We were in Canterbury for Christmas and to bring us south on December the 26th was of course the lure of the White Cliffs of Dover.
With a National Express coach, in half an hour and for £ 7 we arrived in this town of Kent through streets where rows of colourful Victorian houses somehow anticipate the sea.
The charm of houses is decadent and even those on the seafront remind of a faded nineteenth-century wealth, that of an aristocracy that left leaving behind a romantic nostalgia.
We stay at the Best Western Marina and, aware of having only a few hours of daylight available, we decide to skip the lunch and walk east, leaving behind us the awful commercial port. The wind is blowing at 100 km/h and our walk is a challenge of balance and strength. Between the two available, we choose the higher scenic route, along the coast to the lighthouse: a route that normally takes 50 minutes on foot but, with this wind against us, it requires almost the double of the time.
The ground is muddy in certain points but the stroll is gentle, the climbs absolutely feasible. Below us, the cliffs overlooking the sea. The sun of December is shy, fighting to gain ground after the winter solstice.
Arrived at the lighthouse, we rest a few minutes looking at the profile of the French coast on the other side of the English Channel and then we choose to go down the lower path, the one that allows a better view on the cliffs below us thanks to a couple of scenic spots: the best alternative to contemplate this spectacle of nature would be to go out to sea, but in winter it is difficult to find some boats available for a tour, especially with a wind like this.
Above us, the largest castle of England dominates everything.
Built during the reign of Henry II in the eleventh century, the Dover Castle took the place of a prehistoric settlement that already existed in that area in the Iron Age, no doubt for the good view on the Canal (and therefore the great symbolic and military potential).
For £ 18 (adults) you can access and visit the rooms of the King in the Big Tower, the underground hospital used during the two great wars of the XX century and the network of medieval tunnels used as a hideout, shelter and escape routes in many occasions.
Historical reconstructions are held at different times of the year and allow you to enjoy faraway atmospheres: on some occasions it is also possible to spend a night in the Great Tower.
We spend our second day in Dover exploring the western part of the town, walking along the docks of the old port that soon will disappear to make way for a major logistics hub: we listen sadly to the sound of boats that will be soon evicted and observe for some time the fishermen on the pier filling their buckets in what looks like a very lucky morning for everybody.
Richard, the White Cliffs Tours’ guide who takes us to this little-known area, show us the Western Heights where there is, hidden among a lush greenery, a beautiful and very well preserved Napoleonic fort built to convey a possible enemy invasion that could come from the sea. Around, artificial caves set into the mountains where weapons were repaired and incoming ships spotted, also used as bomb shelters during the last century.
Unfortunately the interior of the fort is open only few days a year, as well as the Grand Shaft, a rare example of a triple spiral staircase to help the troops reaching quickly the street level in case of emergency.
In the western part of Dover there is also the Shakespeare's Cliff, the cliff where it is said that the English writer wrote King Lear and from where today many swimmers depart to try the English Channel crossing.
Every year about 400 people attempt to swim across, supported by a specialized team, to reach France and maybe come back, solo or in relay team, after a training which sometimes takes years. The youngest swimmer to be successful was a boy of 11 years old, while the oldest was 67.
Traditionally, among other things, all those who accomplish the crossing go then to get a pint and leave a signature on the wall of the White Horse, a great pub opened in Dover for over 500 years that not only serves great beers but also a perfect English food: not to be missed for service and atmosphere.
The White Horse
St James Street, Dover CT16 1QF
White Cliffs Tours
North Eastern Quay, Dover Marina,
Dover CT17 9BX
Tel: +44.7971.301379 / +44.1303 271388
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