Monday, 17 February 2014

Carry Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

My photo of the day is not the greatest shot ever taken but as the title of my last post included a reference to the White Cliffs of Dover, I felt a pictorial record of the actual feature should be included today.

 Yes, these are the legendary chalk cliffs as seen from a P&O ferry crossing the English Channel on a smooth yet cloudy day. October 4, 2013.

 Boats are not my cup of tea and never have been but I was quite excited to be crossing the Channel as it is of course very famous and the ride was made even more enjoyable by the light swell we encountered on the day. Far better than any current crossing of the Channel would be today given the appalling winter weather battering southern England at the moment.

  Dover. One of the Cinque ports and the gateway to England for a thousand years. A strategic city for many centuries, it's castle stands majestically over the town, a symbol of power and defiance of bygone days and a reminder that England has not always been a peaceful place.

 Dover is now a major port facility, probably the major entry point to the United Kingdom from the continent and most people now only glimpse Dover as they drive away from it to other points of call.

 Linda and I had booked into a hotel in Dover so we were keen to see some of the sights although we gained no comfort from our guide book which declared "down in the dumps Dover has seen better days"! Perhaps.

 Our hotel was on the waterfront and would it would have been quite a spectacular setting except for the large apartment complex which has been built across the road blocking the view to the beach! I don't know how the city planners got away with that! Developers are causing as much havoc in Britain as they are here obviously.

 A stroll around town revealed a quaint yet bustling city centre, the main road being closed to traffic to create a mall which I found quite appealing. Some effort seems to have been made to clean up the town and make it more of an inducement for tourists to visit. It was quite nice.

 We strolled out of the city centre and bought our dinner at a local cafe. Traditional fish and chips. Can't get much more English than that and we were spectators as a local woman berated her child for some misdemeanour, real or imagined and gave us a timely reminder that ferals exist everywhere.

 The main part of town is separated from the residential area by a large hill upon which sits the magnificent Dover Castle, guardian of the town since the Norman Conquest. Silent and brooding, it's ramparts beckoned us to her. We would explore her the next day.

Linda on the Dover waterfront.

 We took a stroll down along the waterfront that evening. It was quiet with only a few people around, the biting wind coming off the Channel making it's presence felt, no doubt an impediment to anyone thinking of a late afternoon walk along the beach.

 Linda and I picked up our hire car the next morning and were soon driving up the leafy road which took us to the gates of Dover Castle and a trip back to the earliest days of English history.

 Most castles such as Dover were built after the Norman Conquest of 1066. In fact, I believe it was the Norman's who took most of the wooden structured defensive positions around the nation and turned them into the stone fortress' which still dot the English countryside today.

 Dover Castle was obviously meant to be a strong defensive position and it's majestic setting must also have been designed to send a message to would be invaders, wallowing offshore that this was a rich and powerful country, ready to expel anyone with the temerity to land uninvited. Tony Abbott would have felt at home in 12th century England!

 The precarious strategic position of Dover can be highlighted by the fact that it is only  eighteen miles from France. It is the narrowest crossing point on the Channel and thus well defended in days gone by.

 King Henry I made vast improvements to the castle, adding spacious living quarters to the keep and he visited here quite often during his tumultuous reign.
 To highlight the important position held by Dover in centuries past, one only has to look at this photo taken from the battlements of the castle.
 An Anglo-Saxon church stands on the headland outside the castle and next to it the ruins of a lighthouse built by Roman army engineers during their occupation of Britain which began in the first century AD and lasted 400 years. It is believed to be the oldest surviving stone structure in Britain.

 The English Channel stretches out behind Dover in the background of the photo and a ferry has just left port on her way to Calais.

 As the centuries rolled by and the political structure of England changed, the castle became less strategically important although it was still garrisoned by the British army into the 19th century.

 Below the castle, in fact right below the buildings in the last picture, are a series of underground corridors, tunnels and command posts which were built in the 19th century to house soldiers in the event of an invasion by the French. It's most famous role however was played in 1940 when the evacuation of Dunkirk was organised and executed from the these same tunnels.

 The tunnels are now a tourist attraction and the whole castle has been refurbished in recent years and it is now a very amenable place to visit. I would recommend a stay in Dover just to visit the Castle alone!

 It is said that on a clear day in Dover you can see the coast of France eighteen miles away, a claim which I always thought spurious but our guide in the tunnels suggested, as it was a clear day that we take a look because he had glimpsed France that morning and we should be able to do the same.

 Sure enough, as we exited the tunnels we gazed across the expanse of the Channel and noticed, through the haze, the coastline of another continent. France was on the horizon!
The coast of France barely visible below the cloud bank.
 Linda and I enjoyed hours of fun at Dover Castle. A lot more than we ever expected. It was a great way to begin our ten days in old Blighty.

 Until next time. Have a nice day.

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