In need of a few days break, a chance to get away from the humdrum routine and recharge the batteries, of course you are but the question is, where? Many head for the nearest airport and destinations in the sun forgetting there are locations in the UK that would often fit the bill. For me, Folkestone has proved to be one such place.
3 nights at the 550 room Grand Burstin Hotel owned by Britannia Hotels was to be my home. Overlooking the small harbour and within easy reach of shops, buses and facilities it makes for an ideal base. Standard rooms have En-suite Bathroom, Hairdryer, Tea and Coffee making facilities, upgrade to a Premier room and enjoy a Sea View or Balcony, plus Iron and Ironing Board together with Premier Dining in the Victorian Restaurant. Certainly, my room was clean and the food was the standard expected from a 3 star hotel. Entertainment is available every evening plus the game that has been dubbed by many as the British pastime, Bingo.
Sitting in the sun looking out over the harbour, watching the small boats bobbing around in the breeze, some decked out with flags and pennants, brought back happy memories of my childhood when the annual holiday with parents was a week at Broadstairs, this area had the same feel.
100 yards away brings you to the old Harbour Station, first opened in 1849 and apart from closures during both world wars was thronged with passengers on the ‘Boat Trains’ to and from London utilising the cross-channel ferries to Calais and Boulogne until the service was terminated in 2001. The old station is being renovated back to its former glory, new bars, cafes, restaurants are being built and it’s home to Folkestone’s Fishing and Heritage Museum. Stroll along the harbour wall, through the arches and enter the Eastern Quayside, an area that is like stepping back in time. The ‘Shell Shop’ with its orange canopies exhibiting wind chimes of various sizes, sounds and colours made from a variety of sea shells, stalls with delicious mouth watering displays of Crab, Lobster, Mussels, Prawns, Jellied eels, all fresh and locally caught. Meandering onwards past the Ship Inn, exquisite little terraced houses, their hanging baskets a fusion of colour before walking on a small sandy beach where children play with buckets and spades, building sand castles as I did 70 years ago. A wonderful walk down memory lane.
Make your way to Old High Street, a narrow street from a bygone era on a steep incline, home to shops making various crafts, others selling cakes, desserts, custom made jewellery, musical instruments, for those wanting to relive the music from their childhood a trip to Vintage and Vinyl is a must. This one street alone has to be the visitor’s ‘shop browsing’ paradise. Reaching the top, having refreshed yourself at one of the several ‘Watering Holes’ on the way, turn left into Priory Gardens home to the old church of St Mary & St Eanswythe’s an area where worship of the Christian Faith has taken place since 630AD. The church traces a wonderful history including a time when it was suppressed by Henry Vlll and then transformed back to its present glory in the 1800’s. From this high point on a clear day the visitor has views of the French Coast.
Stroll along The Bayle past the delightful British Lion Pub said to be the oldest pub in Folkestone dating back to the 15th Century and finally into The Parade where the ‘Parade Steps’ take you back to the harbour..
This is indeed an area worth exploring, never knowing what gems from the past lurk in the back streets or along the water front.
Only half an hour away by bus is the old ‘Cinque Port’ of Dover now the UK’s busiest ferry port but that’s for another day.
Folkestone is in many ways a hidden gem with history that will be ideal for many. There are numerous hotels and guest houses and with a main railway station and excellent road links it could prove the weekend resort for many, it certainly did for me.