Port of Dover by Remi Jouan © Wikipedia Commons

Dover Castle Dover
English Heritage
Kent CT16 1HU
 
    
Visitors coming to England via the international ferry port of Dover cannot fail to be impressed by the large medieval castle atop the White Cliffs. English Heritage has done a superb job of presenting this historic medieval castle to the public in an interesting way.
 
Dover Castle has been described as the ‘Key to England’ due to its defensive significance throughout history. This quintessential castle is the ideal place for children to absorb historic events in a fun and colourful way.
 
Inside the Great Tower visitors enter the 12th century world of King Henry II and discover what life was like in the turbulent medieval period when Dover Castle came under siege by the French. Sounds, smells and costumed characters all add to the atmosphere.
 
Encompassed within the castle walls are a Roman lighthouse, a Saxon church, medieval underground tunnels and the famous WWII Secret Tunnels originally created in the 18th century to defend against Napoleonic invasion.
 
Roman Lighthouse
At the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD, the River Dour exited its valley through the gap in the White Cliffs at Dover. The Romans built lighthouses on the heights. The one on the Eastern Heights still stands in the grounds of the castle adjacent to the Saxon church of St Mary de Castro. It is close to its original height of 80 feet (24 meters) and was used as a bell tower for the church around 1247.
 
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St Mary de Castro Church
The church was built in 1000AD of stone, flint and red Roman tiles probably filched from the Roman Lighthouse next door. The church is cruciform with an aise-les nave and central tower. The door arch is the earliest to survive in any standing church in England. The Early English vault and the altar recess in the nave's south-east were probably both added to the existing church at the end of the 12th century.
 
A fifth storey was added to the Roman lighthouse to make a bell tower. The church was neglected following the Reformation and variously used as a cooperage and coal store but in the 19th century it was restored and is now a thriving church serving the Army and local people, and is the Dover Garrison Church.
 
Royal Regiment Museum
Exhibits trace the regiment's history, and include displays of photographs, paintings, weapons, badges, medals, uniforms and regimental regalia.
 
History
There may well have been a Saxon motte and bailey castle on the site where St Mary de Castro church now stands but when William the Conqueror arrived in Dover following this victory at the 1066 Battle of Hastings, he set fire to the Saxon castle.
 
After this show of strength, William spent a great deal of time rebuilding the fortress only he built in clay and the building collapsed. Most of the the castle we see today was built in the 12th century during the reign of King Henry II. The Great Keep was one of the last rectangular keeps ever built.
 
In 1216 the castle almost fell to the French but the defenders held out. During the siege, the English defenders tunnelled outwards and attacked the French, thus creating the only counter tunnel in the world. This can still be seen in the medieval works. A walk along the outer curtain wall gives visitors an idea of what defending a castle in medieval times was all about.
 
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Dover town sided with Parliament while the castle garrison supported the king. That August a small party of townsfolk scaled the cliffs, surprised the garrison and captured the castle with hardly a shot being fired. Because of this Dover escaped retribution leaving the fortifications to be used at a later date.
 
Napoleon
The next threat to England’s security was from possible Napoleonic invasion. Massive remodelling of the castle’s outer defences was undertaken providing extra gun power.
 
In the early 1800s a complex of barracks tunnels were dug 15 metres below the cliff top and the first troops were accommodated in 1803. At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels housed more than 2000 men and to date are the only underground barracks ever built in Britain.
 
World War 2
The tunnels were abandoned until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. They were first converted to an air-raid shelter than later into a military command centre and underground hospital.
 
In May 1940 Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay directed the Dunkirk evacuation of French and British troops from his underground HQ in the tunnels.
 
Winston Churchill was a regular visitor to Dover and stood on the esplanade built into the cliff face watching the desperate battles being fought and visitors can stand in the same spot. Troops stationed in Dover Castle were so close to the action that the castle got the nickname of ‘Hellfire Corner’.
 
A military telephone exchange was installed in 1941 and served the underground headquarters. The switchboards were constantly in use and a new tunnel had to be created alongside the exchange to house the batteries and chargers necessary to keep the switchboards functioning. The navy used the exchange to enable direct communication with vessels, as well as using it to direct air-sea rescue craft to pick up pilots shot down in the Straits of Dover.
 
Plan Your Visit
Accommodation - Search & Book through Hotels.com here:     External Link
 
Visit the Tunnels
Three levels of tunnels are open to the public and the Headquarters, Coastal Artillery Operations Room and telephone exchange have been recreated in the tunnels. It is easy to imagine how surreal life must have been deep within the cliffs, sheltered from the hell of war outside. The telephonists’ vital work was the difference between life and death for many young men.
 
Dover Castle is a fabulous day out for all the family. Allow at least 4 hours for a visit.
 
Opening Times & Costs
English Heritage Members free.
Go to the official English Heritage website for current information Web:  Dover Castle/Latest Prices & Opening Times    External Link
 
Disabled Access
Some steep slopes with tarmac paths. English Heritage has detailed information Web: Dover Castle/ Disabled Access Information    External Link
 
Facilities
Toilets; Shop; Refreshments available at Keep Coffee Shop, NAAFI restaurant and Secret Wartime Tunnels. Full details are at Web:  Dover Castle/ Facilities    External Link
 
Guided Tours & Special Events
Many Special Events are held throughout the year - For an 'ever changing list' go to Web:  Dover Castle/ Events     External Link
 
Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0)1304 211 067
Website   English Heritage/ Dover Castle    External Link
 
Getting There

- By Car:     Follow the signs from central Dover

- Parking:   Within castle, 109 yards (100 metres) from the Keep. Disabled visitors may use Palace Green car park next to the keep to avoid steep path from Constable's Tower and cobbled drawbridge.
 
- By Bus: Stagecoach in East Kent, 15/X, Kent Passenger Services 593 fromDover (pass close Dover Priory railway station). For timetables & fares go to Web: Stagecoach Bus     External Link
 
- By Rail:    Dover Priory Station is a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) walk from the castle. For rail timetables, ticket availability and bookings go to Web:  National Rail Enquiries    External Link
 
Google Maps - Dover Castle