The highlight of my recent holiday in Kent was a day trip to Dover Castle. The castle is set in a stunning location with beautiful views out to sea, and over the Kent countryside. The castle is a magnificent day out, and I wanted to share my experiences of it.
===Getting to the Castle:===
The castle is located at Castle Hill, Dover, Kent - CT16 1HU. It is fully visible from most places in the town of Dover as it is high on the hill above the town. We drove here from the nearby town we were staying at, and it was well sign posted with brown tourist information signs, and there was plenty of parking available. We arrived close to 10am, and I would recommend that the site was particularly busy when we were there on a nice August day, so it is worth getting there earlier in the day. There are 4 car parks, with disabled parking being at the top of the hill near the Great Tower.
There is a train station in Dover about a mile and a half away. You can also get to the site using the 15/X stagecoach bus service, or you can cycle there.
Because it is a large site, there were lots of members of staff at the ticket booth near the car park. There was a man outside directing people to join queues for membership or non-membership entry to the site. There were then 3 cashiers letting people in. The castle is open at different times throughout the year. In August for the school holidays it is open from 9:30am to 6pm. It is worth checking the English Heritage web site for times before visiting.
The castle is free to enter if you are an English Heritage member. This is worth doing as it is £47 for an individual adult membership, or £82 for a couple's membership which admits up to 6 children free. The price to visit this property is: adult - £16.50, child (5-15) - £9.50, concessions - £14.90, and a family entrance of 2 adults and up to 3 children at £42.90.
===History of the Castle:===
There is evidence on the site of buildings from 200AD. This is in the form of a Roman lighthouse. The main castle as it stands today was built by Henry II in the 1180s. There is a fantastic range of history covered, which is mainly medieval, but also covers more recent history from world war two, and a bit from the time of William the Conqueror.
The site is located near the Straits of Dover which is an important defensive site as it is the narrowest part of the English Channel, and therefore vulnerable to attack. The castle has been under attack many times but not been defeated. The most famous attack on the castle was by French forces in 1216-17, but it was also very important in commanding forces during world war II.
The castle defences were continuing to be improved under the reigns of King John and Henry III until around the middle of the 13th century, to strenthen defences after a collapse of the wall to the North of the site.
===Our Visit to the Site:===
We visited the site on a beautiful sunny Monday in August in the school holidays. There was a special Medieval event happening on the day we went aimed at bringing history to life for children. We set off with our map and were directed to go first to the War time underground tunnels as these get really busy later in the day.
We went to look at the Operation Dynamo exhibition which explains how these tunnels were a base for Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay who organised the evacuation of Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. There are about 4 miles of tunnels under the castle which were secret at this point, built for the Napoleonic war as a barracks for soldiers, it was a bomb proof safe place for people to work from in WWII.
The tunnels were a lot cooler than outside, and it was quite dark down there. Some of the displays involved projections of film onto walls of the tunnel. We ended up at the back of the queue for some of this and the view was not great from there. You were missing bits of it, as it was quite a short gap between film clips, and you had to walk from one area to the next. These tunnels were also quite uneven in places, so it was a bit scary for my children and a bit dull. I found it really interesting, but I know most about this period of history from my schooling.
We then decided to go and explore the Great Tower. The site of the castle covers 4 hectares, and it was a day that involved a lot of walking round. English Heritage provide a land train that runs all day between the different levels of the site. We took the train up the hill to the Keep.
The Great Tower was restored a few years ago to be in the style it would be if Henry II were in residence. This means that when you walk into the Great Tower you get a great sense of what it would have been like. Although he would not have lived here, and only visited from time to time, the castle has rooms set up as his drawing room, his bedroom, his dressing room, a chapel, and the kitchens. On every wall there were banners, and authentic looking furniture. You can tell this has been a labour of love for many people, as the detail was amazing. From replica crowns, to swords and shields, to chainmail, to a kitchen which had bread rolls proving before going into the oven, and wild boar cooked on serving platters waiting to be served, and the roaring real log fire with a chess set assembled as though a game was in play. The Great Tower was definitely what made the experience so amazing as you could really imagine what was going on.
Getting round the Keep required some physical stamina as there are a lot of stone staircases and spiral staircases. I found by the end of the day that my knee was very sore from all the walking we did. My pedometer said over 13000 steps on this day out.
On the day we visited, there were 4 actors who were doing a Medieval Quest with the children. This involved the children learning to be a knight. There was a knight to teach them how to hunt and use swords, a Princess who taught them obedience and chivalry, and then finally the children were presented to the King who was sitting on his throne, before knighting all the children who had taken part. This was a brilliant activity, and every week in August there is a different activity from other periods in history. We could have also gone and done a Spy Quest, but I believe the Medieval activity was more suited to the site and I am so glad we could take part in it.
After the Great Tower we had a lovely picnic in the grounds. There were lots of families doing the same. While there were some picnic benches, these were meant for refreshments served in the NAAFI restaurant or the cafe near the Great Tower, but we sat just outside the Keep defensive walls with a great view over the rest of the site.
From here, we completed a circular walk around the site. The children were given an orienteering sheet. As we went round the site there were 6 orienteering points we could find by solving clues. There was a prize for all who managed to complete the activity.
We didn't go into the the 18th Century buildings around the Great Tower very much apart from the shop, but there is a museum in the Great Hall that shows the history of the building of the site.
These buildings were made when the towers around the defensive wall around the Keep had a 4th side added to them to make them into functional rooms.
We really enjoyed walking round the site and finding the tunnels that date from medieval times. These were tunnels you could enter and explore yourself rather than a guided tour like the wartime tunnels. The boys enjoyed it immensely walking round in the semi dark particularly when we found some cannons in the North corner of the wall. These tunnels were quite wide which just shows the thickness of the castle walls.
