20 November 2013

Dover Castle

After spending the first part of our summer break in the north of the UK we headed south for the final part to Kent to spend some time with my family.  There was lots of catching up with family and friends but also a little time for some days out too.  One such day was spent at Dover castle a great place to visit and one I haven't been to for a very long time.  We were lucky to have the most amazing weather for our visit, a truly beautiful British summer day with glorious sunshine and blue skies. The last time I visited it was raining and blowing a gale, Dover castle is pretty exposed so that really wasn't so much fun!

On arrival we headed straight for the medieval castle which is the largest in England.  It was built in the 12th century (prior to this an Iron Age hill fort stood on the site) and has had defensive significance throughout its history due to its position on the top of the famous white cliffs of Dover.  We firstly went into the Great Tower (featured in my photos) to look at the displays about the history of the castle and what medieval life would have been like.  There are lots of recreations and props showing what the kitchens and Great Hall would have looked like.

At the top of the Great Tower you are able to go out on to the roof and take in some great views.  Unfortunately on the day we visited it was very hazy despite the weather being beautiful. You can see in my photos below just how hazy the ferries coming into and leaving Dover look, definitely no chance of catching a glimpse of France across the English Channel that day! Nevertheless though we got to see some lovely views of the Kent countryside and the town of Dover stretching out below us and feel the warm sunshine on our faces.  Afterwards we then visited an exhibition about Henry II, the King who built Dover castle and learnt about the empire he built and another museum dedicated to the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment. 

View towards Dover, although it was a gorgeous day it was very hazy.
View across Dover docks from the castle, again you can see how hazy it was.  There was no chance of catching a glimpse of France that day.

I'm not sure how old I was the last time I went to Dover castle I'm not sure I was even in my teens but I'm pretty sure at that point you could not visit the tunnels that have played such a crucial role in various points in the castle's history.  The tunnels actually date from Napoleonic times and were originally dug to be used as barracks and storerooms for the troops and their equipment. At the end of the Napoleonic wars the tunnels were partly converted to be used in the fight against smuggling but this was only for a short while and in 1827 the tunnels were abandoned.

The tunnels remained abandoned until the outbreak of the Second World War when, in 1939 they were converted firstly into an air raid shelter and then into a military command centre and underground hospital.  It was from these tunnels that the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk (Operation Dynamo) was directed.  Later in their history it was also planned that they would be used as a shelter for Government in the event of a nuclear attack but this plan was eventually abandoned. 

Back though to their use during the Second World War.  A visit to Dover castle now has to include visiting the two tunnel exhibits and despite the queueing to go down into the tunnels (only so many are allowed down with each guide) it is well worth it.  We firstly queued to go into the underground hospital tunnel complex.  As we walked through we got to see the tunnels recreated to look as they would have done during the war and followed the story of a injured pilot brought to the hospital for life saving treatment.  The exhibition is excellently presented with both visual and recording effects.  I can never appreciate what it was really like down there in war time but this certainly gives me some idea.

Our guide was also very good, full of interesting facts and very engaging.  At one point of the tour the tunnel we had walked down continued further on before us but our tour took us through a door to the right.  As our guide finished speaking and we turned to follow him I noticed a man in uniform standing at the end of the tunnel who glanced at his watch as I looked at him.  He hadn't been there earlier and although I suspect it was a projection on to the wall designed to only be spotted by the observant few our guide was excellent at not giving anything away.  Only myself and my one stepson had noticed him or at least we were the only two to say we had after my stepson commented shortly afterwards that he'd seen a man standing at the end of the tunnel we'd just been in.  The guide's reaction was perfect leaving it to us to decide what we'd seen.  Later in the tour we actually passed through the end of the corridor where this man had been standing before but stupidly I forgot to look and see if there was anything obvious to confirm it was just a projection. Who knows .... what do you think?

After exploring the underground hospital tunnels we then went into the tunnels in the photo below to see the Operation Dynamo exhibit.  Again you have to queue as only so many are allowed in the tunnels at one time with the guide but it is worth it.  We weren't waiting too long either considering it was a lovely day and it was the school summer holidays (plus the Friday before a public holiday), so in theory a potentially very busy day to be visiting.

This exhibit was slightly different to the underground hospital this one took us through the story of the whole operation and how the rescue was engineered rather than following an individuals story.  Again though it was full of visual and sound effects and very informative.  As well as the Operation Dynamo exhibit we also got to see a number of rooms within the tunnels as they would have looked during their use in the war including a telephone exchange and several others.  I love this type of history and seeing old wartime posters on the wall, items arranged as they likely were in war time etc. was a thrill for me.

Entrance to the tunnels used during the Second World War

The whole day was not cheap but well worth the money considering all we got to see.  If it had just been the castle I would have felt a bit disappointed but the access to the tunnels and the exhibits in them really made it a worthwhile visit, it also easily filled a whole day.  It is well worth a visit if you find yourself in that part of Kent.

