The Key to England

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, January 30, 2011

My journey to Dover would be my first trip on an English train, branded as the National Rail, but it didn't start off as easy as I’d hoped. I checked online to see which of the many train stations that serve London would take me to Dover which would be on Southeastern Rail leaving from St. Pancras.  Early Sunday morning I headed to St. Pancras and purchased my ticket at a kiosk.  However, the ticket doesn’t say which platform the train is leaving from.  I checked the timetable board on the wall and headed over to the platform.  When I got to the platform I checked with some of the attendants if I was at the right platform.  Basically, I was at the wrong station, I should have been at London Victoria station according to my ticket.  The gentlemen at the station at the platform talked amongst themselves about what I should do then they all suddenly arrived at the same conclusion at once: I should upgrade! They led me to another kiosk where I could upgrade for a mere 1.50.  I didn’t know what I was upgrading to until I boarded the train, and then it all made sense.  I had upgraded to the high-speed rail, the same rail line that the Eurostar uses to go to France.  It wasn’t long before I was off to Dover at 140 mph.  It only takes about an hour to travel to Dover, and the high speed rail has shortened the journey from about two hours (perhaps the equivalent of driving from Greenville to Columbia, SC in just an hour instead of two).

Dover is a small seaside town in the county of Kent, southeast from London.  Dover is about 30 miles from the coast of France, one of the closest parts of England to France.  The main reason I went to Dover was to see the famous white cliffs of Dover.  The cliffs reach heights of 350 feet and have been featured in many films and music videos over the years.  Atop the cliffs is another one of Dover’s famous sights, the Dover Castle.  Initially the site housed a Roman lighthouse and today that lighthouse still stands.  By the 12th century, a castle had appeared on the site, and over the centuries additions and changes were made to the area.  Today, the castle is very well preserved and contains historical elements for all the different uses the castle had.  The castle is known as the Key to England due to its continuous defensive position to protect England at its closest position to mainland Europe.  The tour guide informed me that the castle may have escaped unscathed from WWII due to rumors that Hitler favored the castle and wanted it as his own.

I first walked up to the Admiralty Look-Out, installed during the First World War which functioned as a command post.  Here I was able to get great views of Dover and the cliffs.  I continued my tour by exploring Henry II’s Great Tower, the main part of the castle.  The inside of the tower has been restored to what it would have looked like in the 1100’s.  There were two spiral stone staircases that run up both ends of the castle with huge rooms between them.  By climbing to the top of the tower, you can have spectacular views of Dover and the neighboring region 360 degrees around.

I had booked a tour of the Secret Wartime Tunnels (which they were so secret that photography was not allowed), but before I made my way there, I stopped by the Roman Pharos (lighthouse) and the Church of St. Mary-in-Castro.  The church had some Roman artifacts recovered from the sight inside.  I met up with the tour group to tour the underground tunnels.  During the 18th century, the underground tunnels were built to serve as barracks during the Napoleonic Wars.  Afterwards, they were largely abandoned until the Second World War when they served as excellent shelters against air raids.  As part of the tour, we were taken through the story of a WWII mosquito pilot.  Some of the tunnels functioned as a hospital, and, during WWII, when planes would crash out at sea, aid boats or volunteers would rescue soldiers in the Channel and bring them back to the underground hospital.  Because much of the Dover Castle was used during WWII, and due to its proximity to France, the city of Dover and the castle were shelled upon numerous times.  However, many of the bullets fired at Dover from the French coastline were too long range and overshot Dover and landed north in Ramsgate.  Inside the tunnels they had everything set up as it was in the 1940’s.  The medical tools and tables, the waiting rooms, and the operating rooms were preserved exactly as they were, all of which were cramped in a series of semicircular hallways.  The tour guide explained that the metal plates along the outer edges of the tunnels were supplied by the British; however, the steel beams supporting them were supplied by good ole Americans.

After exiting the Secret Wartime Tunnels, I made my way over to the medieval tunnels which were created in the 13th century after several French sieges in order to allow troops to sneak around unnoticed.  These tunnels were quite extensive, cramped, and dark.  Lastly, I returned to the Admiralty Look-Out to visit the interior portion of the structure that was full of weapons and navigation equipment used during WWI. 

As the sunset over Dover and the castle, I walked back down the hill to town and along the beach on my way back to the Dover station.  The beachfront area looked like it had been recently redesigned and updated, including the seagull shaped lamps along the coastline and new restaurants and stores.  Overall, the town of Dover is small and charming, and the Dover Castle is definitely worth a visit as there is so much interesting history and scenery to enjoy there.

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Marty on

It is fabulous to see someone write about the general area I live in such an interesting light!. Only £1.50 to upgrade your train journey!. I'd have been advising you to go to Victoria station too. Glad you got a good journey to Dover. I learned something here about WWII in that shots missed Dover and hit Ramsgate. What an engaging blog! Thank you.

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