Another area we were interested in visiting on the site was the Roman lighthouse and the Church of St Mary in Castro. The church's origin is not entirely known, but it has been there since at least Saxon times, and the contrast between those buildings and the slightly more modern castle is very clear. The lighthouse is a bit run down, but you can go inside and look at how tall it is. You can also go into the Church.
===What did we miss?===
Unfortunately, the site is so huge that we didn't manage to visit everything you can see. We had to miss out going inside the church, and the hospital near the wartime tunnels. We also didn't really see the more gothic barracks buildings. I would also have loved to do the walk round the perimeter of the site as the views we saw were amazing from the top of the Great Tower.
If we hadn't done the knight training or the orienteering we might have planned our visit to the site a little differently to not double back on ourselves as much, but when you visit this sort of place with children you need to adapt what you are doing to suit them.
===Would I go back?===
I would absolutely love to go back again, as would my children. It is quite an expensive day out if you are not an English Heritage member, but there are so many things to do on this site that you can easily fill a whole day there. I think I would time my visit to take advantage of the things that they organise for children in the school holidays, as the actors who were running the Medieval Quest were absolutely brilliant and really made our visit special for us. My sons are still talking about it and showing me the correct defensive poses for holding your sword.
The only thing I would recommend is to try and plan your visit a bit before you go, as we were on the go all day, and it was only when we got home later and started comparing what we had seen to the information in the Visitors guide we purchased that we felt we truly understood what we had seen.
It is a fabulous place to go, and we heartily recommend going.
Dover castle is a castle obviously which is situated in the English coastal town of Dover, it has been there for around 900 years and overlooks the town and harbour. It has been one of the most important defensive structures built by the English to protect the south coast against invasion first from the French, but also the Dutch and Germans it is largely intact and is one of the most complete castles in the UK.
I recently went to Canterbury for a conference but one of the excursions was to Dover castle which is approximately 20 miles from Canterbury. The castle is situated on the highest point over the town and dominates the surrounding areas, you really can't miss it. It has a Norman main castle, 17th century barracks, medieval tunnels and underground WWII hospital complex. Entry is £11.50 for the full experience which includes wandering around the main castle, medieval tunnels, walking the extended defence ring of the castle walls and a guided tour of the underground hospital.
The main castle was built between the years 1100 and 1300, it has a huge bailey (or gate) and most of the rooms are still open for looking around, contrasting with walking the Welsh castles where really only the outer shell of the castle survives. Going into the castle involves walking up a short walkway through the bailey and then into the castle proper, you can then take the spiral stone stairway all the way to the top or stop along the way to investigate the side chambers and passageways. The lower rooms have been laid out in an early medieval manner with tables of food set, the king's throne room, a knights bedroom, the kitchen is laid out as though mid way through a day's cooking. Along with the physical exhibits are a series of projected images in which characters from the past tell the story of certain aspects of the rooms you enter, so in the king's chambers you get a rendition of the king lecturing the various nobles for their lack of attention. In the armoury there is a pair of squires looking after their knight's equipment the day after a joust, there are also descriptions of the ladies and lords visiting the castle. These are in colour and move but whilst giving a nice perspective on the times of the castle are perhaps a little over the top.
The top of the castle is of course the star attraction, fully accessible the castle top gives an impression on the size, height and manifest power of the castle as a piece of power politics. From the top the whole town of Dover is visible, the harbour, the road to London and of course all the surrounding walls and ramparts of the castle. It is very easy to see that if the castle was sealed from the inside that any besieging force would have a very hard time taking this tall, strong, heavily armoured castle. The other pleasing aspect of the castle is the remarkable degree of preservation in which the castle has survived the 900 years or so of its existence. The walls are still strong and in good conditions, the roofs of the rooms are as they were centuries earlier and the stone steps are worn but not in a bad way at all. It's amazing to think when walking up and down the steps that you are walking on the same steps Henry II would have stepped on 800 years earlier.
The tunnels are open access and are part 19th and part 13th century, they are very steep at times and though well lit don't really add a lot to the experience. They are simply a warren of tunnels built over the centuries in which soldiers could hide during times of invasion or be used as a storage facility.
WWII underground hospital
The hospital is situated near the far wall of the castle grounds, it was built in 1941 to hold a hospital for the injured soldiers in and around the English Channel. The tour is run by a guide who takes the visitor through the upper levels where the hospital was built, through the tour we follow through audio description the fate of a gunned down pilot who has been taken into the hospital because he was badly injured. Will he survive or not? There is a feeling of claustrophobia for those who don't like enclosed spaces and the lighting has been made to give the feel for the hospital in the war time so it's dim and does flicker to give the impression of bombs landing. There are deeper tunnels built during Napoleonic times which aren't open to the public just yet but are due to open this summer.
There are toilets dotted around the castle, there is a gift shop run by English heritage and a cafe next to the gift shop. I was induced to taste the local Kent beers, ciders and mead when I was there yes it's a hard life but we all have to make sacrifices.
A visit to the castle was well worth it, the castle is huge and it took me a good hour to walk around just the main castle. The guided tour around the underground hospital was fascinating and worth the effort and the walk around the extended grounds looking over the gun embankments where life-size cannon are placed to give a feel for the strategic importance of the castle even into the 20th century. My final thought was of the tide of history that the castle must have seen and that history on this scale changes very quickly at times when I visited there were school groups from both Germany and France both of course were nations which one time wanted to invade and the first line of defence would have been Dover castle. Now it's brooding presence over the town is more friendly and comforting rather than the cold hard times it must have witnessed in times past.
From the late June to middle August I spent 7 weeks in China, so I missed the beautiful summer in the UK this year. It's a great pity. Luckily the August bank holiday came shortly after I returned and the weather at the last day (30 August 2010) was gorgeous so I took a day trip to Dover Castle.
