“ Address: Marine Parade / Folkestone / Kent „
Review of Folkestone Lower Leas Coastal Park.
I live in Folkestone, a sea side town in south east England. Our town started life as a fishing community and cross channel port. In Victorian times Folkestone became popular as a holiday resort, sadly over the past few decades, like many British sea side towns, Folkestone has slid into a bit of a decline, with empty shops, poor levels of employment and a rundown seafront. The closure of the cross channel ferry service around 20 years ago added to the general decline of this once proud town.
==The Coastal Park in General==
The land this park is located on has always been a popular area, with walks, the beachfront and wild-life. Sadly, prior to the opening of the Lower Leas Coastal Park, this area was becoming a bit of a 'no-go' area, overgrown, shabby and the haunt of undesirables. The area used to be known as the Lower Sandgate Road, the area leads adjacent from the Leas Lift to the village of Sandgate. It used to be a toll road and the old toll house is still in situ, it is now occupied as a private residence.
Rolling forward to 2000, the Folkestone Lower Leas Coastal Park was born.
In May 2000, the first phase of the £1.2 million 11-hectare Coastal Park was opened. The regeneration of the park was funded by SEEDA, Shepway District Council and the European Union, and includes the largest free children's adventure playground in the south-east, a 300-seat outdoor amphitheatre and attractive landscaping.
A further £1.4 million was secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund in late 2003 to improve the eastern end of the park. Work on this expansion started in February 2005. This phase includes pine avenues, flower gardens, picnic sites, furniture and information boards about the park's wildlife and history. The second phase was officially opened in May 2006.
The park is designed to be accessible for everyone, the level footpaths that wind through the park are ideal for prams and wheelchair users. There are many seats and resting places dotted around the park, picnic tables, dedicated barbeque tables and even tables with built in chess boards.
The footpaths lead you under the supports of the large theatre/conference centre called the Leas Cliff Hall which stands above the beach on the famous Leas walk, close to the town centre. The venue is popular on the rock circuit and many famous names have performed there, including Jimmy Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and other big names. These supports are made of steel and although they are modern in structure, the actual Leas Cliff Hall is historic part of Folkestone.
The Lower Leas Costal Park has its own amphitheatre which is well used and there have been many open air concerts, plays and displays hosted here. The local Sure Start charity branch holds a regular summer teddy bears picnic here and many other groups meet and enjoy the Coastal Park.
There is also a 'magic spiral' of stones laid out within the Coastal Park and these are used by local white witches and other alternative groups for healing ceremonies, Earth worshipping and similar activities. On 10.10.2010 at 10:10 am, my family took part in a thanksgiving ceremony here which was very moving and emotional, especially as my disabled grandson was taken to the centre of the spiral to be blessed.
The Coastal Park is best accessed from the road or beach area although more energetic visitors can follow one of the zig zag paths that lead down from the Leas cliff tops close to the town centre. Alternatively there is a Victorian water powered passenger lift which runs from the town centre to the entrance of the Coastal Park, a far better bet than climbing up the hundreds of steps in my opinion!
==The Coastal Park-for Children==
For children, this park is amazing. We take my granddaughters and the dog to the coastal park regularly. All age groups are catered for, there is a lovely sunken ship, a mock pirate ship embedded in sand that the children can climb on, crawl under and generally enjoy, a mini climbing wall, wooden boats suspended on chains for the very young children, a sensory play area and a couple of big sand pits with mini digger type machines for them to stretch their muscles on. The main attraction is of course the adventure playground. This is a huge labyrinth of tunnels, tree high walkways, slides, Wendy houses and a zip line. It is extremely popular and offers a vast array of play equipment for youngsters. I never tire of watching the children on this and rather wish there had been something similar around when I was a child! The playground has plenty of seating for parents to watch over their children and this area is a strictly no smoking zone and dogs have to be kept under control and not taken near the play equipment. I think this playground is remarkable, the area is safe with the wooden equipment bedded in deep sand and lots of things to keep children active and happy.
At nearly 13, my eldest grandchild considers herself a little too grown up to play on the adventure playground; however I note she always offers to accompany her 5 year old sister in order to 'keep an eye on her'!
