FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Back to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 8, 2018

A trip down to Folkestone for a family gathering provided an opportunity for a short stop off at the harbour to see how much progress has been made with the re-development of the old station at Folkestone Harbour.

Since my last visit the old ticket office (facing towards the Leas) has been demolished and the station platforms have re-opened following extensive repairs to the station canopies. The difference between the station today and in its last years of decay is rather striking!

Folkestone Harbour Station – 2011

Folkestone Harbour Station – 2018

In some of the press reports from earlier in the year there was talk of providing train carriages for traders to operate from so it will be interesting to see what happens next.

I’m not against the wider development that will follow on from this, but I can’t help thinking that the harbour will look swamped with over 1,000 beach houses, apartments and town houses surrounding them (some apparently up to 12 storeys tall). I wish the density of the development was somewhat less. On top of that, it is sad to see that the familiar sight of the harbour master’s house doesn’t feature in the plans. Still, it’s good to see the preservation and restoration that has taken place so far.

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Seven highlights from the Folkestone Triennial 2017

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 3, 2017

The Folkestone Triennial has once again served up an interesting mix of work from 20 artists which have been spread across the breadth of the town from the Leas to the East cliff. Highlights include a couple of figures from Anthony Gormley, gilded replicas of Folkestone’s fishing fleet by Jonathan Wright and an audio installation by Emily Peasgood in the Baptist Burial Ground.

I usually pop down some time after the event has got into its stride, but on this occasion I took a look on its opening weekend and discovered that not everything was quite ready. One of the artworks, Bill Woodrow’s The Ledge, won’t be installed until later in September so all you can do now is admire an empty black plinth!

1. Fleet on Foot – Jonathan Wright

The moment I stepped into Tontine Street my eye was immediately drawn to Jonathan Wright’s distinctive gilded replicas of boats from Folkestone’s current fishing fleet which stand atop poles at various points along the street, leading you down to harbour square. The location is rather appropriate as the street sits atop the Pent stream, a mostly hidden water channel that runs along a culvert and into the harbour (though I discovered the hard way, in August 1996, that it causes havoc when it floods!).

A 3D printed replica of fishing boat FE75 “Rowena” (built Rye, 1989) in Tontine Street

I’m no art connoisseur but I liked the crossover between the artworks and the familiar everyday sights of Folkestone Harbour. It was fun comparing these to the real thing a little later in the day on a wander along the Stade.

2. Halfway to Heaven – Emily Peasgood

The Bradstone Road Burial Ground is a Folkestone oddity – a graveyard that has sat 20 feet above street level since the mid-nineteenth century. The burial ground was originally on the hillside, in the grounds of the local miller’s house, but when the railways arrived the land was needed to allow the town to expand. No-one wanted to disturb the dead so the burial ground was left untouched as the rest of the hillside was cut away. The graveyard was surrounded by retaining walls that have kept this last piece of the hillside intact right up to the present day.

Bradstone Road Burial Ground

The sound installations at the Baptist Burial Ground were quite hauntingly beautiful. The artist, Emily Peasgood, had researched the individuals buried here and this was used to create sound pieces that triggered as you wandered amongst the graves. It was perhaps at its most amazing when a handful of people were wandering around, triggering the sound pieces at the same time.

I was really pleased that we got the chance to go up the stairs to the burial ground and look around. It really is very odd to find a graveyard up a set of steepish stairs with the street on one side and a garage at the back. My father was fascinated too – his best man’s house overlooked the burial ground from across the street but he had never been up until this weekend. It’s a fascinating curiosity of history.

3. Holiday Home – Richard Woods

It is pretty much impossible to miss Richard Wood’s contribution to the Folkestone Triennial – six one-third size ‘holiday homes’ that draw attention to the growth in second homes at a time when many cannot afford a house at all. The six homes are deliberately placed in unlikely places to show that ‘no site is too small, too unlikely, or too inconvenient for its neighbours, for a holiday home’.

One of the holiday homes on the shingle in front of Marine Crescent

The printed maps we picked up show a different location for one of the houses (marked on the map as 6e) to that shown in the map available to download from the website. This house is sited on the shingle in front of Marine Crescent not part-way up the zig zag path.

4. Another Time XVIII and XXI – Antony Gormley

Two of Anthony Gormleys now very familiar cast-iron figures are on loan to the Folkestone Triennial and were a big draw on the opening weekend. One is placed at the far end of the Parade, nearest to the east cliff, whilst the other has been installed in a loading bay on the Folkestone Harbour arm.

Another Time XVIII 2013 at the Loading Bay, Folkestone Harbour Arm

The figure on the harbour arm was sufficiently popular that queues had formed at one point on the first day of the Triennial. A short set of steps takes you down to a viewpoint over the loading bay but you can’t get up too close. You also need the tide to be in your favour – when I returned on the sunday the floor of the loading bay and viewpoint was completely covered with water!

By contrast, the figure in the parade was somewhat easier to access, albeit down a rather slippery set of steps. I probably haven’t wandered around the arches here since I was a child, so it was good fun looking at the different angles that were possible for a photograph.

Another Time XVIII 2013 at high tide (photographed through the grill)

I’ve seen these figures in a few locations now, but nothing quite compares to the effect of seeing so many spread along Crosby beach. Nevertheless, it was great to see them in Folkestone.

5. Siren – Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od

The piece from Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od really appealed to me as it draws on the ‘listening ears’ along this stretch of coast which I just happened to have visited a little over a month back.

Siren at sunrise

Siren is marvelously positioned near the East Cliff Pavilion, with a great view over the Sands and Folkestone Harbour. It was proving a popular spot on the first day, though most folk seemed more interested in hearing their own voices impressively amplified than listening to the waves to get the sea-shell effect.

6. Lamp Post (as remembered) – David Shrigley

The idea behind David Shrigley’s piece was to reflect Folkestone’s creative-led move away from its long history serving the traditional tourist market. To that end he invited an artist to spend 40 seconds memorising the decorative lamp posts on the Leas and then re-create this from memory, thus turning heritage into an artwork befitting of the new Folkestone.

