Newest Review: ... The castle has been under attack many times but not been defeated. The most famous attack on the castle was by French forces in 1216-17, b... more
The King of all Castles!
Dover Castle (Dover)
Member Name: cha97mw
Dover Castle (Dover)
Advantages: artefacts and special events make this a special place to visit that the kids will remember
Disadvantages: a lot of walking to get round, all on different levels, hard to cover all the site in one day.
===Getting to the Castle:===
The castle is located at Castle Hill, Dover, Kent - CT16 1HU. It is fully visible from most places in the town of Dover as it is high on the hill above the town. We drove here from the nearby town we were staying at, and it was well sign posted with brown tourist information signs, and there was plenty of parking available. We arrived close to 10am, and I would recommend that the site was particularly busy when we were there on a nice August day, so it is worth getting there earlier in the day. There are 4 car parks, with disabled parking being at the top of the hill near the Great Tower.
There is a train station in Dover about a mile and a half away. You can also get to the site using the 15/X stagecoach bus service, or you can cycle there.
Because it is a large site, there were lots of members of staff at the ticket booth near the car park. There was a man outside directing people to join queues for membership or non-membership entry to the site. There were then 3 cashiers letting people in. The castle is open at different times throughout the year. In August for the school holidays it is open from 9:30am to 6pm. It is worth checking the English Heritage web site for times before visiting.
The castle is free to enter if you are an English Heritage member. This is worth doing as it is £47 for an individual adult membership, or £82 for a couple's membership which admits up to 6 children free. The price to visit this property is: adult - £16.50, child (5-15) - £9.50, concessions - £14.90, and a family entrance of 2 adults and up to 3 children at £42.90.
===History of the Castle:===
There is evidence on the site of buildings from 200AD. This is in the form of a Roman lighthouse. The main castle as it stands today was built by Henry II in the 1180s. There is a fantastic range of history covered, which is mainly medieval, but also covers more recent history from world war two, and a bit from the time of William the Conqueror.
The site is located near the Straits of Dover which is an important defensive site as it is the narrowest part of the English Channel, and therefore vulnerable to attack. The castle has been under attack many times but not been defeated. The most famous attack on the castle was by French forces in 1216-17, but it was also very important in commanding forces during world war II.
The castle defences were continuing to be improved under the reigns of King John and Henry III until around the middle of the 13th century, to strenthen defences after a collapse of the wall to the North of the site.
===Our Visit to the Site:===
We visited the site on a beautiful sunny Monday in August in the school holidays. There was a special Medieval event happening on the day we went aimed at bringing history to life for children. We set off with our map and were directed to go first to the War time underground tunnels as these get really busy later in the day.
We went to look at the Operation Dynamo exhibition which explains how these tunnels were a base for Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay who organised the evacuation of Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. There are about 4 miles of tunnels under the castle which were secret at this point, built for the Napoleonic war as a barracks for soldiers, it was a bomb proof safe place for people to work from in WWII.
The tunnels were a lot cooler than outside, and it was quite dark down there. Some of the displays involved projections of film onto walls of the tunnel. We ended up at the back of the queue for some of this and the view was not great from there. You were missing bits of it, as it was quite a short gap between film clips, and you had to walk from one area to the next. These tunnels were also quite uneven in places, so it was a bit scary for my children and a bit dull. I found it really interesting, but I know most about this period of history from my schooling.
We then decided to go and explore the Great Tower. The site of the castle covers 4 hectares, and it was a day that involved a lot of walking round. English Heritage provide a land train that runs all day between the different levels of the site. We took the train up the hill to the Keep.
The Great Tower was restored a few years ago to be in the style it would be if Henry II were in residence. This means that when you walk into the Great Tower you get a great sense of what it would have been like. Although he would not have lived here, and only visited from time to time, the castle has rooms set up as his drawing room, his bedroom, his dressing room, a chapel, and the kitchens. On every wall there were banners, and authentic looking furniture. You can tell this has been a labour of love for many people, as the detail was amazing. From replica crowns, to swords and shields, to chainmail, to a kitchen which had bread rolls proving before going into the oven, and wild boar cooked on serving platters waiting to be served, and the roaring real log fire with a chess set assembled as though a game was in play. The Great Tower was definitely what made the experience so amazing as you could really imagine what was going on.
Getting round the Keep required some physical stamina as there are a lot of stone staircases and spiral staircases. I found by the end of the day that my knee was very sore from all the walking we did. My pedometer said over 13000 steps on this day out.
On the day we visited, there were 4 actors who were doing a Medieval Quest with the children. This involved the children learning to be a knight. There was a knight to teach them how to hunt and use swords, a Princess who taught them obedience and chivalry, and then finally the children were presented to the King who was sitting on his throne, before knighting all the children who had taken part. This was a brilliant activity, and every week in August there is a different activity from other periods in history. We could have also gone and done a Spy Quest, but I believe the Medieval activity was more suited to the site and I am so glad we could take part in it.
After the Great Tower we had a lovely picnic in the grounds. There were lots of families doing the same. While there were some picnic benches, these were meant for refreshments served in the NAAFI restaurant or the cafe near the Great Tower, but we sat just outside the Keep defensive walls with a great view over the rest of the site.
From here, we completed a circular walk around the site. The children were given an orienteering sheet. As we went round the site there were 6 orienteering points we could find by solving clues. There was a prize for all who managed to complete the activity.
We didn't go into the the 18th Century buildings around the Great Tower very much apart from the shop, but there is a museum in the Great Hall that shows the history of the building of the site.
These buildings were made when the towers around the defensive wall around the Keep had a 4th side added to them to make them into functional rooms.
We really enjoyed walking round the site and finding the tunnels that date from medieval times. These were tunnels you could enter and explore yourself rather than a guided tour like the wartime tunnels. The boys enjoyed it immensely walking round in the semi dark particularly when we found some cannons in the North corner of the wall. These tunnels were quite wide which just shows the thickness of the castle walls.
Another area we were interested in visiting on the site was the Roman lighthouse and the Church of St Mary in Castro. The church's origin is not entirely known, but it has been there since at least Saxon times, and the contrast between those buildings and the slightly more modern castle is very clear. The lighthouse is a bit run down, but you can go inside and look at how tall it is. You can also go into the Church.
===What did we miss?===
Unfortunately, the site is so huge that we didn't manage to visit everything you can see. We had to miss out going inside the church, and the hospital near the wartime tunnels. We also didn't really see the more gothic barracks buildings. I would also have loved to do the walk round the perimeter of the site as the views we saw were amazing from the top of the Great Tower.
If we hadn't done the knight training or the orienteering we might have planned our visit to the site a little differently to not double back on ourselves as much, but when you visit this sort of place with children you need to adapt what you are doing to suit them.
===Would I go back?===
I would absolutely love to go back again, as would my children. It is quite an expensive day out if you are not an English Heritage member, but there are so many things to do on this site that you can easily fill a whole day there. I think I would time my visit to take advantage of the things that they organise for children in the school holidays, as the actors who were running the Medieval Quest were absolutely brilliant and really made our visit special for us. My sons are still talking about it and showing me the correct defensive poses for holding your sword.
The only thing I would recommend is to try and plan your visit a bit before you go, as we were on the go all day, and it was only when we got home later and started comparing what we had seen to the information in the Visitors guide we purchased that we felt we truly understood what we had seen.
It is a fabulous place to go, and we heartily recommend going.
Summary: A popular tourist destination for all nationalities, and it really is the key to England.
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