Brief introduction about Dover Castle:
Dover Castle is located in Dover, Kent. As the key to England Dover has always been in a strategic position to protecting Britain from potential invaders throughout its history. Commanding the shortest sea crossing between England and the continent, these fortifications on the very site of Dover Castle have played an important military role for over 2000 years. Going back to the 12th century Henry II built the present castle, and over the next 800 years, particularly during the second world war, it's buildings and defences were adapted to meet the changing demands of weapons and warfare.
Today as a tourist site owned by English Heritage, the visits to Dover Castle have been divided into five areas: Dover's early history, Medieval Dover, Dover's defences, Garrison life and Dover at war. Each area contains highlights belonging to different periods or aspects of its fascinating history. Also, because Dover Castle is situated above the White Cliffs on the Kent coastline you can have spectacular views towards Dover harbour and the town. At good days if you look carefully in the distance you can see the buildings of France.
My personal experience:
It's quite easy to get there in the car as Dover Castle is a very prominent landmark. However partially due to my careless, but mainly because the entrance to the parking is too small and simple I passed it twice. Different from the narrow entranceway there is plenty of parking. Two staff guided drivers in parking and leaving.
Tip 1: pay more attention on the entrance of the parking when you are getting near the sign of Dover Castle.
After parking my car I was ready to walk to the Castle. However at the exit I saw a staff standing there with a short queue. After inquiring the staff I knew the road towards to the Castle has a few steep slopes and it would take about ten walk minutes to get there. So English Heritage manage 4 free buses to commute visitors between the Castle and the parking. At the moment I didn't know how long I would wait and I was ambitious to walk by myself, but the staff suggested me taking the walk when I come back. So I was queued up for the bus. Shortly it arrived. It is a minibus with capacity of 16 passengers and takes less than five minutes to reach the ticket spot. Sitting in the bus I realised I made a right decision. The road is really steep and narrow. After my visit I took the bus back without any hesitation.
Tip 2: Better to take the bus which commute between the Castle and the parking every five minutes.
Leaving the bus and walking upstairs I arrived the ticket office. The Admission Prices are £13.90 for adults, £7 for children and £11.80 for concessions if you are not the member of English Heritage. This includes the tour of the secret wartime tunnels that is operated by timed ticked system.
There was a short queue, but the staff worked efficiently. Because my visit to the secret wartime tunnels was managed in one hour, I decided to get around The Admiralty Look-out first which is just nearby the secret wartime tunnels.
Tip 3: Better to book your visit of the secret wartime tunnels earlier after you arrive, then you will have more flexibility to visit others.
The Admiralty Look-out is shown its role as a First World War Fire Command Post and a naval signal station, with superb views of the White Cliffs. As its name, it was used for spotting enemy ships and planes during First and Second World Wars. There you can see how they worked and try to figure out ships and airplanes of the enemies and British army. Figuring out these ships and airplanes was a bit difficult, but fun and interesting. Nearby the Look-out there is a statue of Vice Admiral Ramsay who was responsible for the Dunkirk evacuation. Working from the underground tunnels beneath Dover Castle, he and his staff worked for nine days straight to rescue troops trapped in France by the German forces in 1940. Four years later Ramsay was appointed Naval Commander in Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Because I'm very interested in the Dunkirk evacuation and the D-Day, so I was very glad to get around the statue, read the panel and look at the beautiful views at the Dover Harbour. However time really flied, and I had to leave for my next stop: the secret wartime tunnels.
Tip 4: The views of the White Cliffs are superb, but not the best. Save your time for these later.
Frankly, the secret wartime tunnels tour was the highlight of my trip. After a short wait at the reception, one English Heritage staff opened a small door on time. After checking our ticket he lead us walking into a small room to watch a short film about the tunnels. It reminded me of the Yorvik Centre, which I visited last year. The short film mainly explains the history of the tunnels. Back to the Middle Ages the first tunnel under Dover Castle were constructed. During the Napoleonic wars, this system of tunnels was greatly expanded to becoming in readiness for a French invasion. They were capable of accommodating up to 2000 troops. In May 1940 the tunnels became the nerve centre for Operation Dynamo, also known as the Dunkirk evacuation. The film also showed some genuine pictures of the troops rescued on the beaches of Dunkirk. As the only underground barracks ever built in the Britain, the tunnels were further expanded in the Cold War for the event of nuclear weapons. However with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the need for this facility decreased and in the early 1990s the areas of the tunnels opened to the public. But for some reason it's still not allowed to take pictures inside.
Surprisingly after the film we were lead out of the tunnels. Walking a distance we arrived the Medical Dressing Station from which we will see how these tunnels played hospital role during the Second World War. My first impression is these tunnels are steel lined with quite big spaces which were designed as reception areas, washrooms, toilets, food stores, kitchens and, of course, operational rooms, etc. Walking along the tunnels you can listen to their talks, smell the food they had and even experience the power off that was often happened. At the dinning room I can't help to touch the dish which contains beef and potato. (Usually I don't do like that when I visit somewhere). I knew it would not be real, but the smell was so delicious, I must try to prove my judgement.
Later the English Heritage staff freed us to go by ourselves. As it's one way so you would not be lost. I stopped at a small room in which Ramsay and his staff made the Dunkirk miracle happened. If you are interested in the history you can sit down to watch a short film about it. Nearby there are two operational rooms for communicating with ships and airplanes outside. It's really amazing to explore these tunnels. However it's so nice to have some fresh air and sunshine.
Tip 5: It's important to follow up the English Heritage staff to get more information.
Leaving the tunnels and following the guide panels I first arrived the inner bailey and the Great Tower which was originally built by King Henry II. There is a big grassland inside the bailey that is used for kids to play some medieval games, also a small market selling drinks and food. First I visited an exhibition in Arthur's Hall to learn about the builder Henry II and his troublesome family. The short film about his fight with his wife and sons is really funny and educational. There is also a quite descriptive explanation about the king and the rank of his officials.
