Kent walk: An urban walk along the Pent stream in Folkestone
PUBLISHED: 13:02 24 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:19 24 June 2019
Enjoy a short urban walk rather than a country stroll this month, as we follow the course of the ancient Pent stream
The fashionable town of Folkestone owes its origins to the Pent stream, an ancient river flowing from the North Downs to the sea. Today, it's totally unseen.
This short urban walk follows the course of this lost river. Using clues from the past, reading the contours of the land and keeping alert to the sights and sounds the streets, you'll discover how the town's fortunes were shaped and continue to be influenced by this vital element. Just follow the text and directions below alongside the accompanying map.
1 Start of the walk
Head towards Radnor Park. Pass to the left of the Tea Hut and go straight across the park. Go past Radnor Park Lake to the junction of Radnor Park West and Radnor Park Avenue. Go through a gate and downhill, passing another lake on your right to meet the leafy riverside path. Turn right to reach a stone grotto.
Stop 1: Grotto, St Eanswythe's Water
As you follow the path you'll hear and see St Eanswythe's stream as it gently cascades over rocks. The course of the stream and the surrounding woodland are the result of Victorian landscaping when Folkestone was becoming a fashionable resort. Mini weirs were deliberately added to make the water's course more varied, adding interest and pleasure for those who strolled alongside it. Notice how wildlife and particularly birds use this river as a natural corridor to move along.
Walk alongside the stream until you emerge onto Park Farm Road, noticing the steel structure on your left. Cross the road and with the four-storey red-brick flats to your left, walk along Pavilion Road (right hand side).
Stop 2: Pavilion Road
The steel structure we just passed is where two streams, St Eanswythe's and the Pent, join forces. Now a single stream, it flows underground and out of sight behind the houses to the right. To appreciate the unseen water's potential power, cross over to No 30 Pavilion Road and find a photo on the telegraph pole outside. It shows when the street flooded in 1996.
Between numbers 33-35 there is a gap between the houses. Peer over the fence and you can spot the gardens behind running downhill to an area overgrown with weeds. It's under here that the Pent continues its journey now below ground.
Nearby Garden Road is a clue to how rural this area used to be. The Pent was once a fertile river valley. Before it was built over with houses, these streets were orchards, fields and gardens.
At the end of Pavilion Road turn left onto Black Bull Road. Just after no 2, peer over the brown gate and you'll see a small section of the Pent above water - a rare above-ground glimpse of the stream we're tracking. Continue and walk onto the grass verge with a water tower.
Stop 3: Silver water tower, junction of Foord Road and Black Bull Road
Although today this might look like a fairly ordinary junction of roads, it's an important place to mark how Folkestone's hidden stream has shaped the town.
When the Pent Stream flowed overground here, it was powerful enough to support many local industries, including a water-bottling company, several mills, a brewery and a tannery. All required vast quantities of water.
There are still clues to these industries around us if we know where to look. The red-brick building you can see is the old public swimming baths.
Next to it, the classical-looking double-fronted building was once the Silver Springs Mineral Water Company which made soft drinks. Fittingly, the brand name of its home-made lemonade was 'Spring Up.'
A little way down the hill is Foord Road. Street names are often good geographical clues to how the landscape once looked. Foord Road comes from 'ford' or crossing point over a river.
Pass under the viaduct. Take an immediate left and with Bradstone Court on your right, walk almost to the end. Just before the mural, look over the wall and between the backs of the houses you can see where the lost Pent stream once flowed through here, as it followed the contour of the land down to the sea. Turn right into Bradstone Road. Continue until you reach the junction of Foord Road, Dover Road and Tontine Street and stop by another silver water tower.
Stop 4 Water Tower at junction of Foord Road, Dover Road and Tontine St.
It might be hard to picture now, but a bridge once stood here so people could cross what was then a substantial river. Today a silver water tower above ground marks the route of this unseen resource which shapes the town's geography. The shape of the land where we started the walk was broad, flat and open, but as the Pent Stream continued on its course to the sea the river valley it carved gradually became narrower and deeper. You can see the change in and around you.
The Pent's estuary provided a sheltered moorage and several centuries ago this area would have thronged with boats.
However over the years, the combined action of silt deposits and local currents created a shingle bar silting up the upper reaches of the inlet (where we're standing now). As a result, this area gradually became a stagnant marsh. The row of red-brick cottages raised above the road hold another clue to the unseen water we're following; they're called Spring Terrace.
Walk towards the narrow green building called The Wedge and go down the thin street between the buildings. Stop on the corner by the Quarterhouse.
Stop 5 Mill Bay
The narrow road of warehouses and industrial buildings we have just walked along is Mill Bay; another street name in which we can read the area's past geography. By the 18th century, a large mill was sited near here. Mill Bay was built to link the mill with the old High Street.
If you study the shape of the street as it narrows and curves, you'll see it follows the contours of the old river valley. Ahead, the sloping Payers Park was built on the valley side. Industries along here included a hemp-processing factory used to make rope for the many boats which lined the banks.
The water mills and new road at Mill Bay were part of Folkestone's growing industrialisation. What had been water was becoming land. Soon Mill Bay developed housing and light industry along its route; all that was left of the 'bay' was its name.
With your back to Payers Park, walk to the left of the Quarterhouse and turn right onto Tontine Street. Go to the end of the street and stop at the bottom of the Old High Street.
Stop 6: Junction of Tontine Street and Tram Road
Look across the street at the area of flat land to the left, now the tourist information centre car park. Here the Pent once flowed into an area known as Old Sea Gate. This was a warren of ramshackle wooden houses, inns, shops, and docks housing a rowdy fishing community.
In 1998 archeologists excavated this area and found evidence for Folkestone's medieval harbour. Deep trenches revealed timber piles and planking dated to 1625-1650.
By the mid-18th century, silt deposits brought down from the river had formed a shingle bar blocking the harbour's entrance.
As the harbour shifted further south and the land behind it was built over, a new harbour was needed. The Pent Stream was realigned underground through a brick culvert and it disappeared from sight.
Walk toward the harbour and stop by the ice cream shop near the water fountains.
Stop 7: Pent Stream Outflow, Folkestone Harbour
See if you can spot the silver water tower perched above the red-brick wall behind the ice cream shop. Directly underneath it you'll see a metal sluice gate. This is where the 'lost' river Pent enters the sea.
On their journey from source to sea, rivers and streams pick up and carry silt and sediment. Men were once employed to clear the harbour by hand with the stones and silt removed by horse and cart. Today the sluice gate is operated by harbour workers and allows them to control the flow of water into the sea.
This marks the end of our trail tracing the Pent on its journey through the Foord Valley to the sea. Once a naturally meandering stream, it has been heavily modified and built over.
At the beginning of the trail we walked along the riverside path following the course of another of Folkestone's natural water sources - St Eanswythe's - before it too disappeared underground.
It's worth reflecting on what we lose when our streams and waterways become 'lost' to us and what our towns and environments might look and feel like if we brought them back? u
Find out more
Discovering Britain is a series of geographically themed walks and views, created by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), designed to tell the stories behind Britain's diverse landscapes. With thanks to Raymond Molony FRGS for researching and writing the original walk. See also Folkestone town feature on pages 72 to 73. The full walk text and images can be read, listened to and downloaded for free at: www.discoveringbritain.org
Why: Walk on water and discover Folkestone's lost river
Start: Folkestone Central railway station, CT19 5HB
End: Folkestone Harbour, CT20 1QW
OS map: Explorer 138 Dover, Folkestone and Hythe
Length: 1.5 miles