And we are here as on a darkling plainMatthew Arnold "Dover Beach"
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
It's a two-hour train ride to Dover, set in the county of Kent, to the southeast of London. Not far is Hastings, where the famous battle of 1066 was won by William the Conqueror and England went under the rule of the Normans. A little farther and you'll come upon Canterbury, where pilgrims traveled to honor the martyr, Saint Thomas Becket, and which inspired Geoffrey Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales. My traveling companions for the day were my flatmate, Sheila, and my professor and her husband. They were, indeed, good company.
The only thing I knew about Dover was that it was on the coast, it had white cliffs, and you can see the French coastline from it. When we got there, we asked the cab driver what we should see. His response: "The castle ... and the castle ... and the castle." So we decided to go to the castle. Dover Castle began to be built in the 13th Century, but there is one tower within its walls that was built by the Romans in the first century, A.D. (see photo on left)
The castle also hosted British troops during the Napoleonic war, the first World War and the second World War. Below the castle are four and a half miles of tunnels dug into the soft chalk cliffs. These tunnels housed living quarters, mess halls, kitchens, wards, and even a surgical center for the troops. From here, Admiral Bertram Ramsey directed the evacuation of British, French and Belgium troops from Dunkirk. The tunnel tour was fascinating and truly added to my knowledge of the history of World War II.
After wandering the castle and the tunnels, we took a cab over to the cliffs and walked along the cliff path. Unfortunately a heavy sea fog had rolled in, so we were not able to see the coastline of France, nor much else beyond the shoreline. We did see a huge ferry port below us, and ferries hustling people, cars, trucks and cargo to and from France. We began a descent along a path that took us down into the town of Dover, where we found the first pub we could and helped ourselves to diet cokes (and one beer). By the time we got to the walk along the shore, the fog had begun to burn off and we watched sailboats and brave souls swimming about in the very chilly water. Just as we were about to turn back into town, we looked across the water and saw the far shore of France.
To celebrate our Independence Day (one Brit wished me a happy independence day, and I said, "Thank you. I hope it's not a sore spot."), we stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken and grabbed chicken to eat on the train. Since we missed the first bus to the train station, we ended up eating the chicken at the bus station. Our trip back was interesting, to say the least, as we got an earful of an argument (in full Cockney) between a young boy of 12, his mother and another adult female. The ladies were very inebriated and the boy was very embarrassed. A female conductor got involved, and it was only her compassion for the young boy that prevented her from having the two women arrested. Thankfully, they got off on the third stop.
An adventure every day!