Entering the Great Tower I first smelled the smoke that was spreading around the building. Later I found it was from the fireplace in the big King's Chamber. The Great Tower was a royal palace in 1180s, as soon as you ascend the stairs of the Great Tower's defensive 'forebuilding' entrance you will first meet many lifelike figures. Upstairs to the second floor you will see the most spectacular room: the King's Hall which dominated by its canopied throne and decked throughout with wall hangings and recreations of contemporary furniture with brilliant colours. However personally I think the big King's Chamber is more interesting. I'm surprised to see the fireplace still works well and the royal bed is so small. Next to the chamber you can see the king's treasures, that always followed the King moving around. Continually upstairs to the roof of the tower you will have panoramic views over the castle's immense complex of fortifications, with busy Dover Harbour below and France in the distance beyond. Because I already spent a lot of time to have the views when I was around the Look-out so I had little time on the roof. Plus it was really windy on the top. Before I left the Great Tower I also popped into the Royal Kitchen at the bottom in which I saw their food, the way they cooked and kept food. I quite like it.
Tip 6: The stairs are narrow and steep.
My last destination was the Roman pharos which is a tall Roman Lighthouse. Believe or not it is one of the highest Roman structures still standing today in the whole of Europe. Next to the pharos is the church of St Mary-in Castro which is a Saxon church and is full of mosaic walls and fine architecture. I entered the church and really enjoyed the music, the decorations and saw some valuable historical pictures. To my understanding it's a working church and mainly used by troops for Sunday service every week.
Tip 7: Pay attention on the pictures that made the church more impressive.
I know I have not seen the whole part of the Castle, but I was really tired due to the up and down explorations. At last I queued in front the ice cream parlour for a treat. Nearby it is the NAAFI restaurant where soldiers relaxed and socialized from 1868. I had a quick visit, but was disappoint with their food options that are much similar with other two shops in the Castle.
Dover Castle opens in whole year, except Christmas and New Year holiday. There are two shops and one restaurant selling refreshment, cakes and sandwiches. The price is reasonably high. You can also buy some souvenir at the shops. The toilets are inside every shops and very easy to find out. Last but not least due to the location it's always cold and windy, even under sunshine, so better to put warm clothes on plus a pair of comfortable shoes.
I enjoyed every minute I had at Dover Castle and would highly recommend anyone. Not only can you see historical site, but also you can have spectacular views. It's a must see place in the country because in which you can witness miracles.
Thanks for reading. For more pictures please visit my blog: http://blossom-iwanttoseetheworld.blogspot.com/
Today 5th August 2009. Visited Dover castle. the entry Money was worth paying for the upkeep of the buildings and site. It would be nce to see more signs on the buildings telling you what they were for. Especially the ones that you do not have entry to.
The rooms in the castle do not have signs saying what they are or were used for, this would make it more intersting.
To eat on site was poor. At best a filled Jacket patatoe, limited sandwich and drinks. Some other hot food would have made me stay longer, but the old tum tum said otherwise and we left to seek a meal.
Good day out if you have not been before. Highlight of the day, The secret Tunnels.
A lot of climbing inside and out, you will need to be fit or have requent rests.
Would I visit again, maybe in a couyple of years time.
If you are anything like me, then probably, the word Dover conjures up images of White Cliffs, seagulls and maybe even Dame Vera Lynne and Blue Birds. Whilst I have seen 50% of these images in Dover in reality, the Blue Birds and Dame Vera have so far eluded me. If, like us, you are regular travellers to the continent via Dover, then you cannot have failed to have seen Dover Castle perched up high above the White Cliffs overlooking the town to the west and port to the due south.
I wonder how many of you have actually visited Dover Castle as a tourist attraction though ..
..never mind, join us then, if you will on a voyage of discovery of one of the worlds longest lasting, and probably, this countries last fully functioning castle.
As with many of the other sites that I have been writing about over the last several months, this one is an English Heritage property. That is lucky for us because our joint membership cards admit my wife and I, plus her 11 year old sister (under 16s can accompany members for free!). The adult admission charge is £8.95, children get in for £4.50. I have visited Dover Castle on around six occasions over the last twenty years, the last time being on a beautiful August (2005) day, escorting my wife, her sister and my Polish parents-in-law.
Although Dover Castle is a very prominent landmark, for some extraordinary reason I never find getting there in the car very easy. Yes, there are brown English Heritage signs to direct you through the town, but on a couple of occasions I have found myself totally lost ..
.but believe me it is worth finding.
You arrive at Dover Castle, on foot or by car, up a steep approach road. The bridge entering the castle grounds is only the width of a car, so if you are worried that you are at the back of a long queue, do not be. It will only be the traffic light control delaying you.
This is a big attraction offering lots to see and to do, the car parks are therefore extensive, but landscaped and terraced within the outer castle precincts. This is a great arrangement as from no part of the castle or grounds you are looking at a sea of parked cars. You could, if you so wish, park here and wonder around the exterior grounds freely, however, to gain admission to the buildings you will need to buy tickets from the English heritage stand in the lower car park.
You are presented with a sticky label to put on your top and a map showing a plan of the whole site. You will also be booked for one or two (depending on visitor numbers) underground tunnel tours, giving you an allocated time to meet your guide at the underground reception area. If you wish to take both tours, then I would recommend arriving early, probably off-season too, as the tunnel tours are extremely popular and often fully booked by the early afternoon. As this is the best bit, Ill leave it until last, our tour will start above ground.
