Dover Castle------miracles are witnessed

Advantages: fascinating historical site with spectacular views.

Disadvantages: no audio available and a lot of climbing inside and out.

From the late June to middle August I spent 7 weeks in China, so I missed the beautiful summer in the UK this year. It’s a great pity. Luckily the August bank holiday came shortly after I returned and the weather at the last day (30 August 2010) was gorgeous so I took a day trip to Dover Castle.

Brief introduction about Dover Castle:

Dover Castle is located in Dover, Kent. As the key to England Dover has always been in a strategic position to protecting Britain from potential invaders throughout its history. Commanding the shortest sea crossing between England and the continent, these fortifications on the very site of Dover Castle have played an important military role for over 2000 years. Going back to the 12th century Henry II built the present castle, and over the next 800 years, particularly during the second world war, it’s buildings and defences were adapted to meet the changing demands of weapons and warfare.

Today as a tourist site owned by English Heritage, the visits to Dover Castle have been divided into five areas: Dover’s early history, Medieval Dover, Dover’s defences, Garrison life and Dover at war. Each area contains highlights belonging to different periods or aspects of its fascinating history. Also, because Dover Castle is situated above the White Cliffs on the Kent coastline you can have spectacular views towards Dover harbour and the town. At good days if you look carefully in the distance you can see the buildings of France.
My personal experience:

It’s quite easy to get there in the car as Dover Castle is a very prominent landmark. However partially due to my careless, but mainly because the entrance to the parking is too small and simple I passed it twice. Different from the narrow entranceway there is plenty of parking. Two staff guided drivers in parking and leaving.

Tip 1: pay more attention on the entrance of the parking when you are getting near the sign of Dover Castle.

After parking my car I was ready to walk to the Castle. However at the exit I saw a staff standing there with a short queue. After inquiring the staff I knew the road towards to the Castle has a few steep slopes and it would take about ten walk minutes to get there. So English Heritage manage 4 free buses to commute visitors between the Castle and the parking. At the moment I didn’t know how long I would wait and I was ambitious to walk by myself, but the staff suggested me taking the walk when I come back. So I was queued up for the bus. Shortly it arrived. It is a minibus with capacity of 16 passengers and takes less than five minutes to reach the ticket spot. Sitting in the bus I realised I made a right decision. The road is really steep and narrow. After my visit I took the bus back without any hesitation.

Tip 2: Better to take the bus which commute between the Castle and the parking every five minutes.

Leaving the bus and walking upstairs I arrived the ticket office. The Admission Prices are £13.90 for adults, £7 for children and £11.80 for concessions if you are not the member of English Heritage. This includes the tour of the secret wartime tunnels that is operated by timed ticked system.

There was a short queue, but the staff worked efficiently. Because my visit to the secret wartime tunnels was managed in one hour, I decided to get around The Admiralty Look-out first which is just nearby the secret wartime tunnels.

Tip 3: Better to book your visit of the secret wartime tunnels earlier after you arrive, then you will have more flexibility to visit others.

The Admiralty Look-out is shown its role as a First World War Fire Command Post and a naval signal station, with superb views of the White Cliffs. As its name, it was used for spotting enemy ships and planes during First and Second World Wars. There you can see how they worked and try to figure out ships and airplanes of the enemies and British army. Figuring out these ships and airplanes was a bit difficult, but fun and interesting.
Nearby the Look-out there is a statue of Vice Admiral Ramsay who was responsible for the Dunkirk evacuation. Working from the underground tunnels beneath Dover Castle, he and his staff worked for nine days straight to rescue troops trapped in France by the German forces in 1940. Four years later Ramsay was appointed Naval Commander in Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Because I’m very interested in the Dunkirk evacuation and the D-Day, so I was very glad to get around the statue, read the panel and look at the beautiful views at the Dover Harbour. However time really flied, and I had to leave for my next stop: the secret wartime tunnels.

