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A Journey to Dover

Our day trip to Dover began early at 5 o'clock in the morning on Saturday 29th May. We went to the Calais ferry by bus where we arrived at 9 o'clock. We were very tired but luckily we didn't need Sandrine's first aid.

This time we passed the border control without problems. Nobody forgot their passport and nobody needed to undress. The coffee on the P & 0 ferry wasn't very strong but it was a big cup. Across the channel we saw the beautiful white cliffs of Dover. Approaching the coast the castle could be seen in the distance. Arriving in the port, we returned to our bus parked on the 5th deck. Now the bus driver didn't have any choice but to drive on the left side of the road. Of course we were in England!

We left our bus in the coach park near the castle at 10 o'clock English time. The area is impressive and overlooks the channel. The castle is on the cliffs and the first buildings were constructed by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Between 1170 and 1180 Henry II (his great-grandson) built the keep and the rest of the castle that we can see nowadays. It's beautiful, much older and more imposing than my home but we surely have better heating.
Nearby, there is also a magnificent Saxon church from the 10th century with a tower which is in reality a Roman lighthouse from the year 43. It is said that the lighthouse is the best preserved ever found.

After this visit of monuments of the far past we had an English guide to visit the famous secret tunnels used during different wars and beneath the castle. We visited these tunnels to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk called "Operation Dynamo".

There are three levels with six kilometre long tunnels and we could visit only half a kilometre on two levels. The third level was built in 1942 and at the beginning of the Cold War, it was restored to protect the government in the event of a nuclear war. Nowadays this level is abandoned, so we couldn't visit it.

The origin of the other levels goes back 200 years to the Napoleonic wars. The British government was afraid of a French invasion and fortified the town of Dover and its port. There were a lot of troops stationed in the castle but they didn't have enough room for them. So the first casemates were built.

In the beginning of the Second World War the second level of the tunnels was built. It was the vice-admiral B. Ramsey who was responsible for the tunnels and the straits of Dover with the allied cross‑channel shipping and he was a hero in 1940 when he organized Operation Dynamo to evacuate the English and French troops from Dunkirk. The Admiralty hoped to save 45000 troops but Ramsey finally saved 340000 troops.

The atmosphere in the tunnels was oppressive. Visiting the rooms, the operating theatre in the hospital, the kitchen, the headquarters with the plotting room or the Anti-Aircraft operation room we heard the sounds of those days: the bomb attacks with the lighting going on and off, soldiers' discussions and doctors speaking during the operations to rescue wounded people.

Outside the tunnels and in the grounds of the castle we walked between lots of military encampments from the Second World War to learn about life during these dramatic times. Tents with soldiers, rifles, machine guns, old cars, jeeps and a lot of other materials were there. We saw men and women in uniforms and others in clothes of the time, horses, also children toys. The people's costumes were wonderful.

Round about 5 o'clock, our bus returned to the port to take the ferry to Calais. Now the weather was very bad, it rained and it was windy and wet. Luckily we could stay inside the boat and didn't have to go out to return to our bus to Rouen.

Arriving in Franqueville at 11 o'clock in the evening the rain had stopped. We went home after a long and wonderful day with lots of historic impressions from the middle ages until the Second World War. It was a really instructive day.

If you want to know more about Dover Castle, you should go there and see for yourself!

Rosemary and Philip had the excellent idea to organize this trip, and we'd like to thank them for it.

2010-06 © article by Heike Dorniol and Annette Troplain

vocabulary & explanations for the photos
English Heritage = officially the Historic Building and Monuments Commission for England a car is not a coach
pedestrian = someone who is on foot coach = a comfortable bus
crew = team of sailors in a boat or ferry to undress = to take your clothes off

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revised : 16th June 2010 / created : 8th June 2010

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