Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We Capture the Castle

The COG and I went to Dover Castle. By train. I love the train, watching the countryside fly by, in the total absence of road rage brought on by traffic.

As we arrived in Dover we could see the castle looming on the hill above the town.  We walked toward it and were soon in the middle of town but we still didn't know how to get up to it.

As I was fretting about that, the COG said - look for Castle Street on the map - and I thought - Doh!  I'm an idiot.  What I really am is a girl from Minnesota, where place names aren't related to the actual site of the place.  Canterbury Downs is as likely to be housing development as a restaurant. Here in the UK, though,Watery Lane means that there's water somewhere. Priory Close had a priory at some point in the last 1,000 years.  Church Road has a church on it. And if you have a castle, the street leading to it is likely to be called Castle Street.

So we climbed Castle Street to the Castle.

The site of the castle has been inhabited for approximately a bazillion years. There are Iron Age earthworks still visible, and it might be older than that.  The main structures were built by Henry II, in the 12th century. It's the closest spot in England to France (we could see France and it wasn't even a particularly clear day). And the town is on a beach between two hills. So one of the hills is the obvious place to overlook a possible landing by your enemies.

Unlike any other castle I know of, it has been pretty much in continuous use as a military site for a couple of thousand years.   It was an active and important site in WWII - the Dunkirk evacuations were coordinated here and much of the preparation for D-Day happened  here.  There are plenty of tunnels underground that were used as barracks, meeting rooms, a hospital etc. during the war.

Because it has been continuously in use, it's not always clear what you are seeing. One of the pamphlets used a phrase like: Despite restorations in the early19th century, it is still possible to see the original etc.  19th century restorations were famously based more on romantic Gothick fantasies than on solid evidence.

But you can still see the remnants of the Iron Age earthworks, and the curtain wall is pretty much intact. And the outer bailey wall is visible, though worn down. And in the middle of it all is the inner bailey. Where there is a huge, mostly intact tower from the 12th century, which is not in use for military purposes.  It's kind of wonderful because you can just wander through it, up and down staircases and along corridors. Most castles, unless they've been reused as stately homes, are ruins that might have only one tower that you can climb, and no real rooms intact. Here, they've had modern artisans make reproductions of the kinds of things that might have been in use during the 12th century castle. These were surprisingly colorful. (This picture and the one of the castle are taken from the English Heritage Website.)

Unlike me, the COG was a bit disappointed by the castle. He felt that there could be more 'going on'.  Maybe later in the season that will be the case. There is a joust scheduled for June that we could go to, for example. 

These minor niggles notwithstanding, we had a really nice day. And now I want to return to Dover to see the Roman Painted House Museum and the Bronze Age Boat Museum, which I found out were there. 

1 comment:

Kate said...

I had no idea that Dover Castle was so perfectly preserved! The recreated room is marvelous. You can see the inspiration of Wm Morris and the arts & crafts movement.

Design in America really suffers from its lack of grounding in the past-other than New England and some homegrown styles (southwestern adobe, Mission, shingle style)-most design is "Canterbury Downs"-where the design elements are only superficially related to the original function.