Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Outing to Dover Castle
be in the right place at the right time is a happy coincidence which occurred
for me on Saturday 12 June 2010 when, as a visitor, I joined the Cranleigh DFAS
trip to Dover Castle. During a wonderfully traffic-free coach ride, we were
able to watch the BBC's Time Team DVD informing us of English Heritage's
meticulous reconstruction and refurbishment of the C12 Great Tower which
followed an intense period of research. This thoughtful introduction whetted
our appetites for what awaited us.
But we had to be patient! First on our itinerary was a foray into the maze of
tunnels for which Dover Castle is renowned. Our guide, Nick Jones, led us
through the WWII tunnels where with his practised commentary enhanced by an
assortment of acoustic and visual aids we were able to feel that we really had
gone back in time. We saw telegraphic equipment, subterranean sleeping quarters
with rows of wash-basins, a table laid with plates of beef stew and carrots in
thick gravy and all the time we heard the ghostly chatter of those working in
that confined space. As if this was not enough, we also heard the arrival of an
ambulance bringing two injured men to the dressing-station; we heard the groans
of the one who survived and the urgent discussion between the surgeons about how
best to keep him in this world. It was against this back-drop that Admiral
Bertram Ramsay plotted Operation Dynamo which sent the little ships to evacuate
our troops from Dunkirk.
It was with a sense of relief that we emerged
from the flickering lights underground into the sunlight to enjoy a windy
picnic, or lunch in the NAAFI restaurant.
main event of the afternoon was to explore and admire the castle's keep, a
massive edifice called the Great Tower. We were on our own now, but with the
aid of actors and props we soon knew how it felt to be in the company of Henry
II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, at home. Henry built the tower to advertise his
strength and position, to provide a pied à terre for his visits to Dover,
to be a venue for lavish entertainment and to atone publicly for his unintended
involvement in the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Now we were able to
be dazzled by the result of the labours of English Heritage. Its shopping for
the correct furniture and artefacts and stitching of the appropriate textiles
certainly "paid off". The primary colours beloved by modern children
were also the choice of Norman kings; bright reds, blues and yellows abound in
Henry's apartments. We were treated to a visual feast of sumptuous
wall-hangings, friezes, painted chairs and embroidered cushions. There were
also stairs and passages and nooks and crannies to explore, all leading
eventually to the roof, a lofty view-point.
What else? There are the Saxon church and Roman lighthouse, barracks, towers
and battlements, grassy walks with stunning views. Child, teenager or adult,
one couldn't fail to be enthralled by this ancient and magical place.
Back on the coach we could doze or dream, enriched by the day's experience, but
ready to face again our present world. Life today probably suits us best!