White cliffs country.
I am writing a review about delightful Dover in Kent, my place of birth.
Dover is the busiest passenger port in the world with approximately 16 million passengers passing through the port each year however most passengers these days bypass Dover on their way to the continent or on their way to the UK and yet there is so much to see in Dover. Anyone coming across the channel by ferry can not fail to notice the huge castle on top of the cliff that over looks the town and is always a welcome sight from the deck of the ferries that ply the English Channel. Dover is only 21 miles from France.
How to get there.
There are good roads namely the A2-M2-A2 which runs from London directly to the port also the A20- M20-A20. It takes just over an hour from London by road. Dover is also served by trains from Charing Cross Station and Victoria Station to Dover Priory station which take between one and a half hours and two hours. National express run bus services directly to and from London Victoria coach station.
A little history about Dover.
Dover acquired its name from the river that runs through the centre of the town, the river Dour. The Latin name for Dover was Dubris. Dover town centre is straddled on either side by the very steep Western Heights and the steep hills to the East where the castle is situated.
There seems to have been some kind of settlement in Dover for thousands of years and Archaeologists have unearthed items that link the town with the Stone Age and Bronze Age. A recent find in 1992 was of very important significance when they were building a by pass in the town centre they discovered the remains of a Bronze Age boat that can be viewed in the Dover Museum in the market square. Its age is estimated at around 3500 years old.
In 55BC when the Romans invaded Britain they were put off landing in Dover and actually landed along the coast in Deal approximately nine miles away. Eventually they built two light houses (Pharos) on either side of the town. One built at the Western Heights and the other in the present grounds of the castle. Fires were lit at the top to help guide the ships from the continent to Dover. Remarkably only the Pharos at Dover Castle still stands after all these hundreds of year's right beside to the church, St.Mary in Castro.
Places of interest in and around Dover.
Obviously Dover castle should be on everyone's list of things to do in Dover. You can not miss it as it is one of the largest castles in the UK. The Romans built a fort high above the town and it is believed that the castle grew there after from a small Roman fort being added to over the centuries. By the 9th10th century the Saxons and the Normans added to the castle and the castle started to take shape of how we see it today. There are two outer walls which form the main defence to the central keep. Then there is the main castle keep with various rooms and chambers and one recent exhibition was showing how the castle was prepared for Henry VIII to stay en route to the continent with massive packing cases. They certainly did not travel lightly. There are also interactive displays for the children to learn and play with.
Some of the walls are at least 6 foot thick. From the top of the Keep you can see for miles around, right across the town far below in the valley with great views over the harbour and seafront. On a clear day you can even see France which is approximately 21 miles away. Sometimes it is so clear you can even see the colour of cars driving along the roads with the naked eye. We used to say that when you could see France is as clear as that, bad weather was usually on the way.
It is remarkable that Dover castle has remained largely intact because Dover received quite a hammering during World War 2. During the Napoleonic war the castle was practically impregnable the French tried to tunnel their way into the castle through the soft chalky cliffs that it was built on. You can go down into the tunnels under the castle and see some of these tunnels. These tunnels are reportedly haunted.
One of the big secrets deep within the cliffs of Dover and within the grounds of the castle there was secret war operations rooms containing underground hospital and living quarters where hundreds of servicemen and women were stationed in order to defend the UK. You can see the operations rooms and the theatre and some of the trolleys and theatre mock up.
After the 2nd world war it was still maintained as a secret nuclear shelter in case of a nuclear attack. It is now open to the public and well worth a visit to see for yourself how bad the conditions were. Winston Churchill visited the operations room during the war to observe for himself and supervise the Dunkirk evacuation. The tunnels run tours which run hourly. It is reputed to be haunted by a young soldier who asks visitors if they have seen Helen.
There is also the Saxon church of St.Mary in Castro which is remarkable in that it does not look as old as you would imagine it to be. It did fall into disuse for quite some period and was repaired and is still in use today.
The cost of entrance to Dover castle is £10 for adults £5 for children £8 for concessions. Members of English heritage are admitted free of charge.
In the town.
The Roman Painted House.
During excavations in 1970 archeologists discovered the Roman Painted House. There are numerous rooms and walls with paintings on them depicting the Roman God of wine, Bacchus. There is an under floor heating system which can be seen. There is over 400 feet of painted plaster which survived because the Romans actually buried the house. Apparently this is the most significant find of Roman painting found north of the Alps. There are other Roman sites discovered throughout the Dover area.
Admission is £2 per adult.
New Street, Dover.
The Maison Dieu.
