Monday, September 19, 2005

Dover Castle and the White Cliffs

We've been spending a bit too much time in London over summer so far, and so to make most of some amazing weather, we decided to look around some hiking/outdoor stores and buy a good quality hiking pack for our weekend trips to come, and some planned rambling (hiking) into the countryside. So with our new pack loaded up for a day trip, we headed east on a Southern train out of Victoria to the town of Dover, on the channel coast.

When we arrived we headed straight up to the Dover Castle, a stronghold on the hilltop overlooking the channel towards France, and the surrounding township and coastline. The site is very impressive, dating back as a strategic fortress to the iron age. We came across an impressive Roman lighthouse within the compound, used to light the coastline. Beneath the castle are ruins dating back to Roman times, and the main castle keep is the biggest in England and contains the original banquet rooms and King's bedrooms from when he visited to inspect the fortress during threats of invasion from over the channel.

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Outside the castle gate and draw-bridge

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Some of the tunnels and banquet rooms inside the castle

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The view across the channel from atop the castle keep

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The first century Roman lighthouse still part of the fortress; and Carly looking across to France

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Some of the gun emplacements of different ages protecting the coastline from the top of the high castle walls

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Carly and the gun emplacements and ammunition bunkers along the castle outer walls; and the outer moat of the castle

The castle seemed to have evolved as the more modern wars came along, and as part of the Second World War campaigns the allies constructed gun emplacements along the castle outer wars in case of a German invasion, and also beneath the surface tunnelled out a huge system of tunnels and secret war rooms used to coordinate major events such as the evacuation of allied troops from Dunkirk in 1940 early on in the war. As we read about this amazing feat, we learned that some 340,000 troops from the British expiditionary force were evacuated back to England using civilian and naval troops over a 10 day operation, organised from operations rooms within the secretive Dover cliffs complex.

We went on a tour of the open areas of the wartime tunnels, and saw the hospital area they had created to use in the event of a cross-channel invasion into Calais, and parts of the facility used as a communications centre to monitor what the Germans were doing out across the water. We were told about, but didn't see the Cold War bunkers established deep into the chalk cliffs to be used incase of any Russian attack on the UK, but these haven't been opened to the public.

The whole of the castle complex was amazing, and the best one we've seen so far. So many different parts with such a long history over the many different phases of historical England.

After spending hours at the castle, we headed north to test out my new backpack, and walked towards the famous white cliffs of Dover which stretch along the Kent coastline. The cliffs are listed by the National Trust and on a clear day like we were fortunate enough to experience, you can see the French coastline, all of the English Channel shipping heading north and south between us and the continent, and the constant flow of channel ferries moving cars, freight, and people backwards and forwards from the massive Dover port complex. As much as the Eurotunnel has taken business away from the traditional ferry mode of getting across, there seemed to still be a constant queue of cars and lorries waiting to get on a boat.

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A panoramic shot I arranged of the Dover Port facility

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Some of my shots of the White Cliffs

As we were walking along the cliff tops taking it all in, a Royal Navy Sea King Helicopter arrived to perform a practise cliff-side rescue right in front of us - brilliant!!

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The surprise helicopter visit

We continued on our hike northwards along the coast heading for the coastal town of Saint Margarets Bay (the closest English mainland to France), and home of the closest English mainland pub to France, where we stopped for a beer.

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Carly at the pub on the beach across form France; and picking wild blackberries along the hedge-lined trails

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Carly trekking across the ploughed fields outside of Saint Margarets at cliffe

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Carly and the view back to Dover as the sun dissapeared

With the sun going down we began our long walk south back to Dover, and as we got closer we began to walk a bit faster as the light began to fade fast - luckily there was enough light from the adjacent port complex, to light up the chalky white walking tracks as we made our way along the cliffs. After a very long wrong turn which by that stage could only make us laugh, we eventually made it back to town and had just enough time to get some fish and chips before we got onto a late train back into London, and work the next day with very sore legs! And after all that testing on the trail, we decided our new Berghaus backpack had worked a treat..

-shane

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