White Cliffs of Dover

White Cliffs

By Mary Jo

Cruises offer excursions at the ports they visit.  Viking always has one free included excursion at every port, and these are usually coach or walking trips with local guides that provide an a good overview of the area.  The Mayhem Consultant and I often choose these because they give a nice sense of the city or area.  There are also excursions that guests can buy, such as visits to local farms or local dancing, and can go all the way up to sightseeing flights that are seriously expensive.

Every now and then, we’ll book a private tour, usually through a site like www.toursbylocals.com . We’ve had great tours whenever we used this site so we booked a private tour for the Dover area with an emphasis on WWII history.  We thought it would be the highlight of the whole cruise, and it was.

The White Cliffs of Dover are iconic in Britain and often feature as a sign of returning home after a long and painful journey.  The cliffs are formed of white chalk and can be as high as 350 feet.  This area is England’s closest point to France, which is about 20 miles away across the Strait of Dover. Interestingly, the same ancient chalk geological feature extends to France and forms the Alabaster Coast, which is equally stunning.

During WWII, the young English singer Dame Vera Lynn was famously known as the “Forces’ Sweetheart” for her morale raising singing and the concerts she gave to British troops in fare flung places.  One of her most famous songs was “There Will Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover,” It was a song of hope for a future of peace.  Interestingly, the song was written by an American who didn’t realize that bluebirds aren’t native to Britain, but no problem: the bluebirds became a metaphor for the Royal Air Force planes flying to defend their homeland.

I’ve used the white cliffs in several books.  In particular the cliffs are a powerful element in Dark Mirror, the first book in my YA Dark Mirror series, where my young characters travel through time from the Regency to WWII, where they aid their country during the Dunkirk evacuation. Sprawling Dover Castle was built by the Normans, and in later times tunnels were dug in the soft chalk below the castle to quarter soldiers and military  commands.  This was true in Napoleonic times, and even more true during WWII, when the naval command for the English Channel was headquartered there.

Since The MC and I are both fascinated by the history, we hired Steven Moon as as guide.  He’s an expert in local history, especially aviation history.  He told me that it was possible to book time on a flight simulator for Spitfire fighter planes.  The brave pilots were praised by Winston Churchill in his famous quote, “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”  The mortality rate among these pilots was staggering, and they became known as “The Few.”

Steven told me that I could book 30 minutes on a Spitfire simulator at the Spitfire museum, so I did!  There’s a book I’d like to write where the hero is a Spitfire pilot, so it was research.  <G>  A very nice expert sat next to me and explained the controls.  The simulator was programmed for a mock flight from the local airfield to London and return, with visuals showing what a pilot would see.  He also put my through a belly roll. Fun!

I’d never make a pilot, but interestingly, by the end of the session I was beginning to get a feel for how to fly my pretend plane. I even managed a relatively safe belly landing when my landing gear didn’t come down properly.  <G>

It was great fun, and gave me even more respect for those brave pilots.  This was indeed the high point of my British Isles cruise. As the British pilots said, “Tally ho!”

Mary Jo