Explore 2,000 years of history at England’s Dover Castle
By WILLIAM HOWARD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 12, 2016
Perched upon the dramatic white cliffs overlooking the English Channel in Kent rests Dover Castle, the largest castle in England.
The castle, a key defense post for centuries, offers more than 2,000 years of history to explore.
An Iron Age hill fort is believed to have stood at the site of the castle before a Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43.
Romans then built a lighthouse and later Saxons added fortifications and a church. The well-preserved structures are still within the castle walls.
Immediately after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror strengthened the defenses, and in the 1180s King Henry II remodeled it with a central great tower.
Successive defensive rings surrounding the great tower were added through the first half of the 13th century under King John and Henry III.
Dover Castle was garrisoned from 1066 until 1958, and withstood two long sieges by French forces in 1216-17. From the 1740s onward it was adapted for artillery warfare, and in World War II it became the headquarters for the Admiralty’s regional command.
In July of last year, guided tours of the secret wartime tunnels underneath the castle opened to the public. The four miles of Napoleonic-era passageways were repurposed for World War II.
Guides lead castle visitors 45 meters down to an exhibit including historical accounts and briefings of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940 organized by Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsey, and an underground hospital.
My tour group retained an awed silence while progressing under an orange haze of light through tunnels with graffiti etched by soldiers onto chalky walls.
I felt like I was surrounded by ghosts of another era as re-created scenes played out during the tours and we were left to explore the historical static displays at our leisure.
Leaving the tunnels to walk the castle grounds was like traveling back through time.
Making my way toward the central great tower, I looked over no-nonsense fortifications, pretended I was an archer firing through an arrow slit, inspected a trebuchet and discovered brick-walled medieval tunnels.
I was again surrounded by ghostly images and echoed recordings as I roamed through the great tower that offered medieval replications of the kitchen, blacksmith workshop, noble dwellings and throne room.
A steep set of interior steps wound through the displays until I reached the top of the great tower and marveled at a 360-degree view of the English Channel and surrounding countryside.
I left feeling like I not only saw Dover Castle but also lived through echoes of its long and eventful history.
Dover Castle is at Castle Hill, Dover, Kent, CT16 1HU. It’s about a 2 ½-hour drive from RAF Mildenhall south via the A2 over the Dartford Crossing. The toll for Dartford Crossing must be paid for online by midnight the next day.
Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Entry for adults is 18.30 pounds (about $23) and 11 pounds for children. Members of English Heritage get in for free. Group entrance for a family of two adults and up to three children is 47.60 pounds.
The Great Tower Cafe built in 1901, NAAFI Restaurant housed in the 1868 Regimental Institute and a small secret wartime tunnels tearoom built into the original Napoleonic tunnel complex offer hot lunches, sandwiches, snacks, home-made soup and a range of cakes and ice cream. They accept debit or credit cards, pounds and euros.
Check the English Heritage website for upcoming special events: