If you ever happen to be in the area, do take a stop at Dover. Countless tourists cross this place on their way to Great Britain and Ireland. But who actually stays there? Hardly anyone. This is a real shame because they all miss out on Dover Castle. This also went for me until someone advised me to go there on my next trip to Great Britain. It may seem inappropriate for us underground enthusiasts to take the ferry instead of the channel tunnel but the beautiful sight of Dover´s white cliffs is more than enough reason to go by boat. And on these very cliffs you also find, barely visible, England´s biggest fortress. Located at a strategically important point – the narrowest part of the channel and only 20 miles from France – it looks back on a well-documented history of 2,000 years. It played an important part in all conflicts from the Middle Ages until World War Two. The castle is a real highlight in terms of history and architecture. It also features subterranean installations. Already the Romans built a lighthouse there on the foundations of an old iron age fortress. Later on, the Anglo-Saxons built a church at that site and used the lighthouse as a belltower. After the battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror built a massive tower which still is the central point of the castle.
It measure 30 by 30 metres and is 29 metres high. The walls are up to 6,40 metres thick. Henry II built the fortress´s inner wall from 1168 until 1188 and also started the construction of the outer wall which nowadays has a length of one and a half kilometres. The increasing strength of artillery twice made conversions necessary, at the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars (1792–1815) and during the Second World War.
The most interesting parts for us are probably the secret underground passages. Some of them were already constructed in the Middle Ages in order to enable the defenders to sneak out at night and launch counter-attacks. During the war against Napoleon, these passages were extended. The army barracks which were added then are the largest of their kind in England. They can be visited nowadays the way they looked during World War Two. At that time, some 700 people fitted into the space. The evacuation of 338,000 British and French troops from Dunkirk was also coordinated from here.
During the Battle of Britain, the passages housed a hospital. The command centre from which Churchill directed the Allied troops during the war is also open to the public. Parts of the site were converted into a nuclear blast-proof shelter then and served this purpose right into the early 1990s. It takes about a day to see the whole castle. Afterwards, you can dine in a good fish restaurant there before joining all the other tourists on the way to Britain and Ireland again.