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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

The White Cliffs of Dover

The cliffs of Dover were mentioned by Julius Caesar in his  account of the Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BC. Shakespeare  too makes reference to them in 'King Lear' and the lines  beginning "There is a cliff, whose high and bending head looks  fearfully on the confined deep" are commemorated by  Shakespeare Cliff to the west of the town. Throughout the centuries, the chalk cliffs have been a symbol of home to Britons abroad and coupled with bluebirds in the  popular song of World War II, they provided a world-wide  symbol of peace. Although any visitor hoping to see the  bluebirds will be disappointed as they were artistic licence on  the part of the song writer - obviously bluebirds sounded more  romantic than sea gulls!   The cliffs were formed in the Cretaceous Period (Mesozoic Era),  which commenced about 136,000,000 years ago, and are  essentially marine in origin, probably originating in deep, open  sea. They consist mainly of upper, middle and lower chalk, i.e.  white, soft pure limestone composed of countless shells. The  top of Shakespeare Cliff for example, consists of nodular upper  chalk with flints, the centre of middle white and nodular chalk  and the bottom of chalk (glauconitic) marl and grey chalk on a  base of gault and greensand. Numerous fossils have been discovered in the chalk, ranging  from shark's teeth, ventriculites, micrasters and many sponges  in the upper chalk, to large pectens, palatal teeth oysters,  ammonites, remains of saurians and brain corals in the middle  and lower chalk.   Langdon Cliffs   To the east of Dover five miles of countryside and coast are  owned by the National Trust. Langdon Cliffs overlook the Straits  of Dover and are an excellent place to watch world’s busiest  shipping lanes. There is a visitor centre, known as 'The Gateway to the White Cliffs', with a coffee shop and displays about the  cliffs. The chalk downland on top of the cliffs is very rare. Many of the plants pre-date the last Ice Age and are adapted to the thin  chalk soils and traditional grazing management. Many of the  plants are almost unique to this part of Kent. The National Trust continues to graze the chalk downland along  the cliff top using Exmoor Ponies. In other areas, where grazing  is not possible, a hay cut is taken for the benefit of the chalk  downland.  The chalk downland supports a rich variety of wildlife. The mild  climate makes it an ideal habitat for the Common Lizard and a  variety of insects and butterflies are supported by the  unique  plant communities.   Kittywakes, Fulmars and Peregrin Falcons all make their home  on the White Cliffs. The sheer cliffs provide a secure nest site,  safe from predators. The chalk downland above provides a  nesting site for the Skylark. You can walk along the cliff top to visit South Foreland  Lighthouse, which is also owned by the National Trust. There  has been a lighthouse on the South Foreland for hundreds of  years. The present tower was built in 1843 to protect shipping  from the Goodwin Sands just off shore.   It was from the South Foreland lighthouse, on 28th December  1898, that Gugliemo Marconi made the world's first ship to  shore radio transmissions and subsequently the world's first  international transmission to Wimereux, in France, 28 Miles  away.
Shakespeare Cliff c.1900. Langdon Cliffs, 2014. Clifftop flowers - the Sanfoin. Clifftop flowers - the Pyramidal Orchid. Clifftop flowers - the Birdsfoot Trefoil. The South Foreland Lighthouse. Back to Areas Index