When someone asks if you want to sleepover in one of England’s largest, and possibly most haunted, castle your immediate reaction should always be “yes, definitely yes”.
Earlier this week I lived out that dream, and it was every bit as brilliant as I imagined.
For the last few years English Heritage have been opening their doors a couple of nights a year to allow us common folk the opportunity to live and dine like royalty for a night in King Henry II’s Great Tower at Dover Castle.
Joining me on the tour were a mix of people who had either never visited Dover Castle before or were quite obviously regulars. As someone who falls into the latter category I was interested in what new perspective this sleepover could give me.
The evening began at 6pm in the Great Hall, where we were joined by two knowledgeable guides and a member of the South East Events team. After a brief introduction we were taken on a tour of the Secret Wartime Tunnels, which came with plenty of ghostly anecdotes courtesy of our guides. In one of the last Operations rooms on the tour we were snapping away – and make of this what you will – we captured a very distinct orb in one of our photos…. But again, believe what you want about that!
After the tour we were taken back into the Tower for a hearty dinner in the Great Hall and then for a second tour of the tower itself.
Now, by this point you will have noticed that I have failed to give you any real detail about the tours themselves, or any real historical narrative. The simple reason is there was nothing in the tours that a day visitor to the castle couldn’t enjoy. For one of the first times ever visiting a historic site I didn’t care about what I could learn, this was all about the experience.
And this is where it gets quite difficult to describe.
Sitting on the white cliffs of Dover, it is quite obvious why the castle is called ‘the Key to England’. Standing dominant from both the land and sea, a castle on a cliff faces some serious elements and on the night of our sleepover the wind was strong and howling.
Now imagine that wind at night, roaring through cracks, beating against wooden doors and pounding 18ft thick walls. Think about the sounds an average house makes at night, radiators turning on and windows creaking, and multiply it by a thousand, on possibly one of the stormiest nights of the year. Sounds awful right? But it was seriously cool. Lying there on our camp bed in the castle kitchen, it was as if the castle was speaking to you, whispering all its secrets. Back in Henry IIs day up to 50 servants would have worked there and slept around the hearth, so for a brief time you were bought closer them, listening to the same sounds they would’ve heard.
Ok, enough about all the noise – and if that was starting to put you off, don’t panic, EH provided earplugs! Let’s get back to that banquet in the Great Hall. When does this ever happen? Not often in my book, and is another great experience I know I won’t be repeating anytime soon.
Finally, and possibly one of my favourite parts of the sleepover, was having a bit of time to wander off and be totally alone. Sure it was a little creepy, and maybe I danced around a bit (do it when no one’s watching, right) but when do you ever find yourself alone in a 12th century castle? Again, not often.
Regardless of whether you have been to the castle before or not, I strongly urge you to book a place on the next sleepover. If someone offers you the chance to spend a night in an almighty castle, oozing with history from the Iron Age to the World Wars, take it.
A night at Dover castle was truly an experience, and one I will remember my whole life.
All images © English Heritage and Historical Honey.