Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Most Impressive Castle Yet: Dover

I knew my posting streak wouldn't last, but today I'm finally back with some more castle pictures.  The main attraction in southeast England that I wanted to see was Dover Castle, so we set out bright and early (ok, not too early, it was a mini-vacation after all) to go check it out.  Here's a view of the castle set atop the famous White Cliffs of Dover as we drove up, and you can see the traffic too : )

As the bit of the UK that is closest to the rest of Europe, there is of course a giant port where you can take ferries across to France or the Chunnel and what have you, hence the traffic.  But we got through it and followed our GPS right to the entrance to the castle...which is nice since it tried to take us in through the back door at Leeds Castle.  The cool thing about this day was that we got to Dover only about 15 minutes after it opened for the day, and we were directed up to a little parking lot right next to the entrance to the castle up on top of the hill.  I mean ROCK STAR parking.  And then since we're English Heritage members, we got in for totally free (well, we paid for our EH memberships, but this weekend trip recouped at least half of our membership fee).  It costs 16 pounds a person to get into Dover Castle, and it's totally worth it.  The very nice lady at the admissions desk gave us a map and highly recommended we do the tour of the World War II era tunnels first before they got too busy, so that's where we set out for first.

The admissions area isn't on top of the hill, so we climbed up a bit and walked around until we got to the entrance to the WWII tunnels.  The cliffs here are made of chalk so it's easy to tunnel into, and the castle has tunnels from the 1200s, the 1700s, and the 1930s-40s.  Really amazing.  Anyway, we had a few minutes before the tour started, so we took a few photos of the view from this height.  We drove up the windy road you see in the photo above, we felt like we were going to drive straight into the castle itself but that's where we were told to go for the rock star parking.

Those two buildings on the right are the most recent additions on the site, and one of them houses the cafe where we ate lunch.  Oddly, they didn't have any Coca-Cola products there (most places do) so Lee got us some kind of other drinks, I forget what the brand was; he got ginger beer and I had lemonade and they were both totally NASTY.  Gimme a Coke any day.

Dover Castle was garrisoned pretty much nonstop for over nine *hundred* years, is that not totally mind-boggling?  Its most recent wartime use was World War II (well, they did some things here in the Cold War, but the last wartime use involving ammunition) so hence the um...projectile firing device pictured above.

And here you can see a little bit of the port area that the castle overlooks.

This is back towards where the tunnel tours take place.  There's an entrance on the right (behind the wall) into the set of tunnels used as a command center in WWII, and if you see where the person in red is more towards the left, that's at the entrance to the hospital tunnels.  Parts of the tunnels were used for a communications station, the headquarters of Admiral Ramsey, barracks, and later a hospital.  The first tunnel tour we went on was all about Operation Dynamo, which was a military operation to rescue over 360,000 British, French and Allied troops from Dunkirk, where they had been trapped by the German army.  Let me tell you, this presentation is extremely well-done and totally fascinating; I got the chills just going into these tunnels.  As Dover would have been the most likely point for any German invasion of Britain to start with, I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live in this area during World War II.  We got to see some of the communications equipment; whether it was the original stuff or replicas I don't know, but there were several tons of equipment in the tunnels for the comm station, and the tour guide told us today that the equipment necessary to do the same job would fit inside a briefcase.  Incredible how technology has improved.

The tour of the hospital tunnels was also good; Lee and I thought it was kind of funny that when we went through the room that housed the mess hall we could smell food.  We were wondering if they did that on purpose or somehow the smell from the cafe just down the way wafted in there.  We decided to do lunch once we finished the hospital tunnel tour, and we managed to get in just a bit before everyone else decided that was a good idea.  Then we headed back up the hill towards the main keep.

This is Colton's Gate, which was built by King John, who ruled from 1199 to 1216.  That's the same John who is the evil prince figuring in most of the Robin Hood stories : ) and he's the son of Henry II who built like zillions of castles all over England.  In fact, Henry II built substantial portions of Dover Castle, adding on to the fort that was put here around the time of the Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror.

There's my sweetie!  According to one of the guide books I got (hey, they had two, one focusing on the castle and the other on the tunnels, I had to get both, right?) there used to be a wall that connected Colton's Gate to other parts of the castle but it was demolished in 1772.

Here's our first view of the Great Tower; they had some events going on that day which included some performances regarding pieces of the castle's history and other fun things for kids like face-painting.  I wanted to get my face painted but I figured Lee would pretend he didn't know me if I did that.

Couple of the play-actors.  Soldiers stationed at Dover Castle were for a period of time preoccupied with hunting down pirates; we went into one little shop inside a tent out here and they were playing the score of Pirates of the Caribbean.  I think Lee's at least slightly impressed that I could recognize it, but then again, I'm a bit of an audiophile.

Back to Henry II, the guy who built so many castles.  You may be familiar with the story of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered by four of King Henry's knights without his permission.  Well, that naturally garnered some bad press for the king, so when Henry had the castle at Dover built, he wanted something large and impressive, and a bit old-fashioned to give a feeling of well-established strength, so the main keep has a pretty traditional design, not like the polygonal Orford Castle.  Dover was used probably pretty frequently with all the royal comings and goings between England and France, too, so it's a good way to impress people when they first arrive.

Since it's my blog (neener neener), I'm going to drag this out a bit longer...I've got lots more photos to share next time.  But for now I think I'll go work on some stitching for a bit.


Amber Hight said...

Love the castle pics! How far away from home is this for you? Quite a drive?

Christy Lynn said...

If we'd driven straight from our house to Dover Castle, maybe 3-4 hours? We stopped at Leeds Castle, went to our hotel in Folkestone, and then drove from there to Dover so we were never in the car for an extraordinarily long time :)