Lamp Post (as remembered)

It’s an interesting concept and one that plays out nicely as you stroll along the Leas wondering if you will spot the interloper immediately. In fact, it is easy to do so because it is much shorter and then as you get closer you notice the differences in design. Quite apart from anything else it made me look closer at the existing lamp posts which I have too easily ignored in the past!

7. Minaret – HoyCheong Wong

One of the things I love most about the triennial is the chance to see Folkestone afresh, whether that is surfacing a bit of forgotten history or providing a new viewpoint on a familiar sight. I have to confess that I had absolutely no idea of the existence of the Islamic Cultural Centre, which has operated as a Mosque in Foord Street for 28 years. I must have walked past it plenty of times on my way to my Nan’s house without noticing.

The Islamic Cultural Centre illuminated at night

You certainly can’t miss it now. For the duration of the triennial HoyCheong Wong has added a delightful temporary facade with minarets which is illuminated at night. It proved a popular spot to visit on our evening stroll, turning the usually quiet side street into a magnet for art-hunters. I’m not sure what the occasional motorist made of the folk lined against the wall that borders one side of the road in an attempt to get that perfect shot!


The fourth incarnation of the Folkestone Triennial runs every day from 2nd September to 5th November 2017. A map and app are available through the Folkestone Triennial website.


Re-imagining Folkestone

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 3, 2017

A weekend trip to see the Folkestone Triennial provided a welcome opportunity to see what has been going on around the town in the three years since I last made it down.

A view of Folkestone Harbour from the newly opened walkway towards the True Briton

The transformation of the town was already well under way last time I visited, but I was really struck by the health and vitality of Tontine Street, a far cry from the run down state of the street in the 1990s. The restoration of the Brewery Tap as an exhibition space for the University for the Creative Arts is rather wonderful (we popped in to see the current installation and my father reminisced about his last visit in the 1960s, a time when it still had a sawdust floor).

The Old High Street looked reassuringly busy with only a handful of shop units lying empty – astonishing when you consider how many high streets are struggling right now. It is also encouraging to see the side-effects of regeneration spreading across town and the much needed refurbishment of hotels that have long seemed stuck in the past.

In various spots around town you can see that the work continues. The demolition of the Old Bingo Hall and Co-op buildings has left quite a noticeable gap at the junction of Dover Road and Tontine Street which will be filled by a world class six storey Urban Sports Park when construction is completed in 2018. It looks like a really exciting development and one that shows that this wave of transformation is not solely for the benefit of incomers (as some have suggested).

The new pedestrian walkway across the old Folkestone Harbour Viaduct on the morning of 3rd September 2017

However, it is around Folkestone Harbour and the coastal park that the most dramatic changes have taken place. On 2nd September 2017 a new pedestrian walkway across Folkestone Harbour opened using the railway viaduct and swing bridge. It seemed to be an instant success with everyone and offers a lovely perspective on the harbour (I especially like the way that they have adapted the well-built brick support for the sidings into a viewing platform looking across the outer harbour). Access is currently via temporary steps in harbour square – a staircase and lift will come later.

The new walkway will eventually continue through the railway station, providing a connection with the harbour arm and the newly established boardwalk across the shingle towards the Leas Lift. At the moment work is continuing on the station but what you can see already looks pretty impressive with the replacement of the canopies and restoration of the station walls. When this is finished visitors will have the option to walk at platform level or on the track bed path. It may not be the preserved railway line that I once hoped for but it is a wonderfully sympathetic restoration that does a terrific job of preserving the history of the site.

Restoration of the canopies and installation of the new trackbed paths continues at Folkestone Harbour Station

An indication of how well this has been done can be seen in the beautiful revival of the last surviving part of the old Customs House, with the addition of some lovely wooden doors, which currently houses an exhibition in connection with the triennial. The restoration and adaptation of the buildings on the harbour arm and the re-establishment of the platform break (where the line to West Beach Carriage Sidings used to cut through) show a similar respect for the history of this site. The latter connects with a boardwalk across a freshly re-shingled beach that hides the footprint of the old Rotunda site.

If I have any quibbles about the development they are mostly around the scale of a few of the taller buildings that will be built in the last stage of the project on the south quay – it looked as though they rather dwarfed elements like the Old Customs House in the model and illustrations on display in the visitor centre (located at the entrance to the harbour arm from the car park overlooking the sands). However, it’s not as though the buildings that were on this spot until recently were pleasing to the eye and surely nothing can be any worse than the architectural monstrosity that is the Burstin!

The first stage of the Folkestone Harbour walkway is a striking addition to the geography of the town and puts it on the map with other innovative adaptations of old railway lines such as the Promenade Plantée in Paris and the High line in New York. Not bad company to be keeping!

The sympathetic restoration of the station platforms is rather special

The creative-industry led regeneration in Folkestone continues to be rather wonderful and unusual, saving the town from the downward trajectory seen in many a coastal town where traditional industries and/or tourist markets have been in steady decline. Sadly most of the deprived coastal communities around the country do not have a benefactor like De Haan to inject such sustained and much needed investment.

Folkestone’s fascinating story of re-invention from the fashionable resort of the Victorian era to a new life as a hub of artistic creativity is remarkable, but it is worth remembering that the regeneration is not a panacea for all the problems that the town faces, particularly when there are still wards around the harbour that are among the 10% of most deprived in the country.


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Approval for Folkestone’s segment of the England Coast Path

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on March 25, 2015

Natural England have announced that the Secretary of State has given approval for a new stretch of coastal path between Folkestone and Ramsgate which will form one segment of the England Coast Path, a new footpath around England’s coast which is expected to be finished by 2020.

Although many of the footpaths already exist, tying them together in one clearly signed path is a step to be welcomed. It is also a significant decision for the area as it grants walking rights in places where none existed before and should improve access around the Stour estuary.

Folkestone Warren

The path passes above Folkestone Warren and the entrance to Abbottscliff Tunnel

The baton now passes to Kent County Council who will carry out the work needed to implement the agreed path, such as signs and gates, before it opens later this year.