The Maison Dieu (Dover Town hall) was built originally as hospital to care for the sick and dying and also to house travellers and pilgrims. It was built around 1200 AD. I am not going to go into the history because it would spoil your visit. It became a monastry and was in use until the reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry the VIII. The main hall is well maintained with various heraldic flags, armour and stained glass windows. There was even a small prison and there some of the walls of the Maison Dieu are 4 foot thick. Before the new museum that was built in the market square the Maison Dieu also housed Dover museum. It was used by Dover District council who had their mayoral and council chambers there. The Maison Dieu was also used as a magistrate's court.
St.Mary the Virgin Dover.
St. Mary's church in Biggin Street is the Parish church of Dover and is over 900 years old. It is believed that a small Saxon Church was originally built but razed to the ground by the Normans. There is Saxon and Norman architecture in the building.
The Victorians built galleries on either side of the church. On one side (The Left Gallery) the Mayor of Dover and councillors used to attend services on Mayors Sunday. A procession in full Mayoral regalia lead by a mace bearer would walk from the Maison Dieu to the church. I think the Mace was brass it was very large and to a child looked like it was gold. This continued right up to the 1980's but I do not know if it still happens today. The right hand gallery was reserved for Trinity house pilots and coastguards who used to occupy this gallery.
The Queen Mother was patron of St. Marys Church and attended services in her role as Lord Warden of the Cinq ports. (Pronounced Sink and not Sank). She dedicated a stained glass window in memory of the Air sea rescue services. There is also a window in the church to remember those lost in the Zeebrugge disaster. The Church's stained glass windows are magnificent.
The grand shaft.
Two forts were built on top of the Western Heights in order to provide some defence during the Napoleanonic war against invasion. The barracks are no longer standing being demolished in the 1960's but the forts and defences are still there. Because the forts are very high above the town and in order to move the troops down to the town as quickly as possible they built a very innovative triple staircase which is unique as the three stair cases are built one above the other and spiral from the top down to street level.
When the stairs were not needed for rapid mobilisation of the troops down to Snargate Street they were given specific designations as follows:
Stair case 1. Officers and their Ladies.
Stair case 2. Sargeants' and their wives.
Stair case 3. Soldiers and their women.
They were restored so that people can visit them and entrance is approximately £2.
The museum can be found in the market square. The façade of the building was the original indoor market from the 1800's which was preserved when the old market closed and was rehoused in an old fashioned department store in the middle of the town. The market never returned to this building and eventually faded out as the atmosphere of the market was lost forever. Left derelict the museum took residence of the building.
The museum houses the Bronze Age boat found in Dover and various artefacts associated with the Dover area ranging from all eras. One of the things I remember from my childhood was a stuffed polar bear that used to be just inside the entrance to the old museum at the Maison Dieu and hiding behind my fathers legs when we went inside to visit the museum. The Polar bear is still there.
Admission is £2.50.
Other places of interest.
Crabble water mill.
Dover transport museum.
The seafront and the harbour.
There is a small shingle beach within the harbour walls.
The promenade is quite nice to walk along whilst watching the busy passenger ferries berth at the Eastern Docks. There are various monuments along the promenade. The Prince of Wales pier was restored certainly not to its previous glory with a café on the end of it which is quite an ugly building not well thought out and looks truly ghastly compared to the beautiful panoramic café that was originally there.. The original pier was destroyed during a storm.
At the Western Docks large cruise ships now visit Dover and some start their cruises from here.
To the West there is Shakespeare beach.
Samphire Hoe a natural habitat for wild life named after a plant that is unique to the area. The area has been left to flourish and was formed by the spoil excavated when the channel tunnel was built. You can walk from Dover to Folkestone along the pebbly beaches.
The parks of Dover.
Pencester Gardens in the town centre.
Connaught Park, just below the castle.
Behind the Castle there is the Bleriot memorial and Langdon cliffs over looking the Eastern docks.
I hope this has shown you that there is a lot more of Dover than perhaps you were aware of and you have enjoyed this little introduction. Should you be on your way to the continent or have a spare few days and have no idea what to do with yourself it would be great to stop off and spend a day or two here exploring what is a very historical and interesting town.
