Day 6, Jul 1: Dover, Walmer & Deal Castles


Dover Castle

We were both incredibly tired last night – probably from the 26 hour day since we picked up 2 extra hours between Istanbul and England, so were grateful to have slept well. I got up about 5am to finish writing Friday’s blog. Dan got up about 6. We left about 7:30 to go out for breakfast.

 This is the VW Golf we rented. The white house behind that is where we are staying.

We walked around the center of town a bit to scope out a good breakfast spot. This is St. Mary’s church, part of it built in the 1100’s.

We ended up here and it was pretty good.
 That’s Dan at the far right; we were the first customers so snagged the table by the window.
 Dan had the latte, me the Americano. And I had another. As I said to the waitress on our way out: it was the most satisfying coffee I’ve had in a week. Truth.
 Dan had the plate called the English Breakfast, at the top of the photo. It was gratifying to see it really did include mushrooms and pork-n-beans. I have that for breakfast nearly every day when we’re in Europe – and I’ve said in previous blogs I don’t believe I eat pork-n-beans at any other time – but I’d always wondered if it was just a Hilton thing. Apparently it isn’t. I had the eggs Benedict with smoked salmon (the roses).
 This might be my favorite photo of the trip so far: Dover Castle hovering over the town.
Of everything we had planned for this trip, going to Dover Castle was the item I was the most excited about. It combines two things I love about traveling: castles and World War II history. It exceeded expectations on both counts. Historically it is arguably the most significant castle in England. Built originally in the 11th century, it is the largest castle in England and strategically the most important as a matter of defense. That last part was never more true than during World War II.
The first thing we did was go on their tour of the casements or tunnels, specifically the ones that were used during WWII. The presentation was focused on the Dunkirk rescue and it was excellent. I’m not going to go into all of the details here; we already knew quite a bit about Dunkirk so it was amazing to be where it all happened. The Dover connection is the tunnels served as the headquarters for “Operation Dynamo”, which is the code used for the plan to evacuate Allied troops who were trapped by the German army at Dunkirk in France, late May and early June of 1940. Over 330k ended up being rescued across the English Channel and brought to Dover, about 100K of them ferried from the beaches in small private vessels because the water was too shallow for bigger ships to get to them. Later this month, a movie comes out on the subject and the trailer looks amazing. You can learn more about it then if you’re interested 🙂
Although militarily Dunkirk was a disaster, psychologically it galvanized Britain as an example of what could be accomplished when you work together. It was after Dunkirk that Churchill, who had been Prime Minister only about a month at the time, gave one of his most famous speeches. It included the famous lines “wars are not won by evacuations” and “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…” I can hear his voice as I read that; it gives me chills. (I’m a bit of a Churchill geek, one of those who believe he was uniquely qualified to face off with Hitler, and the world would be a very different place today if he hadn’t been Prime Minister at the time. From the time France fell just after Dunkirk, until the Americans joined in late 1941, the English were in it alone, about 18 months. I don’t think most people realize that, including me until a couple of years ago.)
After Dunkirk, Dover Castle continued to play a role in WWII. It remained important defensively. The distance between Dover, England and Calais, France is the shortest distance across the English Channel. The Germans were convinced of 2 things: 1) if they were to invade Britain with ground troops, it would be through Dover and 2) if the Allies decided to send ground troops to the continent, it would be from Dover. From 1942, Dover served as the Combined Headquarters to assist with the Allied liberation of Europe. It was the workers in the tunnels of Dover in charge of a very successful misinformation campaign to make #2 very plausible, which is why the Germans were so surprised when D-Day happened at Normandy.

 

 A photo of German officers at Calais eyeing Dover across the English Channel.
 The photo above and the two below show significant communication and other operations during WWII.

 

  These tunnels were old, too. They were originally built in 1797 for the Napoleonic Wars and refortified for WWII.
 The White Cliffs of Dover from the tunnels.
After this tour, we went up the hill to the tower where the actual castle was. As a castle goes, it’s pretty classic looking, including an outside wall and the tower in the middle, very similar to the design of Tower of London which was built about the same time.