15 November 2013

Picnic and Deepavali Celebrations at Gardens by the Bay

The first Saturday in November was a holiday in Singapore for Deepavali.  Unfortunately as the holiday fell on a Saturday there was no official day off in lieu for it and it was up to companies to approve this individually.  I work Saturdays and originally thought I might get an unexpected day off as we are normally closed on public holidays but as Saturday tends to be one of our busier days we were open so I ended up having to work.  I don't work Fridays though and my husband's company also gave all of their staff the Friday off work in lieu of the holiday.  Happily this therefore meant that we were both free on the Friday and could make some plans for the day and enjoy the holiday a day early.

We decided it would be fun to have a picnic, something we haven't done a great deal since moving to Singapore, I guess mainly because of the climate.  It was decided we would go to Gardens by the Bay and keep our fingers crossed that it wouldn't rain or get too hot! As we also have a yearly Friends of the Garden pass, which allows us entry into the domes and on the Skyway walk through the Supertree Grove, we thought we could enjoy those again too afterwards.

Friday arrived and although it did rain a little in the morning, other than making it incredibly humid for a little while it wasn't a wash out and didn't affect our plans.  We enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch of bread, meats, cheese and wine, whilst watching lizards and other visitors to the gardens enjoying themselves - perfect!

As I mentioned it was Deepavali weekend and Gardens by the Bay had a themed display, as they do for many of the various holidays and for other events throughout the year.  They are always well worth checking out.  We went into the Flower Dome first and were greeted by a beautiful display of flowers and model elephants.  The elephants really looked at home nestled in amongst the carpets of flowers.  There were lots of interesting facts about the festival of Deepavali to read too as we walked in amongst the flowers that are always on show in the dome and those specially chosen for the themed display.

After a relaxing afternoon in the Flower Dome and walking on the Skyway enjoying the views we finished our day with some much needed liquid refreshment at a bar we seem to go to quite a lot.  It's called South Coast and is in the Shoppes mall at Marina Bay Sands overlooking the bay area.  It has an outside and inside seating area and is perfect for a little Sunday afternoon people watching.  It has unintentionally become a favourite haunt of ours, we've also eaten there and the food is good too with the usual choices of bar snacks, pizzas, a range of main meals, desserts and brunch items (which we sampled) all served daily.  We ended up spending a little longer there than anticipated that day as an afternoon storm took hold leaving us stranded in the bar!  However it's not a bad place to get stuck and was a lovely end to a lovely day.

Drinks with a view (from a different visit to South Coast)

05 November 2013


After a lovely week in the Lake District we then spent a few days with my husband's family in Southport, whilst there we decided to take a day trip to Chester.  I've been to Chester a couple of times before, the first time was when I was in my early teens and I think the last time was on a friend's hen weekend when I was in my mid-twenties.  We had a great weekend then visiting the zoo, eating, drinking, dancing and finally crashing all together in her friend's very convenient house close to the city centre!  Chester is, in my opinion, a lovely city full of history and great shops (though I didn't go in any of those this time) so well worth the trip and luckily not too far away from my in-laws.

Part of Chester's city walls

Our visit focused on a walk around the city walls which date from Roman times.  Whilst we were on our walk we were able to see the Roman amphitheatre, Chester castle, Chester cathedral, managed to divert off the wall to stop for lunch and refreshments and also saw Chester racecourse.  Chester has a rich history dating from Roman times onwards having originally been founded as a fortress by the Romans as they expanded their empire northwards.  The remains of Roman Chester and the Chester of other time periods are easily found throughout the city.

Roman remains in Chester

As I mentioned above the city walls date from Roman times and were built to protect Chester.  The walls were later extended during Medieval times to form a complete circuit of the city.  At the end of the Civil War the walls were no longer maintained for defensive purposes but became of leisure and recreational interest instead.  Walking the walls is a pleasant way to view the city and also a very easy walk.  There are plenty of points where you can come off the walls if you do need or want to and you can walk as fast or slow and as far as you wish.

Eastgate clock

Towards the end of our walk we came to the Eastgate clock.  It is said to be the most photographed clock in the UK after Big Ben.  I don't know if that's true or not but I've added to the number of photos taken of it I guess!  The clock stands on the site of the original entrance to the Roman fortress of Deva Victrix.  In case you had not realised the gate (the present one dating from 1768) is the Eastgate which joins these parts of the city wall.  It gives you great views over the busy city centre streets and allows you to pause and take your time people watching for a while.  What makes the walls even lovelier (in my opinion) is the number of little shops built into the walls or with an entrance from the wall.  It fascinated me to think about what shops and businesses may have been run in these spaces in years gone by.

Chester's city centre as viewed from Eastgate

It was lovely to be back in Chester again after quite a few (and perhaps too many) years.  Our walk around the walls was fun, interesting and let us see a lot of the main parts of the city too.  If you ever find yourself in this part of the UK I'd recommend visiting this city.

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