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There's So Much More to Dover Than Cliffs

Hidden tunnels.

Steep cliffs. 

A rambling castle. 

Such a place sounds like the beginning of a fantasy novel, doesn't it?

And you thought that Dover, England was just a bunch of cliffs. 

If you're willing to battle the winds and the cold (as we did on an unfortunate June day on our England 2012 trip), you'll be rewarded with a new perspective on the English efforts in World War II...and on those famous cliffs of Dover. 

France is out there...somewhere.

Dover Castle if, of course, home to a castle (which we'll get back to later). It's also home to a mess of rambling tunnels that are cut into the cliffside and were used during World War II. The British armed forces used these tunnels to protect their gear and personnel from German air raids. 

Dover is the closest point to France (which was occupied by the Germans for quite some time during the war), so the town was a natural post for Allied intelligence and recon. 

Upon our arrival to the Dover Castle area, the World War II tunnels were calling our names. I was a little worried when I saw the entrance, as I am crazy claustrophobic, but I ended up worrying for nothing. The tunnels were all really large and well carved out, and, once I was down in them, I didn't feel hemmed in at all. 

We were led into a room where we were readied to join the English military to help in the war efforts, and then we were led out to learn what we were up against.

The details included in the war tunnels tour were amazing--all of the rooms have projected movies that tell the story of that room's purpose. We learned about the air raids, the coded messages that the military sent, how the military fed and housed all of the personnel in the tunnels, and how important the Dover tunnels were to the war efforts. In many of the tunnels, original furniture and decorations were still there which really added to the immersive feel. 

(I was a horrible blogger and didn't take ANY pictures inside of the tunnels. Sadness.)


I was with four kids ranging from 5 to 11 and all of them found something interesting about the tour. The little one didn't get all of the talk about war, but he enjoyed the movies (which were informative but not overly graphic) and punching all of the buttons during the interactive parts. The older kids were really into the tour because they'd all read a little about World War II; the tour helped them visualize this part of the war effort. 

I can't say enough great things about this tour--if you're in the area and you have a passing interest in World War II history, go immediately. Heck, if you're just interesting in walking around in some tunnels deep underground, the entrance fee is worth it. 

As if that weren't awesome enough, we then got to go on Part II of our Dover experience: the castle. 

Because of the aforementioned wind that was whipping up the coast that day, the castle had been closed to the public. That didn't stop the family I was with, as they sweet talked our guide into making a quick tour of the castle possible. 

I should note here that the castle had been closed because the wind was causing chunks of the castle to fall on the ground. No worries. I just might get knocked unconscious by a rogue piece of medieval stone. 

(A quick aside: you may gather from this blog post that I am a weenie who is scared of everything from small spaces to crumbling buildings. While I have my quirks, I just happened to encounter two of the biggies on the same day. Luckily, there were no snakes, or I really would have turned into a quivering mess of a crybaby.)

With hard hats in place and a prayer on my lips, we headed into the castle. (Yes, seriously. We wore actually hard hats the entire time that we were inside. British tour guides don't take potential head injuries lightly.) 

There have been very few times in my life when I've been one of the only people in a castle (Doune Castle in Scotland being one of them) and I'm always surprised by how eerie the silence can be in those huge structures. 

Other than the guide, the two parents, the other teacher, the four kids and I were the only people in the castle. Things really got spooky when the wind picked up even more and we could hear it whistling through the cracks in the castle wall. Add in the fact that the sky was threatening to rain, and I felt like I was in the beginning of a scary movie. 

Luckily for Chicken Natalie, no ghosties decided to join our tour of the castle.* We visited the area where Henry II would have received visitors, we saw the giant kitchen (complete with piles of fake food, which the kids found fascinating for some reason), and we got to peek into a bedroom (which was really drafty. Thank heavens for modern insulation).

Sitting in Henry II's chair with my snazzy safety vest on. I've totally gone rogue and taken my hard hat off!
I really like when castles are furnished with period pieces because it helps me understand what the place would have actually looked like. Castles, when they were being lived in, weren't these huge, boring rooms of grey stone. They had fires roaring in the fireplaces, thick rugs on the floors, and colorful tapestries on the walls. Dover Castle still has replicas of many of these items up so you get a better feel for what a king's castle was like while he was there. 

Dover was a great place to bring kids, so if you're visiting the area with family, I would highly recommend a visit. There's a cafe on the grounds, so you could do the castle tour first, grab lunch, and then head into the tunnels. If you go on a clear day, you can even see France from one of the many vistas!

*Ha! I totally lied earlier in the blog post when I said I was only scared of small spaces and falling buildings and snakes. I'm also scared of ghosts. And the dark. And earthquakes (because this is a real fear for someone who lives where earthquakes pretty much never happen). And shrimp (this is a legit fear since I'm highly allergic). And spiders. 

Sigh. I need to join Scaredy Cats Anonymous. Hello, my name is Natalie, and I'm apparently scared of the world. 

Have you ever been to Dover? Did you know there was anything there other than the cliffs?