I have walked many of the existing coastal paths in the area and it is always a pleasure to have a fresh excuse to go back. I could certainly never tire of the views around Folkestone, Dover or St Margarets at Cliffe and anything that draws attention to the lovely stretch of coast has to be good.

You can read the full announcement at England Coast Path in Kent: two steps forward. The original proposals, with detailed maps, are available at Coastal Access in Kent: Folkestone to Ramsgate which needs to be read alongside the modifications resulting from the consultation.

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Folkestone and the Great War

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 15, 2014

Although the triennial was the main reason for my visit to Folkestone, I was also keen to see the exhibition on Folkestone in the Great War which was on display at the museum (in the library) before it closed on 21st September 2014.

The port was not only the departure point for many soldiers, but also the arrival point for many refugees coming the other way. So great was the influx of Belgian refugees that many buildings around the town were adopted for use by this temporary community – including a Belgian school and church. Some Belgian refugees ended up in my great-great-grandmother’s house though the details have long since faded into history, apart from the story of how she walked in one time to find her guests putting hot saucepans on a piano!

It is a real pity that so few details have been passed down within my family, but it seems that we are not alone in this regard. It is astonishing to think that the influx of 250,000 Belgian refugees could virtually disappear from collective memory, but the key to this is the speed with which the refugees were repatriated. The BBC magazine highlighted this today in the article How 250,000 Belgium refugees didn’t leave a trace.

Folkestone was also home to several rest camps which catered for soldiers on their way to the front, providing a little comfort to 10,000 men a day at their peak. The photographs of the large fenced compound of Rest Camp No 3 on the Leas show just how dramatically this relatively genteel Victorian promenade had been altered by the war. For many men the march down the slope (now known as the Road of Remembrance) to the harbour was to be their final farewell to British soil. Earlier this year a new memorial arch was unveiled at the top of the road.

Memorial arch at the top of the Road of Remembrance

Memorial arch at the top of the Road of Remembrance

On May 25th 1917 the war came to Folkestone in a way that no-one had expected, with the first attack on Britain by a formation of Gotha bombers (the original target of London having been abandoned due to thick cloud cover).

The Folkestone Herald reported the attack in the edition of June 2nd 1917 and described it as the greatest calamity in the town’s history. The report described an ‘exquisite spring evening, calm and quiet’ before the bombers arrived. Even then, people stood outside watching their approach, not realising that they were enemy aircraft.

‘At first the sound of remote reports aroused no alarm for the townspeople are accustomed to the sound of more or less distant gun practice. But the detonations grew louder and in a few minutes bombs were being rained on all quarters of the town.’

Fifty-one bombs were dropped in the space of ten minutes, one of which landed at the Folly Road crossing (a number of windows in the Junction Station area around Folly Road, Tram Road and Warren Road were reported to have been shattered – either by a bomb or an anti-aircraft shell fired from Dover). However, worst affected was Tontine Street, one of the main shopping streets in Folkestone at the time, where a single bomb killed 61 people.

Memorial in Tontine Street

Memorial in Tontine Street

At the time of the attack my great grandmother Edith Maud was at home. In the immediate aftermath Edith Maud knew where three of her four sons were to be found, but my grandfather Pete (aged 7 at the time) had been out playing when the raid occurred and she didn’t know where he was. Edith had heard that a boy wearing a green jumper (which is how Pete had been dressed when he went out) had got hurt during the raid and she began to worry that this was her son. A while later Pete appeared, wandering down the road with another boy, his arms full of bluebells. Edith said she could have killed him for all the worry that she put him through. Instead of being in the town he had been in the woods with his friend playing.

Sadly, 23 years laters, Pete’s half-sister Dorothy was not so lucky when a Junkers Ju 88 released its bombs in the area surrounding Folkestone Junction Station. Dorothy died in the coal cellar at the bottom of the family home in Folly Road at the terribly young age of 17.

The exhibition closes on 21st September 2014, but the organisers hope that the exhibition can be shown again in full in 2016.

You can read more about the impact of the war on Folkestone in the marvellous books A Glint in the Sky: German Air Attacks on Folkestone, Dover, Ramsgate, Margate and Dover and Folkestone During the Great War.

The last days of the Folkestone Harbour branch

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 14, 2014

No visit to Folkestone would be complete without a wander down to the harbour to see the ever changing balance between decay and development.

I was not altogether surprised to see that Folkestone Harbour Station looks more derelict than ever, with grass growing freely amongst the tracks and wood panelling falling from the walls. The skeletal remains of the once bustling platforms are a sad sight, but also hauntingly beautiful even in their decay. I wonder what will remain, if anything, the next time I visit.

The skeletal remains of Folkestone Harbour Station on 13th September 2014

The skeletal remains of Folkestone Harbour Station on 13th September 2014

The station is currently playing host to one of the artworks in the Folkestone Triennial, with the line ‘Coming and going is why the place is there at all’ illuminated in neon on the walls of the up and down platforms. It seems highly appropriate as the soul really has gone from the station, without the trains or ferries that once sustained it. At least the foot traffic for the triennial has breathed a bit of life into the platforms for a little while longer.

In November 2013 the Department for Transport launched a public consultation on Network Rail’s proposal to close the Folkestone Harbour branch line and Folkestone Harbour station. After considering the responses Ministers agreed to allow the proposals to proceed and the Office of Rail Regulation formally ratified the proposal to close Folkestone Harbour branch line and station on 31st July 2014.

The closure ratification notice posted at Folkestone

The closure ratification notice posted at Folkestone Harbour Station

Time is now almost up for what remains of the branch line. The notification stated that official closure would not take effect until four weeks after the date of ratification, but it seems that the fabric of the line may not remain long beyond that. On August 14th 2014 the Folkestone Herald reported that Network Rail anticipate removing their assets sooner rather than later – though, as far as I could tell, there is no sign of that yet.

Changes are taking place all around the station with the demolition of the Pilot Station (now just a pile of rubble), the clearance of the old warehouses (now a large car park) and the dismantling of the infrastructure that once supported the ferries (in particular the structure that used to sit at the end of the vehicle ramp, which has now been reduced to three concrete stumps).

