Saturday, February 5

Dover Castle

What a day to choose for a trip to Dover Castle! Winds of 80mph, grey skies and intermittent showers.

My parents gave both myself and the Curse membership of English Heritage for christmas last year, and although we made good use of the cards last September in Whitby Abbey and Scarborough Castle, we hadn't used them since.

I've wanted to visit Dover Castle for ages, and since it stays open throughout the year it seemed like the ideal place for a visit to get us out of London for the day.

We were very disappointed to find when we arrived that the Great Tower (one of the most impressive and interesting parts of the site) was closed 'due to high winds'. Considering that visitors were allowed to wander the whole of the very exposed site, including the battlements that overlook the white cliffs, I couldn't really work out why this part of the castle was out of bounds. Yes, it's the highest point of the site, and I wouldn't have expected them to let us out on the roof, but why else would it be shut?

This seemingly-impregnable fortress was surely not at risk of incurring structural damage or dropping bits of stone on the heads of visitors? I admit I was rather dischuffed by this situation. I tried not to be too grumpy, but it was difficult when the lunch offerings were not particularly great either, and rather pricey. Vegetable soup was delicious, but it came with sliced bread rather than the advertised crusty roll, and at a cost of £4.50. The sandwiches on offer (about four left) were wrapped in those half-cellophane half-paper bags, and had been in the chill cabinet for some time, so the crusts had gone rather stale.

With all this moaning you might imagine I hated the trip, but in fact we still had some fun and it was good to be out and about even in gale force winds. Only a handful of other visitors were around, so we enjoyed the almost-deserted grounds of the castle and it made the trip down the dimly-lit, deserted medieval tunnels rather spooky on our own.

We also went on the tour of the underground military hospital, which is housed in the first level of the 'secret wartime tunnels'. They have kitted out some of the tunnels with props to recreate the conditions that would have been experienced by people working or being treated there. They were, as our guide was prone to repeat every few minutes, not the best of conditions. It was pretty atmospheric, especially with the soundtrack, fake explosions and occasional loss of lighting, and gave a good impression of what it must have been like when it was in use. It left us feeling rather sober.

The gatehouse in the background of this picture houses a rather sumptuous-looking self-catering apartment, and the house on the right is a larger property sleeping six.  The gatehouse in particular has spectacular views across Dover, although it's a long walk back up the hill from the town centre.

You probably won't want to go there just to sit in the square and watch TV on this enormous screen that Dover council agreed to put up in 2009 so that people can watch the Olympics on it in 2012. Whether or not you agree that it's a daft idea and a waste of money, you can't deny it's rather premature.