#2 Dover. We have a mission: to follow the route of an old 1940s board game around Great Britain, sticking to the instructions as closely as we possibly can. Along the way we will look at the history of the places we visit, with a particular focus on how things have changed since the tour was created around 70 years ago.
Square #2 on the board was Dover, and this was the first time we had specific instructions to follow:
You have just travelled via part of the great Roman highway, Watling Street. Remain here looking at the coast of France through a telescope until you throw a six.
So the first part of the challenge was obviously to get to Dover via Watling Street. Although it is described in the game instructions as “the great Roman highway”, Watling Street was used long before the Romans arrived, but it was they who paved and extended the route. In Roman times Watling Street ran from Dover to Wroxeter. It was then possible to continue all the way to Scotland, but the remainder of the route is not generally referred to as Watling Street. The part of Watling Street that we needed to follow in order to obey the instructions is now the A2, so we followed that diligently into Dover. It was not a very Roman experience.
The next part of the instruction presented a bit more of a challenge, but after some research we worked out that the most pleasant way to achieve it was to go to Dover Castle, where we would have a choice of telescopes and at least a chance of seeing France, depending on the weather.
The castle had been closed to the public over the winter and we visited during the first week of reopening. At the time of writing an adult entry ticket is £18.30 (or £20.20 with gift aid), a child ticket £11 (or £12.10), concessions £16.50 (or £18.20) and a family ticket is £47.60 (or £52.50).
Dover Castle probably has its origins in an Iron Age hill fort, until William the Conqueror built an earthwork and timber castle. Building work on the stone castle that stands today was commenced by Henry II in the 1180, and then continued under John and Henry III during the 13th Century. The castle was of great strategic importance during the two world wars. A network of tunnels that had been built to house troops during the Napoleonic Wars served as the command centre for naval operations in the Channel during the Second World War, and those tunnels can be visited by tourists today.
But the most important destination for us at the castle was the Admiralty Lookout tower, built in 1905 as a fire control post, and then used from 1914 to control all shipping coming in and out of the harbour, using flags and wireless. The reason this was important for us was that there is a telescope on the top of the tower, so we could follow the game instructions there.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather on the day, which was bright and sunny, but with a predictably cold breeze (at the end of March). Although the view across the sea was a little hazy, we were just about able to make out the coast of France through the telescope, which was one instruction that we didn’t think we would be lucky enough to be able to follow exactly! There was also an old telescope inside the tower where we could take a second look. On top of the tower we photographed the game board with the telescope, much to the puzzlement of the other tourists on the tower, who started to disperse, presumably to get away from the crazy family. When we gave our son a dice (yes, OK, a “die”) and got him to start rolling it to try to get a six, as per the instructions, each and every tourist quietly and rapidly left the top of the tower. Presumably they were worried we were involved in some kind of a cult ritual.
The instructions said to roll a six and we had the original dice with us from the game board. However, it appeared to be weighted because it took about 30 rolls to get a six. We thought at one stage we might have to live there because we were clearly never going to get a six. Our son did not mind at all. He thought rolling a dice on top of a tower was hilarious fun. After much dice rolling he finally got his six, and we continued looking round the castle, stopping occasionally to photograph the game board with the castle in the background.
There is not much to say from the point of view of the usual comparison of the location in 1948 and the location today, as castles tend not to change all that rapidly! Apart from the modern tourism facilities, one notable addition since then is a statue of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey, erected in 2000 to honour his work there during World War II.
Our next location will be Beachy Head.
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The photos that accompany this post were taken during our visit. Please do not reuse them without permission.