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Why the White Cliffs of Dover Matter

Posted: 08/11/2012 00:00

Every nation has special places that have become wrapped up in the national collective imagination. They have come to symbolise much more than just a stretch of coast, area of woodland or a muddy field. Like a national flag or a prominent figure that comes alive from the pages of history these places can define our character and spirit; looming large in the narrative that makes a country.

These places become so familiar to us even if we have never physically been there and felt the wind in our hair or strode across the landscape. It's as though their place in our history means that they have become part of our individual and national DNA.

One such place in these Islands is the White Cliffs of Dover. Sometime iconic is an over-used word but for this stretch of Kentish chalky coastline it's totally apt. As an island nation they have become part of our story of whom we are; creating, as the philosopher Julian Baggini says, that sense of 'home', where ever we find ourselves in the world.

For millions of Britons travelling abroad or coming home the White Cliffs provide a re-assuring sight. They create that sense of eager anticipation of unknown adventures or a sense that you're homeward bound as they appear on the horizon.

This summer thousands of people have shown a special emotional connection with the White Cliffs of Dover by supporting the National Trust in its once in a lifetime bid to acquire a short stretch of this coast. Thanks to the money raised this piece of coast, at just under one mile, completes the Trust's ownership of the White Cliffs, securing it for future generations to enjoy.

Walking the White Cliffs is by far the best way to get that little bit closer to the sense of geography and history of the place. Setting off from above the bustling and busy Port of Dover and heading eastwards towards the majestic South Foreland Lighthouse you can see on a clear day the coast of France. Whether it's a glorious June day or a blustery autumn afternoon you do feel that you're following in the footsteps of generations that have witnessed history and played their part in making history.

The geography of the White Cliffs as the closest point to mainland Europe has made them part of national consciousness. They have a real double-life: as a symbol of defiance and determination as an Island nation or a welcoming symbol of liberty and freedom for people coming to live in the UK.

This stretch of coastline has been witness to many defining events in our rich and long history from the invasion of the Romans to becoming forever associated with the second-world-war. Poets, writers and artists have also tried to capture their meaning on canvass and in print; the latest being poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy with her new poem 'White Cliffs'.

But they also have an unexpected special place in our natural history too as home to four of the beautiful blue butterflies, countless rare wild flowers that thrive on chalk grassland and a stop off point for migrating birds on their long journey south. A key part of the future of this newly united land will be creating the space for nature to flourish and thrive.

The British landscape is breathtaking, bewitching and captivating. We can be rightly proud of the diversity of the Islands that we inhabit. The White Cliffs appeal has shown that despite the challenging economic climate that we live in today that people do still really care for special places and will come together to help save them for future generations to enjoy.

 

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