Dover is usually seen as just the ferry terminal. To me this is pretty weird, actually, as it is virtually impossible NOT TO notice the castle and the cliffs which are the main attractions. I came to live in the town 7 months ago so I am a fresh resident and still treat the place a bit like a tourist. GETTING THERE Very easy by car (less than an hour from southern M25 in good traffic); Dover is surprisingly hard to get by public transport. Train from Waterloo East or Charing Cross takes about 2 hrs and costs 20 GBP for a day-return; a Natinal Express coach takes over 3 hrs to Victoria at the cost of 11 GBP day return (the time makes day return not a terribly viable option). If you are staying in Kent, there is plenty of local public transportation from the likes of Ashford, Canterbury and coastal towns. ACCOMMODATION We started by staying in a B&B - and there is no shortage of them in Dover, most of them catering to one-night-stay traffic. This means that if you stay longer you could get a discount - as we did for a stay of 4 days. Most of the guest houses are located along Folkestone Road and Maison Dieu Road. Folkestone Road is further from town, but it is less busy traffic wise so if you have a car go there. There is actually a website or two listing the B&Bs and the information provided on the one we used was quite accurate (including prices). Local Tourist Information, located in the Maison Dieu (town hall) on the High Street We stayed in Talavera on Folkestone Road and I have to say we got a very warm welcome and lots of helpful advice from the owne
rs; the family room was warm and comfortable; the Full English Breakfast included very tasty home made jams and at 40 GBP/day (after the discount) for family of 3 it was definitely good value; so I can recommend this one. THE TOWN and SIGHTS Dover goes back to the Romans (in fact you can see remains of Roman lighthouses in the castle and at Western Heights as well as some ruins of Roman foundations and a Roman painted house in town). It was always the principal crossing point to France and it still remains so, having a claim to being the busiest ferry port in the world. What is interesting about Dover for me is that it is NOT like the other costal towns - it has nothing seasidy-resorty about it. It is shabbier, yes, it doesn't have the Regency or Victorian seaside promenade, no pier as such, no rock sold on the seaside; and it doesn't seem half as dead even in the middle of winter as a lot of the resort towns do. It is also built along a deep valley and doesn't have much of a seafront (there is a bit with some beach and a promenade, but no usual seaside tat; just a pebbly beach and a square mile of sheltered waters for rowing or dinghy sailing in the part of the port between Eastern and Western docks. A walk along the Prince of Wales pier is worth taking for the views of the port, sea and cliffs; and there is a fairly mediocre cafe at the end by the lighthouse (a cup of tea is a cup of tea, however). There are boat tours of the port in the summer (5 GBP/person) but I haven't been yet so cannot say much. --- Castle--- The principal sight of Dover proper is its castle, dominating the town from its position on the top of the eastern cliffs. There had been a manned garrison her
e since the Norman times until the 50s and the whole site is a maze of buildings, walls, battlements, tunnels and towers well worth a half-day visit and the #8.50 entrance fee. The main parts of the castle are the Roman lighthouse and the Saxon church of St Mary-in-the Castro (reputedly the best Saxon church in Kent), the medieval keep with its engaging exhibitions on travelling court of Henry the VIII, the wartime tunnels which are open to visitors and with multimedia displays allow a glimpse of the life in Dover fortress during Operation Dynamo (evacuation of Dunquerke) and the WW II; and the medieval tunnels. The walk on the battlements is perhaps the most attractive part of the whole castle experience as it allows for breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, port and town as well as Napoleonic-time fortifications on the Western Heights. ---Other Sights in town--- Other sights include the museum - the interesting part is the Dover Bronze Boat gallery; showing remains of what was the oldest found seagoing boat in the world (3 500 years old) with a lot of background information in a high-tech gallery on the top floor of the Museum. The exhibition showing models of Dover port showing its development from modern times till now is also very interesting if you are into this kind of thing. The Museum is attached to what is called Dover Discovery Centre and what houses amongst others a new library, UKonline centre with free Internet access (do not bother with the Internet cafe unless UKonline is closed and the library computers are occupied). Crabble Corn Mill is apparently the oldest working mill in England, one of the many that were built along the banks of River Dour. There is a cafe, free educa
tional exhibition in the basement and a a guided tour of the mill itself (charge applies, we have not been). The mill is located in what is really a village of River (now more of a Dover suburb) and not far from here further up the river are two lovely parks of Kearnsey Abbey and Russel Gardens. Kearnsey Abbey is better and has truly magnificent Lebanese Cedar tree growing in the middle. ---Cliffs--- The best sight of Dover is not really in Dover tough and it's the famous, famous White Cliffs. There are actually two of the cliff areas - one of them to the west towards Folkestone (Shakespeare Cliff) which looks absolutely spectacular as you drive into or out of town on the A20. To get there drive/take a bus to Aycliff and cross the A20 on foot or drive to Capel-le-Ferne and walk from there. The eastern cliff area starts at Langdon Cliffs just above the Eastern Docks and is in my opinion definitely more interesting. Either drive to White Cliffs Visitors Centre (cafe and information at a kind of gateway to the cliffs run by National Trust) or take the bus/walk to Eastern Docks and then follow the footpath up to the cliff-top. Once there you can just stroll around and watch the Dover ferry traffic (both on wheels and boats); walk to South Foreland Lighthouse (about 40 mins brisk stroll, breathtaking scenery on the way) or further to St Margaret's Bay (another 45 mins); or find yourself a quiet spot somewhere up there and just watch the Channel shipping go by - oh, you can also see France from the cliff-top on most days. Less famous and perhaps unknown to anybody but the locals and specialists in military history is area of Western Heights; also a bit of a cliff hiding massive military fortifications from Napole
