Castle Chronicles: Dover Castle

On the final leg of our Great English Roadtrip, we made a stop in Dover on our journey from Canterbury to Folkestone to catch the train under the channel. Our crossing from France had been too foggy to see the White Cliffs, so I wanted to revisit the port town. I’m so glad we did as we also took the time to visit the castle.

A Brief-ish History

There is nothing brief about the history of Dover Castle, but I’ll make an attempt. Castle Hill, on which the castle sits, has been occupied since before the Roman invasion. It was likely the location of an Iron Age hill fort, many of which populated the landscape from around 500BC until the Roman occupation.

The Romans later built a fort at the mouth of river Dour and lighthouse on Castle Hill, and its twin on an opposite hill. The locations allowed for a strategic vantage over the Strait of Dover for centuries – well into the 1940’s during the Second World War.

As you can see in the photo above, the lighthouse was later reused for the church of St. Mary in Castro.

As many historical stories from England go, William the Conqueror made his mark by capturing the Dover port and building a fortification. While the remains of that fortification no longer survive, we do know that the castle that stands today was built by King Henry II in the 1180s. As was the case with the Tower of London, the castle served both a defensive and residential purpose.

Through the Middle Ages, Tudor, Stuart, and Georgian Era, the castle continually adapted to meet the needs of the time in both weaponry and warfare. Tunnels in the chalk underneath the fortification were dug which housed barracks and casemates which were used throughout history.

During the Second World War, the tunnels were put to use to house an Army and Naval headquarters. You may be familiar with Operation Dynamo – the rescue of stranded Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk? Its headquarters lived in the tunnels of Dover Castle.

More tunnels were later added to house a hospital and a Combined Operations Center, all of which played an important part in D-Day and the storming of Normandy.

Because of its consistent use throughout history, the castle has been preserved beautifully. And because we arrived at the castle at opening time, we were able to view its glory with a minimal clutter of people. Friendly employees stood in each room or section of the castle to describe its purpose, decorations, and history. The boys ventured off on their own as I wondered about.

The sky was so piercingly blue when we arrived. The contrast against the lush green grass was stunning. Birds chirping, children giggling in the distance – it all made the castle come to life… made it so easy to transport back to each era of its long history.

We didn’t have time to make it into the tunnels, but I highly recommend taking the time to visit Dover: to see its castle, cliffs, and village. It was certainly worth it.

Sources: The History of Dover Castle

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