Tip 4: The views of the White Cliffs are superb, but not the best. Save your time for these later.
Frankly, the secret wartime tunnels tour was the highlight of my trip. After a short wait at the reception, one English Heritage staff opened a small door on time. After checking our ticket he led us into a small room to watch a short film about the tunnels. It reminded me of the Yorvik Viking Centre, which I visited last year. The short film mainly explains the history of the tunnels. Back to the Middle Ages the first tunnel under Dover Castle were constructed. During the Napoleonic wars, this system of tunnels was greatly expanded to becoming in readiness for a French invasion. They were capable of accommodating up to 2000 troops. In May 1940 the tunnels became the nerve centre for Operation Dynamo, also known as the Dunkirk evacuation. The film also showed some genuine pictures of the troops rescued on the beaches of Dunkirk. As the only underground barracks ever built in the Britain, the tunnels were further expanded in the Cold War for the event of nuclear weapons. However with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the need for this facility decreased and in the early 1990s the areas of the tunnels opened to the public. But for some reason it’s still not allowed to take pictures inside.
Surprisingly after the film we were led out of the tunnels. Walking a distance we arrived the Medical Dressing Station from which we will see how these tunnels played hospital role during the Second World War. My first impression is these tunnels are steel lined with quite big spaces which were designed as reception areas, washrooms, toilets, food stores, kitchens and, of course, operational rooms, etc. Walking along the tunnels you can listen to their talks, smell the food they had and even experience the power off that was often happened. At the dinning room I can’t help to touch the dish which contains beef and potato. (Usually I don’t do like that when I visit somewhere). I knew it would not be real, but the smell was so delicious, I must try to prove my judgement.

Later the English Heritage staff freed us to go by ourselves. As it’s one way so you would not be lost. I stopped at a small room in which Ramsay and his staff made the Dunkirk miracle happened. If you are interested in the history you can sit down to watch a short film about it. Nearby there are two operational rooms for communicating with ships and airplanes outside. It’s really amazing to explore these tunnels. However it’s so nice to have some fresh air and sunshine.

Tip 5: It’s important to follow up the English Heritage staff to get more information.

Leaving the tunnels and following the guide panels I first arrived the inner bailey and the Great Tower which was originally built by King Henry II. There is a big grassland inside the bailey that is used for kids to play some medieval games, also a small market selling drinks and food. First I visited an exhibition in Arthur’s Hall to learn about the builder Henry II and his troublesome family. The short film about his fight with his wife and sons is really funny and educational. There is also a quite descriptive explanation about the king and the rank of his officials.
Entering the Great Tower I first smelled the smoke that was spreading around the building. Later I found it was from the fireplace in the big King’s Chamber. The Great Tower was a royal palace in 1180s, as soon as you ascend the stairs of the Great Tower’s defensive ‘forebuilding’ entrance you will first meet many lifelike figures. Upstairs to the second floor you will see the most spectacular room: the King’s Hall which dominated by its canopied throne and decked throughout with wall hangings and recreations of contemporary furniture with brilliant colours.
However personally I think the big King’s Chamber is more interesting. I’m surprised to see the fireplace still works well and the royal bed is so small. Next to the chamber you can see the king’s treasures, that always followed the King moving around.
Continually upstairs to the roof of the tower you will have panoramic views over the castle’s immense complex of fortifications, with busy Dover Harbour below and France in the distance beyond. Because I already spent a lot of time to have the views when I was around the Look-out so I had little time on the roof. Plus it was really windy on the top.

Before I left the Great Tower I also popped into the Royal Kitchen at the bottom in which I saw their food, the way they cooked and kept food. I quite like it.

Tip 6: The stairs are narrow and steep.
My last destination was the Roman pharos which is a tall Roman Lighthouse. Believe or not it is one of the highest Roman structures still standing today in the whole of Europe. Next to the pharos is the church of St Mary-in Castro which is a Saxon church and is full of mosaic walls and fine architecture. I entered the church and really enjoyed the music, the decorations and saw some valuable historical pictures. To my understanding it’s a working church and mainly used by troops for Sunday service every week.

Tip 7: Pay attention on the pictures that made the church more impressive.

I know I have not seen the whole part of the Castle, but I was really tired due to the up and down explorations. At last I queued in front the ice cream parlour for a treat. Nearby it is the NAAFI restaurant where soldiers relaxed and socialized from 1868. I had a quick visit, but was disappoint with their food options that are much similar with other two shops in the Castle.
More information:

Dover Castle opens in whole year, except Christmas and New Year holiday. There are two shops and one restaurant selling refreshment, cakes and sandwiches. The price is reasonably high. You can also buy some souvenir at the shops. The toilets are inside every shops and very easy to find out. Last but not least due to the location it’s always cold and windy, even under sunshine, so better to put warm clothes on plus a pair of comfortable shoes.


I enjoyed every minute I had at Dover Castle and would highly recommend anyone. Not only can you see historical site, but also you can have spectacular views. It’s a must see place in the country because in which you can witness miracles.