Sunday, 3 July 2011

One day like this a year would see me right.

So where was I? You know about the new scope, right? Yeah ok so did we talk about the day out fossil collecting? No? ok so that’s where we start, Sunday June 3rd, I’d arranged with a few good mates to head off down to Cliff End for a spot of fossil collecting, unfortunately the weather, and the tide was against us. So not a great deal of fossils were found and rain stopped play. We headed back to Rye for a pint and then headed our separate ways. To be honest if it hadn’t been for the company, I would have been rather disappointed with the day. Oh well some things just aren’t meant to be. 12 days later I’d planned to get together with a few friends again to view the total lunar eclipse, the weather put paid to that too. I spent the next two weeks carefully watching the weather forecast to keep an eye on how things were shaping up for the 3rd July. With June being unusually cold and wet I half expected today to be a complete wash out. Having no alternate arrange as stand-by a cancellation due to poor weather would have been bad form. I woke up and snuck in to snatch Uji from his Mommas arms so that she could get a bit of a lie in and I took the pups down stairs for their breakfast. I spoilt myself with a bowl of sugar puffs. I generally don’t bother with breakfast but today I figured I’d need the extra kick and sugar puffs do the trick quite tastily. When herself arose I took Ronnii for a quick stroll and headed down to chez Luke to join up with the rest of the away team. After a quick brew we headed off to Dover and the Western Heights car park.

The first port of call would be the Knights Templar church and then over to Saint Martin’s battery. Since we were there I thought I’d look to see if the deep shelter was accessible, to my surprise and elation it was, I won’t go into details on the how, suffice to say we could get in, oh sweet joy. After a minute or two getting everyone in we began exploring what is a short tunnel system that was built in the 1870’s, it was used as a shelter for troops during the first and second world wars, after a short walk along the ground level passage that gently slopes down and turns to the right, we reached the top of a flight of stairs that headed down to the main shelter area. The construction of the shelter is similar to the construction of the tunnel complex in the cliffs above the Eastern Docks and the deep shelter of Lydden Spout. It features two long passages that have rooms between them. These rooms would have served as sleeping quarters for the men who manned the guns that defended the towns’ western side. After the deep shelter, we head down from the battery and through the wooded area below where we came across the main entrance for the deep shelter. Sadly this is not accessible, rumor has it that a major collapse has long since filled it in. After a bit of debate it was agreed that we’d skip the Grand Shaft and head straight over to the Drop Redoubt Fortress. Work on this imposing building started way back in 1779 and was completed in 1807. It was built as part of the defenses for Dover during the Napoleonic war, but fortunately never saw action. Work continued through the 1800s and many features were added, including five bomb proof casemates. Four Caponiers were added with access to the top of the redoubt; officers’ quarters and cells were also added. During the Second World War the Redoubt was home to a squad of commandos who were under orders to destroy Dover Harbour if the enemy managed to invade the country. This unit of commandos was top secret and the lines leading to the fort were mined. Also on top of the redoubt can be found the Bredenstone, also known as the Devils drop of mortar. It is actually the remains of a second roman pharos that stood opposite the one located in what is now the grounds of Dover castle. After a walk around the Redoubt we walked along the lines and headed to the north entrance, although we managed to gain access through into the machine room that still houses the mechanism for operating the drawbridge, access to the main sections of this part of the defences is near impossible without strong rope and the ability to climb walls like Spiderman. One of our number, the smallest and lightest was elected to scale the remains of a severely rusted spiral staircase that would have been incredible in its time. When it was realised that the spiral went up but nowhere else we gave up on the North Entrance and scrambled out again. I did find a toad, but it may have been a frog, I can’t tell the difference, I’m not sure there is one really. We then set off for the detached bastion. A really nice walk through wooded, almost glade like, area that could be a million mile from the town and a million years in the past. I did worry that we may have disturbed a pack of Raptors when one of the away team sneezed like a girl. We even threatened to have him sorted out by a Diplodocus, it didn’t work and he sneezed again, no raptors though. Odd that I can be relieved and disappointed at the same time. Finally we reached the access point for the bastion; my heart sank when I saw that it had been sealed with half inch thick steel plating. we’d come so far and I must admits my hopes were rather high, so I thought I’d have a walk round the western side of the caponier to see if there was another entrance. As we turned the corner we spotted someone leaping out of the building, apparently when Dave tapped on the steel plate with his stick he put the fear of the Rozzers into the youngsters that were there. Initially they were a bit concerned that we may have been there to tell them off for being there, they were rather relieved when we told them to make way as we wanted in. The detached bastion was commenced in 1804, also as part of the Napoleonic defences, however because some chap in wellies sent old boney packing at Waterloo it wasn’t completed. It was added to in 1859 but still incomplete. After 1945 it was no longer needed by the military and abandoned. Then Her Majesties government turned the, rather grand, citadel into a youth detention centre and many of the passage ways were blocked of and sealed up to prevent the inmates doing a runner.

I had a thoroughly brilliant day and visiting the playground of my youth restored some very happy memories and we must do it again. I haven’t told the guys that there are other parts to explore, and although they’re not as grand as the places we visited today, the western outworks are worth a trip as it rounds of the exploration of Dovers hidden past. I’m sure the chaps would be up for it. What has surprised me is that I can still squeeze myself into the places still. Next year I shall watch out for the open day and we can visit the redoubt and get a look inside, that would make for a good day out and has the added bonus of being able to ascend the Grand Shaft.

It is, however, a great shame that the tunnel systems and fortifications are being allowed to fall into such a bad state of neglect and disrepair. Although I like the fact that the pathways in the lines on the western side of the lines twist through thickly wooded areas and I wouldn’t want to see that cut back, I would like to see the buildings at least partially restored and the walls given a coat of white wash to cover the graffiti.

Ok, so I lifted the title of this entry from a song, but it’s very pertinent to the day. It was spent with some very special friends and in some very special places. Not much could have made it better, save the presence of my nearest and dearest, and one or two friends who shared my childhood adventures on the western heights. Some are still around; one left us all too soon. So I dedicate today’s entry on this blog to tunnel rats old and new.

By the way, pictures of the day are available to view on Facebook and Picassa, a video will also be available once I’ve converted and edited it.


Grady and Leonardo said...

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful day with us.

I wish we had historic sites of this type that could be freely explored in Michigan.

Happy day to you.