House Sitting in Faversham: A Window to Visiting the White Cliffs of Dover
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We’ve been fortunate enough over the last five or so months of traveling to find homeowners gracious enough to allow us into their home, to care for their pets and their home while their away. This has allowed us to see a great number of places that would have been difficult and much more costly otherwise. We see house sitting as a brilliant exchange of services. The home and pet owners are able to go on vacation (or travel for any type of reason or commitment) and have someone care for their animals, in their home at no cost. Furthermore, even if cost isn't a concern, they're able to keep their pets out of a kennel and give them full-time companionship, rather than someone visiting the home and pet only once a day. From our perspective, as travelers, we're able to have furry companions around and a roof over our heads with the modern conveniences of a home, while we explore a new area. It’s a win, win. We’re extremely grateful for all of the opportunities around Europe that we’ve had house sitting and what they’ve afforded us.
We’ve previously house sat in London, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and Budapest; all places that are large metropolitan cities that feel like you can explore them endlessly. One of the benefits of house sitting in cities like these is the sheer savings in lodging expenses. We calculated that in London alone, we saved over $3,000, when comparing our house sit stay (location and time frame) to a budget hotel. Not to mention the savings by having access to all of the conveniences of a home (kitchen, workspace, etc) This enables us to spend more on the attractions in the city we want to see, as well as save money for the next location we embark on.
In contrast, we’ve house sat in smaller cities as well. Actually, our first house sit was in a small quaint town outside of a small city, Wigton, United Kingdom. Their claim to fame is the manufacturing of the new £5 note. Here, we enjoyed country walks and peace and quiet while house sitting for a couple that ran a pub and had two dogs and two cats. We’ve also house sat in Chester, a well-known and historical city in Cheshire County United Kingdom. We made friends with an adorable cat, Smokey, and saw sites in the town that date back to the Roman Era, 200 CE. We enjoy and appreciate these house sits just as much as the large metropolitan house sits.
Our latest house sit was in Faversham. A charming, historical market town in the southern region of the United Kingdom. We had the privilege of caring for two cats, Inky and Tinkerbell. Inky is a playful kitten who loves to explore and Tinkerbell is an older cat who’s set in her ways, but secretly likes attention. The town is walkable, end to end in about a mile, but we’ve ventured further out for beautiful walks on lakes and footpaths. We were amazed to see how busy the city center could get, with markets on the weekends and people roaming around. It reminded us of scenes from the television show Gilmore Girls, that take place in the town square. We used to comment on how, for being a small town, it seemed so unrealistic to have such a large number of people walking around in the background. However, here we were, in a small UK town, and we realized, that actually, it’s very possible to have so many people in the town square at the same time. It was quite charming indeed!
Beyond Faversham is a great southern coast to explore. In fact, one of the main reasons we wanted to got to Faversham was to see the White Cliffs of Dover. It’s those gorgeous, white cliffs seen in commercial spots, documentaries, and in movies. Both of us have wanted to see them for years and were thrilled for the opportunity to finally see them. We’re lucky too, as we’ve traveled over the last five months, the weather in the UK, and most of Europe for that matter, had been winter weather; gray and damp. Over the last couple of weeks we’d started to see the sun peak out a bit more and it warmed up a couple of times; so much so, that at times we were able to take off our jackets. Our second and third day in Faversham were almost all clear skies with temperatures getting into the 70’s! Other than the frigid cold days when we ventured out in shorts and a skort to go jogging, this was been the first time our legs and arms have been exposed to daylight in over five months!
One thing we’ve learned though, is if we schedule our activities by the weather, we may never get out and do what we want. The weather is so unpredictable and can change so quickly. So, we ceased the moment and planned our trip to Dover, the city that resides just next to the cliffs. We went back and forth on scheduling it for a Sunday or for a Monday. Sunday promised better weather, according to our weather app. Sunday morning sightseeing is usually peaceful with just a few people around, if any. However, Sunday afternoon brings out the town, enjoying the last day of the weekend before going back to work on Monday. Monday on the other hand, would have fewer people all day, but the weather forecast was partly cloudy and about 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Some of the attractions we wanted to go to were closed on Monday, while others were closed on Sunday. It was eventually just a tossup, so we decided to embark on our journey to Dover on a Monday.
Getting to Dover
The town of Dover is just a 30-50 minute train ride away, depending on the train, the scheduled stops, and time of day you travel. There are a few methods to getting train tickets in the UK. We always take a glance at The Man in Seat 61, as he has invaluable tips on trains, seat selection, ticket purchasing and much more. When it comes to actually purchasing the tickets, we’ve usually gone directly to the train operating website (Virgin, Northern, etc). However, we recently heard of a site, GoEuro, that we tried out when traveling from London to Faversham. It found the same routes that we were looking at on the Northern web site, but for nearly 40% less! We sacrificed a bit of flexibility on the departure time by buying through GoEuro, but decided the savings were well worth it.
