Thursday, June 11, 2015


England in June is pretty nice.  Probably the best time of the year weather wise as it is starting to get warm and the people are coming out from under their winter clothing and probably seeing sun for the first time since... well this time last year pretty much.

We were heading to England with the full family for Viv's mum's 80th birthday party at a Chinese restaurant in Wandsworth, a Chinese banquet with 10 courses... a traditional number.  I'd not been to Wandsworth for more than 30 years and to say the least when last I visited, it was a bit of a dump.  These days though with all the gentrification of the City, I was sure I'd be surprised.

But that was a couple of days hence.  In the meantime was some castling!  Dover Castle in fact.

Pharos to the right, Church/Castle to the left

And what a castle it is!  The earliest part is Roman -- a lighthouse (or Pharos) on top of the hill overlooking Dover Harbour.  It must have been in existence even back then as the commentary suggested it was a beacon (along with another on the western approaches) to guide Roman galleys to safe moorings within the harbour.

Next came the Jutes (the Saxons were in a different part of the country, more north and west in Essex, Middlesex and Sussex) who built the first castle around the local church (no really, around as in the church is the inside of the castle) as a defence against the Vikings but obviously the Normans couldn't stand for that and stomped them and built a real castle, rather like they did around the rest of the country.

When you consider strategic location, this really is it with Dover Harbour just under the castle and only 21 miles away from our oldest enemy, France.  It was a clear day so we could see the French coast and imagine why this castle has been the single longest operational castle in Great Britain.  Everything went through Dover and still it looks it still does as the ferries were continuous throughout the day.

It is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta this year and so up and down the country there are events that attempt to 'put things in perspective' for people today.  Throughout the day inside the main part of the castle were such events for this was the place where all the activity leading up to Magna Carta and beyond took place.  King John was here for ages as he was fighting in France... not against the French it should be added but his various brothers.  He had 3 brothers all of whom didn't get on and all of whom wanted to be King of all the various legacy parts of Henry II's vast possessions.  The upshot of all this fighting of course was that nobody really won (except the French) and back home the Barons got sick of John's activities and themselves rebelled.  Caught betwixt and between (sort of) John had no alternative but to sign the Great Charter.  However he had the last laugh by reneging on it immediately after the invading French left in 1216.

The Keep or specifically King's Hall inside the Keep

But the point of this was that in one of the chambers was an 'actor' portraying King John sitting and talking to a group of tourists like me describing how bad a deal it was for the common people as along with the other 'freedoms' supposedly gained by the 'people', it actually enshrined in law perpetual sefdom for anyone who wasn't a 'free man'.  A free man was someone who owned a certain amount of property... yes you guessed it, the barons!  So whilst it gave them certain 'freedoms' it also took away everyone else's in their entirety.

So much for Magna Carta then!  But as 'King John' said, the document did receive very many revisions in later years thankfully which gives us the common law we enjoy today.

This was cheesy to be sure, but King John was a very good choice as he was both knowledgable and able to debate certain points with any rebellious tourist who wanted to take him on.  And there were enough to keep it interesting for a good long while.  Strange though that the loudest who professed herself to be an unbeliever (in God that is, very trendy these days in England) felt uncomfortable when King John suggested she would be burned as a heretic and that she was lucky to have been born 900 years too late for that to become a reality.

We weren't able to go into the tunnels under the hill where extensive barracks had been dug going back to medieval times and from which in WWII the local Naval commander, Admiral Ramsey, coordinated the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.  It must have been an amazing sight.  All those large and little ships criss crossing the Channel under continuous attack from the German navy and airforce bringing back 338,000 soldiers of the BEF and French armies.

If only Churchill had turned his hand around, how much more appropriate it would be at times like this

It makes you shudder to think what could have happened if the German army had broken through in France.  Life would be very different today.

We wandered around the castle walls, examined the old 11th, 12th and 13th century fortifications (the castle became obsolete with the advent of cannons) and towards the end of the day 2 Spitfies in D-Day markings of black and white stripes flew sedately past I imagine to some flying show of some sort.  Flying low and seemingly quite slowly, it seems odd to think it was my Dad and his 'few' comrades who flew those in the Battle of Britain which stopped the Germans for the first time and encouraged them to go somewhere else.  Yet again, thanks Dad.

Dad and his 'little friend'

What a castle though.  I want to go back.  To think I lived within 10 miles of this place for 5 years and scorned the very idea of going to Dover Castle.  What was I thinking?

And afterwards we checked out the white cliffs.  Whoa!

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