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Outing to Dover Castle

To 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.

The 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!

Alison Poole