"" Writer's Wanderings: Bluebirds and White Cliffs

Friday, July 02, 2010

Bluebirds and White Cliffs

The old song “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover,” recorded by Vera Lynn in 1942 and made famous during World War II, kept running through my head as our ship docked in Dover, the final port of this cruise. Through hazy morning air, we could see the cliffs and, yes, they were white—very white even in the haze. I didn’t see any bluebirds though, then or in the two days we spent in Dover.

We had a leisurely breakfast and exited the ship after stopping to exchange our Euros for Sterling (Pounds) at the table set up in the lobby by some enterprising money changers. Thankfully Bob opted for a taxi ride to our bed and breakfast. While on the map it appeared very close to the ship and, geographically it was, we would have had to scale a cliff to get to it. As it was, it almost felt like scaling a cliff when we arrived to find a full set of stairs before we could even get in the door. The little red townhouse on the end was the Restover B&B where we stayed. Our room was at the very top but in back. Bob got a workout carrying suitcases up.

As the morning was still “young” even though we weren’t, we decided to head for the Dover Castle and explore. The bus ride to the top of the cliff where the Castle sits was inexpensive and my knees were grateful for the ride. Little did my joints know that by the time we were done, we would have climbed to the very top of the Castle’s tower.

Dover Castle was built in 1180-85 by Henry II to provide a palatial setting in which he could welcome visitors to England. Many passed through Dover on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, the scene of a shrine built to honor St. Thomas Becket who was murdered by four of Henry’s knights. (That’s a long story for another post). The great tower which sits in the middle of the complex was actually the living quarters and has been furnished to look as it might have when Henry walked its grand halls.

Pictured here are his royal bedroom and kitchen. We wound our way up the spiraling stairs stopping on each level to catch our breath and take in the different rooms that were shown. There was a throne room, a dining hall, and a guest bedroom that looked more like a dormitory for visitors. One of the more unusual things we found in addition to an indoor “outhouse” several floors up was a small area that housed a contraption for drawing well water all the way to the upper levels of the castle.

Successive kings extended the castle and it became more of a fortress, serving England as the first defense against invaders from the continent. It would serve even into World War II.

In one of the barracks areas there was a museum highlighting the history of England’s fighting troops. In the midst was the war between England and those Rebels in the colonies. I delighted in reading their take on our rebellion. Here’s an excerpt:
“King George III’s prosperous American colonies had long been restive. His 3 million subjects particularly resented the home government’s attempts to impose taxes to pay for their defence. Fighting began with vicious skirmishing between American militia (the Minutemen) and British Redcoats at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. Within 6 years most European powers supported the Rebels. The British in turn won most of the battles, but lost the war.”

As for the battle of Bunker Hill, it was called a “ruinous victory.” Lt. General Gage’s official report was quoted as saying, “. . .the Rebels are not the despicable rabble too many have supposed them to be. . .”

It was all very interesting but we scurried off for our scheduled tour to the other area of the Castle and Cliffs that had intrigued us, the secret tunnels.

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