 

 We caught a very entertaining minstrel show reviewing history from William the Conqueror through Henry II.
Henry II was largely responsible for making the castle what it is today back in the 1200’s. Much of his motivation was to impress guests he housed who came into Dover from the continent during their pilgrimage to the Thomas Becket shrine in Canterbury. He was largely believed to have ordered Becket’s murder so Henry felt he needed to do something lavish to turn the negative situation around. Much of what he did with the castle was the result of that motivation. Henry was the first of the Plantagenets dynasty, which produced a total of 14 kings ending with Richard III.

 

 Above and below: views from the top of the tower. It’s remarkable to think how high they built this in the 1200’s. See the people at the picnic table bottom left.

 

 

 

We stayed at Dover Castle about 2 hours. Next was Walmer Castle and Gardens, about a minute 15 drive away. Walmer was built by Henry VIII around 1538. It is occupied by the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, anymore a largely ceremonial position, with roots back to the 1200’s when it was called “Keeper of the Coast.” The Lord Warden was originally in charge of 5 port towns on the southeast coast, including Dover. The current Lord Warden is Admiral of the Fleet Michael Boyce, and he lives here.

 We were greeted by this adorable lamb in the grass parking lot.

 

This was very different from any castle we’ve ever been in. It’s shorter, first of all, which we learned later was part of the design strategy at the time – made it a harder target to hit. Also rounder – for a similar reason, easier for things to sort of bounce off. And while they wouldn’t allow any photos inside, it looked very much like a house, furnished the way any house would be furnished. Of all the castles we’ve been in, it was the easiest to imagine what it might be like to live here. This photo, by the way, is a panoramic shot that Dan started playing with today. There are several more in this blog.
 It had a beautiful lawn in the moat.
 You weren’t supposed to take photos; Dan breaking the rules anyway.
 The North Sea from the terrace, still armed with cannons.

 

 

 A cheeky pose from Dan, attempting to mimic a photo he took of me (which he really likes for some reason) at Fort Ross in Northern California, August 2012, below.

 

This is probably my favorite of Dan’s panoramic shots.
The gardens were extensive but not really elaborate as in say Versailles. What was so unusual about them is that they were so active. It wasn’t just for show. Not shown is a green house that had a wide variety of plants in it. Below is a part of a vegetable garden, some of which had clearly just been planted. There were also lots of fruit trees as we entered this section. 

Above: The gardens of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. She was Lord Warden from 1978-2002. Below: a large lawn where families were gathering for picnics.

We were there about an hour and really enjoyed this castle. There was something incredibly understated about the whole thing – almost humble if that’s a word you can apply to a castle – yet very elegant at the same time. We went up a mile to the town of Deal for lunch. One guess what we had.

 

We ate at this bandstand in a park between the shops on the street and the beach of the North Sea. This bandstand was also a memorial for 11 members of the Royal Marine Band who were killed here by IRA terrorists in 1989.

This is a literal pebble beach. Not just at the beginning, all the way to the water. There’s no sand. It actually made it extremely easy to walk on. And no cleaning up after! Below is another of Dan’s panoramas.

 

Next we went up to Deal Castle, which was not even half a mile up the same road. Walmer and Deal were part of a series of castles that Henry VIII built after his break with the Catholic Church and he was constantly afraid of invasion by the French, who were being encouraged by the Pope to bring England back into the fold. As you see below, another low lying castle, only 2 stories and rounded like Walmer, not an easy target from the sea.

 

Everything we did today was part of the English Heritage pass we bought yesterday. We typically don’t do audio guides – the last one we did I think was St. Peter’s in Rome and that one was amazing – but typically they’re full of details that we’re not all that interested in. We decided to get this one because it was free. It was typical 🙂 I stopped listening about halfway through.

It was difficult to get good photos of this castle because it was so compact, so I got the photo below from the internet. There was an outer wall and a moat and the design was somewhat a flower. The outer petals were all for defense, from above and below. If you look carefully you can see little windows where soldiers could shoot from. Cannons are still on display above. The inner petals were both defense and living quarters. Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth and favorite wife, stayed here on her way over from Calais on her way to meet Henry to marry him. That was 1539 and it was barely completed, having gone up in just 9 months.