The rusting ferry terminal infrastructure in 2008

The rusting ferry terminal infrastructure in 2008

The remains of the ferry terminal infrastructure in 2014

The remains of the ferry terminal infrastructure in 2014

A look up the pier shows the steady progression of work taking place beyond the current boundaries of the station, though I couldn’t see whether this included the removal of the stretch of line that used to run up to the lighthouse. The work is all part of a plan to renovate the harbour arm and open it up as a public promenade. The good news is that the plans include sympathetic restoration of the ironwork and canopies that ran alongside the railway on the pier (outside the footprint of the station as we know it today).

Work progresses on the pier at Folkestone Harbour

Work progresses on the pier at Folkestone Harbour

It is clear that Folkestone’s time as a point of arrival and departure has now gone, with no realistic prospect of it coming back in the same terms (the town council’s exploration of future use for ferries demonstrated that it was no longer viable) but that shouldn’t stop Folkestone developing as a destination in its own right. The ongoing regeneration of Folkestone through the work of the Creative Foundation gives me real hope for the future.


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Folkestone Triennial 2014

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 14, 2014

Over the last decade Folkestone has been undergoing a quite remarkable transformation, underpinned by the continuous efforts of the Creative Foundation. The achievements of this visionary arts charity include the remarkable regeneration of the Old High Street and Tontine Street, which seemed to be set on an irreversible path of decay not so very long ago. Every time I return to Folkestone I am struck by their progress and the creation of a wonderful artistic community.

One of the most delightful projects undertaken by the Creative Foundation is their public art project, the Folkestone Triennial, which returned for a third time on 30th August 2014 and runs until 2nd November 2014. The exhibition of art installations is the most ambitious yet. Better still, this continues to help build up a permanent collection of artworks around the town (sadly some artworks are only on show for the duration of the triennial).

The electrified line (Cross-track observation deck) by Gabriel Lester

The electrified line (Cross-track observation deck) by Gabriel Lester

I made the trip down this weekend and checked out the artworks, armed with a handy pocket sized map (copies available from the volunteers around town, at the railway station and at the visitor centre in Tontine Street). The theme of this triennial is ‘Lookout’ which takes an eye to the future.

The exhibits are incredibly diverse, ranging from an experiment in food production through to a series of Manhattan style water towers following the course of the Pent stream (the underground river beneath Folkestone’s streets). You can even join the exhibits by getting yourself scanned in 3d (for a charge) at Strange Cargo’s Georges House Gallery in The Old High Street.

I particularly loved the whithervanes, five headless chicken sculptures on Folkestone’s rooftops, which track the spread of fear on the internet (through realtime monitoring of alarmist keywords in newsfeeds). The whithervanes revolve away from the geographic source of each story. At night coloured lighting indicates the intensity of fear, though it must have been an unusually calm night at the time of our visit as the whithervanes were glowing green.

One of five whithervanes in Folkestone for the triennial

One of five whithervanes in Folkestone for the triennial

Another highlight of the trip was Pablo Bronstein’s rather charming Beach hut in the style of Nicholas Hawksmoor, which the artist feels should help remedy the lack of English baroque architecture on the south coast. It was a delightful reminder that art can be fun.

It was the first windy day in a week, which gave us the perfect opportunity to try Marjetica Potrč’s wind lift. This installation features a 25 metre high passenger lift, attached to the railway viaduct, which is entirely powered by a wind turbine. The number of rides possible is determined entirely by the amount of energy harvested.

The wind lift by Marjetica Potrč and Ooze Architects

The wind lift by Marjetica Potrč and Ooze Architects

I am certainly biased, but I think the Folkestone Triennial makes for an extremely enjoyable day out and is simply perfect when combined with lunch at the eateries around Folkestone Harbour and Old High Street.


All change at Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 2, 2014

The appearance of the Folkestone waterfront has undergone many changes over the past few centuries, but recent years have seen an acceleration in the destruction of the twentieth century architecture that will have been familiar to any visitor to the town in the late twentieth century.

The most dramatic change in recent times came with the demolition of the Rotunda (1938-2007) and the surrounding amusement park, but now the harbour itself is the focus of change with the demolition crews moving on to Folkestone Pilot Station, the Hoverspeed Terminal and the nearby warehouse/offices.

Folkestone Pilot Station in 2011

Folkestone Pilot Station in 2011

No doubt this is all part of the endless cycle of change, but it is particularly sad to see the loss of the brutalist concrete tower which always struck me as rather spectacular, standing strong against the elements in its highly exposed position. It is supremely ironic that the pilot station was being demolished just as the Folkestone Triennial opened with a theme of ‘Lookout’.

Folkestone Pilot Station was opened on 30th March 1971 and looked after shipping in the Margate/North East Spit area as well as around Folkestone.

Folkestone Harbour Station and the Pilot House in April 2008

Folkestone Harbour Station and the Pilot House in April 2008

The building had cost £250,000 to construct and marked a significant change in operations. The development of radio and fast launches meant that large numbers of pilots no longer had to kept at the ready on cruising cutters and could instead be called from their homes not long before they were required.

Inside the structure were a series of cabins for those pilots on duty through the night and those landing in the early hours of morning. It was regarded as a state of the art facility in its day, even including ovens that could prepare frozen meals in minutes!

Margaret Thatcher visited the Pilot Station in 1977 and took the helm of the special fast launch ‘Lodesman’ in the choppy waters of Folkestone Harbour for ten minutes at 11 knots. She described the whirlwind visit as a way to pay tribute to the lighthousemen, lifeboatmen and pilots who make the sea safer for us.

Folkestone Pilot Station towers above the harbour viaduct in October 2007

Folkestone Pilot Station towers above the harbour viaduct in October 2007

The station had a relatively short life, closing in September 1988 after it became a victim of technological advances in radar and communication systems. The closure marked not only the end of the station but also the end of over 400 years of history for the Cinque Port Pilots.

Towards the end of its life the tower was declared structurally unsound and it was considered to be beyond economic repair. It may not have been the most well loved of Folkestone’s buildings, but the station’s demolition is a real architectural loss for the town and that is something that not many modern structures in Folkestone could claim.

