My apologies to anyone who lives in Dover, but I have never thought of it as a town to visit for itself. The castle is magnificent, but perched above the town it feels rather apart and somehow separate. I have travelled through the ferry port many times and admired the iconic white cliffs but again my focus was always on leaving Dover, either to go on holiday or to return home.
One of my tenets of slow travel is to find something special in any place, and starting with a negative impression only makes the challenge more interesting. As part of my job, I sometimes have to travel around the county and if I have time to take a lunch break, I make this the time to explore.
A while ago (before working from home became the new normal), I had a two day training course in Dover, so I decided to explore the centre of the town. Dover suffered from bombing in World War 2 followed by a rush of building work focussed on functionality. Understandable and necessary but it did produce a rather unattractive townscape.
My training course was held in a college building with grounds that backed on to the town centre. As I stepped out the gate separating the college grounds from town I found a bridge over a little river running through the centre of town, hidden between shops and office buildings. This is the River Dour, as this is a chalk stream the water is amazingly clear and clean; walking along the path feels like being in another place.
The second day I followed the river further and ended up in a green park. Full of locals, taking a break with their pushchairs and shopping bags, not a tourist space, just a breath of fresh air in the middle of a dreary town.
Following the river further will have to wait for another visit because I need lunch as well. Part of my exploration is checking out the restaurants and cafes for quick snacks. On the first day I went to the Mean Bean coffee shop (great name, great coffee, great food), the second day I checked out the Allotment. Two great discoveries which I have returned to after my first visit to Dover.
The beauty of this sort of slow travel is that it doesn’t require a week’s holiday to discover something different, just a challenge to my assumptions and exploration with an open mind. Only one hour out of a working day, but a little adventure, an escape from my normal life and a new view on Dover.
Sadly the Mean Bean will not be re-opening, a reminder that these are difficult times for independent businesses, which give character and shape to their communities. However, the Mean Bean will continue to be a reminder to me to look for the hidden gems in each place I visit.