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24 September 2014

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South East England - Dover to Exmouth


The Frontline

Traditionally the South coast of England is where we've fought our battles, and defended ourselves. A hop, skip and a jump away from the continent, divided only by the narrow stretch of the English Channel. It is Britain's front line.

The Martello towers - Folkestone, Kent

74 of these round towers were built along the South coast between 1805 and 1808. They were designed to protect England against invasion from the French. At that time, we were at war with France and a huge encampment of soldiers was poised at Bologne, ready to invade. Some of the towers were later re-fortified for defensive use during the Second World war. At their 200th birthday, some now stand derelict but some have been turned into private homes. The towers are not normally open to the public.

The Sound Mirrors - Denge, Kent

Sound Mirror

These three concrete "listening ears" range in size from 20 to 200 feet in size. They were built between World War I and II: designed to give early warning of incoming enemy aircraft. Nick Crane and a team of academics experimented with how the mirrors actually worked. With the invention of radar in 1935, the sound mirrors became obsolete, but the relay system that their creator, Dr Tucker, had devised, was vital to the success of radar. Unfortunately the sound mirrors are not normally open to the public.

HMS Victory


  • The Romans saw the value of Portsmouth's massive natural harbour in the 3rd Century and built Portchester castle there.
  • Henry 8th established the Navy Royal. The pride of the fleet was his flagship, the Mary Rose, based in Portsmouth.
  • Nelson set sail from Portsmouth, in the Victory, to take part in the Battle of Trafalgar
  • Portsmouth was home to the first dry dock in the World
  • Portsmouth is the largest British Naval Base

Many of the historic sites in Portsmouth are open to the public - for more details visit their website.



The Channel Island of Alderney is only eight miles from the French coast. For five years during WW2 it was occupied by the Germans. It was the site of the only German concentration Camp on British soil. Prisoners, many of which were Jewish and Russian, provided slave labour to build immense gun emplacements.

The bunkers are not open to the public, but visitors can walk around the area, or find out more from Alderney Society Museum in the High Street.

Jurassic Coast

Jurassic Coast

This 95 mile stretch of coast is a window onto 185 million years of history. Known as the Jurassic coast, it actually spans from the most ancient rocks of the Triassic, through the Jurassic to the most recent Cretaceous. Famous for its fossils; it is not so well known for its fossil fuels.

  • BP have been extracting oil from the area for over 30 years
  • There could be up to 100 million barrels of oil still waiting to be discovered beneath the cliffs
  • The Jurassic layer stretches in a diagonal line across England, from Dorset to Whitby.
  • The Jurassic Coast is designated an Unesco World Heritage site. The coastline is open to the public.


Coast Series 1

Dover to Exmouth
The Frontline

Exmouth to Bristol
The Wild West

Bristol to Cardigan Bay
Times and Tides

Cardigan Bay to the Dee
The Travellers Coast

Liverpool to Solway Firth
Shifting Sands

The Northern Ireland Coast
The Troubled Coast

West Coast of Scotland and Western Isles
Islands and Inlets

Cape Wrath to Orkney
Life on the Edge

John O'Groats to Berwick
The Working Coast

Berwick to Robins Hood's Bay
The Pioneering Coast

Robins Hood's Bay to The Wash
The Inventive Coast

The Wash to Dover
The Vanishing Coast

Highlights Programme
What have we learned and where to now?

See Also

Meet your Coast experts:

Neil Oliver
Alice Roberts
Mark Horton
Miranda Krestovnikoff
Nicholas Crane
Hermione Cockburn
Dick Strawbridge

The Battle of Trafalgar
Operation Overlord Campaign Animation
Coastal Habitats
On the rest of the web
Martello Towers
Jurassic Coast

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Discover Your Coast

Try these great online walks from this stretch of coastline

Southern Counties

Tel: 0870 900 7788

for a free Open University “Discover Your Coast” pack - or visit

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external links.

The Wild West - Exmouth to Bristol

Dr Alice Roberts investigates how greed led to a village being washed into the sea; Nick unearths the history of slavery in Plymouth; while Neil and Mark try to wreck a ship with nothing but a candle; and Miranda comes face to face with a shark!

Keith Basham
Keith Basham has been a naturist 'for as long as he can remember'

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