I am not going to describe in huge detail the history of Dover Castle which is very long. It originated in Roman Times, as witnessed here by the presence of a genuine Roman Lighthouse situated next to an originally Saxon church. St Mary-in-Castro, latterly the garrison church dates from around AD 1000. It was substantially renovated in the nineteenth century, but is very beautiful inside and well worth seeing. The latest developments at the Castle took place in the cold war era, the 1950s tunnels, forming a nuclear attack command HQ. The tunnels are not yet open for public viewing. So, here on this site you are able to see the best part of 2000 years of continuous development.
This is very much a military castle, as apposed to any form of home, stately or otherwise. It has a very plain strategic purpose, overlooking the coast of France in the narrowest section of the whole English Channel known as the Straights of Dover. For centuries enemies have been observed from here, invaders repelled. You do not need to be a military historian to appreciate this place, there is plenty for everyone to see along the way and you will depart educated on some aspect of history that you did not expect to find here.
The main above ground castle building is the massive four square keep built by King Henry II during the 1170s and 80s. From this, and the fortified embankments around it, the castle grew. This keep only ended its military service in1945. As originally designed, it housed grand state apartments, two chapels and a very deep drinking well.
This was one of the last and largest keeps built - 83ft high (25.3m), 98ft square (29.9m). The colossal solid walls varied from 17 ft to 21ft (5.2m to 6.4m)in depth. On the ground floor most of the space was used for storage, both of provisions and in later times powder magazines and arms. The upper two floors approached by two spiral staircases positioned in diagonally opposite corners of the castle, contain the state rooms.
In Medieval and Tudor Times the state rooms and apartments would have remained empty the King and court travelled with all their own luggage and furniture the furniture being sent on ahead of the royal party.
This is the scene portrayed in the keep today. The state rooms are filled with replicas of Henry VIIIs belongings, as deduced from an inventory of travelling possessions taken at that time. Effectively we, the visitor, are transported back to 1539, having arrived just ahead of that most famous of English Monarchs.
Carrying on up the spiral staircase you emerge onto the roof of the Keep, from which a truly magnificent panorama of Dover, the coastline, the Straits of Dover and, on a clear day, France can be enjoyed. There are few places in my experience sharing such a view!
KEEP YARD AND BATTLEMENTS
Back at ground level, after all that climbing of steps you may well be feeling in need of refreshment or a toilet even. Both an excellent café (serving good quality, reasonably priced food) and good clean modern toilets are to be found in the 1750s Keep Yard Barracks buildings, which enclose the northwest corner of the Keep Yard.
Before descending to the lower, slightly newer, areas of the castle, do take a walk around the battlements, continuously updated since twelth century. They show just how grand and complex a fortification Dover Castle is.
Going down the steep path from the main Keep area beware it can be slippery even when not wet you pass on the edge of the car park now disused 1850s officers barracks before emerging onto a small grass plateau area. Here are to be found Admiralty Look Out and the Port War Signal Station.
From the 1870s until the end of the Second World War, gun batteries were stationed here, close to the cliff edge, in order to protect this strategically vitally important harbour. The statue to the west of the look out is of ViceAdmiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, by sculptor Steve Melton. This was unveiled on 10th November 2000, and commemorates the last great military occupant here at Dover Castle.
To find out much more about Ramsay, carry on down the hill following the Wartime Tunnels signs. This is the part of the castle for which you were presented with a timed ticket upon your arrival. The underground tunnels are approached by a steep tunnel through the cliffs, from which you emerge onto an open platform, literally cut out of the cliff face offering the most spectacular view of Dover Port.
Entering a door leading inside the cliff, you will find another café, toilets, a very good shop and the adjacent visitors reception to the tunnels. This is a slick operation; there are two tours running, both restricted in numbers. The Annexe level, or Hospital tours are guided by a very well informed English Heritage staff member. The Casemate, or Secret Wartime Tunnels are partially guided, a short explanatory talk is given before you are free to progress through the tunnels at your own pace.
During our recent visits to Dover Castle, we have enjoyed both tours, although never on the same day. The hospital or Annexe level tour requires more walking as your guide leads you back above ground and into the complex just below the lookout platform.
Apart from the Nuclear Tunnels, Dumpey Level as you will see them referred to, the hospital was the last development here at Dover, dug in 1941, but not fitted out until the autumn of 1942. These tunnels are steel lined and far less spacious than Napoleonic Casemate Tunnels at the lower level. Unlike the older tunnels, these are laid out on a regular grid pattern with a well designed layout of reception areas, washrooms, toilets, food stores, kitchens and, of course, operation theatres.
This was never intended to be a full general hospital, its role was as a Medical Dressing Station, a little like a modern TRIAGE unit, cases then being passed on to larger hospitals in less vulnerable places inland. The current displays of medical implements, the operation theatre, the galley and mess have all been reconstructed from contemporary photographs taken in 1945. These tunnels were subsequently fitted out to provide living accommodation for staff attached to the regional government authorities located here during the 1960s Cold War era.
The Casemate Tunnels are considerably older, dating from the late eighteenth century. England was at war with France, Dover Castle was bursting at the seams with troops, provisions and munitions. By 1797 the room had literally run out. Under the supervision of the Royal Engineers miners were employed to dig seven parallel tunnels running inside the cliff 50ft below the cliff top. At the rear of the tunnels a connecting passageway was then dug, linking all seven together. The tunnels were fitted out with sanitation, fireplaces and a well. By 1803 the first troops were billeted here, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars over 2000 men were homed in these tunnels.
Compared to the much more claustrophobic 1940s Annexe (Hospital) Tunnels, these are far more spacious and airy. Large brick lined chambers; one can only imagine the living conditions with 2000 men sleeping down here though!
Prior to 1939, the tunnels had remained largely abandoned for over a century. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War they were hastily turned into bombproof headquarters for the Royal Navys Dover Command. A year later, Admiral Ramsay masterminded Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Dunkirk from an office, with windows overlooking the Straights of Dover.
