Gateway to England.

The smallest places sometimes turn out to be the most interesting, Dover is one of those places.

A fairly small town known mainly for ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ and the ferry which runs from there to France, Dover has a surprisingly deep history that when you really think about it, isn’t all that surprising at all. Dover has throughout history been seen as the gateway to England, a location of high strategic value because of it’s closeness to France and the mainland. Indeed throughout history there is evidence of Dover and the nearby lands being held by Normans and Romans alike, the Romans who established a post there evidence of which can still be seen today in the ancient Roman lighthouse (Now part of a small church in the Dover Castle courtyard being used as a bell-tower!) and painted house ruins. There is the mighty Castle of Dover, which withstood the might of France’s fury during the first Baron’s War, as well as a series of elaborate defences built during the Napoleonic era to stand guard from Napoleon himself. Even remains from the big ones, World War 1 and especially 2, where Dover earned the name Hellfire Corner from the constant artillery bombardments and for its strategic importance.

There can be no denying Dover has alot of history for such a small town, and indeed, it turned into one of the most interesting places I’d visit in the UK. High praise for a place my friend and I had only gone to as a way to get to France… I confess If you’d asked me about Dover before, I’d likely have replied something along the lines of ‘I think I’ve heard of it, somewhere in UK right?’. So see, travel *is* educational!

Being a smallish town Dover isn’t hard to navigate, and finding where you want to go is no real trouble. Travelling by foot I got to see most everything there was to see with ease. For starters if the weather is nice, there’s a shady little path next to an old graveyard that leads up towards the Napoleonic ruins. It’s an uneven but wide path of well worn concrete, strewn with leaves and twigs from the rich green bough overhead. On one side is an old moss-covered wall that separates you from the local graveyard, to the other side a similar wall but with gardens rather than mossy tombstones. Ascending the stairs itself is a bit of an ambient experience, and when you suddenly find yourself leaving that shady stairway and blinking in the bright sun as the pathway opens into the hilltops open field, I for one couldn’t help but smile and enjoy the experience. It’s always the little things I enjoy most. Following the now dirt path you’ll eventually come across the overgrown ruins of a part of the old Napoleonic fortifications, the Drop Reboubt, which is built deep into the hill itself. A vast trench built of brick and mortar, strewn with narrow slits to rain down death upon those who’d be foolish enough to try and take the position, now overgrown and left to fall to disuse and decay. There’s a certain mood to the place, a certain peaceful sort of melancholy. No flashy tour groups or fancy fixups here, just the remains as they were left so very long ago. You don’t see that much, not really. It’s clear however that at least a few people care however, as the path was cleared and the area tended, a quick good search brings up the Western Heights Preservation society, who I wish luck!

Another amazing sight is the Castle which sits of the opposite hill. Unlike the Napoleonic fort, the Castle is a well tended and staffed tourist sight which could be seen as either a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective on these things.

Con: It costs money and there are annoying tourists everywhere (Not really a fair statement considering I WAS a tourist as well, but hey, my journal!).

Pro: Everything is well maintained with information available to sate curiosity, as well as more areas open to you (Never saw inside the Napoleonic fort! Closed but for a few rare tours.) .

Personally I enjoyed Dover Castle a helluva lot, despite the miserable weather that swept in while visiting. But hell, misty grey rainy weather adds style to these old places. Sure, you’re wet and cold, but you’re wet and cold while staring up at massive stone walls that seem to all but gleam menacingly back at you, or wet and cold while walking slowly through the underground tunnels, the faint eery sound of drip, drip, dripping accompanying you as you walk unsteadily forward. Plus cold and wet keeps the other tourists to a minimum! The grounds are quite large and contain quite a few sights to see, Dover Castle itself has been more or less redone as a sort of semi-interactive light show meant to replay some of the castles history, namely the events leading up to and during the siege it survived. Surprisingly neat lightshow, but not the best I’d see during my trip. The real joy is just wandering the vast grounds that the castle admission fee gives you access to.

Also of note are the WW2 wartime tunnels you can also enjoy, although with a guide now as they don’t allow random wanderers for fear of people getting lost in the vast labyrinth tunnels. Not the same tunnels as the picture above I should also add, the hill is riddled with the tunnels from various era, some open to wander, some only with a guide, and many closed off entirely. It was an interesting tour and certainly worth the fee if you’re into military history and the like, but in truth I can’t think of much worth describing here. Although an interesting experience, nothing in particular springs to mind as amazing…

But ancient military ruins aside, there’s something else of fame in the Dover area. The white cliffs. And they are magnificent indeed. It was wet and rainy on the day when I saw the white cliffs, and honestly more than a little dangerous considering how slick the mud soaked ground was and how close many of the trails run along these vast falls, but it was worth it! The wind tugging at your clothes and that sharp sting of cold wet wind against your exposed skin, the sheer exhilaration as you walk triumphantly along the empty paths, your only companions the gentle swaying sound of grass and the lapping of distant water against the rocky shore. Beautiful. Cold, wet, and likely a bit dangerous, but beautiful all the same.

Dover was one of my favourite surprises. For a town I’d only meant to stop at for a night, the two days spent there were adventurous and fun. Whether it was learning the local tales of one-time conflict, or walking along famed paths or along forgotten ruins, it was all enjoyable. Defiantly a place I would like to visit again.

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