The demolition of Folkestone Pilot Station has been reported in the Folkestone Herald story Demolition starts at Folkestone Harbour’s pilot house and on Kent Online in End of an era as iconic pilot control tower is demolished at Folkestone Harbour. Folkestone Harbour Company have also published a news release on the site clearance.

The future vision for the site can be seen on the Folkestone Seafront website.

Further reading

On Flickr one user has scanned in a rather wonderful article on the opening of the building from 1971 which goes into great detail on the construction of the building and explains how it was built to ensure the elements. Thanks to Tesselate for a fascinating read.

Folkestone Jubilee Airshow

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on June 2, 2012

The fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 1990 prompted a number of airshows and flypasts, including one at Folkestone which proved an irresistable draw for us. The airshows lasted until 2003 when the plug was pulled and it seemed unlikely that they would ever return. It therefore a most welcome surprise to hear that an airshow was to be revived at Folkestone for the jubilee weekend and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

The Red Arrows at the Folkestone Airshow in 2012

Folkestone has an obvious and expansive vantage point in a victorian promenade sitting 200ft above sea level (The Leas) which the airshows of 1990 and successive years played to. Aircraft would sometimes appear from below our position and usually offered a different perspective from those shows where you had to crane your neck skywards to see the spectacle.

Hurricane LF363 from the high vantage point of the Leas

The weather forecasts leading up to the show varied incredibly, but luckily the weather held and once again the skies above Folkestone were filled with the sound of acrobatic display teams, modern jets and warbirds. I have never mastered the art of photographing planes but I enjoyed having another go from the beach and the Leas.

The display from the Red Arrows was superb – this was my first chance to see the team with seven hawks rather than the usual nine. Unfortunately a computer malfunction (as I believe it was reported) resulted in the synchro pair having to abandon the show early, reducing the team to just five. No matter, it was still wonderful to see.

The arrival of the Lancaster flanked by a Spitfire and Hurricane was a highlight of the show for me. I made it up to the upper Leas by this time and the side on view was wonderful, particularly with the Hurricane against the backdrop of the English channel. Fingers crossed that this show gets to run and run.

More photos from Folkestone

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A mixed grill – art, archaeology and aviation

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on July 30, 2011

At one time I used to visit Folkestone regularly to visit my grandparents, but since they are no longer around I have come back much less frequently. The final days of the branch line to Folkestone Harbour lured me back on a number of occasions until the line closed in 2009 but I haven’t been back since. The Folkestone triennial and a chance to see the archaeological dig on the East Cliff seemed like a good excuse to remedy that.

The second Folkestone Triennial, which opened on 25th June 2011, is an exhibition of sculptures, art installations and films that takes over streets, buildings and other public spaces for three months.

Our first port of call was the parish church of St Mary and St Eanswythe which is the temporary home of Hew Locke’s ‘For those in peril on the sea’ – a remarkable installation of 100 model ships suspended from the nave which looks dramatic from every angle. Apart from that, it was a good opportunity to look around the church and appreciate the place properly – which I’ve never really been able to do on those few occasions I’ve found myself inside. The warm welcome and informative display boards made it a good first stop.

For those in peril on the sea

After dropping in to the visitor centre to pick up a map of the exhibits we headed to Folkestone Harbour station to see a sculpture placed on the tracks. The station seemed more overgrown than ever and yet even in this state you can’t help but feel the sense of history swirling about the place. Looking at it now, it’s hard to believe that only three years ago the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express was coming here on a regular basis.

Folkestone Harbour Station

Leaving the station behind we headed up towards the East Cliff to check out the archaeological dig, but were interrupted by the sound of a plane flying overhead – a Spitfire. This turned out to be Spitfire Vb BM597 on an Action Stations! flight experience over the white cliffs (passengers get the chance to photograph the Spitfire air-to-air from helicopters flying alongside). The pictures I took aren’t exactly great but hopefully give a flavour of the moment.

Spitfire over Folkestone

Moments later we found ourselves watching an engineering train pass through Folkestone Warren from a viewpoint near the Coastwatch station at Copt Point. This seemed to capture perfectly the rather eclectic nature of the day.

A class 66 diesel passes through Folkestone Warren just before midday with an engineering train (6N32)

After the welcome interruptions to our walk we finally made it to the archaeaological dig site on the East Cliff. The dig is uncovering the site of a roman villa first unearthed in 1924 but which has latterly been threatened by the coastal erosion taking place here (the land has slipped in a number of places along the clifftop). I’ve long heard about the villa as my father recalled playing in the remains in the late 1940s/early 1950s so it was great to get the chance to see it for myself.

The site of the archaeological dig on the East Cliff with Martello Tower 1 in the background

A visitor centre has been created in a portakabin which gives a great overview of the site and its history, as well as some of the fascinating finds – such as tiles stamped with the mark of the Classis Britannica, the British fleet of the Roman Navy. A notice board provided some updates on progress with the dig, making it feel much more immediate than your usual museum experience.

The roman villa(s) on the East Cliff at Folkestone

An opportunity to take a closer look at the dig was quickly taken up and one of the team gave us a really helpful explanation of what we were looking at, pointing out which walls belong to the earlier and later villas. It was well worth stopping by to take a look. To find out more about the dig you can visit the dig website at A town unearthed: Folkestone before 1500 and the Canterbury Trust has some interesting photos of the roman villa on their website, including an aerial photograph showing how the receding cliffline has affected the site.

The walk back into town took us down the Tram Road to the harbour where we stopped off at the Old Smokehouse for lunch before resuming our hunt for the other exhibits around town. We clearly weren’t alone in our quest as you didn’t have to look very far to see other visitors clutching the tell tale Triennial map.

The Leas Lift

Our somewhat illogical route (my fault!) took us up the Road of Remembrance to the Leas Lift, a rather remarkable piece of Victorian engineering. The lift re-opened on 29th January 2011 after being closed for a year. I haven’t been on a ride for a long while so took the chance to take a short ride and listen to one of the sound installations of the triennial. Once back to sea level we walked along the Lower Leas Coastal Park and then up the famous Zig Zag path to the Leas.

