For decades, Channel swimmers have begun their epic journeys towards France from Shakespeare Beach in Dover. Now for the first time since Boxing Day 2015, when a massive storm damaged the sea wall behind the beach and the railway above it, swimmers can return to the shingle shore and enjoy one of Dover’s hidden gems after a new footbridge restored access to the beach.
Network Rail engineers were today joined by Dover MP Charlie Elphicke and members of the Channel Swimming Association to officially open the bridge and mark the completion of a mammoth project to rebuild the sea wall protecting the railway between Dover and Folkestone.
Repairs began in January 2016, when the first of 90,000 tonnes of granite rock armour was delivered to site. Since then, Network Rail engineers have been working to place the rock armour along a 375m stretch of the wall and put the new footbridge in place across the railway and down to the beach.
The railway and sea wall itself were opened in September 2016.
Network Rail’s director of route asset management, Alan Ross, said: “We knew from the minute we arrived in Dover on Boxing Day 2015 that this was going to be a huge job. We not only had to rebuild and protect the railway between Dover and Folkestone, but we also had to protect the cliff itself.
“It’s great news for the local community that the beach is back open and I’d like to thank them for their support and understanding while we carried out our work. I’ve never known a project where everyone in the area has helped and supported us in the way that Dover did, from MP Charlie Elphicke to Dover District Council and businesses and people in the town.
“We all felt responsible for making this project as good as it could be and finally we can say we’ve achieved our aim and the beach is back open.”
Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke, who chaired the sea wall repair task force after the storm of Christmas 2015, said: “Our fight to fix the sea wall just goes to show what can be achieved if people work together and get on with the job. Dedicated workers from Network Rail and Costain grafted round the clock – and the rail line was back on track three months ahead of schedule.
“It’s fantastic to see the new footbridge and the historic Shakespeare Beach reopen today. I’m delighted our incredible Channel swimmers have now got their beach back.”
Michael Read, who is president of the Channel Swimming Association and has swum the Channel 33 times, said: “I’m delighted that the beach is back because it was always the traditional starting point for swims and Channel swimmers have such an affection for it. Over the years we have also been able to use Samphire Hoe and now the pilots can choose a beach depending on the tides and how they will affect the swimmer.
“The feeling of completing a crossing and walking back on dry land is the most wonderful feeling in the world.”
Tim Ingleton, Dover District Council’s Head of Inward Investment, said: ““We are very pleased to hear this news from Network Rail, and welcome the completion of this important work, which will reconnect Shakespeare Beach with the community.”
The project to rebuild the railway and part of the sea wall at Shakespeare Beach began immediately after Christmas 2015 and cost £39.8m. More than 90,000 tonnes of rock armour was shipped to Dover by barge, arriving at the port and latterly on a barge anchored offshore.
The railway was rebuilt on a 235m viaduct supported by 138 columns and the rock armour was arranged along the beach to protect both it and the cliff face behind it from the power of the sea.
At its peak, more than 1,000 people worked on the project at Dover, with around 150 working on the beach works and the footbridge. Companies involved were Network Rail and principle contractor Costain, along with Suttles Projects, who opened their quarry the day after Boxing Day, Tony Gee and Partners, who designed the viaduct; Brett, concrete; Pipex, footbridge; FP McCann, steps to the beach; Ovenden, beachworks; and Stema Shipping UK, rock supply. All told more than 180 suppliers helped bring the project to completion.