Wow. Were medieval rooms really this… colourful? I tipped my head quizzically, as though I thought a new angle would correct what spread before me. Vibrant red, blue and gold encircled the room. It hung from the walls, sprawled across the floor and extended toward me on islands of furniture.
“Colour was expensive. Only the homes of nobles and royalty would have been adorned in these rich colours,” my partner, J, said over my shoulder.
And yet, right then, vibrancy floated freely around the room on the backs of the modern visitors to this medieval scene.
I’m sure most of those folks are excited to see the upcoming Jurassic World movie. I know I am. The anticipation makes sense. Humanity’s idea of dinosaurs (or at least our possibly incorrect vision of dinosaurs) was brought to life in the series with the best technical knowledge of the time. The use of animatronics brought a tangibility to the experience (and the reaction of the actors) which is often missing from the CGI based films of today.
This is the difference between filling in the gaps with imagination and being able to step up to a physical model.
People love having the opportunity to immerse themselves in the past. I wrote about one way to achieve this in a post about Kindra Jones, a professional re-enactor.
Unfortunately, we are not all able to dedicate the necessary time, effort and money required to be professional historical interpreters. Most of us only have the time to peek in on history from time to time (haha see what I did there).
Museums are a great place for a quickie, but after a while they can leave you feeling unfulfilled. There’s only so many solitary chairs, beads, bricks and pots you can look at before your mind begins to deflate (unless you’re particularly knowledgeable and can appreciate the evolving details).
It’s like trying to visualize someone’s life from what they dumped at the landfill after renovating. A couch can only tell us so much (like how much change and chips they lost between the cushions).
This is why places like Dover Castle are such a treat. You can gawk at medieval interior design, listen to a steward explain the room’s functions and sip from the cups of the king (well replicas anyway). I became a queen for five seconds, tread along the servant corridors and dashed through the underground tunnels like a soldier.
The other fabulous thing about Dover Castle is what you get for the price of a ticket. For £18 you get to see remnants from about 2,000 years of history—with monuments from the Romans, Medieval kings, a close scrape with Napoleon and cross channel battles with WWII German forces. I think this is a reasonable price (especially on days where actors revive the site’s history).
In comparison, it costs about £14.50 to enter and get a tour of Ely Cathedral and £4 to enter Castle Rising near Kings Lynn.
Some people disagree and say the site costs too much for a place that greatly lacks a presentation of information. In this sense I agree. The castle leans slightly more toward the dramatic than the informative, but that’s easily solved by either buying the guidebook they offer (which would be great if offered freely or at least condensed into a free version) or by doing some research before visiting.
For example, I watched a television documentary online called Secrets of Great British Castles: Dover Castle after my visit and wish I’d watched it before (as always is the case). The show offers a neat and clear overview of the most prominent moments witnessed by the site. J did the usual J thing and read about the castle grounds on Wikipedia.
In its defense, the English Heritage’s Dover website describes the lack of information panels as an effort “to keep the rooms as authentic as possible” and I personally think it’s pretty cool that way (and especially nice for fun photos).
Maybe they could introduce a free app which augments the information over the room? You just point the camera and your phone will tell you what you’re looking at, for example something like Field Trip or Wikitude!
Still, from the tiptop of the castle keep to the WWII and medieval tunnels burrowing deep into the salt cliffs, the Dover Castle site was a real thrill to explore!
We only have problems with the amount of people visiting with us! It was a cool overcast day and yet we had to rub elbows with people at the entrance and wait for 40 minutes to enter the smaller WWII tunnel, the hospital. The larger one was anticipating an hour and a half wait. While the tour was fun with ghostly hovering voices accompanying our walk through the tunnels it was a pity we were herded through so quickly.
Nevertheless, this is the price of popularity, so for the most part I was pretty indifferent to the crowds. The lack of information cards may have been a boon since the flocks of people kept moving. I don’t even want to picture the horrendous congestion that would have arisen if people were given the chance to stop and read about everything.
But I’d love to go on a day where they re-enact history! The marriage of the medieval furniture and wandering ghosts from the past must be an exquisite experience indeed.
Definitely drop in to Dover if you have a chance. The area has a lot to offer historically and geographically. If you are looking for a great walk you may want to try the SWC Walk 13.