Monday, July 4, 2011

Antiquing Trip to England: Day Three, Dover

Our third day in England started out with a stop at a local boot sale, or flea market. Sellers sold all sorts of things, new and old, from the boots (trunks) of their cars.

I found some great old toys at the table of a dealer who specialized in attic clean-outs of old houses. A Sooty xylophone, still in its box, first caught my eye. Sooty was a famous teddy bear hand puppet who was the star of his own British television show in the 1950s and 60s. He did magic tricks, and played "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" on a xylophone at the close of each program. Sooty had his own merchandise line, predominantly stuffed bears, of course. The xylophone has wonderful images of Sooty on each bar.

A little further down the table was an assortment of old cast lead toy figures which had clearly been played with and much loved. I chose a set of jungle animals; it reminded me of all those old movies about stalwart British adventurers. I also got a bear and a (rather misshapen) soldier playing a horn.

Another dealer at the boot sale had a small glazed case full of old clay pipes. These pipes are found in droves all along the riverbanks of Great Britian. Shortly before the trip, I had been watching an episode of Rick Steve's Europe in which he showed how these pipes can be found along the Thames in London when the tide is out. He explained that when these long clay pipes broke, as they invariably did, the owners would toss them into the rivers, traditional rubbish disposal sites. They did this for centuries, so there are lots of pipes (and other interesting things: some coming up in a future post!) to be found with a little digging near waterways all over the country. The two I purchased came from the River Medway, in Rochester, where our tour would be taking us later in the week. The white pipe is from 1640 (!) and the darker one is an Army Regimental pipe, circa 1870. It's rather moving to hold these artifacts and imagine who they first belonged to, so long ago...

After another scone break...

...we headed off to our major destination of the day, Dover Castle, on the English Channel with France in sight across the water.

Dover Castle was built in the 1100s on the site of a Roman defensive structure and an even earlier Iron Age fort. A Roman lighthouse still stands on the grounds, and is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a centurion, still keeping his lonely vigil.

This was my first castle, and it didn't disappoint. Absolutely massive, with rings of defences, it covered acres of hilltop with spectacular views of the English Channel. The castle is very strategically located, and played a major role in the country's defense during both the Napoleonic Wars and World War II. Tunnels dug into the surrounding chalk hills, like something from a James Bond villian's lair, provided secrecy and safety for security operations during the wars.

The outer castle wall and entrance.

After going on a tour of the Secret Wartime Tunnels (no picture-taking allowed there, as they are still Secret, apparently), we came out onto a high balcony, looking out over the harbor, with France visible on the horizon:

The day ended with a stop at the White Cliffs of Dover, the beautiful chalk hills that line the southeastern coast of Britain. Just visible at the end of the highway in this photo is a tunnel going through one of the cliffs:

Coming up next: Day 4, shopping in Lewes, a beautiful town packed full of antique stores, plus Sue Pearson's world-famous teddy bear shop. I will confess: I bought so much here, I actually had blisters on my hands at the end of the day from carrying my shopping bags...this was my favorite day of the whole trip!


  1. Stunning! Great photos and great stuff!

  2. WOW!!! is all I can say. I can't even pick a favorite to comment on. Thanks for sharing your fabulous trip.

  3. And I went through that tunnel on July 3! I live but minutes away, just around the cliffs from Dover Castle.

  4. That is so cool! What a beautiful spot it was, so full of history, and how lucky you are to live there!