Between the World Wars, before the invention of radar, parabolic sound mirrors were used experimentally as early-warning devices by military air defence forces to detect incoming enemy aircraft by listening for the sound of their engines. During World War 2 on the coast of southern England, a network of large concrete acoustic mirrors was in the process of being built when the project was cancelled owing to the development of the Chain Home radar system. Many of these mirrors are still standing today.
The sound mirror at Abbot’s Cliff, between Folkestone and Dover in Kent, is one of the easier ones to access, via a small road connecting to the A20 then a footpath with traverses along the cliff-edge.
The beach under Abbot’s Cliff is little known outside the naturist community with whom it is a popular spot. Set below the high chalk cliffs between Samphire Hoe Country Park and “The Warren” Country Park, this is not the most accessible beach along the Folkestone / Dover coast.
The beach here is mostly pebble and shingle with rocks off the shoreline. It is a pleasant, natural feeling spot that has not been developed.
Whilst Abbot’s Cliff is not officially a nudist beach it is long established. Some even suggest that it may escape the anti-nudity by-laws applying to other Folkestone beaches on account of the land being owned by the railway authority.
As I drove up to the tapering Breton peninsula an incredibly thick fog settled on the northern and western regions of France creating perfect conditions for the two recordings I made here, dampening extraneous road noise and creating a suitably mystical atmosphere.
Many of the stones in this standing circle were discovered relatively recently and the site itself (having been originally recorded in 1825) was rediscovered in 1976 following a large wildfire which cleared out the dense undergrowth that had subsumed the site.
Two recordings at this incredible site at the north coast above the Thames Estuary – the first taken just across the water from Foulness Island and the second out on the Maplin Sands in a rather bracing headwind. This location has numerous historical points of interest not least of which is the fact the most of the area was requisitioned by the War Office during WW1 for the purpose of testing and developing advanced munitions, including atomic weapons at the Explosives Storage Area of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment as early as 1947.
Tests conducted at Foulness were concerned primarily with improvements in safety and the approval of new designs. The site also contained a blast tunnel that was used to simulate the effects of a nuclear explosion. The Atomic Weapons Establishment ceased to use the Foulness site in 2000.
For an extremely detailed overview of the history of atomic research on Foulness see this article on Historic England.
Cycling up the winding hill paths to record at Combe Gibbet – I left my Ambeo VR mic and field recorder at home in preference for the more portable Zoom H4N1. Still with all the equipment on my back I make much slower progress than expected and I finally make it just in time to see the sun set over the horizon – leaving conditions too dark to film but with enough light to take a few moody twilight photographs and watch a young family play around a replica hangman’s scaffold.
The next morning is bright and sunny, burning off last night’s heavy mist – I make two recordings one on each side of the gibbet. The gibbet itself sits atop a prominent mound which itself is at the summit of Inkpen Beacon – with the extra height the gallows would have afforded the two convicts a spectacular view over the North Wessex Downs.