As a child I loved the Zig Zag path (preferably running down it from top to bottom at great speed!). It still seems as remarkable today walking up it as an adult, perhaps more so when you realise that it is a man made construction of the 1920s. The structure is built from Pulhamite (a mixture of waste rubble and cement invented by J. R. Pulham) and is now listed.

The Zig Zag path

At the top of the path you can see another of the triennial exhibits – one of many clocks installed in Folkestone running to French revolutionary time with 10 hours a day, 100 minutes an hour and 100 seconds in every minute. Apparently this was actually used in France between 1793 and the early 1800s.

Folk Stones

Once back on the Leas we explored a number of the exhibits at this level but I think the one that I found most thought provoking was Mark Wallinger’s ‘Folk Stones’ from the first Triennial. At first sight this looks like nothing more than a large square of stones cemented firmly into place. It’s only when you get closer that you see the numbers on each stone and then the detail hits you – there are 19,240 individually numbered stones, each one representing one of the British soldiers killed on the first day of the Somme. A few numbers have weathered away but the effect is still surprisingly powerful.

Out of tune

Our next stop was the installation ‘Out of Tune’ by Norwegian artist A K Dolven on the site of the old Rotunda amusement arcade (a place I loved as a child). The installation features a 16th-century tenor bell which had been removed from a Leicestershire church for being out of tune with the others. It is suspended between two beams and can be rung by visitors using a rope bell-pull, with a two minute interval. A crowd had gathered round the bell pull when we arrived and soon enough we heard the rather mournful sound of the bell being rung.

The Folkestone Mermaid

Finally, we headed to the Sunny Sands to see the Folkestone Mermaid by Cornelia Parker, probably the most talked about of all the commissions for the Triennial. The mermaid is a bronze sculpture in the pose of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid and makes a striking addition to the rocks overlooking the beach. Strangely, the mermaid seems a perfectly natural addition to the scene.

In the course of the day we had managed to see seventeen art installations, one spitfire, one engineering train and one archaeological dig. Not bad for a day out…

Gallery: Folkestone

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on July 30, 2011

The Golden Arrow: Waterloo to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on March 14, 2009

The saga of the last train to Folkestone Harbour has finally drawn to a close today with the visit of BR standard class 7 steam locomotive 70013 ‘Oliver Cromwell’ with the ‘Golden Arrow’ from Waterloo.

West Coast Railways class 47 diesel 47245 hauls the railtour into Folkestone Harbour

West Coast Railways class 47 diesel 47245 hauls the railtour into Folkestone Harbour

Unlike previous occasions where a sense of uncertainty lingered, this time Network Rail has confirmed that the line will be mothballed after the steam special. A major factor in the closure was the significant amounts required to bring the line up to a modern standard. The one remaining consistant user, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, will transfer their services to the freshly refurbished station at Folkestone West.

BR standard class 7 steam locomotive 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' on the viaduct

BR standard class 7 steam locomotive 70013 ‘Oliver Cromwell’ on the viaduct

The significance of this last visit was underlined by the relative extravagance (and delight) of three runs up the 1 in 30 ascent. Even the locomotive seemed fitting, for Oliver Cromwell is perhaps best remembered for being one of four locomotives used for the IT57 ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ which was the last steam hauled passenger train operated on the mainline by British Rail. After the special excursion, on 11th August 1968, a steam ban came into effect across the network. Now, it has another last to add to its history.

Oliver Cromwell makes a spirited run up the 1 in 30 gradient

Oliver Cromwell makes a spirited run up the 1 in 30 gradient

As sad as it is to see the branch line close, the railways in and around Folkestone have been in decline for many years. The quadruple lines through Folkestone Central have been reduced to two lines for well over a decade and the island platform now stands bereft of structures, a ghost of a busier age. The ferries that once graced Folkestone Harbour have long gone (and with them the boat trains). The pedestrian footbridge and crossing box at Folly Road long since vanished. My parents could talk of earlier losses, remembering a railway far busier than I have ever known it. In some ways, it is a miracle that the harbour branch survived quite this long. So rather than bemoan its passing, I choose to glory in this last hurrah.

Oliver Cromwell at the tail of the railtour as it crosses Foord viaduct

Oliver Cromwell at the tail of the railtour as it crosses Foord viaduct

Today’s events lasted a couple of wonderful smoke filled hours and then finally, it was over. My last sighting of Oliver Cromwell came as she was dragged across the Foord viaduct, high above Folkestone’s streets and my vantage point near the premises of family funeral directors Hambrook and Johns.


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The Golden Arrow: Victoria to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on January 24, 2009

The number of ‘last’ trains to Folkestone Harbour over the past two years has been quite remarkable, but the end is clearly going to come before too long. Today’s Past Time Rail tour from Victoria to Folkestone Harbour may yet be the last train – or it might not! I wasn’t taking any chances, so headed on down to Folkestone once again to take a few photographs of the occasion.

West Coast Railways Class 47 diesel 47787 seen through the columns of Folkestone Harbour station

West Coast Railways Class 47 diesel 47787 seen through the columns of Folkestone Harbour station

West Coast Railways Class 47 diesel 47787 brought the railtour into Folkestone Harbour station and whilst crowds gathered around the steam locomotive I headed to the far end of the station to grab a shot of the diesel through the majestic columns of the old station. Even in it’s decayed state the station still manages to exude a sense of its former grandeur.

As with every one of the ‘last’ railtours to Folkestone Harbour huge crowds had gathered to the inner harbour whilst other photographers had gathered on every available high spot from the hillside to the balconies of the Burstin hotel in search of the perfect vista. Other brave souls had clambered up amongst the chimney pots of the Shangri-La (once a German consulate) which must have given an incredible viewpoint.

Photographers amongst the chimney pots of the Shangri-La

Photographers amongst the chimney pots of the Shangri-La

On this occasion Tangmere made two ascents of the 1-in-30 gradient before heading on to Canterbury, giving plenty of opportunity to try a variety of shots. In between ascents the locomotive was coaled from a lorry, watched by an impressive crowd at the level crossing in front of the station.

