2023

Dover Waterfront parkrun

Dover is a town on the south east coast of the English county of Kent, with a population of just over 30,000 people. It famously sits at the point of England that is closest to mainland Europe, however, the location was once joined to France by a chalk ridge which separated the English Channel from the North Sea. It is thought that this land bridge was first breached around 450,000 years ago, possibly due to melting ice from the North Sea. A second, larger, breach is thought to have occurred about 200,000 years ago and by 100,000 years ago, the North Sea and English Channel were fully joined, as they remain to this day. The boundary between the two is now known as the Strait of Dover, which is the busiest shipping lane in the whole world.

Dover has historically been the point where people and goods from the continent have entered England, and this goes as far back as the Stone Age when it is thought people would have crossed the land bridge. It is often referred to as 'The Gateway to England'. During Julius Caesar's first attempt at invading Britain, he had initially tried to land his ships at Dover, however, the location was heavily defended and he had to abandon the plan. Once the Romans eventually conquered Britain 100 years later, the area became known as Portus Dubris - named after 'Dubras' the British word meaning 'the waters'. It would also have been a base for Classis Britannica, the Roman naval fleet that patrolled the channel.

Over 50 Roman structures have been discovered in the town by archaeologists, a notable one is known as the Roman Painted House - noted to be the finest Roman house on display in Britain (currently closed for repairs). Another significant Roman structure is the lighthouse, called a 'pharos', which is one of only three remaining Roman lighthouses in the world. It is said to be the most complete standing Roman structure in England. The town did have a second pharos on another hill, but that is no longer standing. Dover also has a river called the River Dour, it is an extremely rare 'chalk stream', of which there are only just over 200 in the entire world. 

As well as being a prime spot for goods, visitors and immigrants to enter the country, it was also at risk from invasion or attack. Fortunately the hills on either side of the harbour made great spots for defensive structures. The west side of the harbour is home to a hilltop fortification, The Western Heights of Dover. Built throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, this site contains The Citadel, The Drop Redoubt, and The Grand Shaft, which has a unique-to-Britain triple spiral staircase. It was built to allow easy movement of troops between the fort and the harbour. The entire complex is noted as being one of the most impressive fortifications in Britain.

Sitting on the opposite side of the harbour, atop the east cliff, is the famous Dover Castle. It was founded in the 11th Century, and may possibly be on the site of an older defensive fort. The castle was always intended to be a defensive structure rather than a residence, and has been modified many times over the years. The site covers 30 acres and, if measured by this metric, makes Dover the largest castle in the country. It is Grade I Listed. The grounds are also home to the Secret Wartime Tunnels which have been carved into the chalk rock, and the remaining Roman pharos. Further over to the east lie the famous White Cliffs of Dover.

The seafront is dominated by the Port of Dover, one of the world's busiest maritime passenger ports. There is also a marina, a cargo terminal and a cruise terminal. Somehow amongst all of that, there remains enough space for a rather pleasant esplanade area with a beach and even a sea sports centre. In fact the whole section of waterfront here has an ongoing regeneration project taking place, and part of this has seen a brand new pier installed. On 9 September 2023 the waterfront area became home to its very own free, weekly, timed 5k event called Dover Waterfront parkrun. It is open to all abilities including wheelchair users and those who wish to walk. The parkrun meeting point is just outside the Dover Sea Sports Centre, on the Esplanade.

We visited Dover Waterfront parkrun on 30 September to take part in event 4. We could have just driven down on the morning of the event as it is only an hour away from home, but we decided to make it an extended trip and we stayed overnight in the Premier Inn which is right on the sea front with free guest parking. On the morning of the parkrun, we simply rolled out of bed and walked 800 metres or so to the meeting point. The seafront walkway was opened in 1960 to 'commemorate the tercentenary of the landing at Dover of King Charles II on the occasion of the restoration of the monarchy'. 

If we had arrived on Saturday morning, there is parking all along the Esplanade for which a fee needs to be paid via RingGo, cash or card (I subsequently heard that they are RingGo only, but haven't verified this). The Dover District Council website has a page showing information for all of their car parks including the available payment methods. The official parkrun course page mentions Union Street car park, but this car park has seasonal restrictions. Only Dover Harbour Board Permit Holders can use it between 1 April and 31 October. The next closest car park is Harbour House car park - this also has restrictions, but according to the Dover District Council website, members of the public can use it at certain times - again a fee applies. If looking for free parking, a couple of options seem to be; the St James Retail and Leisure Park car park which allows free parking for the first hour of your stay (a ticket is still required). I've also heard that the town centre Morrisons has a car park which is free for three hours.

If arriving by public transport, the closest train station is Dover Priory, which is built on the grounds of, you guessed it, Dover Priory. From the station the walk is about 1.5km. The closest bus stop looks to be served by the 64 bus service, but if travelling from outside of Dover, I'd imagine any bus that stops in the town centre area would be close enough. Again the onward walk would be no longer than about 1.5km. If arriving by bicycle there are four bicycle racks near the start, but also plenty of metal balustrade around the start area. I'm pleased to report that once at the meeting point there are public toilets and these are advertised as being open from 7am all year round (just pop across the marina bridge and they are on your left).