Ramsay, if not exactly an unsung hero, has most certainly not had the recognition that he deserved. Here in the tunnels at Dover Castle, that is partly put to right with a video covering Operation Dynamo, the success of which exceeded even Ramsays own optimistic expectations.
What the visitor sees here today is a recreation of the 1940s tunnels in their wartime role. Communication equipment at the time was undergoing rapid development, although it was far less compact than today, lacking up much space. Direct phone lines lead from here to Downing Street, the Admiralty, War Office and, of course, the local gun batteries and airfields Biggin Hill, Manton and Hawkinge. Not only can you see all the switchboard equipment, but also the plotting tables, wall map and charts that played the most vital role in the defence of our nation.
There is a lot to take in underground at Dover Castle, and even if, like me, you are not a war historian, there is plenty to see and do here. The atmosphere of wartime Britain is palpable within the tunnels.
My Polish parents in law, who do not speak English, had a very good understanding of the workings and development of Dover castle. Klaudia, who is rather too young to understand the military side of things, really enjoyed the views and running around up and down the many hills and stairs. The children love running around castles with all their hiding places and peep holes. Yes, Dover Castle really does offer something for everyone and at £8.95 for admission I would have to rate it as a bargain in todays inflated times.
The consensus of opinion within our little group at least, was that Dover Castle was a much more interesting site than Windsor, visited during the same week, it was certainly a much less expensive day out too.
This is one property that English Heritage have really done proud!
24 Mar-30Jun 10am-6pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
1 Jul-31Aug 9.30am-6.30pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
1-30 Sep 10am-6pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
1-31 Oct 10am-5pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
1 Nov-31 Jan 10am-4pm Mon, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
1 Feb-31 Mar 10am-4pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
24-26 Dec and 1 Jan Closed
Details: Keep closes at 5pm on days of hospitality events.
English Heritage Members: Free
Family ticket (2 adults and 3 children): £22.40
Details: The last tour of the tunnels starts 1 hour before the site closes
Over the years, I've lost count of the number of times I've passed through Dover on my way to the continent. Passing through seemed to be the right thing to do, as it's perhaps not the most attractive of Kentish towns.
DOVER is one of the busiest ports in England, which is not surprising as it's the closest point of the UK to mainland Europe. It's a bustling, transit town that at first glance has no real tourist attractions, and nothing to encourage the passing traveller to linger a while. But blank out the container ports, the Ro-Ro ferries and Hydro-foils queuing outside the harbours, and the juggernauts thundering down slip roads, and take a second look. High above the town, perched atop those famous white cliffs, and there sits a magnificent Norman castle which, by a strange quirk of fate, I'm about to describe to you.
* DOVER CASTLE *
Because of it's strategic position as the gateway to England, there has been some sort of fortification here for many centuries. When the Romans occupied the country, they built an 80ft high lighthouse, constructed of the local flint, on the remains of an old iron age fort. It then fell to the Anglo-Saxons to make their mark and it's thought the site became a fortified town - the remains of the Roman lighthouse lie next to the 1000 year-old Saxon church at the highest point in the castle grounds.
Following his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror went to Dover Castle and did a bit of building work - not personally, obviously.
Henry II completely reconstructed the castle between 1168 and 1188, creating the towered walls of the Inner Bailey, some of the outer walls and the large square Keep at the castle's heart -
the keep is the largest in England.
Throughout the medieval period, the castle managed to withstand all efforts to capture, or destroy it. It was taken over by Parliamentarians during the Civil War, but hardly a shot was fired and the castle survived intact.
During the Napoleonic Wars, and the threat of invasion by France, the castle underwent drastic alterations to provide more defences and better gun emplacements.
More work was undertaken during WWII - providing extra firepower to protect the harbour and extending the network of tunnels below the castle.
VISITING THE CASTLE, it's possible to drive right up and through the outer gates where you can park near the summit. I'd recommend this over walking up from the town as it's a pretty steep slog up to the outer walls, and it doesn't get any easier once inside.
When we bought our tickets, we were given a small map but everything's well signposted so it's not hard to find your way around. There's no set route to explore the castle, but it pays to stop a while, study the map, and get your bearings - the site is quite hilly and you don't want to be climbing up and down any more than is needed.
Our first port of call was THE KEEP (or Great Tower) It's 4 storeys high, and consists of a basement, a first floor, and a second floor which spans two storeys. The second floor contained the royal apartments while the first floor was more modest. All floors are connected by spiral staircases set in the north and south corner turrets, various passageways and other staircases scattered around. It's a bit of a 3D maze.
There's not an awful lot to see inside the building - an exhibition about the visit of Henry V
;III in 1539, the small chapel, and some bed-chambers etc. It's still pretty interesting though, especially if you have any interest in construction technique as it's a quite impressive structure and there are 1 or 2 unusual features, such as: The well is accessible on the second floor only - this meant that if the lower part of the keep were attacked, the enemy couldn't poison the water supply. It was cut through some 400ft of chalk to achieve this. The water was piped throughout the Keep from this lofty position and some of the pipes are still visible.
Also in The Keep, is a 'sound & light' presentation of the 1216 siege of the castle which is pretty good - we had the whole thing to ourselves, which was nice.
The INNER BAILEY walls surround the KEEP YARD, and this was always the hub of the castle. From the earliest times, this would have been lined with buildings of all types, but most of the present ones date from the 18th century and were constructed as barracks.
Some of the buildings aren't open to the public, but the ones that are house: The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Museum, a shop, a restaurant (which is closed in winter), and toilets.
We then wandered over to the highest point of the castle (and the oldest). This is where you'll find the remains of a Roman lighthouse and a Saxon church. Around half of the original 24m of the tower survives, but it's in quite a ruinous state.
