Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Day at Dover Castle

Last week Keenan's Dad was in town from California for a 6 day visit.  His Dad originally booked tickets to visit London with Keenan's Mum back in April, but his plans foiled as you all remember due to the volcanic ash cloud, so he decided to postpone his trip until October to coincide with the San Francisco 49er game on Halloween night at Wembley Stadium. 

For his visit, we planned a mix of activities during his visit including a Thames River tour to Greenwich, an evening at the West End theater to see Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap," a day trip to Dover Castle on Saturday, a fantastic 49ers game, and a leisurely visit to the National Gallery. All in all it was a great week catching up with family!

Saturday morning we made our way down to the Kentish coast to visit Dover Castle via the Southeastern Train. The town of Dover has seen better days as it was once a popular seaside resort during the mid-19th century. Bombed to pieces during World War II,  the town never fully recovered from the aftermath of the Blitz. Today Dover feels more like a port city or transport hub than a pleasant seaside town with low-end retail shops along its main High Street.  I wouldn't bother having a meal in Dover as restaurant choices are limited. Instead, pack a picnic and enjoy your sarnie on the train and return to London in time for dinner, or head to neighbouring Folkestone or Hythe if coming by car. Dover is known for two attractions: the dramatic white cliffs and the spectacular medieval castle perched high above the city.

History Lesson on Operation Dynamo:
By way of some history, long before it was a built by Henry II as a medieval castle in the 12th century, Dover Castle was originally founded as a hill fort during the Iron Age until the Romans invaded in AD43 who later built a 80 ft. tall lighthouse which today is perfectly preserved in its original form. Overlooking the English Channel toward continental Europe, Dover Castle defended England for a span of nine centuries up until 1958, fending off the French in the First Baron War and then later during the Napoleonic Wars.

Secret War Tunnels WWII:
During World War II, the underground tunnels were converted into an air-raid shelter and later into a military command centre where Admiral Sir Bertam Ramsey directed the rescue mission of Allied soldiers from the beaches near Dunkirk, France between 27 May to 3 June 1940. Within the tunnel, there is an underground hospital, anti-aircraft operations room plotting table, switchboard linking Dover to the Admiralty, War Office, Air ministry, fighter airfield, and radar sites. As you probably guessed, Keenan really enjoyed this part of the castle, being the history lover that he is. His Dad also enjoyed the visit and being the doting grandpa that he is, Keenan's Dad picked up a several gifts for the nephews in California.

In addition to the Secret War Tunnel, there are also several medieval underground tunnels below the main castle and Great Tower that you can visit though it is a bit dark and cold. Constructed during the Middle Ages, these medieval tunnels were designed to provide a line of communication for soldiers defending the northern outworks. Later the tunnels were expanded to house over 2,000 men during the Napoleonic Wars. By late afternoon, the castle was crowded with kiddies dressed in their Halloween costumes -- how appropriate on Halloween eve! It was adorable.

The grounds at Dover Castle is quite big so allow yourself plenty of time to walk around and take in the view of the White Cliffs of Dover and  the English Channel, the the shortest sea crossing to Europe. In fact, you could probably see France on a clear day.

The main highlight of the castle was of course The Great Tower some 83 feet high with walls as thick as 21 feet. The views from the top were also amazing.

Our day trip to the Kentish coast came to an end, and it was most appropriate then to end our tour of Dover Castle by having afternoon tea, and it was exactly what we did, along with a pre-train pint at a divey pub across from the train station. Keenan's Dad kept reminding us about the popular 1940s song about Dover. I leave with you with The White Cliffs of Dover.

"The White Cliffs of Dover"

Therell be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see

I'll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry skies
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes

And though I'm far away
I still can hear them say
Bombs up...
But when the dawn comes up

Therell be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see
--Vera Lynn, 1942

No comments:

Post a Comment