"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on March 3, 2017 by Sioux under General


A fabulous day out; and a wonderful tour of the castle, followed by a brief respite in the pub below the castle, where we read through the names of the many brave hearted folk who have swum the English channel. 


Hundreds of names are signed on all the walls inside the pub, leaving very little space for anything else. Interesting to see how many South Africans there were!


A walk through Dover en-route to the station finished the day off and we headed home. 

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The great fortress of Dover Castle has played a crucial role in the defence of the realm for over nine centuries, a span equalled only by the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. Looking over the shortest sea crossing between England and the continent, Dover Castle has a long and eventful history.


Many centuries before King Henry II began the great stone castle here in the 1180’s, the site above the famous white cliffs may well have been the site of an Iron Age hillfort. The Romans built a lighthouse – one of the best-preserved in Europe – after they invaded in AD 43, to guide ships into the harbour. The Anglo-Saxon church beside the lighthouse was once probably part of a Saxon fortified settlement.

At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels in the Dover cliffs near the castle housed more than

2,000 men and to date are the only underground barracks ever built in Britain. In 1939 the tunnels

were converted first into an air-raid shelter and then later into a military command centre and

underground hospital. In May 1940, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey directed the evacuation of French

and British soldiers from Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo, from his headquarters in the cliff

tunnels. A statue of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay was erected in 2000 outside the tunnels, in honour

of his work during the Dunkirk evacuation and protecting Dover during the Second World War.


There are over three miles of tunnels going deep down into the chalky cliffs, some still undiscovered as some are far too dangerous to walk down. Over the next few years the tunnels were greatly extended to serve as both a hospital and a large headquarters, responsible for guarding the Straits of Dover and involved in preparing for the 1944 invasion of Europe. Later, during the Cold War, the network of tunnels was transformed into the secret location of one of Britain’s Regional Seats of Government, with the role of organising life in the event of a nuclear attack. Full information about these tunnels is not due to be released until 2020-2025. 

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Edward IV renovated Dover Castle to serve as an occasional royal                                                                                                                   residence, with new windows and fireplaces. There is no proof that Edward ever actually stayed at the castle, but other royals certainly did. In 1520 Emperor Charles V stayed in the castle, and Henry VIII stopped here on his way to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I visited, but by the time Henrietta Maria of France stayed on her way to marry Charles I, it was described as ‘an old building in the antique manner’. George de Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, embarked on a lavish renovation of the Great Tower, but much of his rebuilding has been lost to time.  

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Immediately after his victory at Hastings in 1066, William the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Conqueror strengthened the defences with an earthwork and                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   timber-stockaded castle. From then on Dover Castle was garrisoned uninterruptedly until 1958. In the 1180’s Henry II remodelled the castle, as a palace in which to entertain as well as a last redoubt for a strategically important castle. The castle is 25.3m high, just under 30m square and has walls up to 6.5m thick. From 1740 onwards the castle was adapted for artillery warfare. Late in the 18th century, when England faced the threat of invasion from Napoleonic France, more additions were made to the castle’s defences, and a network of tunnels was dug in from the cliff face for barracks to house the huge numbers of troops needed to man the defences. Restored in the late 19th century, it is the largest and finest Saxon building in Kent.

Inside the massive kitchens of the castle. 

The King’s Great Chamber. 

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The stairwells in castles were very carefully designed and often curved very narrowly in a clockwise direction. This meant any attackers coming up the stairs had their sword hands (generally their right hand) against the interior curve of the wall which made it very difficult for them to swing their swords. Defenders had their sword hands on the outside wall, which meant they had more room to swing. Another ingenious part of the design was that the stairs were designed with very uneven steps. Some were high and others were low. The castle inhabitants were familiar with the uneven pattern of the stair heights could move quickly up and down the stairs but attackers, in a dimly lit stairwell, would easily trip and fall and thereby getting bogged down in the stairwells, slowing them down significantly. 

1 Hospital beds

We did a tour of the hospital tunnels and followed the journey of “a wounded WWII pilot, fighting for his life as he is rushed through to the operating theatre.” 


Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos, (these are courtesy of Google images) but it was extremely interesting as there were speakers in the tunnels with ‘real life’ sounds, making the tour that much more fascinating. 

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The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment Museum is located in the castle. 

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Some walls are 5m thick!

Some of the passage ways are very narrow

View of St Mary de Castro and the Roman lighthouse from The Great Tower of Dover Castle


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2 responses to “Day tripping #4 – Dover Castle”

  1. Chez says:

    Very interesting thank you for sharing this info with us. I wish i was one of those South Africans who were lucky enough to carve their names on such history!

  2. Ursula Evans says:

    very interesting

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