History of Dover Port

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Find our more about Dover, its town, castle and port

Dover, in south east England, is probably most famous for its white cliffs, and for being one of the quickest sea routes to France. It is, in fact, the world's busiest ferry port, the journey to Calais takes just an hour and a half, and on a clear day you can actually see across to France whilst standing in England.

But with a fascinating historical past, good beaches and beautiful surrounding countryside, the town is a destination in its own right, not just a stop-off on the way to France.

The name of Dover comes from the stream which runs through the town. This is called the Dour, coming from the Celtic name meaning 'the waters'.

The area's history can be traced as far back as Julius Caesar. He and his troops landed on the beach near Dover during the two Roman excursions to Britain in 55 and 54 BC. Since then, the area has been heavily involved in defence of the country, and extensive defensive and military architecture can be seen. The French were fought off in 1216, and the area was the key to the successful evacuation of Dunkirk (in Northern France) in 1940. During the Second World War, the coastline was known as Hellfire Corner due to the heavy battering it took from the air and from the long range guns on the French coast.

But there was a secret command centre inside tunnels in the cliffs, and it was here that the army planned how to evacuate the British, French and Belgian soldiers. The operation was called Operation Dynamo, and 338,000 soldiers were rescued, a turning point and key success factor to the victory in the War.

There are lots of historical attractions. Dover Castle is an interesting piece of history. Dare to go down in the secret wartime tunnels, and imagine what it was like there during the Second World War. Explore the excavated Roman fort, the extensive Western Heights fortifications dating back to the time of Napoleon, and the fascinating White Cliffs Experience exhibition. Visit the Old Town Gaol to experience prison life as it was during Victorian times.

And if you want to scare yourself silly, visit the Maison Dieu House, behind the War Memorial in the centre of the town. This was built in 1665, and was used by the Agent Victualler until the Battle of Waterloo. It is the location for Dover Library, but its particular interest is in its reputation for being haunted by the Grey Lady of Oxney-Bottom.

After digesting all this history, you can sit on the good beach to recover, and gaze out to sea. And there are lots of cultural events throughout the year to bring you back into the modern world.