This historic town of Dover is seated right on the coast were England meets France, only a short section of the English Channel separate the two countries. The castle sits nicely on top of the hill watching over the town and the ocean below, and has been a very important defensive structure over the many thousands of years, so without further ado.
Dover is located on the south east coast of England in the county of Kent, and a very important ferry port between England and France. On the approach to England via ferry, you will notice the famous White Cliffs of Dover, that’s if you hadn’t already noticed them earlier in France. A famous song was written during the war, which features the White Cliffs of Dover, sang by Vera Lynn “There’ll be blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover”. The White Cliffs are made from Chalk , and are part of the Alabaster coast in Normandy France. Due to weathering the cliff edge is prone to erosion, and on occasions large pieces of chalk have fallen into the channel below.
Things to do
In all honesty there isn’t much to do in Dover bar the castle, but the castle does consume your whole day.
Cost: £20.00 per person
Dover Castle is the largest castle in England, and is the key to England due to its defensive significance in history. When William the Conqueror won the battle of Hastings in 1066, William marched from the battle fields to Westminster Abbey via Dover, but it wasn’t until Henry II reign that the castle started to take its shape. Further rebuilding work was carried out in the 18th century including artillery defences on the east, west and north of the castle, to improve on Dover’s defence. The castle is perfectly situated on the cliffs, and this was soon realised when barracks and storerooms were built into the cliffs to accommodate troops. In 1803 the first troops were based here, but only a year later the troops were moved from Dover Castle and the tunnels became unused for over a century. It wasn’t until the outbreak of World War II that the tunnels came back into operation. It first became an air raid shelter but was utilised in the war efforts as a military command centre and an underground hospital. When the allied forces became surrounded on the beaches of Dunkirk in May 1940, the tunnels soon became an important post for directing the evacuation of the British and French soldiers from the beaches under the code name of Operation Dynamo. As you could imagine, the phone lines within the tunnels were constantly in use, which led to further tunnels being built to accommodate the batteries for the telephone switchboard.
We Parked in town rather than at the castle car park, and walked up the hill to the castle. It was very easy to find the way, but the hill is very steep. Once we reached the top there’s a ticket office just to the left to purchase the wrist band ticket. The normal price for a ticket is £20.00 per person, but because of the Henry the VIII pageant, we had to pay £21.50 per person. The price includes the castle, the war tunnels, the underground hospital, and the Henry the VIII pageant.
The war tunnels
So our first stop had to be the war tunnels. The tour operates every 15 minutes, and due to its popularity, there are often queues. The tour starts by being led into the tunnels, immediately descending into an air raid shelter. While seated on the benches around the room, a radio tunes in for entertainment. At this point, the feeling really dawns on you, how it must have felt back in a 1940s air raid shelter, cold and with a group of stranger just as we were on the day. We were led further into the tunnels, with the tour guide explaining the workings of the tunnels during World War II and Operation Dynamo. Original features are still inside many of the rooms, just giving the authenticity, of a once working tunnel. The tour takes approximately 1 hour and is very educational.
Please note, inside the tunnels the lighting is the exact same lighting that was in 1940, therefore as you descend into the tunnels, your eyes need to adjust to the dim lighting, therefore be careful on the descent, especially in wet weather conditions.
We do not want to disappoint you, but in our opinion, this is not as good as the war tunnels. The same principal applies, we descended into the tunnels ready for our tour. This was a slightly different context, as this is based on a story of an officer who is wounded and taken to the hospital for treatment. We personally feel the story behind the tour isn’t portrayed well. We feel it should have been based on facts and information rather than a fictional story that wasn’t presented well. We were led past hospital wards, the kitchens, and into an operating theatre were this fictional officer is due to have an operation to remove a bullet, and due to the raids above the lights are knocked out. For a short period, we were stood in darkness, before the tunnel lights came back on, and the story continues. We have to say, this tour was certainly not exciting and informative, but it is worth visiting to get an idea of what it must have been like to either be a patient, or a nurse/doctor working in the hospital in war time conditions.
