Majestically straddling the White Cliffs, Dover Castle is an awe-inspiring sight as you drive into town. It’s large, dominating form watches over the valley, as it has done since the 12th Century. Built by Henry II to repel invaders and tunnels modernised as late as the second World War, this English Heritage site offers so much to visitors old and young.
I first visited the Castle some 60 years ago when entrance into the grounds was free and a small sum allowed you into the Castle itself. Much has changed. The ticket price is now a around £23.60 for an adult and £14.50 for a child over 5 years. There are discounts: £20.90 for a student or senior and £61.70 for a family of 2 adults and 3 children. So, what do you get for your money?
You can spend a whole day exploring the Castle and its beautiful undulating grounds. Some of the rooms within have been reimagined with furnishings and my grandchildren love sitting on the thrones and peering through the window slits where bows and arrows would be the weapon of choice against invaders. The well-worn steps lead you to the open-air roof and the views over Dover and its surrounding countryside are breath-taking. On a clear day you can see across the channel to France. This is well worth the climb and a photographer’s dream.
Accessible from the grounds, here are three sets of tunnels to explore. The medieval tunnels at the far side of the site, and those refortified during the second world war – adorned as they would have been even down to the authentic, original newspapers! The first consists of the many rooms which were inhabited by Winston Churchill and his war cabinet. The second is the hospital where wounded soldiers and members of the air force would be taken. The original beds, cupboards, bandages and operating equipment still remain. And there is even a ghost who haunts these tunnels but we have yet to see her! The friendly guides (often volunteers) are always eager to engage with us and are a wealth of interesting knowledge.
There are also various buildings with installations surrounding the actual Castle which provide even more information in both French and English and interactive learning devices for children and adults alike.
My family’s favourite area is the look out post pitched at the edge of the cliff, guarding the channel. Inside, the children love to play with the communication systems of yester-year. Morse code, telephones and other speaker systems. They can look out through the binoculars and see how the layouts have changed over the years from the various display models. They can run safely on the roof and have a bird’s eye view of the port whilst learning semaphore from the display boards. (That takes me back to my youth and time spend being in the Brownies!)
Oh, and they love to clamber over the cannons and roll down the hills.
I nearly forgot to mention the beautiful church – St Mary’s in Castro which is a working place of worship and was once utilised by the local Garrison. So much to see! So much to explore!
Throughout the year there are many special activities taking place at the Castle ranging from music festivals to medieval costumes and displays, sword fighting for the children and even touring groups showing families the various methods of torture used at the Castle over the years!
The grounds lend themselves to picnics (tables provided) or there is a café (which I must admit we have never yet used).
The Castle and its grounds have come a long way in the last sixty years in providing a full experience for all ages thanks to the guardianship of English Heritage and it is well worth a visit – though I would try to pick a sunny day to experience the grounds and views at their very best.