We were only here about 40 minutes. The next stop was about a 20 minute drive away, the Richborough Roman Fort. This is the Roman ruins from a period that started in 43 when the Romans first invaded these islands, and lasted through about the 400’s, abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was an extensive fort and some civilian settlements in the surrounding area. It claimed to have an amphitheater that hadn’t yet been excavated but whose outline could be seen from ground level; we attempted to find that but it remained elusive.

The above shot is a normal view, the next two more panoramas. What was impressive about the space was the size.

 

 

These walls were very high and very thick. It made me wonder who they were afraid of.
We stayed about 40 minutes I guess. There was a little museum that was interesting as well. The shot below as taken on our way out. Much of the final road we took to get here was one lane.

 

We had one final stop we were going to make if there was still time. According to the English Heritage map there was a Knights Templar Church in Dover. I’ve always found the Knights story fascinating and wanted to check it out. We found it interesting that a couple of people we mentioned it to didn’t know about it. When we mapped it on Google from Richborough we got a message from Google that said something like: this attraction closes at 5pm; you will arrive at 5:10. Do you still want to go? We of course said yes – we’d said all along we just wanted to see the outside of it so even if we couldn’t go in it would be fine.

We followed the instructions and got to the area. We saw a sign that said Knights Templar on our right, but the map was showing the church was up ahead on our left. We kept going but there was nothing there – it turned into a private road. So we backed up and took the right where the sign was. Only to figure out that it was the street name for what we had turned into. We got out of there and I said to Dan “let’s try that road one more time.” We went back and went farther. Still saw nothing and yet the map was saying there was a Knights Templar Church Right There! We turned around and headed back and I finally saw it. We couldn’t believe it.

This was it. A sign and the footprint remains of the church from the 1100s. No wonder no one had ever heard of it. Cracked us up that Google says it closes at 5. Does it disappear, and return at 9am? We won’t be back to find out.

 

We went back to the house. Dan’s parking karma struck again and we were able to park right in front. The owner says even she’s never able to do that. We walked into town, and were going to have dinner at a place she recommended, but they were hosting a private party and closed otherwise. So we meandered around town a bit and Dan found another place for us to go on TripAdvisor.

A war memorial. The building behind it are administrative offices for the City Council.
This is the Maison Dieu, meaning “House of God” founded in 1203. It serves as the town hall and is also rentable for parties, which was happening this evening as well. Lots of parties in Dover last night!

 

They let us inside anyway to take a couple of photos. That’s Dan bottom left talking to one of the workers.

The restaurant we decided on was across the street from here, La Scala, an Italian place. It was ranked #2 in TripAdvisor. It was OK 🙂 We started with bruschetta which was actually pretty good.

 

Dan had a seafood linguine dish, mine was pasta and sausage. The sauces were identical. We passed on dessert for a number of reasons, including they seated us with the understanding we’d be out of there by 7:45 (it was only 7:15) and we just wanted to get going.

While we ate we had a fun conversation about our favorite days during all of our travels. It’s difficult to come up with a top 5 because there are so many, but if you forced me to this would likely be one of them. Dover Castle was everything I’d imagined it would be. I was choked up much of the first hour as we were going through the WWII stuff. The rest of the history and scope of the complex is just breathtaking and, while I didn’t write a lot about it, we also appreciated the effort they go into to make it interesting and entertaining. We love a well planned museum with a wide range of media deployed and Dover certainly had that. Walmer was very special, in a completely different way. And I loved that we were able to have a solid agenda but be able to take our time somehow, all while driving through lovely English countryside in amazing weather. If our remaining 5 days here are half as good it will be an incredible trip.

I am writing this Sunday morning. Today we head towards Bath where we will be spending two nights. We will be stopping at English Heritage sites along the way, including Stonehenge. We knew we were going to be in the neighborhood of Stonehenge when we were planning this trip but nixed the idea of going because the reviews are So Mixed and we didn’t want to spend the extra money to deal with crowds and be disappointed. But now that it’s essentially free to us – the cost of the pass was justified by the time we did Dover Castle and St. Augustine Abbey the day before – we figured why not? So we’ll see.

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