For our trip to the White Cliffs we purchased tickets that got us into Dover at 10:30 am and had open flexibility for the return train in the early afternoon/evening. So long as the return train was off-peak (we found out all day and evening trains on that day were considered off-peak), we could take it back to Faversham using our tickets. We paid £18.50 for two round trip tickets. A great deal in our opinion, since we didn’t have to deal with a rental car, find and pay for parking, or take a tour bus and sightsee on their schedule.
Once we arrived in Dover, the weather was a bit colder than we’d expected, which looking back should have been obvious to us. We’re both from California and know that the coast is always 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. However, we had on our trusty jackets, but, since they’re really meant to be a top layer, the insulation they offer is minimal. Overall, there wasn’t much we could do, so we pushed ahead. If we didn’t think about it, it wasn't so bad, right?
Our first destination was The Grand Shaft. It was a mile walk uphill, but a great way to see a bit of the city of Dover and as we got to the top of the hill, we went off-road and onto a dirt path surrounded by trees and views of the ocean. Our cell phone data (Google Fi) was limited in Dover, so we were glad we’d downloaded the map of the area ahead of time. We followed directions on the phone and found our way to The Grand Shaft. It’s a triple staircase built in 1804 and designed to quickly re-position soldiers from their barracks down to the beach in case of invasion or military emergency. Military barracks were only 300 meters above sea level, but without the staircase, it was a mile-and-a-half journey to the beach.
Sadly, it seemed to be closed, even though their Facebook page said they’d open at 10 am. Not much could be seen behind the closed gate. Pictures online would have to fill in beyond what we could see from the path above. However, well after our trip to Dover, we ran across images of The Grand Shaft that left us wondering if it had been open all along. The entrance may have been at the bottom (beach level)?! We're still not sure.
Our next stop was along the beach and the directions our map indicated would lead us to the opposite side of the hill and down a different way from where we'd walked up. To our delight, it lead us through Dover Western Heights Nature Reserve. The walk was beautiful, as we were surrounded by nature and the old construction of the historical fortifications along the cliffs. We felt as if we were in an abandoned city, and, in a way, we were. The views of Dover Castle and the beach were striking and well worth the hike.
As we made our way down to Dover Beach, one thing we noticed right away were the views of the cliffs. They're as beautiful and spectacular as we've seen in pictures. However, we realized those images are taken not only beyond the town, but beyond the port. When we’d seen the images of the views of the cliffs, we imagined Dover to be a small, quaint town, nestled next to the cliffs. Boy, were we wrong. After having been to the town, it became obvious the city is historically a military town, founded for its location on the English Channel. It’s been seen as a port of entry to be protected by defenses since Roman times. This explains the fortifications all along the cliffs as well as the castles. The castles are strategically built a mile apart, because the range of the cannons at each castle was half a mile at the time. It also explains the large port that now sits between the town of Dover and the high, chalky, white cliffs. Dover is the port of entry where people come and go by ferry from France. It’s also a popular stop for people sailing around Europe. While it all makes perfect logical sense, it’s a bit of a distraction and in our humble opinion takes away from viewing the cliffs from the beach in Dover.
That aside, as mentioned earlier, the views of Dover castle were amazing. It’s a beautiful, large, and expansive castle with a long and turbulent history. If you’d like to learn more about its past we highly recommend the UK series, Secrets of Great British Castles, where the Dover Castle is featured in Season 1, Episode 01.
The Best Views of the White Cliffs of Dover
We knew we’d be able to walk to the top of the cliffs and see the view from there. We also knew we’d be able to see the cliffs from the beaches. However, when you search images of the Dover cliffs, most of the pictures are taken from the water. Our options to get this view were to either use a private tour company or to take a round-trip ferry to France and back. You could say it’s just a jump and a skip across the English Channel, and certainly an easier journey by ferry than by swimming it. But still, it’s an hour-and-a-half each way and we really didn’t want to spend three hours on a ferry for 10 minutes of picture taking. So, we found ourselves a private boat tour with Dover Sea Safari.
We booked the White Cliffs & Beyond, an hour-and-a-half tour, in advance with Dover Sea Safari. When we got to the storefront for Dover Sea Sarafi, there was a sign stating that our tour had been delayed by a half-hour. By the way, don’t forget to check Dover Sea Safari’s web cam before departing so you know what to expect weather wise. We took advantage of our extra half-hour by walking back into city center Dover. Again, we were presented with a bit of a surprise. Dover, in our opinion, isn’t a quaint, charming little town. Considering the tourist draw of the Whilte Cliffs, the town is a bit more rundown than we expected. However, we appreciated the city square where people gathered and we could enjoy the surrounding shops and foot traffic.
We enjoyed our walk and the fresh sea air. When it was time, we made our way back to Dover Sea Safari. We checked in and were so glad they provided us with big warm jackets! After suiting up with life jackets, boarding the boat, and getting the safety presentation, our tour began. Dover Sea Safari offers tours by sail boat, but we opted for the tour on the 10.5m Humber passenger RIB speed boat. The guide and boat operator was great; he spoke loudly enough for us to hear in front of the boat and gave great information. He wasn’t over bearing, cheesy, or rude. He was friendly and kind, with just a bit of humor here and there.
