High Speed Link

Half of the High-Speed Rail Link across Kent between London and the Channel Tunnel is open. But there have always been high-speed links from the Capital to the Channel coast. This week Simon Evans looks at five and tells the story of how each era created a higher speed link than the one before.


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This is the prehistoric path that King Lear takes to Dover, across the ridges of the Downs. Much of it remains as it was, passing through ancient woodlands, with evidence of settlements that grew at important junctions. Part of it becomes the Pilgrims' Way, and Simon meets some modern pilgrims on the path taking Chaucer's pilgrims to Canterbury. And in Dover he finds a cross-Channel ferry from the Bronze Age.

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When the Romans landed they quickly established their high speed link through Kent to London, erecting bridges and laying millions of tons of quarried stone to build Watling Street. Simon Evans investigates a civil engineering project that's still impressive and still busy - Watling Street's become the A2.


Simon Evans travels an earlier high speed link, the A20, where the prominent villages are on important junctions and have a big inns because they were staging posts on the London to Dover Coach Road, the motorway services stations of their day. Dickens describes travelling on the coach road in 'Pickwick Papers'. At the carriage Museum in Maidstone, he sees the magnificent, but expensive, uncomfortable and dangerous vehicles themselves.


Simon Evans looks at the industrial estates and business parks which seem to have sprung up wherever there is a service station or a roundabout on the M20.

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The Victorian mainline from London to Dover follows the coach road for much of the way. Now the Channel Tunnel rail link is again cutting journey time to the coast. But Simon Evans learns that as it was built, archaeologists working on the line discovered that goods had been speeding up and down this route for millennia. Each era has created its own high-speed link but their purpose, their routes remain constant. So perhaps we are moving ever faster but really standing still.