Please note, as soon as you descend into the tunnels the lighting changes, therefore your eyes will need to adjust to this change. To really bring the story to life the lighting can sometimes flicker briefly, and for a short period of time you are plunged into darkness. If you are scared, or may have children that could become scared, then you may wish to consider if you should partake in the tour.
After the tours, we took a walk around the castle grounds and inside the castle, we found the fire command centre, on the south section of the castle wall. This is very interactive, with telescopes and binoculars to look out over the coast to France, a morse code to crack with your partner, a telephone to listen to a prerecording, and much more. Inside the castle were labyrinths and rooms to explore on each floor and it is so easy to get lost. On each floor were different exhibits to see and learn, with real items from the period they represented. The exhibits were all about the castles periods, and history. The church of ‘St Mary in Castro’ is believed to be the oldest part of the castle, dating back to the Saxon period, and wandering inside the church was so quiet and peaceful, I just could not believe this could be inside the castle grounds. It is quite easy for me to have spent hours inside the church, but the day was coming to an end and the castle was going to close.
This easily takes up the whole day, and great for family adventures and learning.
We did want to visit other sights in Dover such at the Roman painted house, and take a hike over the White Cliffs of Dover, but we will have to save this for next time.
Dover is only a 45 minute drive for us, and we drove down in the morning. If you don’t have a car, then there is public transport in and around the Dover area.
If you are travelling by train, the train station in Dover is Dover Priory, and is serviced by South Eastern trains. There are direct trains from London Victoria, London Bridge, and London St Pancras to Dover Priory, with the journey time between 1.5 hours - 2.5 hours, and run a regular service.
There are regular bus services running in and around the Dover area. Services outside of the Kent may be limited, therefore it might be more practical to catch a train or drive.
Driving is the most convenient and often the cheapest way of travel. If you are coming from London then most of the travel will consist of the motorway, if you are travelling from the country side as we did, some of the drive would be through country roads before meeting the motorway down to Dover. Depending on the time of day, and the closer you get to Dover, you will need to drive in the right hand lane (but this is sign posted), as the left hand lane will be for freight traffic only heading to the port of Dover. The drive back was easy, smooth and was about a 45 minute journey.
There is parking in Dover Castle but this can be limited, unless the castle open the car park on the top field. When we researched about parking in Dover Castle, we were unsure if there would be any spaces, as such we parked in the town of Drover on Albany Place. There are plenty of parking spaces, and very cheap, we spent £5 for the entire day. There are other car parks in Dover.
Dover is the main ferry port from France to Dover, only servicing Calais and Dunkirk. It is not possible to travel to Dunkirk as a foot passenger, and must travel with a mode of transport. Ferries between Dover and Dunkirk are serviced by DFDS, and to Calais by P&O Ferries. The ferry services run regularly, and take about 2 hours to get to Dunkirk and 1 – 2 hours to get to Calais
Places to eat
Inside the Castle at Dover, there is a restaurant and a couple of café’s with a variety of hot and cold food and drinks. We had lunch at the restaurant and the food was ok, we chose BBQ chicken, vegetables and potato wedges. The chicken was cooked well, the vegetables and potatoes were also cooked well, but the overall dish lacked in flavour. We always have to have afternoon tea with a piece of cake, so found the café and saw our options which were limited for where we were. We choose the shortbread cherry bake well, but found it was very dry and really didn’t enjoy it at all. For this location, you would expect the food to be a lot better. It might be worth saving the pennies for somewhere else to eat.
We had to walk back to our car and had walked through the St James Retail and Leisure earlier in the day and found some restaurants namely Nando’s which I have to confess is my favourite. So on our way home we stopped to have Nando’s which of course was amazing as always. If you haven’t eaten at Nando’s before, we would highly recommend it.
If you need any help or advise on travelling to Dover, then please do not hesitate to contact us.