We had gone on a short trip to meet relatives in London, and I had a great urge to see Scotland. I mentioned this to the relatives, and was so politely and decently informed that I must have not done enough research. Scotland is a fair distance from London, and requires some amount of planning (and a few days) to enjoy thoroughly, and of course, this was the start of winter and it would be nice and cold. So, Scotland was dropped; I was unhappy :-), but one cannot argue against solid logic.
So now the search was on for an alternative, we needed to go out of London atleast once, and Dover Castle had been seen by some friends of my relatives; so Dover was the best (and actually only) possible place to go to. I had heard of Dover before (not specifically the castle though) – it is the place where the English Channel tunnel starts on the English side; in addition, Dover is the closest port to France, and must have been the first place to be attacked by any invader. So much for history, Dover Castle it was (for want of a better alternative).
We did not need to hire a vehicle, relatives vehicle was good enough. And so we started – getting out of London is always the more troublesome part. Once you are out of London, then it is a straight road (around 120 kilometers) on a straight 8 lane expressway. It took roughly 2-2.5 hours to reach there, and even the expressway was beautiful on many stretches. As we reached closer, there were turnoffs for the Dover-Calais Chunnel (train under the English Channel), and soon, we could see the water of the English Channel and the cliffs of Dover.
The Castle is reached by passing through the main streets of the town of Dover, and then following the directions. The entrance to the castle is fairly expensive, (I think it was just about 10 pounds per adult), and lower for children (if you live in England or frequently visit, consider buying a Heritage package that allows a family to visit a number of places for an overall much lower rate). The road to the castle goes through a big gate, passes in front of the castle and keeps on going to the parking lot. The first thing that struck me as I started moving around was the incredible cleanliness of the place, with nothing out of place and everything spic and span. The grass looked so green and like a good carpet (although it was cold when we went in November, and hence we did not really try to sit on the grass !).
The castle is really old (you can imagine how old the whole location is when you realize that the castle also contains the ruins of a Roman lighthouse built when the Romans were in control of Britain). The castle has had sections built over a period of time, and was last used during the second World War when it was the headquarters for Admiral Ramsay (when he was over-seeing Operation Dunkirk, the saving of the British expeditionary force from the continent), and was also a field hospital and a command center. There is a vast labyrinth of tunnels built over different periods of time that also served as military headquarters.
Ruins of ancient Roman lighthouse
The tunnel leading to the command center
Anti-aircraft gun at Dover Castle
The architecture of the castle is incredible, and since it is located on a height, the upper towers offer a good vantage position for looking over the surroundings. What is special are the exhibits inside the castle that showcase the quarters for the king when he would visit over here. There are many posters and presentations that display the going-ons in the castle when the king would visit (an interesting tidbit is that the king never paid enough to have proper work done inside the castle, and hence this was probably the first location in the world where the field of interior decoration was used to a large degree to cover up for lack of new construction).
Interior decoration exhibit
You also get a guided tour of the tunnels used during wars, including an actual simulation with sound effects, a movie displaying the history of the war effort, as well as a chance to see the bunks, hospital areas, command centers, wireless and communication abilities, etc. This was very interesting, and made the trip very worthwhile; be sure to book this early since there is a limit to the number allowed per such visit. There is also a beautiful old church called St. Mary’s church in the premises.
The inside of St. Mary’s Church
Overall, the trip was a very good experience, and I had lots of fun. What took the cake in the end was the classic sunset over the English channel and the great colors of the setting sun. And then the trip back was tiring, with the inevitable letdown after a beautiful visit.
See more photos of Dover Castle at this location.