What do you think of when you hear about Dover?
Well, it’s not just a place to escape from England in your car over the sea to the wonders of France, Europe and beyond! On my recent trip I discovered there’s a lot more to the area than meets the eye. Plus, combined with the hourly high-speed train that whisks you from King’s Cross to Dover in under an hour, it makes it a great destination for a day (or a weekend) trip from London.
First thing that should be on your schedule: Dover Castle. Sitting atop the White Cliffs of Dover, it’s an amazing site where you can easily spend 3-4 hours walking around on the grounds and exploring the medieval tunnels, the Great Tower, taking a tour of the underground hospital and the World War II tunnel complex.
The medieval tunnels, which you can explore on your own, were great to transport you back to medieval times. As I ventured beneath the castle I imagined how hard it must have been to run around in the freezing winter with armour and weapons and walking up the tall stone staircases. Brrrr. You might have spotted them in Avengers: Age of Ultron where it was used as part of the interior for the Hydra Outpost in the Sovokia. Sadly I didn’t spot Iron Man, Captain America, or even a sighting of Thor’s mighty hammer…but there’s always next time (Avengers 3?)
My favourite bit had to be the Great Tower where English Heritage transformed the interior as if Henry II and his court was residing at the castle. I felt a bit like a presenter on MTV Cribs: Medieval King Edition. From the traditional kitchen to the dining hall and the bedrooms: the interiors give you an idea of how the castle looked and an insight of how lives were when it was used as a royal palace, but left enough room for fantasy and your imagination to weave your own tales.
For those who won’t be seen exploring anything that’s 200+ years old, there’s plenty for you too. There are two tunnel tours for you to embark on.
The Wartime Tunnel Tour takes you deep under the cliffs to the cavernous complex, which has been used for hundreds of years. Originally constructed to fend off Napoleon, they were later used as a base for WW2 – focusing on Dunkirk, and also secret operations hub during the Cold War until 1984. The network of dark cavernous corridors was gargantuan, and I couldn’t believe how much rock had been moved to create the place – I think there were 4 miles of tunnels in total – you get to explore a small section of this, and it takes around 45 minutes.
If you want a bit more of a personal story, the Underground Hospital tour is your best bet and is around 20 minutes. Here you get to hear the insights and experience the sights, sounds and smells of the underground hospital, told through the story of an injured pilot getting treated during WW2. They don’t allow taking photos on the tours, but you can take photos on the rest of the site.
A bit away from the main castle area lies The Saxon Church that’s still in use, and a still standing Roman lighthouse where you realise how far back in history the place goes. I’d recommend checking out a map of the place before you get started, as there’s a lot of routes you can take within the walls, but don’t worry there’s lots of signposts and useful information boards explaining the what/when/where of each building.
The opening hours vary, depending on the season, so do make sure to check out the website before heading to Dover. They also close during extreme weather! During the holidays there are also period displays with actors and other activities.