DOVER, England — On a bright Saturday afternoon, my friend Alex and I braved the wind to visit Dover, home of Dover Castle, one of the most famous castles in England.
Dover is not exactly a tourist hot spot, so there weren’t signs plastered all over the town pointing out the way to the castle. Alex and I found one small sign, and from there we found a rather obscure little path called the Harold Passage.
This passageway eventually yielded to another obscured path that cut through a small patch of wood. The Girl Scout in me was saying this might not be the best path, but Alex and I went up the road less traveled, working off breakfast as we hiked up the steep path.
It got windier and windier the higher we went — not only were we struggling to go up, we are struggling to stay up.
By the time we reached the ticket office, we were utterly winded, in every sense of the word. Our mood temporarily dropped when the ticket lady informed us that due to the wind, the medieval section of the castle was closed to tourists. So the centerpiece of the fortification — a huge reason people go to the tunnels — was closed.
After paying for our tickets, Alex and I scurried over to the other side of the castle — fighting the aggressive wind the whole way — to get to the tour of the Underground Hospital. The 20-minute tour followed the voice-simulated journey of a Royal Air Force pilot shot down over the sea who was brought in with a severely wounded leg.
The lights in the tunnels flickered as they had during the air raids in the 1940s. There were real newspapers, posters and medical equipment from the time period. They even had some of the actual food they ate back then which was found abandoned in a cabinet after the war.
Immediately after the hospital tour, we rushed down a path against the wind to the tour of the wartime tunnels, which focused primarily on the evacuation from Dunkirk when Allied soldiers were evacuated from France in 1940.
This tour was awful. The tour guides attempted to make the experience more interactive, so the whole tour was treated like a military operation that bordered a James Bond/MI6 operation. The tour guide shepherded everyone into a room where we watched a short video about the beginning of World War II. Then an automated drill sergeant informed us that we were to obey all orders from the commanding officer without question and that we were not allowed to exit a room until the red light above the door turned green.
Then we moved on to a huge corridor where we were all lined up against a wall. Instead of facing the firing squad, we watched a huge projection video that explained the Dunkirk evacuation. After that, the tour guide let us wander around a few reconstructed rooms that were primarily communications rooms.
All in all, I can’t really tell you what I learned because I didn’t really gain that much. The tours were essentially glorified audio tours, which I typically avoid. Human tour guides who are educated and trained make the experience more personal. I will take personal over interactive any day of the week.
Once Alex and I were turned loose, we continued our battle with the wind as we wandered around the grounds a bit. Despite the main part of the castle being closed, there were still plenty of spots to explore.
We visited the Saxon Church, which is a prominent military church, and the Roman Pharos — two of the oldest standing structures in Dover side by side.
Even though the wind was brutal, Alex and I decided that if we couldn’t beat it, we could join it. We had a lot of fun taking funny pictures in the wind or finding cool little places to take goofy pictures. Even as the wind almost had us falling all over ourselves, we were still roaring with laughter at our messed up hair and our near-blunders. The wind made a good chunk of our agenda a failure, but we still managed to create our own adventure and enjoy our time in Dover.
I’d say, in the end, we beat the wind.