Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Castle On The Cliffs: Dover

Dover Castle as seen from the White Cliffs of Dover

We visited our share of castles while we were in Albania but none were as impressive or intact as our first British castle. Dover Castle, perched on the cliffs about the English Channel, has played a pivotal role in British history since the 12th Century. Over the years it has fended off invasions, withstood the storms of time and served as the residence of kings. Part of the castle was burned by William the Conqueror the rebuilt before he took occupation of it. During Henry II's reign the castle took on the look we see today and although Louis VIII of France was able to breach the outer walls during his invasion, his army was unable to actually capture the castle. During the Napoleonic Wars the castle was further fortified with the town of Dover becoming a garrison town for the British troops.  But today, despite all of the attacks from both man and nature, the castle remains largely intact and solid as the day(s) it was built.

The castle grounds are expansive including guard houses, a stand alone Anglo-Saxon church (this is in addition to the royal chapel inside of the castle itself) and a Roman era lighthouse. Tunnels from both the Medieval and more modern times helped serve as a vital defense system for the castle grounds. A long walk down a steep and winding staircase brought us to the ancient Medieval where we peered out through the barred windows, saw how the sentries remotely opened the gates for visitors, and were able to explore the subterranean maze of tunnels and caverns. (And even the views from some of the smallest peep holes were impressive).

A climb up through the 83 foot high Great Tower immerses visitors in the world and realm of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. We just couldn't hold Sidney back as he ran from one cavernous stone room to another discovering the nooks and niches as children have probably been doing for generations. He was less than impressed with the stark school room but was fascinated by the loo room (naturally) and didn't want to climb down from his perch on the royal throne. From the roof of the tower we were afforded a view of not only the grounds and the English Channel but the shores of France as well. The sweeping views gave me an idea of how easy it would have been for castle guards to see the invading armies long before they arrived.

Other areas of the castle grounds provided further insight into British history. The Roman era lighthouse provided evidence of occupation of the area long before the castle was built. A tour of World War II era tunnels taught me about a battle I had previously known little about. The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment Museum provided us with an overview of the history of the British military (and caused Sidney, upon seeing photographs and a replication of World War I trenches, to excitedly proclaim that "I have been there").

Castle grounds as seen from the Great Tower

If you go:

Castle Hill
Dover, Kent UK
Tel: 0870 333 1181
Hours: 10.00-18.00

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