The tour took us along the military barracks that were built in the ocean, along the outside of the port. They're now abandoned, but were used during World War II. The buildings were built on shore, and the numbered building blocks, were transported to the sea where they were re-assembled. Once exiting the port, the speed boat sped up, giving a bit of a thrill to the dozen of us on board. We saw the enormity of the cliffs from the water and were grateful for the many stops that were made for us to take pictures. We were able to see and learn about the tunnels, military fortifications and shooting ranges within and around the cliffs. We learned and saw the spots where ships had sunk and passed many of the small towns and beaches along the coast. We had sea views of the cliffs, three castles, beaches, and the town of Deal. We also saw South Foreland Lighthouse, the lighthouse Guglielmo Marconi used during his groundbreaking work on radio waves. On the way back, the tour guide took us for a bit of adventure with some sharp turns and circles at high speed.
The water splashing in our face, the sun shining down, and the clear aqua/green water was refreshing. The feeling of being in nature is always welcomed after so much time in city centers and urban sprawls. Nothing can compare to the freeing feeling of open water for as far as the eye can see. Being on such a small tour, and sitting in the front of the boat, it wasn’t hard to tune out the people around us and take in the sights. The cliffs were shaded in shadow, with parts highlighted by the sun. We could see to the top, the grass growing over the edges. The stories of shipwrecks and smuggling of loot played out in our head as we were awed by the cliffs.
The tour was a highlight of the day and one we’ll remember with clarity for some time to come. We would have liked if the boat had gone a bit closer to shore, to see the cliffs from a down-up perspective, but maybe they couldn't for safety or permit reasons. Usually people wish that tours were more in-depth or longer, but in fact, we both felt we could have ended the tour a bit earlier than they did. Overall though, we highly recommend taking this tour!
We walked around town a bit more and did some needed grocery shopping while there. We saw the castle, the cliffs, the lighthouses, and several sights in between. We had a full day and thoroughly enjoyed our time in Dover. The train ride back was uneventful and a nice way to wind down our day of sightseeing. We were in Faversham for 12 days, more than enough time to see the sights. So, we had a bit of time to relax, plan our upcoming adventures and get some much needed work done. We can’t thank our graces enough for this great place we were able to call home for a few days!
Dover Lodging/Hotels, Ferries and Getting Around
If you’re in the UK and have a chance to visit Dover, we highly recommend it. The castle, the Heritage Reserve, and the White Cliffs are well worth it.
Hotels and Lodging
If you’re staying in Dover for a night or two, we recommend staying at an Airbnb (use our link to save $40 off your first stay, and we'll get credit too!) for the best accommodation deals. We always look for a place that, at minimum, has Wi-Fi, a private room, and a laptop workspace. If you prefer a hotel, we noticed a Best Western and Premier Inn that are waterfront. Book the Best Western if you have loyalty points for a free night and be sure to look for any offers or bonuses that you can attach to your account before booking. Otherwise, the Premier Inn is fairly reasonable and if you book in advance, three to four months, you can get a great deal for a waterfront hotel.
P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways are the two companies that run Ferries between Dover, United Kingdom and Calais, France. You can take your car and pets on the ferry and both companies take one-and-a-half-hours to cross. DFDS has 15 ferry crossings per day and P&O has 23 crossings. Booking a ferry can be done online, in advance, and cost depends on the time and dates you’re traveling. Direct Ferries is an aggregator that you can book through, but certainly not the only website available to book tickets.
Transportation in Dover
Dover is a small enough town that we didn’t need to get on a bus. Everything we did was just a few miles apart. However, there are hills to climb so keep that in mind. If you choose, there are buses you can take, and of course taxis are an option. We found a line of taxis waiting for fares outside of the train station.
If you’re going to walk to the top of the cliffs, the castle and the lighthouse, it’s a bit of a hike, so be prepared. The walk to the South Foreland Lighthouse (for some of the best views) from the train station is about two-and-a-half miles. However, there are some ways to shorten this walk to just a mile or so. Find information on getting to the lighthouse on the National Trust website. Getting to Dover Castle from the train station is about a mile walk. Also, there’s access to the castle by road and bus.
There’s a path on the cliffs where you can walk down switch backs and stairs to get to the beach. Although, in 2014 there was a rock slide that took out a bridge near the bottom. This bridge isn’t likely to be rebuilt and was the only way to reach the beach. If you make your way all the way down to get to what was once a popular beach, you’ll be quite disappointed that you can no longer get there, and you’ll be faced with a mighty steep climb back up. A word of warning and caution, be careful on the cliffs. People have died from falling off the cliffs, because they tried to stand or sit close to the edges. It’s also not unheard of the cliffs falling into the sea below.