A crowd admires Tangmere at Folkestone Harbour

A crowd admires Tangmere at Folkestone Harbour

I headed to the bottom of the Tram Road to watch Tangmere start the ascent proper – an incredibly powerful sight. If this was to be the last railtour it was an impressive way for the line to bow out.

Southern Region Battle of Britain class 4-6-2 no. 34067 Tangmere tackles the 1-in-30 ascent that runs parallel to the Tram Road

Southern Region Battle of Britain class 4-6-2 no. 34067 Tangmere tackles the 1-in-30 ascent that runs parallel to the Tram Road

The impending closure of the Folkestone Harbour branch hangs heavily over the town. The proposed demolition of the viaduct and swing bridge threatens to rob Folkestone of a link that has existed for somewhere around 160 years. It seems a heavy price to pay for the creation of a modern marina. A large part of the charm of Folkestone Harbour revolves around its old viaduct, fishing boats and the cobbled streets of the Stade. I’m not sure that a marina would be much of a substitute.


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First ‘Onward’ Thumper Tour to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on December 21, 2008

The ‘Hastings Thumper’ visited Folkestone Harbour on Sunday 21st December 2008 on a railtour organised by Hastings Diesels Limited and the Remembrance Line Association.

The 'Hastings Thumper' crosses the harbour around 1pm, with the tide out and the Pent stream clearly visible

The 'Hastings Thumper' in the platform at Folkestone Harbour station

In the time that the train was laid-over at Folkestone Harbour the organisers offered cheap shuttle tickets for a return trip up to Folkestone East Sidings.

Folkestone Harbour depart : 1400
To Folkestone East Sidings and return
Folkestone Harbour arrive : 1420

It is quite possible that I would have been up or down the line as a child, but as I have no memory of that I decided this was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss. The short journey across the harbour and up the Tram Road to the sidings was the highlight of the day for me. It was lovely to experience the branch line from a different perspective.

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A walk along the pier at Folkestone

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on August 17, 2008

I seem to have spent quite a few days wandering around Folkestone Harbour in the last year, watching the station gradually fall to pieces around the line. The line ends rather abruptly in a new set of buffer stops, but at one time it carried on beyond this – which you can still see if you take a wander up to the end of the pier.

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VSOE at Folkestone Harbour in the summertime

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on August 17, 2008

The VSOE has been making regular trips to Folkestone Harbour throughout the summer. Today the empty coaches were pulled into the harbour by Class 67 diesel 67006 ‘Royal Sovereign’ and the VSOE was hauled out of the harbour by EWS liveried Class 67 diesel locomotive 67027 ‘Rising Star’ more or less on time.

67006 'Royal Sovereign' hauls the empty VSOE coaches into Folkestone Harbour in perfect sunlight

67027 'Rising Star' has just a metre more to be hauled before coming to a stop

67006 'Royal Sovereign' sits at the seaward end of the line, almost up to the new buffer stops.

A panoramic view of 67006 'Royal Sovereign' at Folkestone Harbour

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VSOE at Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on May 15, 2008

The VSOE returned to Folkestone Harbour branch today, on a particularly wet and miserable afternoon, making the most of what is believed to be a short reprieve for the line. On this occasion the service was topped and tailed by two class 67 diesels. 67003 coasted into Folkestone Harbour station with the empty coaches around 1.50pm and at about 3.45pm 67005 ‘Queen’s Messenger’ hauled a full VSOE back to London Victoria.

67003 passes the level crossing at Folkestone Harbour station with the VSOE

End of the line

Class 67 diesel 67005 'Queen's Messenger' sits beside the signal box at Folkestone Harbour station

Class 67 diesel 67005 'Queen's Messenger' sits in Folkestone Harbour station

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The last train: RIP Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on April 12, 2008

The departure of Tangmere wasn’t quite the end of the day’s events – a little while after the last whisps of smoke had dissipated and the crowds thinned, three GB Railfreight electro-diesels arrived to give the branch line a noisy and spectacular send off.

The three EDs at Folkestone Harbour station - 73204, 73205 and 73209

The three EDs at Folkestone Harbour station – 73204, 73205 and 73209

The three Eds (73204, 73205 and 73209) arrived on a working (0Z73) from Hoo Junction via Rochester, Chatham, Canterbury East and Dover. On arrival a special headboard reading ‘RIP Folkestone Harbour 1849-2008’ was fixed to the front of the lead loco and the trio headed off across the viaduct, setting off a series of detonators that echoed around the harbour.

The trio of electro-diesels were eagerly snapped by the waiting crowds

The trio of electro-diesels were eagerly snapped by the waiting crowds

In many ways it was a slightly strange to have three light engines as the ‘final train’ but at least there was a decent crowd around to witness the occasion (it could so easily have ended with a mid-week VSOE and barely a soul around). There certainly won’t be any shortage of footage if the number of photographers were anything to go by – every possible angle ought to have been covered!

The trio of electro-diesels on the swing bridge

The trio of electro-diesels on the swing bridge

After this false departure the three locos set back before finally departing Folkestone for the run back to Hoo Junction via Martin Mill. The end might have taken a while to come but it looks it is finally all over for the Folkestone Harbour branch. In fact, there was even a ‘commemorative coffin’ on the platform!


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The Golden Arrow: Taunton to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on April 12, 2008

It seemed strange to be back in Folkestone just a week after the last steam special here, but I was just happy to have another opportunity to grab some shots on the line’s final week.

Class 67 diesel 67006 'Royal Sovereign' hauls the railtour into Folkestone Harbour after the initial ascent

Class 67 diesel 67006 ‘Royal Sovereign’ hauls the railtour into Folkestone Harbour after the initial ascent

The honour of hauling the last steam special into Folkestone Harbour fell to Royal liveried class 67 diesel 67006 ‘Royal Sovereign’. Although the tour had originated in Taunton it was only at Willesden that Battle of Britain class steam locomotive 34067 ‘Tangmere’ had been added. As with the trip last week Tangmere made two ascents of the 1 in 30 gradient before heading on to Canterbury.

