Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The White Cliffs of Dover

363 miles. 6 hours and 24 minutes of driving.

That was the plan.

Actually, it was the back-up plan.

The original plan was to fly from Long Beach, California to Boston Massachusetts on the red eye, then spend the night in Boston. After a good night’s sleep, get a late check-out and head to Logan Airport for the flight to Heathrow Airport in London.

By breaking up the long flight into two days, I thought we would be able to land in London and maybe head over to Stonehenge before checking into the hotel.

Unfortunately, a little miscalculation had us on two red eye flights with about a 10-hour layover in Boston. Since hotel check-in is usually about 4 pm, we didn’t have any chance to get some much-needed sleep.

By the time we landed in London, picked up the rental car and drove to Oxford, we were beat.
We had tickets for an Oxford River Cruise on Thursday, a Friday appointment for a tour of Buckingham Palace and the London Tower tour.

Since we were moving to a hotel in the Midlands on Sunday, that left only Saturday for two of the locations on my bucket list, Stonehenge and Dover Castle.

We got up early, had a good breakfast and headed to Stonehenge.

After touring Stonehenge, we jumped in the car just before lunchtime and made the mad dash to Dover.

About three hours later, we arrived at the port of Dover.

As we drove past the port, Dover Castle dominates the view. It is, to say the least, impressive. I do have to admit, it is the first proper castle I have ever seen in person.

The closest would have to be the Old Port at Dubrovnik, Croatia or the Old Town of Rhodes, which are fortifications, but I don’t think that they count as “castles.”
The City of Dubrovnik, Croatia

 We parked in the free parking area (after the ticket in Oxford, I like free parking {see my entry “Sorry You Got the Wrong Numbers” to understand more).

It was a short walk downhill to the visitor’s center. We had our English Heritage 9-day pass, so we just checked in, grabbed a map and were on our way.

We headed downhill to the entry for the tunnel system under the castle. We joined the group waiting for the tour of the tunnels used by the British Navy during World War II.

It was from the command center deep under the castle that the British orchestrated the evacuation of Dunkirk and later in the war, was the headquarters of the fictitious 1st US Army Group (FUSAG), supposedly commanded by General George Patton.

That ruse convinced the Germans that the invasion to liberate France would take place in the North and cleared the way for the D-Day landing in Normandy.

We took the tour for Operation Dynamo, the rescue of some 338,000 Soldiers from almost certain capture by the Germans at Dunkirk.

From the official description of the tour:

“Spitfires screech overhead and the boom, boom of anti-aircraft guns resonate while you feel the danger and desperation in the cramped tunnels. Vivid sets and original film give a graphic account of the horror of the French beaches under fierce enemy fire. It was here that Ramsay plotted and planned his brilliant operation, issuing the orders and making the decisions that saved so many lives.
The tour continues through some of the original rooms of the adjacent Army HQ. Dressed as they were throughout Second World War, they include the Gun Operations Room, Telephone Exchange, Repeater Station (communications room) and Coast Artillery Operations Room.”

Being an old Army vet and a history nerd, I found the tour to be very interesting.

Then came the tough part. We had been walking downhill, from the parking lot to the visitor’s center, to the tunnel entrance, and even lower thru the tunnels. Now we had to walk back up.

Officers New Barracks about 1/2 way back up to the parking lot

Oh yeah, and the Castle is above the parking lot.

So we started slowly back up, and up, and up. Finally making it to the gate of the castle.

Passing into the keep thru the Palace Gate, I found myself alone in the inner courtyard. As I walked around the keep, I tried to imagine what the courtyard would have been like during the reign of Henry II.

But instead of the sounds of a bustling royal court, there is nothing but the flags on the keep, snapping in the harsh winds.

I decided to go ahead and make the climb to the top of the keep. Inside the corner tower, there is a long stone spiral staircase that leads to the roof.

Not being in my prime physical condition, it was a bit of a climb. Twenty years ago, I would have probably run up the stairs, but today, it was a calm paced walk.

On top the views were spectacular, even if the wind did threaten to blow me off the building.
I only had time for a quick walk thru the great hall and kitchen areas before the castle closed for the day.
The Roman Pharos and Church of St Mary-in-Castro taken from the top of the keep

Here is a 360 degree video of my visit.

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