The briefings take place at the meeting point and at 9am the parkrun gets underway. The Dover Waterfront parkrun course configuration is quite unique and can be described in a few ways. You could say it has two different out-and-back (OAB) sections, with a total of three out-and-backs needed to complete the five kilometres. The course goes - OAB1, then OAB2, then OAB1 again. Another way to look at it would be to divide the course into two 2.5km sections where the second 2.5km is a mirror image of the first 2.5km section. Underfoot is 100% tarmac, so road shoes are perfectly fine here all year round. It is a flat course, but considering it is on the seafront, I expect it'll suffer from wind coming off the sea at times. Being flat and tarmac, it is of course perfectly fine for buggy runners and wheelchair users. However please note that dogs are not permitted at this event.

From the start, the parkrunners head to the north along the esplanade with the stunning sight of Dover Castle sitting proudly atop the cliffs. The immediate section of path has a small pinch-point where some steps and a ramp are positioned, but it opens up after that. To the right is Dover Harbour which should mostly be quite still as it is protected by the Dover Breakwater about a kilometre-or-so beyond the shore. Dover Beach is also to the right hand side, incidentally it is the name of a poem by Matthew Arnold, said to be the third great Victorian poet. To the left is Waterloo Crescent, which is a conservation area. The late 19th century buildings are Graded II Listed and consist mainly of hotels. There is also a Marco Pierre White fish & chip shop / restaurant. I understand he is a famous chef. The path along the seafront is very well appointed, containing nicely landscaped grass and bushes. There is also a Dunkirk memorial stone here - the evacuation of Dunkirk had its control centre in Dover Castle's grounds.

As the course progresses along the esplanade there are three bronze statues, these are of Jamie Clark who brought the Olympic torch to Dover in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, and Ian Fleming most famous for writing the James Bond novels, who lived locally. The final one is of Dame Vera Lynn, who of course sang 'The White Cliffs of Dover' and was most well-known for her musical performances, and helping keep up morale, during the Second World War. Next to the statues is quite a discreet installation, a start/finish line set into the ground - it marks the beginning/end of The North Downs Way. The two portland stone blocks are called 'On The Crest of a Wave' and commemorate those who have swum across the English Channel. Looking out across the channel on a clear day, the coast of France is clearly visible on the horizon.

At the end of Waterloo Crescent the grassy landscaped waterfront marina area finishes and the seafront takes on a harsher feel. The beach disappears and so does the grass. Across the road are many more statues and memorial stones. There is one of Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls-Royce. He is commemorated here as he was the first person to cross the channel and return in a single flight. Incidentally, he was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft. There is also one of Captain Andrew Webb, first person to swim across the English Channel. The course continues and soon passes the Premier Inn where the white cliffs now dominate the immediate skyline. The turn-around point at the end of the first out-and-back is found here right next to the traffic crossing.

The course now simply follows the waterfront path back to the start area. The second of the out-and-backs is, I think, unique for an English parkrun, as it takes place on the pier. It is approximately 500 metres each way with a loop around the shelter at the end, and is a brilliant feature of the course. The pier (Dover Marina Pier) was opened to the public in 2019, being constructed as part of the redevelopment of the marina area. The views from the end are great, but you may need to wander back across after the parkrun to enjoy them fully. Once back at the start area, the last thing to do is repeat the first out-and-back again. The finish line is found right back at the original start area. Barcode scanning takes place right after the finish line. I recorded the course with my Garmin and you can see the data/map on Strava. I also imported the data into the Relive app and created a course fly-by which can be viewed on YouTube.

Should the pier be closed, there is an alternative course, and because I like to be helpful, I ran it the night before, so I have the GPS data and a Relive video of that too. The alternative course is a double out-and-back on the waterfront path, but it continues for an extra 250 metres before reaching its turnaround point, which is right at the very end of the path, next to the ferry port. You'll know when you have reached the turnaround point because the path is a dead end, with the only options being to turn around or go down the small steps onto the concrete sea defences below. So you just do this twice and the 5 kilometres are complete.

The results were processed and uploaded a short while later and 218 people took part in event 4. This was roughly in line with the current expected attendances. I would imagine there are still quite a high percentage of tourists within those figures, so the actual long-term weekly average is still unknown. The post-event refreshments are listed as being at the Pedlar on the Port cafe, which is within the clock tower building just next to the start/finish area. It's not the only refreshments option, at time of writing, another outlet called Rebels Coffee was offering a special deal to parkrunners. Plus if you are hanging around longer and fancy some vegetarian or vegan food for lunch, there is a vegan place called Planet Earth Kitchen at the marina.

While in Dover, we visited Dover Castle (it's quite expensive for a one-off visit, but we entered for free with our English Heritage Membership Cards), had a wander around the town centre, and visited Dover Museum and Bronze Age Boat Gallery (free entry). The boat gallery is home to the remains of the oldest known sea-faring boat in the world, which is thought to be around 3,500 years old. We didn't visit the Western Heights, as The Drop Redoubt and The Grand Shaft are only open on select days throughout the year, so we didn't get to explore these. If these are important to your visit, then check the Western Heights Preservation Society webpage where open days are listed. 

Our brief visit to Dover had left us pretty worn out, so we hit the road back home at about midday. From a historical point of view, Dover is a great place to visit as it is full of wonderful historic links, and the addition of the parkrun is of course an added bonus. The view of the castle and the section along the pier were definitely the highlights for me.  Thank you so much to all the volunteers for making it happen and for the very warm welcome!

Related Links:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...