The church dates from around AD1000, although it was heavily restored in the 19th century...in a typical, heavy-handed Victorian manner. The building itself is quite sympathetic, but the interior, with its ghastly tiled mosaics, is reminiscent of a Victorian lunatic asylum (no, I was never an inmate - it's
just a guess).
Fast approaching LUNCH-TIME, we made our way downhill to the main restaurant. This is housed in an old Naafi canteen from the time when the castle was still a garrison (troops were stationed in the castle until 1958 - a total of 892 years military occupation). Happily, it had been modernised since those days, although I don't think the quality of the food had improved a great deal. It wasn't terrible, just over-cooked and over-priced.
We were now quite close to the lowest point of the castle, just on the rim of the actual White Cliffs. So the sensible thing to do was investigate the SECRET WARTIME TUNNELS.
You're advised to get your entrance ticket time-stamped for this as there is limited access. However, as we were there in Early march, and it wasn't very busy, we just took our chances that we could get in with the next tour. We did.
The guided tour usually takes around an hour, including an introductory film, but some of the tunnel was closed due to maintenance.
Most of the tunnels were constructed during the Napoleonic Wars as troop barracks, but there's not a lot of evidence of that period to be seen. The tunnels really came into their own during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. This was the command centre that oversaw the rescue of 338,000 men of the BEF, along with 139,000 French troops. This, together with the good guys winning the Battle of Britain, curtailed Hitler's plans Western European domination, and probably ensured the eventual demise of the nazis.
Many of the tunnels have been restored with the original features (table-maps, telephone exchange, office furniture etc) and give a very authentic feel for what it must
have been like to live and work down there during that period. The desks even had ash-trays overflowing with Woodbine and Capstan cigarette-butts!
One thing I found remarkable here, was the ventilation system. It was taken from an old British battleship and, although a little rusty and decrepit-looking, was still functioning perfectly as an air-conditioner.
There is also a small shop and a cafe (shut for the Winter) at the entrance to the tunnels.
* A Little Rant *
Dover Castle is owned and run by English Heritage. Now, most of its 1000+ years history is exclusively English, but I took exception to the guide in the tunnels continually droning on about Hitler planning to invade England, bomb England, and English troops being rescued from Dunkirk, blah...blah...blah. All the history books I've ever read mention Britain being at war with nazi Germany and, I'm maybe sticking my neck out here, but isn't that why it was called the Battle of Britain?
I thought about chinning the guide and pointing out the sacrifice that Scots, Welsh and Ulstermen made, but everyone knows we Scots aren't an aggressive people...besides, MrsP told me to keep it firmly zipped.
Actually, the guide was very good and very entertaining, just a little inaccurate...a misguided guide, if you like.
There's more to see in the castle - medieval tunnels, battlement walks, look-out points, gun emplacements etc, but by then we had had just about had our fill of castles, and sieges, and soldiers, and tunnels, and wars, and walks, and bangers-n-mash....and I have a sneaking suspicion that you have too.
So, we took a slow meander up the hill and back towards the car, and left Dover Castle to cope with another millennium of history.
* ESSENTAIL INFORMATION *
On the cliff above the port of Dover. Sign-posted from town.
10am-4pm 1 Nov- 31 Mar 9.30am- 6pm or dusk (whichever earliest) Mar-Nov
Adults - £8 Children - £4.30 Concessions - £6.40 This includes the tour of the secret wartime tunnels.
The castle is reasonably suitable for disabled visitors and there is a land-train to make some of the distances more manageable.
It is recommended that you allocate four hours for your visit. I would suggest that a little longer might be more realistic if you want to see everything. We missed out quite a bit, and it was not very busy, and we were there for at least 4 hours. At busy holiday times when I imagine it's quite crowded, I think you could easily spend the best part of a day.
I would also suggest buying the guide book at the entrance. Although you are given a map and small guide with your ticket, the guide book is a wealth of information and brings the site alive. Well worth £2.99.
In conclusion, I was mightily impressed with Dover castle. The condition of the structure is excellent, and I learned quite a bit about English history in general, and Dover's history in particular.
Thanks for reading,
This is ever so slightly more serious than my usual type of opinion and I'm not going to give a long and detailed opinion of Dover Castle, I am going to explain why I like it, so read on if you like that style. I entered Dover Castle through the traitors gate because I'm actually a member of The National Trust, and Dover Castle belongs to English Heritage so I had to pay to enter. However in Kent if one purchases a paper printed by the Kent Messenger group there are often reduced price tickets, so in this way at least I got in for half price. In my impression there are only two things in Dover worth their salt, one is the castle and the other is the port, the rest seems to be an almost deserted town and not worth further investigation unless you happen to be a refugee or asylum seeker!! However to visit the castle you should allow a full day, unless you happen to be an Olympic athlete, as the walking is immense and hilly. The castle is located on the top of the famous White Cliffs of Dover, above the town of Dover itself, the car park is about 100 metres away, though there is parking available within the castle itself, mainly for diabled access. On first entering the castle, head straight for the secret wartime tunnels. I say this because although there is a tour for 30 people every 10 minutes, they need to be booked. The tunnels are built in "The White Cliffs of Dover " (there is usually a Vera Lynn song playing whilst you are booking ) and of course under the castle, such is the nature of tunnels. First used during the Napoleonic wars, they become a nerve centre in World War II (arithmetically speaking that is 150 years later ), and were the headquarters from which the Dunkerque (I've spelt that the French way monsieur ) evacuation was masterminded. The tunnels are on four levels, but the visitor sees two of these during his one hour visit including the hospital complete with sound effects of a shot down pi
lot having an operation and (hopefully squire )fake blood. One would also tour the war time operations rooms. After that extensive amount of underground burrowing, one returns to the castle proper. It is at this point that one realises that the properly prepared take their own food and drink with them, the people in the queues were wondering why I was making funny faces at them as they delved into their pockets to pay £1.30 for a cup of tea !! There is a further smaller labyrinth of medieval tunnels which are also interesting (thought Castles were above ground myself but then Dover is like that !!) Coming up for air at this point, I would advise a trip on the free land train around the castle unless one is determined on keeping fit. The next point of major interest is Henry II keep. This is a massive tower completed under Henry III (that is right, I can count ) and is full of ........stairs. At this point all the children I could see were saying "Let's go home dad " Other points to see once one has sat down again to once again draw breath are various towers, Admiralty lookout, A church and roman lighthouse and a walk (for sadists ??) around the ramparts.These points were to me personally not as rewarding as the afore mentioned attractions, but I did spend a while in the church which is still in regular use. There is finally The Pocket Pistol (actually an absolutely masssssive gun ) and The Princess of Wales Regiment collection of historical items from the 1600's to date, mainly of a military nature which used half an hour of my time there Most weekends there are also period displays, when I was there Henry VIII was beheading his wives (one or two of them needed that !!) There it is then, an excellent day out at a very reasonable price, and I'll see you soon when I'm in the British Olympic Marathon team . P.S There is one other place in Dover worth visiting, the JD Wetherspoon
pub in the town, also excellent value . Dover Castle can be contacted on 01304 201628 for further details.
