Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Exeat: Dover Castle

king henry 2nds great tower food halls dover castleHalf term is always a traumatic event for children and adults alike for it exposes the differences between them. We want to watch the Lego movie and go to the beach and get all the attention while they want to drink beer and do shopping and not have to think about kids.
So a clear compromise was to drive 50 million miles to investigate a new and unexplored edifice.
Dover Castle is on the English Heritage list so we get in free, a reasonable payback for the 50 quid a year we pay them. He woke me up and everything was ready for me. I was just going up to do my teeth when Jof awoke to say goodbye and we left the house at 0730.
inner bailey and arthur's hall Using only 1 British road map and my limited IQ, I determined that the direct route from us to Dover was totally pants. Not only do you have to negotiate the 37 roundabouts of the Chichester relief road, but once you're past Brighton the best route comprises rural single-track roads strong on swans and tractors but weak on actually getting there. I chose a motorway-only route which is a bit 3-sides-of-a-square but far more efficient.
stone passages and stairs in great tower dover castleIt is only fair that on the way to see Britain's biggest castle, we should experience Britain's biggest car park. The M25 (London orbital ring road) is challenging at the best of times even though it has 4 lanes. The sky opted to give us rain ALL day, varying from that meagre drizzle that encourages you to take your hat off then wets the insides of your ears, to big blattery rain that makes the automatic windscreen wipers go nuts.
Once we'd parked on the M25 for the prescribed time, we stopped off at Clacket Lane services (could they not have thought of a better name?) and I bought a Lego Star Wars book with added MiniFigure that I instantly lost down the side of the car seat.
In Kent we saw the hillocks reminiscent of gravitationally unsullied mammaries and chaps with dark skin and Manchester United shirts walking up the central reservation of the motorway because they'd arrived in the country without passports or tickets.
dover castle bailey and great tower60 miles later, we arrived in a sodden Dover in the kind of driving rain that only a coastal settlement knows. We were only 20 minutes late (they open at 10).
Goodness me. Once we'd been awarded the official bracelets, we explored. Dover Castle has been a thing since the Bronze age. Originally a hill-top fort, the Romans came along 2000 years ago and added a lighthouse, which is still there. The Saxons came along after the Romans had got bored and gone home, and they added a decent sized church , which is still there. Henry the 2nd thought he liked the look of the place so added a rodding great tower at the cost of 6,000 pounds of silver, a mere 6 years GDP, also still there.
medieval siege tunnels under dover castleAnd gradually each Despot, King, Emperor, Dictator, Modern Major-General and Defence Committee added to, and strengthened the complex so that none of the old was lost, but new was added over it, with technology aforethought and the kind of vertiginous walls that only a million man-hours can achieve. The castle is now vast. Every tumulus, mound, suspicious grassy knoll, vast earthwork, granite fortification and medieval tower has a name, a turret of some sort, and a network of older tunnels beneath.
Then Napoleon tickled our military leaders and they dug tunnels beneath. Then Hitler showed up and we dug tunnels above. Then the Cold war started so we dug tunnels below the tunnels, qualified as nuclear bunkers.
The warren stretches for 3.8 miles beneath the chalk outcrop and I bet they've lost track of some of it.
First we did the Lighthouse. It dripped on me. The Saxon church was closed. The Main tower was enormous and I stirred the cauldron and fondled the Royal Mint and looked down the well and sat on the throne and went on the roof and chortled at the little people below.
dover castle outer walls looking towards commercial port of doverThe medieval tunnels were dank and slippery and dark and just the sort of thing I love. Eventually we emerged as if by accident and found the Wartime hospital.
We queued up and fought our little nipple and nose-pinching fights to the amusement of nearby children: the Guide laughed at us and said he used to do that but his kid is now a 21 year-old rugby player: I have much to look forward to. I slipped over twice on the muddy slopes, how am I supposed to know? Yesterday (Bank Holiday Monday) the queues were an hour and a half to get in the tunnels, now I know why we were allowed a day off yesterday. The man said we couldn't take pictures in the tunnels due to copyright so we only got 1, then you get to climb 50 feet back to the surface up yet another spiral staircase.
The Secret Wartime Tunnels are deeper and we watched films about the evacuation of Dunkirk and saw many German planes bombing our brave ships etc. Then our guide got lost so we investigated some side passages and took lots of pictures (Forbidden)(Verboten)(Interdit).
tunnels dug into chalk cliffs under dover castleFrom then I just had to buy something because we'd only spent 50p on the squashed penny with Dover Castle Logo so found the gift shop and I got a medallion and a large wooden sword. Problem is, all us Puddler kids have had a huge collection of plastic swords, battleaxes, bows, pikes, daggers and rifles since we can remember. But however many are quietly disposed of by sneaky parents (because when they get drunk, we run riot and try to chop each other in the neck), we always restock when they're not looking.
This wooden sword is better, distinctly so. I could chop anyone with it. So of course we went up on the highest battlements and I brandished the Sword Of Diamond Power at the world in general and challenged them all to a duel and whaddya know, nobody killed me.
tyme again wooden toy sword from gift shop at dover castle saxon church and pharos roman lighthouseDover Castle is the kind of place that says come and have a go if you think you're hard enough, and nobody is, because every time you arduously climb one mound, there's a series of 12th century towers, another curtain wall with casemates, and another after that, etc, etc. In fact the only chap to seriously challenge it (Hitler) deliberately ordered his bombers to avoid it because he wanted it for himself when the inevitable invasion succeeded. I suppose you could trebuchet 17 plague-ridden bovine corpses in, or attack with a Harrier Jet.
So what do you think you are doing, Mister Hitler.....
On the way back we stopped off again for leg-stretching, **thinks** if I had become lost at the service station, what would security have radioed out? "Male aged 8, muddy trousers, HMS Daring polo shirt, French Nuclear Submarine hat, indifferent teeth...."
So we had several hours in the car for our legs to seize up, and 5 hours climbing up and down the castle. No wonder my legs don't know whether they're coming or going. When we got back, Jof wanted to know how my day went so I got her on the sofa and told her joyously all about the Lego Star Wars book. I got leg-aching syndrome and crashed out 10-ish.

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