Walking the East Kent Coastline
Available on the 28th September, 2023
Borderland began with my being rescued from drowning while re-enacting for the BBC TV series Coast a tradition of playing cricket on the Goodwin Sands. Once safely returned to shore, I started thinking of the significance of this coastline that I’d gazed at so longingly while stranded on a low-lying sandbank six miles out in the English Channel waiting for the RNLI.
I set out on foot to explore this stretch of coast, the nation’s frontline border. From as far back as Roman times the defining story of this shore has been one of invasion and defence, and my walks turned up many remains of this history. But I also discovered many other significant features that have gone into the making of the distinctive identity of this coastline.
These included the idea of the seaside embodied in the 19th century coastal towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate; the many painters and writers who have lived and worked here; and Kent’s rich underground history, especially the Kent coalfield which was so important to the economy of this region for much of the twentieth century.
Most recently, and urgently, the Kent coast has become the focus of the arrival of refugees escaping the consequences of war, poverty, political oppression and environmental degradation in their home countries. The final section of Borderland examines this issue, some of the material derived from my own experience of working with asylum seekers detained in the Citadel, a fortress built in Napoleonic times on Dover Western Heights.
In fact the arrival on the Kent coast of people in search of sanctuary is an old story. The long history of this border has been one of ceaseless coming and going, of the constant mixing of different peoples. The human and cultural exchange and enriching that has resulted is the deep narrative of the Kent coastline I explore, and provides the wider historical context in which I consider current anxieties and social divisions over the arrival of the displaced.