Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Second Best Thing in Dover

Plagued by persistent rain, we trudged our way around Dover Castle and its grounds.

The site itself is an amazing history lesson - built on the site of an Iron Age fort, the area encompasses a Roman church and lighthouse, a Great Tower, built in the 12th century, military defences added during the Napoleonic Wars, and WW2 military batteries and tunnels. In winter,* the Castle is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, and while we arrived just after opening and left dead on closing time, we still didn't have enough time to fully explore the site. We both wanted to go back the next day, but at £16 per person (around 66 NZD for the two of us) it just wasn't an option! (Plus the weather forecast was for more rain, and we didn't fancy another day climbing around an exposed hilltop in the wind and rain)

* Most English tourist sites are either closed or open for restricted hours from - and including - November to March, so we shall have to be patient and wait to see many of the places on our list...

These first two pictures are taken from 'Dover Castle: Back to the 12th Century', by David Keys for The Independent.
The accompanying article is a really interesting read, about the work of historians and crafts-people that went into revamping Dover Castle.

Click on the long stream of text to read the article - it's worth it! ).


As you can see, the site is vast. In total, all we managed to see was the Great Tower, the Roman Pharos, the Secret Wartime Tunnels (excluding the Hospital) and the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment Museum. A day well spent, but we would have liked to see the medieval tunnels and towers (like this one, left).

Also, the fire alarms kept going off, and we had to evacuate the Museum a few times, which took a few valuable minutes away from our visit.
As we were leaving, we drove around the Officers' Barracks, built during the Napoleonic Wars, but they are not currently open to the public as they are being refurbished. 

Nice digs, lads! 
( )

The site also boasts an impressive array of military gun emplacements. Unfortunately we saw only three canons and the large gun below, as we ran out of time (plus the constant rain wasn't conducive to roaming around outdoors)

( )


The Great Tower is the most exciting part of Dover Castle - save the Secret Wartime Tunnels.

Built during the 12th Century, the Great Tower was designed as a plush pad for King Henry II's European guests. You see, Henry was in the bad books as his knights had killed Saint Thomas Becket, and in a great display of humility and contrition (pfft!) he walked barefoot to Canterbury Cathedral and allowed himself to be flogged by monks - and then built a Giant, Fancy Castle to house the distinguished guests coming from overseas to mourn at Becket's tomb.

Rather than a great show of humility, the castle was really a show of Henry's kingly authority and power, guarding the entrance to his realm. Inside, he decked it out in showy fabrics and colours, which English Heritage has now replicated.

The Great Tower has four floors, including one for servants and one as the King's Suite. One floor houses the Guest Room and Guest Hall, seen in the pictures left and below.

At first, I thought the furniture looked a little gaudy and garish, but we asked a guide and she said that it was authentic to the time. Interesting style! When I thought about it, the colours and use of wood made me think of a Court Jester, so I guess that makes sense.


An exciting thing to do in fierce wind and straggly rain is to climb the Great Tower and walk on the roof of the Castle.

This was closed for some of the time we were at the site, precisely due to said wind and rain, so when we saw it was open again we quickly climbed up the long, steep spiral staircases to have a gander before Health and Safety rained on the parade again.

The views looked something like this:

After winding our way back down to the bowels of the Castle, we stumbled across the King's privvy. Or, more accurately, the privvy for the King's guests.

Lucky I had some good reading material...

(We also stopped at the King's loo, but a group of tourists were having a demo from a Tour Guide.

-- Not like that!)

After leaving the Tower, and having our Tunnel tour, it was time to leave the Castle.

On the way back to the car, we stopped for a look at the Roman Pharos - or lighthouse - and the adjacent church. Unfortunately the church was locked, but we had a peek inside the Pharos. 

The lighthouse was probably built in the first century A.D. (!!) and estimates suggest it was around 24 metres high with eight stories.

There were originally two Pharoses, but only this one survives. During Saxon times, the church was built beside the lighthouse and it was used as a bell-tower. (

The Friends of Dover Castle are doing some great work at the site, along with English Heritage, and we salute them. Next time you're visiting  passing through Dover, make sure you empty your piggy bank and check out the Castle.

Gratuitous shot of me in the Castle hallway

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