==Facilities and Parking==
Close to the adventure playground is an information office, public toilets and accessed by means of a flight of stone steps, a lovely café on the beach front. The café is called 'The Mermaid Café Bar' and has been there since I was a child. They serve hot and cold drinks, snacks and sandwiches, ice-creams and lunches. As the name implies, the place is licensed to sell alcoholic drinks too. We often stop there for coffee and sit on the terrace overlooking the channel. The espresso coffee is some of the best I've ever drunk and I'd heartily recommend it to fellow coffee addicts. My tea drinking other half says the tea is pretty good, just like tea used to be, whatever he means by that!
Parking is abundant, there is free street parking at the start of the Coastal Park which is available for short stays of an hours and a pay and display car park at either end of the park. The actual park is traffic free, other than pedal cycles, no vehicles are allowed. If there is maintenance going on, the council do put up warning signs to tell visitors that there may be vehicles around.
****Update 7th October 2012**
In their infinite wisdom, our local council has now installed parking meters all along the road leading to the Coastal Park, so the free street parking is no longer available.
==My Thoughts and Conclusion==
The Lower Leas Coastal Park has been a huge asset to the town and attracts lots of visitors, local and tourists alike. The fact that other than car parking, the park and all its facilities are free is an added bonus. I should add that if you are attending the park for an open air concert, an entrance fee may be charged as these events are often ticketed.
We often walk our dog here and although we always keep him on a lead, some other dog owners are not as cautious. Obviously dog owners are expected to clean up after their dog and the park wardens will impose a hefty fine should they fail to comply.
I think the Lower Leas Coastal Park is a delightful place to while away a few hours in, you can be as energetic or lazy here as you wish, there is an abundance of interesting plants and flowers to enjoy and the history of the area is well covered by means of the information boards around the park.
The fact that there are no cars makes this a lovely place to take children as it is safe and they can let off steam without parents worrying about traffic. There can be the odd inconsiderate bike rider or skater on the paths, but on the whole they are not a problem.
My grandchildren love the park and it seems to have sort of grown with them, as they outgrow one type of activity, there always seems to be something new to try.
Open all year round, this Coastal Park is well worth a visit, of course being a Folkestone lass, I may be biased, but in my humble opinion, a visitor to Folkestone is missing out if they pass this park by.
Thanks you for reading.
©brittle1906 July 2012
N.B My reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.
When I think of Folkestone I think of brightly painted buildings, the harbour and the stony beach, so when it was suggested to me that I take the kids to visit the Coastal Lees park on our recent holiday, I was willing to try it but I didn't have strong expectations.
The coastal park dates back to Victorian times, when the area between the top of the cliffs and the sea was modelled with walkways, stairs, and a selection of Mediterranean plants, turning what could be a bit of a drab area into a thing of wonder.
We were told the park was quite popular, particularly in the school summer holidays, so we arrived early, before 10am. Getting to the location was really easy as we followed signs through the town for the harbour, and we went just past this and there were a couple of big car parks before the entrance to the park. (Anyone wishing to use Sat Nav or to look up better directions, the park is located on lower sandgate Road, and the postcode is CT20 2JP.)
There is also some on street parking for free for 2 hours, but we chose to use one of the pay and display car parks, which was a reasonable £5 for the whole day of parking. Alternatively, you can approach the park from the top, and use free on street parking but then go down to the main part of the park.
Before we entered the park, we walked past the 125 year old Victorian Leas lift, which still operates today to take people between the lower and upper levels of the Leas. The cost for a journey was £1 for an adult. We did not use this option ourselves, instead walking on foot into the park.
Entering the park is absolutely free. You pass a big map, which gives you some idea of the scale of the place, and immediately you are struck with the wide tree lined paths that snake amongst the mediterranean plants, and the stunning view of the English Channel, which on a sunny day like the one we visited on could be anywhere in Europe. It was stunning, and there was plenty of colourful plants attracting birds and butterflies.
The main path took us through the centre of the park, and is also a cycle trail (part of the Sustrans National Cycle Route). Smaller paths went up the cliffs or down to the sea front, and there were secluded picnic benches along this route. The park is also set up very well for barbecues with metal plates attached to wooden picnic tables for placing your barbecue, and then metal bins to properly dispose of your hot remains afterwards. This is permitted in only certain areas of the park, so worth checking before lighting your barbecue.
Walking into the centre, we came to a large open air ampitheatre. According to the website events do happen here during the summer holidays, but nothing was occuring the day we were there. There were people sat on the grass enjoying the sunshine.
The path then led us to several childrens playgrounds. The park is said to be home to the largest outdoor adventure playground in Kent, and I can certainly believe this from what we saw. All the play areas were built upon sand, so it was a nice safe place for the kids, and there was plenty of benches for parents to sit and watch them play in comfort.
The first playground was for the younger child. It was a ship that was a wreck, with the two halves sticking in the air, and in the middle a crows nest. It was popular with the under 5 age group.
A bit further along, there was a series of climbing walls, which were about 6 feet high, and a lot more challenging for my 2 children at least, so we didn't stay here long.
We then reached the main playground which was a wooden frame which spanned a large area, and included 3 seperate slides, a bridge above the parents seated area, and 2 zip lines. You would have to see a picture to appreciate the scale of it, and it was difficult to pinpoint where your child was when it was busy.
Seperately, there was also a small area with 2 wooden boats that were suspended on chains, so the kids could pretend they were sailing them. They even had rudders on them so they felt like they were steering them.
A sensory play area was also something that is quite unusual to see. There were different textures to walk on, visual puzzles on the walls, and it was a bit maze like in appearance to me. The kids were occupied a little while here exploring.
The last play area we found, and the biggest hit of the day for my two was a toddler play area which had a wooden climbing frame suitable for very small children, and a series of buckets and pulleys alongside seives and sand wheels. They played in there for a good couple of hours with the other children, though this was one of the more stressful parts of the day for me as a lot of people did not seem to supervise their small children that well, and some of the bigger kids were knocking sand all over the smaller children and one boy even threw a whole bucket of sand over my 3 year olds head. I was constantly on guard here to stop the sand going in their eyes, but trying to let them play. I guess it would be completely different on another day with other children and parents there.
Conveniently, there is also a clean and well maintained toilet block near to the park area. This is a god send for anyone with young children. I saw a man cleaning and restocking it on a few occasions while we were there, otherwise it could have been a bit dire by the end of the day. I'd describe the block as basic, but more than adequate for this sort of visitors attraction.
We ended up staying at the park between 10am and 5pm, so we spent a bit of time in the middle of the day having a picnic, and then walking around some of the paths indulging in our hobby of geocaching. There is one hidden in the park area, and then 2 on the top of the leas for anyone who also indulges in that hobby. Otherwise, my children were happy to explore the paths seeing what we could see. There was a little maze made out of stones at one point, created by a local artist, so they followed that around.
Although we took a picnic, there is also a very good cafe and bar, the Mermaids Cafe, which is located behind the park and toilet block area. There are 2 entrances to it, one with very steep steps, and then one with a ramp. We only had the ice creams on this particular trip which I can really recommend at £1.50 for a large scoop in a cone. The mint choc chip, the chocolate and strawberry flavours were all sampled in our party, and they were rich, cold and very worth standing in the queue for.
I eyed up the rest of the menu, knowing that I would write a review when I came home, and wanting to give a thorough report I thought it would be useful to know what they sold.
There was a sandwich menu which I would personally describe as a southern adult menu, in that it contained items such as prawn salad, brie and grape, or cream cheese and peppers for example, in a baguette or panini for around £4 each. They also did a sausage in a bun hot dog style for £2. Chips were available for £1.50 or £2.50, and the portions I saw someone else with looked hot and tasty. A nice golden colour. There was also jacket potatoes for around £3.50, and a selection of hot drinks from £1.20 upwards. Overall, a substantial choice of food and drink, including alcoholic ones in the seperate bar area if you chose to do so.
The seated area outside the cafe had a large glass window overlooking the sea, so the view was great but you were protected from some of the sea breeze by sitting behind the window. (Online it said this cafe was open 12-3, but it was open longer than this on the day of our visit.)
After our ice cream we did go down to the beach for a little while, but even though it was a really hot day, the breeze was really strong, and the kids were fed up and cold after a few minutes of throwing stones over into the sea.
After having such a lovely time at this park with all the different features to entertain people of different ages, I can't help but want to recommend it. It did get rather busy at times both with dog walkers and families bringing their children out for the day, but there were enough secluded parts to escape for a little bit in the busiest parts of the day.
And where else can you get so much entertainment for free? We were shocked that we were not charged to use the park, and found the car park and cafe costs to be very reasonable, so it was a fabulous cheap day out for us. I can imagine it would be a bit more miserable if the weather was foul as it was all outdoors and there would not be many spots to shelter, but we are certainly glad we discovered this new to us spot on the Kent coast.