Category Archives: Castles & Palaces

Castles & Palaces

Exploring Dover Castle

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.

Castles & Palaces

Eltham Palace: Art Deco Adventure

Art Deco at Eltham Palace (6)

Yesterday I hopped on the train to Eltham and instead of being taken through a painful commute to my place of office (as is my usual trip on a train!), I was transported back to what must have been the closest thing to the British version of the Great Gatsby, with a touch of A Knight’s Tale, at Eltham Palace & Gardens.

Art Deco at Eltham Palace (1)

Way way back in the 14th century the Palace was the place to be if you weren’t a starving, smelly and poor peasant, and if you could get past its moat and drawbridge you’d find an impressive royal residence, even with its own jousting courtyard. Sadly the English Civil War put a stop to all the fun (yep, England had a civil war – who knew!?) and it fell into disrepair and ruins until it was kinda saved via a 1930s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition – but instead of Ty Pennington it was all looked over by the new owners Stephen and Virginia Courtauld who put a definite Art Deco spin on their new digs. The couple were the ‘talk of the town’ at the time, the celebs you wanted to get to know, and if you were lucky enough be invited to one of their famed extravagant parties. Though it opened to the public in 1999, the most complete renovation was finished in April this year, allowing you to pretty much explore every room in the palace.

Before I spill all, I just wanted to say how nice the staff all were – I arrived a bit early so was a bit lost at one of the wrong entrance gates when a member of the staff came through unlocked the entrance and took me through to the right entrance and who showed me where to buy my tickets (all before it was officially meant to open).

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When you enter the palace proper you’re handed your own invitation – giving you a ‘persona’ or character to experience the trip through – so you can be that famous actress, or fighter pilot attending one of their famed parties – each character with their own personalised interactive guide. Every tour has been offering up ‘digital guides’ for ages now – but the iPhone/iPad + headphones kit with the many different perspectives to try from the various characters at the palace which was a bit more enjoyable. The main entrance hall is something else, just beautiful to look at and I don’t usually get too excited by architecture, and beyond that there’s a surprising amount to see, and all the rooms have books, diaries and personal touches to feel like you’re looking at a living, breathing house, rather than a stuffy, cold exhibit.

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If you’ve had a bit too much Art Deco for one day – the Great Hall with the hammer-beam roof (English Gothic architecture fans will know) is the one of the highlights and a Medieval gem where you can imagine a roaring 100 course feast, hopefully where you’re the king, queen, lord or lady, not that poor servant who has to sleep on the stone floor, live off scraps from the meals and bow or curtsy a ridiculous amount of times a day.

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One of the most adorable things I stumbled upon was the dark room on the basement. While not the most photogenic of rooms (pretty grimy and dark – duh) it was here that the couple developed their travels on film – Ginnie was the video grapher and Stephen was the photographer. A full multi media package that any tourism board would be happy to invite on a press trip.

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When planning a holiday we get wrapped up in using Google, other blogs, travel magazines and maybe travel guides, but these guys had it all sorted with their own walk in map room where they planned their winter travels to exotic places like Machu Picchu. I love the idea of being able to sit on a sofa, stare up at the walls and let my imagination run wild … Picturing my little plane (Indiana Jones style) transporting me to undiscovered adventures. It’s still under renovation, so there is the excuse to go back once they’ve finished it. 

Who else wants a map room?