One of English Heritage's premier sites. strategically placed on the famous White Cliffs of Dover it is rightfully named the "Key of England". Two thousand years of history, from the Roman Lighthouse, the Iron Age Fort, a Saxon Church to the secret Wartime Tunnels, make this a must for your itinary. The Norman Keep houses the latest exhibitions: Preparations for the visit of Henry VIII & the Seige of 1216. Deep inside the White Cliffs see where wartime personnel were stationed during World War II. The evacuation of Dunkirk was masterminded here.
No fortress in England can boast a longer history than Dover Castle. Commanding the shortest sea crossing between England and the continent, the site has served from the Iron Age onwards as a vital strategic centre.
Henry II's Keep
There has been a castle in Dover since the defences of an Anglo-Saxon fortress were strengthened by William of Normandy, who built the first earthwork castle in 1066 before moving on to London.
Under Henry II, the castle was rebuilt, including the monumental keep constructed in the 1180s by his great architect, Maurice the Engineer, which stands at the heart of a concentric ring of defences.
The Key to England
Unlock Dover and you unlock England. Two exhibitions highlight the Castle's role when the country was threatened with invasion.
The first is a presentation using the latest light, film and sound to retrace how, in 1216, a group of rebel barons invited the French Dauphin to invade England and seize the throne from King John. It was not long before the whole of the south east, including London and the Tower, was under the control of Prince Louis. Only two castles in the area, Windsor and Dover, defied the French.
But Louis had not bargained for Hubert de Burgh's resolute defence of Dover. The Castle held for several months while English forces gathered to face the Dauphin. After the French defeat at Lincolnhe was obliged to raise the siege and return to London. It was de Burgh's ship that led the English fleet to a decisive victory off the coast in August 1217.
The second exciting exhibition offers a tableau of the preparations for Henry VIII's visit to Dover. After his divorce from Catherine of Aragon in 1533, Henry felt himself to be isolated in Europe. With an alliance formed between Francis I of France and Rome, and all trade suspended with the Continent, war seemed inevitable and Henry was desperate to build up England's defences in preparation. Coastal forts were being erected at Deal and Walmer, and a large harbour was already under construction at Dover.
In 1539, Henry came to Dover to inspect the work. The exhibition invites visitors into the King's chambers to witness the preparation for Henry's arrival. Hundreds of locked strong boxes preceded him, containing everything that a King of England could possibly need from provisions and hunting equipment, chests full of plans and documents, to desks, furniture and decorations.
Dover's Secret Tunnels
The White Cliffs are among England's most celebrated sights, yet hidden inside them is a fascinating and secret world.
Below, deep underground, is an extensive network of tunnels first made in the Napoleonic Wars. Seven tunnels were dug as barracks for the soldiers and officers which could hold up to 2,000 troops. They are the only underground barracks ever built in Britain.
At 18:57 hours on 26 May 1940, the signal was received to start Operation Dynamo the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and Belgian and French troops from Dunkirk's beaches on the north coast of France.
As France fell before the German advance, and with less than a week to prepare, it was the responsibility of Vice-Admiral Ramsay to plan the evacuation of tens of thousands of troops. The cliff tunnels became the nerve centre of the operation. The best estimate was that only 45,000 of the troops could be brought back, yet Winston Churchill announced to the House of Commons on 4 June that 338,000 troops had been saved, despite the operation coming under attack.