Tangmere hauls the 'Golden Arrow' railtour out of Folkestone Harbour for the second (and final) time

Tangmere hauls the ‘Golden Arrow’ railtour out of Folkestone Harbour for the second (and final) time

After the railtour had departed the crowds began to drift away, but the significant number that remained suggested that the rumours that another train was due in could well be right. I kept my fingers crossed and waited…

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The Golden Arrow: Derby to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on April 5, 2008

It is not quite a year since the last steam hauled railtour to Folkestone Harbour and now there are to be two within a week of each other. After the second railtour the curtain is expected to close on this spectacle, so I headed back to Folkestone knowing that this was an experience to be savoured.

My first stop was at the Skew Arches, a railway bridge that crosses the Dover Road at a diagonal angle. It’s one of those places that has lodged itself firmly into memory, being just a stone’s throw from my grandparent’s terraced house in Folly Road. I have to say that it looks perfect with an un-rebuilt Battle of Britain class steam locomotive passing. It is hard to imagine that this must have been a routine sight at this spot in the late 1940s/1950s.

Battle of Britain class locomotive 34067 'Tangmere' crosses the Skew Arches on the way to Folkestone East

Battle of Britain class locomotive 34067 ‘Tangmere’ crosses the Skew Arches on the way to Folkestone East

The railtour reversed at Folkestone East and class 67 diesel 67024 brought the train into Folkestone Harbour, ready for Tangmere to make a run up the 1 in 30 gradient. I headed over to a spot on the far side of the station to take in the view across the outer harbour as Tangmere crossed the viaduct. The sight never fails to impress whichever angle you see it from.

Tangmere crosses Folkestone Harbour

Tangmere crosses Folkestone Harbour

After the day’s entertainment finished I headed back to Folkestone Central, sure that I would be back in seven days for the repeat performance!


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The Atomic Harbour Master

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on October 20, 2007

After a couple of steam specials to Folkestone Harbour this year it was hard to imagine what would come next. The unusual sight of a railtour topped and tailed by class 37 diesels wouldn’t have been high up my list of expected arrivals as Folkestone Harbour station had long been deemed out of bounds to the class.

37601 sits on the viaduct across Folkestone Harbour with St Peter's church visible on the hillside beyond

37601 sits on the viaduct with St Peter’s church visible on the hillside beyond

It was something of a coup for Pathfinder railtours to have obtained approval to use the branch line in the circumstances, though the compromise that was necessary to make this work became clear when the lead loco stopped halfway down the platform, leaving 37601 stuck on the viaduct.

The traction for the tour was special too – as such a rare event merited – this being the last occasion that Eurostar (UK) Ltd. class 37/6 diesels 37601 and 37603 would be used on a railtour before being sold on.

Low tide at Folkestone Harbour (with 37601 on the viaduct)

Low tide at Folkestone Harbour (with 37601 on the viaduct)

The ‘Atomic Harbour Master’ railtour had begun at Crewe in early morning and after reaching its two destinations (Folkestone Harbour and Dungeness) did not end up making it back to Crewe until half past one the next morning, a couple of hours later than scheduled.


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The Golden Arrow: Victoria to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on June 15, 2007

The reports of the death of the Folkestone Harbour branch are greatly exaggerated, to hijack Mark Twain’s oft quoted remark. Today the Lord Nelson class 4-6-0 steam locomotive no. 30850 ‘Lord Nelson’ visited the branch line (another solid Southern Region guest) and made two runs up the branch line.

Lord Nelson on the viaduct at Folkestone Harbour

Lord Nelson on the viaduct at Folkestone Harbour

Today’s train was a round trip organised by Kingfisher Railtours, running from/to Victoria with stops at Folkestone Harbour and Canterbury West. At the rear class 67 diesel 67015 was on duty.

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The Kent Coast Express

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on January 27, 2007

The threat to close the branch line down to Folkestone Harbour has inspired the Railway Touring Company to run what seems to be the last steam special on this remarkable route. The first steam special in many a year, it seemed an event that we shouldn’t miss.

The line features an unusually steep 1 in 30 gradient from the harbour to the mainline that was quite a challenge to steam locomotives in its heyday (necessitating two or three locomotives, usually with one acting as a ‘banker’ to push the train from behind). It is special in other ways, with its route running alongside the Tram Road down to the harbour, which it then crosses by means of a viaduct and a swing bridge. Apart from this, it also has a sentimental attachment for me – many a time I watched trains making their way down the branch line from just outside my grandmother’s house in Edward Terrace, Folly Road.

Tangmere brings the Kent Coast Express across the harbour

Tangmere brings the Kent Coast Express across the harbour

On the first leg of the tour Battle of Britain class 4-6-2 no. 34067 ‘Tangmere’ ran from London Victoria down to Ashford, passing through Folkestone Warren a little after midday. This was our first opportunity to watch the special and it was quite magnificent. After the train had passed we headed down to the harbour to watch the special arrive on its second leg, from Ashford to Folkestone Harbour.

Tangmere in Folkestone Harbour Station

Tangmere in Folkestone Harbour Station

An impressive crowd had turned out for the event, lining the inner harbour. Tangmere’s arrival was a fantastic sight and it was truly wonderful to see a steam locomotive cross the swing bridge once more. Although the station may lack the glamour it held in ages past, the arrival of a train from yesterday momentarily allowed you to see past its decaying fabric and imagine the glorious days when continental Europe beckoned in the form of a waiting cross channel ferry.

The express is hauled back across the harbour by a class 67 diesel with Tangmere at the tail

The express is hauled back across the harbour by a class 67 diesel with Tangmere at the tail

After a short stop in Folkestone class 67 diesel 67018 ‘Rapid’ hauled the express out of the harbour station and up the steep gradient to Folkestone East, ready to make her return to Ashford and beyond. There was just enough time in this manoeuvre to allow one final glimpse of the express as it steamed across the Skew arches. If this was to be the last train, it was certainly a fitting way to end it all.

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