May 15 – 1066 goes to Dover Castle

A walk around St Margaret's at Cliffe

Hello from 1066 – Medieval Mosaic

Today Mike and I set off to visit Dover Castle, the largest castle in England. It is an English Heritage site. We were expecting a castle but what we did not realise was there were the miles of underground tunnels.

A labyrinth of tunnels, the Fan Bay Deep Shelter is reached by 125 steps down into the bowels of the white cliffs of Dover. It was built on Winston Churchill’s orders but abandoned and vandalised since the end of the second world war. The tunnels were carved out of the chalk in just 100 days after a visit by Churchill. Most of it is in remarkably good condition, preserving graffiti including names of the men who dug the tunnels and those who later sheltered there, within earshot of the artillery on the French and Belgian coast. The complex originally included five large chambers with storage space for rifles ominously sited between the bunks, a hospital and a secure store, a generator, and toilets and washrooms.

We had a great time doing the tunnel tour followed by the hospital tunnel tour. Both tours were very informative. Apparently, there is yet another layer of tunnels underneath the ones open to the public which held nuclear shelters which have now been sealed.

After this, we walked all around the Dover Castle. It is amazing to think of all the generations of people who have walked in these places.

Dover is a major port on the south-east coast of England, at a gap in the white cliffs near the narrowest point of the English Channel. Its proximity to mainland Europe has made it a key military, maritime and trade location for millennia. The Romans built forts here in c. AD130 and c. AD270 and the town has fortifications from many eras since then. The Romans also built two pharoses, possibly c. AD130, on the Eastern and Western Heights above the gap in the cliffs. St Mary in Castro is in the Eastern Heights.

St Mary in Castro is a beautiful church with the Roman lighthouse right next to it. The present Saxon church was built on the Eastern Heights around AD1000. Roman tiles can be still be seen in the church fabric, particularly in the window arches (usually of stone), and flint and tile from the Pharos have been used throughout the church’s walls.  The church is cruciform with a central tower the same width as the nave. The door arch is the earliest to survive in any standing church in England. The church has lovely stained glass windows and a painted reredos. St Mary in Castro is a thriving church serving the Army and local people and is the Dover Garrison Church.

On our way home we detoured off to St Margaret’s at Cliffe, a small village on the cliffs above the sea. We drove right down to the sea. There is a busy pub at the bottom of the hill and as luck would have it a cache nearby. We even found a smuggler’s cave.