Whether you were a soldier returning from the embattled beaches of Dunkirk or an illegal immigrant sucking in your last breath in a box of tomatoes, the White Cliffs of Dover have for centuries symbolised sanctuary for those coming to the shores of the UK. But while Dame Vera Lynn sang of bluebirds over these massive chalk edifices it is in fact Dover Castle that stands tallest and proudest atop the cliffs, and as a great UK attraction really should be the first stop for many coming to the UK via this historical port before heading to the Home Office building in Croydon seeking 'asylum'.
It was the Romans who first realised the strategic value of the cliffs and two lighthouse built by the progressive Italians can still be found on the site today along with evidence of encampment. The first castle proper at Dover was probably Anglo-Saxon and the site was further fortified by William the Conqueror who built an earthwork castle with the Norman motte (mound) which supported the castle known today as Castle Hill.
King Henry II initiated the most important work on Dover Castle the latter part of the 12th century with the construction of the Keep (or Great Tower) - the largest in the UK. At four storeys high, the Keep consists of a basement, first floor, and a second floor that spans two storeys and the upper level Great Armour Hall. The second storey provided the royal accommodation and all floors were connected by staircases set in the north and south corner turrets.
Later during the Civil War (1642 – 1651) Dover Castle was attacked and held by Cromwell's forces for a number of years, unusually without suffering the widespread disrepair and destruction that was commonplace throughout this period.
Deep inside the famous White Cliffs, and under Dover Castle, is a vast network of underground tunnels, first constructed in the Middle Ages. During the Napoleonic Wars, these tunnels were greatly extended to provide barracks for over 2,000 soldiers sent to Dover Castle to prepare for a possible invasion by the French. This tunnel complex also played an important role in the Second World War, and was used as the headquarters for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940; as an air-raid early warning station; and also as a command post to direct artillery fire across the Channel.
Today Dover Castle is a popular and very fairly priced UK attraction that draws thousands of visitors every year who are enthralled by the sheer scale of the site and tunnel complex. There are also impressive battle re-enactments, fun and educational activities for the kids, a host of cafes and shops, plus plenty of historical exhibitions and events such as musical concerts. On a clear day you can also see northern France and be glad you are not there.
Admission: Adults £8.95; Children £4.50
Getting to Dover Castle:
By train from Charing Cross, London Bridge and Waterloo East
By car via the M2/A2 from London. Postcode CT17 0UY
By sea as part of a Roman or Norman invasion force or in the back of a lorry on a ferry