Secret tunnels meander their fascinating way below the famous White Cliffs of Dover, on the S.E. coast of England, hidden carefully, yet very much a part of the defence strategy that makes Dover famous. They form part of a complex of attractions that includes Dover Castle, the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment Museum, Henry II’s Keep, and exhibitions that trace the long and exciting history of Dover. Arriving as a stranger, the first thing that one is likely to realise is that they haven’t planned to stay long enough to see everything! I found the area intimidating, cold, hard, and disturbing. Hardly a place to visit for a day’s relaxation and a picnic in the sun! Exactly what one might expect of a place that was built to defend a country, and deter any enemy. If you are interested in warfare and defence, it has to be at the top of your list. Visit on a clear day to immediately understand its command over the channel crossing, or on a cold and bleak one to enhance that feeling of power and dominance that the fortifications exude! Don’t pick a hot day, mind, or you could struggle to survive the walking... Special Events: The castle grounds are often a setting for archery tournaments and re-enactments, which add to the atmosphere provided. See the long bows in action, and somehow they look every bit at home in the grounds as the World War 2 equipment does, just around the next corner... However, bear in mind that you are unlikely to have time to watch the whole display AND see all of the permanent exhibitions in one day! Brief History: Dover is known as the Key to England... unlock Dover and you unlock England. This theory is behind the whole of the history of the fortifications that have towered above, and tunnelled below, the cliffs for generations. Here, the channel that stretches between the continent and England is at it’s shortest, and right back in the Iron Age, Dover was a point from
which to command and defend. In 1066, William of Normandy turned the Anglo-Saxon fortress that existed there into an earthwork castle, and from that day to this, Dover has boasted a fine and forbidding castle. It was completely rebuilt under Henry II, and his monumental keep, which still stands at the centre of the ring of defences, is the most impressive part of that structure. In 1216, when the future Louis XVIII invaded England in an attempt to seize the throne from King John, only two castles in the area held their defence; Windsor and Dover. The capture of Dover, one of the greatest royal castles in England by then, was vital to this attack, and it’s defence by Hubert de Burgh went a long way towards keeping the country from Louis. This story is retraced in a presentation of light, film and sound, as one of the major exhibitions. Another major exhibition sets the scene for Henry VIII’s visit to Dover in 1539. Fearing invasion by the combined forces the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V and Francis I of France, Henry was building up England’s defences, and came to Dover to oversee the work there. The visit is recreated in tableau form, showing the tremendous preparations for this famous monarch, who clearly had no understanding of the term ‘travelling light’! In the Middle Ages, the first underground tunnels were built under the castle, to provide protective movement of soldiers manning the fortifications. They also allowed forces to gather unseen before battle. During the Napoleonic Wars, this network of tunnels was expanded, and seven tunnels were dug as barracks. Running with damp, and with a tendency to collapse, they probably weren’t every soldier’s idea of an ideal posting... However, they provided additional accommodation for up to 2,000 men, which was useful, as the town and castle would by then be overflowing with troops. In 1940, Operation Dynamo was run as a 9 day,
round-the-clock desperate attempt to evacuate up to 45,000 British troops from Dunkirk. Led by Admiral Ramsay, the operation kept the radio operators below the cliffs working in a state of ‘organised chaos’, as the tunnels became the nerve centre for one of the greatest success stories of it’s time(which is now recreated there). An unbelievable 338,000 men – all of the BEF and 139,000 French soldiers, were brought out of Dunkirk to safety. The tunnels now give visitors a feeling of what it might have been like to be one of the 700 staff who worked in the tunnels during the worst days of the war. Tour guides accompany small groups through part of the network... you will be glad of them, unless your sense of direction is very much better than mine! Make sure that you book early on in the morning, or you could be disappointed on a busy day, because if the tours are all full, you are not able to travel the tunnels unaccompanied. Children: Kids working on World War 2 at school will find the theory brought to life here, but this is not place that will interest many younger children... My 10 year-old son, with an existing interest in the machinery of battle, was enthralled and overawed, and awarded the site 11 out of 10! Access: East side of Dover (OS Map 179; Ref: TR 326416). Wheelchair access exists through most of the grounds and courtyard, but you will need to be fairly fit to push one up some of the slopes! The same goes for pushchairs, of course, and small children will quickly flag. However, there is a land train that you will quickly look out for, and that takes you from one attraction area to the next. Amenities: The Keep Restaurant is open all year, The Tunnel Café for the summer and much of the winter. The gift shop is interesting, with relevant souvenirs, and the good quality that we expect to find at English Heritage properties. Dogs: Are welcome in some
areas, but not all.