White Cliffs of Dover is cliffs which form part of the English coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France. The cliffs are part of the North Downs formation. The cliff face, which reaches up to 350 feet (110 m), owes its striking façade to its composition of chalk accentuated by streaks of black flint.
During the summer of 1940, reporters gathered at Shakespeare Cliff to watch aerial dogfights between German and British aircraft during the Battle of Britain. It marks the point where Great Britain most closely approaches continental Europe.
On a clear day, the cliffs are easily visible from the French coast. The cliff face continues to weather at an average rate of 1 centimeter per year, although occasionally large pieces will fall.
This occurred in 2001, when a large chunk of the edge, as large as a football pitch, fell into the channel. A further large section collapsed into the English Channel on the 15th of March 2012. Visitors are, as a result, urged to remain well away from the cliff edge.
The best way to see the cliffs is to take a walk along the coastal path towards South Foreland Lighthouse. You’ll get a great view of the cliffs and also see the chalk grassland that’s home to so many unusual plants and insects like the chalk hill blue butterfly and the pyramidal orchid.
Around seventy million years ago this part of Britain was submerged by a shallow sea. The sea bottom was made of a white mud formed from the fragments of coccoliths, which were the skeletons of tiny algae which floated in the surface waters of the sea.
This mud was later to become the chalk. It is thought that the chalk was deposited very slowly, probably only half a millimeter a year, equivalent to about 180 coccoliths piled one on top of another. In spite of this, up to 500 metres of chalk were deposited in places.
The first recorded description of Dover describes the scene that Julius Caesar saw in 55 BC when, with two legions of soldiers, he arrived near Dover looking for a suitable landing place for the Roman invasion.
The east cliff with its commanding view over the channel is a position of natural strength and has been the site of fortification since the Iron Age. The Castle dates back to the eleventh century but additions and alterations have been made since then, including several notable changes in the twentieth century.
The Rock Samphire, a native perennial with small yellow florets, was once a favourite vegetable; the leaves and stalk were cooked and eaten like asparagus. Samphire gatherers collected the plant by attaching themselves to a rope suspended from the cliff top.
In 1768 a highwayman escaped from confinement in the Castle by way of a rope left by a samphire gatherer at the top of the Castle cliffs. There are hidden tunnels behind the face of Dover’s cliffs that were carved by prisoners held in Dover Castle during the Napoleonic Wars. The tunnels later were enlarged as secret wartime tunnels, parts of which served as Winston Churchill’s military headquarters during World War II.