Sunday, September 20, 2015

Day 16: Dover

We began our day with cheap cereal in our room (hurray for the bar fridge that kept our milk cold) then walked/tubed to St Pancras International, bound for Dover Priory! We made our way to platform 12 when it was announced on the board. Comfy seats awaited us - and interesting passengers. One German backpacker hogged the train toilet for ages - he’d been getting changed while I danced outside!

Our train tore through tunnels and raced across the countryside - it was a fast train, zipping us down to Dover in just over an hour. I knew we were getting close when green fields were replaced by large white chalky boulders. The English Channel stretched away to our right.

The weather was annoying when we arrived - hot sun interspersed with chilly winds, neither a caress or a gust. We bravely ignored the taxi rank and left the ugly white station building, trekking over roads, up slopes and climbing surprisingly few steps before we found ourselves at Dover Castle.

It's not that far...

At the pedestrian ticket booth we were given blue wristbands before we continued our ascent to the castle, home (at least for today) to rampant school children, pre-schoolers, old folks filling the “land train”, German tourists and us.

We made a beeline for the Roman lighthouse (the oldest building in the grounds) and the Saxon church. Both sat in a defensive bowl of grass. The lighthouse bore the red bricks common to Roman buildings - I touched them, impressed that the the building still stood, deep within fortifications that have been fucked with multiple times in the past 1800-2000 years.

I hope the lighthouse and church are good friends or this could be awkward.

The church was rebuilt in medieval times, though once you stepped inside the 1000 AD Saxon stonework was visible, including a walled entrance and an archway. The church is still consecrated today.

I thought the views from here were great - I found better ones on top of the Great Tower.

The tower is large and impressive, protected by its walls, gates and towers (which effectively keep the sheep out; they wander around the moat, eating the grass on the steep earthworks). Inside the tower I found the stairs to be wider than in other castles of the day.

The Great Keep

There were so many rooms. The Great Hall and apartments were gaudily furnished and as we walked along the galley above the hall, my fiancé noted that it was a good place to kill a king from. That lack of security brought to you by the need of light! The passage was walled off later.

We finally staggered to the top of the keep. Wowsa. The sky and water were so blue. The docks were gorgeous. We could see France in the distance. The tower has a commanding view of Dover. To the west was a fort built on an opposing rise, just in case enemies got it into their heads to shell the castle from there. After all, when the castle was first built, a trebuchet would not have reached that distance. Sadly, we could not see the White Cliffs from there, but we both had already enjoyed them; me at age 24, my fiancé at 10.

Dat view.

Next we snubbed the WWII “secret” tunnels for the medieval ones. Two dead-ended (collapsed and sealed) but one was reused in the 18th century. Another area had canons overlooking the moat - and the sheep nibbling within it. The tunnels was quite steep in some areas, dark and damp too. Very glad to escape.

After in the eatery there, then descended into Dover for my fiancé’s curry with chips. Full of chocolate, I only had some chips.

We stumbled across the Roman Painted House on our way back to the station. Hidden near an alley and behind strewn cars, we found Roman ruins with better preserved plaster paintings than even in Lullingstone Villa. 2 pounds entry - what a steal! We circled the excavation. It was awesome - we could even go onto the basement level to get a feel for how tall the walls were.

The house once served as an inn for travellers from mainland Europe - Dover is still used for this so nothing much has changed! But why was the house so preserved, despite its age? In 270 AD, the Romans bowed to pressure and built a fort, mowing right through the house and leaving part of it buried beneath rubble. The thick, chunky wall cut right through it at an angle.

I wondered why this fort wasn’t on the hill, like the later castle, but my fiancé rightly pointed out that the siege tactics were different; no trebuchets to take advantage of height. The fort was instead built at the best site for landing. Dover’s defences have changed to suit the times.

We returned to the station after being told by a disembodied voice to be sure to mention the site to our family and friends. The 1:48 to London arrived and conveyed us back past water and chalky cliffs. Once at St Pancras, my fiancé bought jelly babies for his mother - she likes the floury ones!?

For dinner, we went to Southwark. I was so pleased to be back there, but the journey on the tube in peak hour almost drove me nuts. It was so crowded that we stopped at two stations without picking anyone up (Jubilee Line - which has that roller coaster feel). It was so hot in there it was like the heating had been turned up.

I finally arrived, feeling nostalgic - but the area was crowded with afterwork diners and drinkers. As we got to Clink Street, I saw with dismay that the cafe I had loved so much on my previous visit had been turned into something else. Luckily, our destination (the Gourmet Burger Kitchen) was still there, its entry door stashed against the wall.

We were seated between two couples - one pair looked like they were in the early stages and if they were not going to the bathroom they were checking their phones. Probably not going to get serious. We walked along the Thames leisurely, bound for Westminster Station. The sun struck our eyes and the crowds struck our shoulders, but it was lovely. Romantic, even when interspersed with buskers (one was even a gymnast!).

Dat other view.

“Did you ever think you’d be back here, this time with your fiancé?” my future husband asked me as we walked.

“No,” I answered with a smile, feeling lucky to be so loved.

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