onic era - very impressive in a grim way –but now a nature reserve protecting lost of valuable wildlife. There are three clearly sign-posted walking trials. FOOD AND SHOPPING The best in my opinion cafe in Dover is called Matzo - in the Dicovery Centre building (non-smoking but there is outside seating in the summer). The offer very good value home made cakes (New-York styled cheescake and the carrot cake are particularly good) and very tasty meals (I frequent it for lunches and can recommend all baked potatoes, salads, soups, excellent chips; practically everything is good except for surprisingly dry Cornish pasties). The best in my opinion fish-and-chip shop is the one run by an Italian in Castle street. The Chaplins restaurant near the Market Square does good value lunches (around 5 GBP for a proper meal). There is your usual selection of Indian and Chinese take-aways, a couple of Indian and Italian sit down restaurants. Overall, eating in Dover is easy, can be reasonably cheap but doesn't offer particular excitements or gourmet delights. I am afraid I cannot write anything about pubs as - being a mother lumbered most of the time with a 3 year old I cannot enter these establishments - and I don't drink much anyway. No nightclubs as such in Dover. Shopping isn't very exciting (c'mon; there is mile after square mile of shopping on the other side of the Channel if you are after shopping); there is a basic selection of your usual supermarkets (a slightly hidden Somerfield in the centre of town off Castle street is a good option for supplies if self-catering) and a few high-street shops (Boots, M&S, Mothercare, Evans etc); large Tesco in &
#87;hitfield (10 minutes drive) open 24 hrs. Dover seafront area boasts one of the factory shopping outlets under the name of De Bradlei Wharf and you can find there a pretty standard selection for such establishments. This is probably the best option if you feel that you have to spend some time amongst merchandise for sale. There is womenswear (so-so; lingerie has good deals), menswear (not any better), shoes (I use this section a lot, maybe because I like Ecco shoes and they do seem to have quite a lot deals on them); homewares with reductions and "seconds" from reputable china and glass manufacturers (Churchill, Waterford, Royal Dulton etc.); gift/seasonal shop; almost no children articles which I find very annoying as there is distinct lack of children's clothes stores in Dover generally. SUMMARY Overall, Dover has definitely grown on me and I would recommend it for a 1-2 day trip to visitors who are: (1) interested in historical sights - those should head straight to the castle + museum + Western Hights AND/OR (2) like spectacular coastal/clifftop walks (cliffs on both sides of the town). A day trip to the continent can be also incorporated (from 15 GBP per car+people; from 1 GBP per foot passanger).
Often passed through on the way to those cheap French hypermarkets Dover is the place you really should stay. You can do your day trip to Calais and bag all your cheap shopping but you should sightsee in Dover. The Castle perched high above the White Cliffs is a fantastic day out. There you can soak up the history and see the underground bunkers where WW2 activities were planned and monitored. Back in town you can visit the White Cliffs experience where you can travel from Roman times through WW2 and see life as it was in Dover. If you get one of those cheap ferry crossings from the newspapers you often get reduced price entry to the Dover attractions. The town is lively with shops pubs and restaraunts and well worth a few days visit
Given that disruption around channel ports looks set to be a new national sport for our continental cousins, using Dover as a gateway to other places is, in my view, risky. A better idea is simply to enjoy a day out at Dover as a place in its own right. The ferries are far more fun if you sit on the hills and watch them sailing out - much more restful than being on one. The cliffs are staggering, and you can very quickly walk out of the town and be up them in no time, with wonderful views of the sea, the cliffs and of France just over the way. The castle is a real boys-own affair, largely because it was built with genuine foreign invasion in mind and will amuse anyone who likes history big and OTT. It's easily interesting enough for an afternoon. The beach we saw was, well, not for paddling, but wascovered in beautiful pebbles, and I remember sitting on it and deciding to catch the very last train back to London just to enjoy the sunlight and watch the waves. Londoners should certainly have a day out here, and tourists staying for a while in the capital should definitely give the town a look as well as more obvious destinations like Canterbury and Windsor.
Dover is England's main gateway to the continent as well as a crucial point in it's defence against invasion. It lies at the mouth of the Dour and stretches up the valley which interrupts the line of the famous White Cliffs Of Dover, which is fortified by Dover Castle. The train-ferry service leaves Marine Station and goes to Ostend, Calais, and Dunkerque, and the jetfoil goes to Ostend. If you go onto Admiralty Pier, which houses the Marine Station and goes out to sea for 1'300 yards you will get some really good views of the harbours and dockland areas. They have a museum next to the Town Hall which contains local history, displays, and changing exhibitions. It is only a small place but very interesting if you like sea-ports and fine views, especially from The White Cliffs Of Dover then it is an ideal place