the explorers Walk3 : An Artists Walk with Simon Bill

The Explorers

 ‘This will be a bit more like an exploratory ramble than an organised ‘walk’ really. But there is a plan. Beginning at the main entrance of Connaught Park, our approach to the West Wing Battery will be unusual, both literally and metaphorically. Leaving the formal park we will enter its neighbouring woodland, climb to the outer perimeter of the West Wing Battery, and circumnavigate the site from the outside, looking down into its overgrown defensive ditch through the security fencing. Emerging from the open parkland on to the Dover Road, we will cross to gain a view of the much larger ditch of the main part of Fort Burgoyne, and the WW2 brutalist concrete structures that surround it. We will walk back up the Dover Road, and then, before we enter the West Wing Battery itself, we will spend some time clambering through the ivy and ferns of its half-forgotten ditch. From there we will pass through the gate and into the ruins of the Western Battery itself… ‘    Simon Bill

20 explorers came on Simon’s walk, which was the most physical of the Explorers walks to date. It was a physical exploration of the West Wing Battery site that we are uncovering through the Explorers programme of walks.

The advice given in the marketing material, before the walk, warned of steep hills, unprotected slopes, precipices and muddy paths and the need to wear sturdy boots and bring appropriate clothing for all weathers: we will spend some time clambering through the ivy and ferns of its half-forgotten ditch.

The ditch around the West Wing Battery has the feel of a ‘secret garden’, a dell with ferns and mosses that  has not been used or even regularly entered for a very long time. It  has obstacles of fallen trees and dried ivy that has been cut and fallen into the ditch; it felt very removed from anything military – rather one could imagine it as a very welcome cool haven on a hot day or a secret world to take refuge in.

It was a marvellous, adventurous walk and very useful in terms of information for any future imagining of the site. As a group we really physically explored where the West Wing Battery sits in the landscape and paid particular attention to its outer and inner perimeter.

I really enjoyed it, so thanks. People responded so positively to the challenges of the terrain, and to the sense that we were exploring a secret place that’s usually off limits. It was great to see so many adults behaving like ten year old kids as we negotiated some of the trickier parts of the site. It reminded me a bit of that Dennis Potter play, “Blue Remembered Hills”. Simon Bill.

Gateway to the Nether! What will they do with it? High above Dover, a secluded world of massive fern-filled trenches, crumbling battlements, echoes of ghostly battalions. And views to die for! Can the futility of all that military postering be turned to good somehow…? We shall see. Thanx for the preview!

Inspiring Walk today. We joined nature, creeping our way over and through ancient fortifications behind Dover. Felt quite intrepid. A beautiful place : secret and quiet … many layers of History. Hope it will be open to all one day.

All photos by Joanna Jones unless otherwise credited

The Explorers programme is part of Pioneering Places East Kent: Dover developed by Dover Arts Development and Charles Holland Architects to support the conservation and opening up of the West Wing Battery of Fort Burgoyne through art led community engagement

Pioneering Places is part of the national Great Place Scheme, an ambitious project that will make East Kent an even better place to live, work and visit by exploring heritage, developing civic pride and connecting artists and communities. Four projects in Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Ramsgate are being led by cultural organisations to encourage local people to get involved and shape the place where they live. Supported through Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with Historic England and Artswork, the South East Bridge.