Dover Castle - Day One

We stayed in Dover three whole days this summer. In spite of that, we saw absolutely nothing of it. By "it" I mean the town. We were there to check out the castle, and this castle is HUGE. And no wonder, it´s been there for more than 2000 years, at least. Dover is still a very busy port, an important link, the link, to the continent. You can really feel it - Dover has none of that quaintness that other towns along the English south coast has. Dover doesn´t suck up to tourists or holiday makers. It makes its money doing honest work, and it reminds me of some industrial workers I have known, who would display their calloused hands and dirty fingernails with pride and self-importance.

Our hotel center photo, and in the background you can see the Shakespear cliff, featured in "King Lear".

That said, there is one old-fashioned Victorian hotel by the beach, now called the Dover Marina Hotel & Spa, and that´s where we decided to stay. It is kind of rickety, with creeky floors sloping in all directions, hardly any pressure in the shower, a miniature elevator, and it got hot as Hades in the night (got a bit better after we figured out that the window could be slid open both in the nether and upper end, helping circulation a bit). To make up for that, they had a very fancy restaurant, where we didn´t eat, since they served the same food (as far as we could figure) for less in the cosy bar. Which is where everyone was, of course. Most guests seemed to stay one night only, Dover being for most people a place of transit, going somewhere like France.

It´s a pretty steep climb up to the castle, and I was quite puffed out when we got to the gates. We started with the first thing we came across, and this was also what the husband had been looking forward to the most: the secret wartime tunnels. The first of them were built during the Napoleonic wars, to be used as barracks for troops. During the Second World War, they were used as command centre, air raid shelter, and underground hospital.

We weren´t allowed to take photographs down there, and it was too dark for the cameras anyway. They had done a very good job of illustrating what it would have been like to work down here during the war, staging a story of a wounded soldier with props and sound effects. It was interesting, not as thrilling for me as these things are for the husband, and I was pretty happy when I saw the light, as it were.

After that, we had lunch at the NAAFI restaurant (that´s short for Navy, Army, and Airforce Institutes; according to the urban dictionary it provides catering, retail & leisure facilities, delivering a much needed taste of home to service personnel and their families from Germany to the Falklands through to Afghanistan.) and then we took a walk around the battlements, realizing that it was a bit late in the day to take on the Great Tower.

The Garrison - I think this is such a handsome looking house!

Transport, for those not able to walk.

At the Admiralty Lookout, there is a statue of the man perhaps most associated with Dover Castle in recent times: Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey. He was responsible for operation Dynamo, which was the codename for the evacuation of the allied soldiers from Dunkirk in 1940. They managed to bring home 338.226 soldiers instead of the expected 40.000 or so, which made him Knight Commander of the Order of Bath, by appointment of King George VI. His statue depicts him with a contented smile on his face. Unfortunately, he did not survive the war; he died in a plane crash early in 1945.

The Admiralty Lookout

Western Heights in the background.
The oldest part still standing on the castle hill is an old Roman lighthouse. Originally, there was one just like it on the Western Heights, on the other side of town. It´s just a ruin these days, but when the church, St Mary in Castro, was built by the Saxons in about 1000, it was used as a belltower. There may have been a church here as early as the 600´s, built by Eadbald of Kent. (I have read somewhere before that the kings of Kent were of Swedish origin, or rather, that they came from the areas that later became Sweden. I don´t know if it´s true, but I´d like to think it is.) The church was renovated in the 19th century, after having been used as a storage facility for almost 100 years. It´s in use now, as the Dover Garrison Church.

Inside the lighthouse.

Flint walls

When we´d had enough for the day and came down towards the hotel, the first pub we came to had a back door full of the stickers they give you for a ticket. I imagine many castle visitor have slaked their thirst in that establishment. We did not, however. We made an early night, to have lots of energy for the next day.

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