The White Cliffs
"I have loved England, dearly and deeply,
Since that first morning, shining and pure,
The white cliffs of Dover I saw rising steeply
Out of the sea that once made her secure."
The White Cliffs by Alice Duer Miller (1941)
The White Cliffs of Dover are world famous. For centuries, they have been the gateway to and from the continent, holding a special place in the hearts and minds of many people.
The white cliffs stretch from Kingsdown for 8 miles (12 km) to Dover, then a further 8 miles (12 km) from Dover to Folkestone. The white cliffs are about 300 feet (100 metres) high and consist of a rock called chalk.
The white cliffs here are the nearest point of mainland England to the continent. There is only 21 miles between the white cliffs of the South Foreland and the white cliffs of Cap Blanc Nez, near Calais, in France. The white cliffs were joined together as recently as 10,000 years ago, when the English Channel was formed.
The white cliffs are protected as two stretches of Heritage Coast, which form an important part of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Heritage Coasts are designated for their unspoilt natural beauty. There are 45 Heritage Coasts in England & Wales, but there are only five stretches of Heritage Coast in South East England.
The white cliffs stay white because of erosion, which causes rock falls. If the white cliffs were not allowed to erode, then they would gradually be covered by vegetation and turn green. Rock falls are caused by the sea undermining the cliff, and by freezing of water in the winter. Waves break against the base of the cliffs where there are no sea defences, which leads to the cliffs being undermined and falling into the sea. During the winter, water in the chalk freezes and expands which helps break away the surface layers of the white cliffs. The weather is usually stormier in the winter, so that more erosion of the cliffs tends to happen in the winter.
Stretches of white cliffs that are not protected by sea defences are estimated to have eroded by an average of 0.5 metre (18 inches) per year. This does not mean that there are cliff falls every year, but rather there are spectacular cliff falls from time to time, when large chunks of the cliff fall into the sea.
You should take great care when visiting the cliff tops. The cliff edge may be unstable and may be undercut by cliff falls. You are advised to go no nearer than 10 metres to the cliff edge.
Full information about the white cliffs and Heritage Coasts is contained in free leaflets available from the WCCP or from local visitor information centres.