Instagram feed

19 October 2007

A Day in Dover

This past Sunday I traveled to Dover, a town on the southern coast of Britain. It's the closest town in Britain to France. You may have also heard of the white cliffs of Dover. (The reason for the name "Albion.")

Dover is also known for its castle, a strategic location from Roman times all the way to World War II, when secret wartime tunnels were dug as a shelter from air raids.

My visit to Dover was a day trip, with two study-abroad classmates. The two girls and I planned the trip spontaneously, because we just wanted to travel somewhere outside of London, and three other classmates had gone to Wales this weekend without us! So the three of us woke up early and took the Tube to Victoria bus station, where we caught our bus. The bus drove through some dense fog leaving London, and it stopped at several places along the way, including Canterbury.

It was just about 11am when our bus arrived in Dover. Just when we got off the bus, we were greeted by a local man. "You looking for something?" he said. We replied that we were just looking for a tourist information center since it was our first time here.

"It's a small town," he answered. (Dover's population is only 28 000.) He went on, giving us an introduction to the town and telling us to check out the castle and walk along a trail going along the cliffs. Looks like we found the local tourist office himself!

So taking his advice, we began with a trek to the castle. It was an uphill walk, steep at times, but well worth it: From the castle, you can catch great views of Dover and the English Channel. We walked past the "tickets" stand just outside the castle. No one stopped us from going in.

The castle loomed impressively ahead. We walked around the front, to a large open space next to Churchill's "Secret Wartime Tunnels." The English Channel and the city of Dover lay below. And the weather was unbelievably perfect. Especially in mid-October England! It was brilliantly sunny and mild - not a cloud in the sky. There was some haze from the warm air, which prevented us from seeing all the way across the Channel to France.

Dover Castle was impressive. We entered the castle compound and were able to go inside a 1000-year old church and a nearly 2000-year-old lighthouse built by the Romans.

That's right. This crumbly old lighthouse was built by the Romans. That was mind-boggling to me, coming from a city where anything before the 1960s is considered historic.

We walked along the built-up rampart and entered inside the castle. We saw many of the rooms used by countless servants and kings throughout the years, and we climbed up onto the roof, from which we took in more amazing views. The brilliant sunshine, sprawling green countryside, the sea on one side, the town below on the other. Impressive.

Getting hungry, we left the castle and headed downhill back into town. On our way out, we passed the ticket booth again and realized that we hadn't paid anything.

We walked back into town. Craving fish n chips, we stopped at the first chip shop we saw and got some take out (or as we say in the States, "to go"). We walked a few blocks to the beachfront and ate our greasy fish n chips there on some benches. After enjoying the meal, I lay on the beach. The beach was composed of pebbles and small but smooth stones. It was overwhelmingly pleasant (as contradictory as that might sound), laying out in the warm golden sunshine, looking over the ocean, just relaxing with absolutely no care in the world.

I dipped my hands into the English Channel. The water was cool. The two girls soon joined me. We lay for a while, then once we had soaked up enough British sun, we walked around the waterfront and nearby marina, stopping by an "outlet" store then getting some ice cream. The creamy soft-serve was even more perfect.

We then searched for the trail going along the famous white cliffs. We found it, and hiked up to enter the historic (national?) park. There was no entrance fee, so we entered and walked. And we walked. And we walked some more.

The white cliffs rose before us, and we were hiking along the top of them. Nevertheless, there were still some great vistas of the cliffs themselves and the rolling grassy green hills of the Kent countryside. We then continued to walk further and further along the trail. We made it as far as a lighthouse in the next town. I don't know exactly how far we hiked, but it had to be at least a couple of miles one way along the trail. I was wearing my Chucks, which isn't exactly appropriate footwear for a day-long hike! It was impressive that my feet made as far as they did.

Upon reaching the lighthouse, we decided to turn back, retracing our steps along the trail for most of the way. Closer to the start of the trail in Dover, there's a separate trail that leads right along the very edge of the cliffs. So we took that trail. There were more amazing views and a few more ups and downs on the rolling hills. But then, the trail led us into some thick shrubs and trees. Hmm... Then the path seemed to fade, as if few people ever walked that way. We kept going, however, because we saw that the shrubs cleared out and the path resumed.

Well the path resumed, but not for long: More shrubs blocked our way. They were thicker, thornier, and required us to essentially crawl through at points.

Then, suddenly, the trail ended. We came through the dense trees and shrubs and found a cliff going straight down on one side, completely impenetrable trees ahead of us, and a 25 foot (8 metre) high near-vertical climb to get to the main trail leading back to town. We stood there, weighing our options. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place! I looked at the girls, looked back at the arduous jungle we had just crawled through, and decided "fuck it, I'll just climb this sucker"

If only it were so easy. The rock face was rocky and slippery, and I was wearing Chucks! So as I began to climb, my feet would constantly slip. Making it worse, there was nothing to hold on to besides the dirt and rock of the wall itself. I also had to balance my things, which I was carrying in a plastic bag. I got halfway up the cliff when, stopping for a breath, I began to lose my grip and started slipping down.

"It won't work," I told the girls, who had started to climb below me, to go back. Coming down was hard for me though; I slid down, grasping for rocks or whatever I could reach. I reached for some branches to stabilize me, when suddenly--OUCH! I had just grabbed a branch full of thorns. Thorns! Two of my fingers were cut, but neither that badly.

The three of us returned back through the dense thorny shrubs, feeling defeated. Dehydrated and exhausted, we hiked back up to the main trail. My plastic bag was ripped to shreds. At least I still had my camera and iPod. We ambled back into town. The first store we found was a gas station, where we went in to buy some water and use the bathroom.

The sun was setting, and the three of us just wanted some place to eat and rest. But it was Sunday, and almost everything in this small town was closed. The only places open were McDonalds and KFC, which we couldn't bring ourselves to eating at. After walking around for half an hour, we found a kebab shop. The doner kebab was good, but not nearly as good as the ones I remember in Germany.

After our dinner, we walked back to our bus stop, and we waited in the chilly air for about 15 minutes before our bus arrived. Upon boarding the bus, I put on my iPod and quickly passed out. I have never fallen asleep so quickly on a vehicle. When I woke up, we were already back in London.

Unfortunately, the Tube was having some work done, so instead of taking the District Line straight back, we had to take a long detour, transferring at King's Cross onto a Whitechapel train. Walking back to the Uni from Whitechapel, we caught a bus to get us back home. Finally, after a long and exhausting day, I was back.

No comments:

Post a Comment