Dover, England is only a 20 minute drive from my house, which is very convenient for all this summer exploring I have been doing. Along with Roman ruins, and the White Cliffs, I have the opportunity to visit one of England’s most iconic castles anytime I please. Dover Castle has guarded the Strait of Dover (the narrowest point from England to continental Europe) for around 6,000 years. Some of the most famous names in history have walked the halls of this medieval castle, from William the Conqueror to King Henry II. (The latter of whom I had a pleasure of meeting during my visit.) Dover Castle is just one part of the history that has played through time on Dover’s hilltop. You can still visit the ruins of a lighthouse built by the Romans in the second century AD, a beautiful Saxon church from 1000 AD, and the secret wartime tunnels from World War II where some of Britain’s most famous war strategies were played out. Due to the sheer magnitude of history at Dover Castle, I have decided to make this a three part series. (You can read the second here, and last here.)
When we arrived at Dover Castle via bus, we hurriedly made our way to the Great Tower, the main part of the castle where the King’s entertained their guests and slept. Dover castle has recently went through a major renovation to make the rooms appear how they might have looked in the 1100’s. Bright tapestries adorn the walls, royal red and blues and golds throughout. It really adds a bit of magic as you pass through the rooms, almost like you are visiting a working royal castle. Unfortunately, the lighting wasn’t camera friendly and I wasn’t able to snap the best pictures, but they should still give you an idea on the detail that has went into it.
The kitchen area was my favorite. They had realistic dead animals hanging from the wood beams in the ceiling, buckets of animal guts that were used for stews and large barrels of Ale fermenting away. It really gave you a great idea of what they ate at the time, and what types of food they had access to. During a Q and A with the kitchen woman, she asked all the children what vegetables they supposed the people of the castle ate. (To clarify, there were people dressed in character all over the castle, and they did a very impressive job.) All the kids give their answers and then mine spits out potato. (She actually meant tomato, because she calls them potatoes, but either way she would have been wrong.) The woman looked at her, as serious as can be, and told her she had never heard of this potato and they surely did not eat any of those. My kid was hurt after she got shut down and I had to explain later that since potatoes were not introduced into England until the 16th century, the people of the castle would have no idea what she was talking about. I appreciated the woman staying in character, even to break a four year old’s heart.
Dover Castle is fun for any age, but they had a lot going on for the small visitors. My kid joined the army as a swordsman and learned how to trade money for goods, what types of things she would need on her journey (bacon and beer), and how to align herself for battle with her foam sword. I think my kid was still a little young for this adventure, for when the King told them to say goodbye to their parents because they would probably die in battle and never see them again, she had a look of real panic on her face… They really do a fantastic job teaching the history of the castle, and making it as interactive as possible. The only negative for me is that some of it came off as a little touristy, but I may be overtly sensitive to this type of feeling.
I had a wonderful conversation with King Henry II as he sat on his throne in the throne room. We went up and gave him a curtsy and chatted awhile about his missing wife. She had been getting his sons all worked up again to take over his crown so she was down in the dungeon to learn her lesson for awhile. I told him I understood and he told me to curtsy all the way to the ground next time so he wouldn’t have to kill me. We felt like old friends.
The details throughout Dover Castle are incredible, and you can see everything from a royal toilet chamber to a chess set copied from an original at the British Museum. I enjoyed seeing the original features best of all. Gorgeous wood beams, fireplaces used hundreds of years ago, and the beautiful chapel dedicated to Thomas Beckett who King Henry II had killed. Prices are steep, so definitely grab your English Heritage membership first. (Admission is £17.00 for adults, and £10.20 for kids.) Kids always go free with your membership, and you really make the annual fee back in no time.