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

28 thoughts on “White Cliffs of Dover”

  1. What a beautiful trip, Mary Jo. I enjoyed the description of the excursions. I receive tour information from Viking Cruises. They sound so wonderful with smaller ships holding about 190 people. I don’t know of any other cruise line that offers this kind of luxury.

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    • So glad you enjoy my travel stories, Patricia! If you do choose to cruise, Viking is certainly worth considering. I think there are some lines that may have more luxury, but none that are more rewarding in terms of the company and experiences. Good food, too!

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  2. Fascinating blog, Mary Jo. I had no idea about the bluebirds and how a mistake turned into a powerful and uplifting metaphor. My mother used to sing that Vera Lynn song and she always choked with emotion when it came to Jimmy sleeping in his own little room again.
    Flying the spitfire plane looks like fun, too.
    I enjoyed that Dark Mirror series of yours. Might have to read it again.

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    • Anne, Vera Lynn was national treasure at a time when hope and comfort were desperately needed. She died quite recently at the age of 103, so she was in her early twenties when she was singing for her country,

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  3. I love it when you take us along on your trips. The spitfire simulator sounds especially interesting – but I might have lost my lunch during the belly roll (smile). Thanks again.

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  4. Really enjoyed this post. We live 20 minutes from Dover and often take the car over to Calais and beyond from there. As for the Spitfire simulator – I bought my husband a ‘trip’ in that for his last birthday. Had I known you were so close, Mary Jo, I’d have invited you over to Sandwich for a coffee!

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  5. I heard that Vera Lynn song when I was a child, and it still brings tears to my eyes. Also “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…” Ah, the power of music.
    I’ve never been to Dover in real life, but those cliffs loom so large in both history and fiction! I envy you your trip.

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  6. Thanks once again for an enjoyable post, Mary Jo; I do so enjoy traveling vicariously with you! (No standing in line and no sea sickness are boons.)

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    • Armchair travel is deservedly popular, Kareni! Luckily the Mayhem Consultant and I have never been seasick. That could change in the future, but so far, so good! I guarantee that you would have successfully sailed through the virtual belly roll.

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  7. Armchair travel is deservedly popular, Kareni! Luckily the Mayhem Consultant and I have never been seasick. That could change in the future, but so far, so good! I guarantee that you would have successfully sailed through the virtual belly roll.

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  8. This sounds like a fabulous trip!! I would love to do the Spitfire thingy. I love all the aircraft of both wars and have models of some of them.
    I also love the music of the forties and have a cd of Vera Lynn’s.
    Great post!

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  9. I’m looking forward to seeing the white cliffs of Dover one of these days! Closer to home, have you ever seen Picture Rocks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? It is thankfully a National Park and they limit those who have access to them from the water. They are what I imagine Dover to be.

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  10. That sounds like a fabulous private tour and experience. I’ve been very intrigured by your latest Viking tour. It sounds like a fabulous way to see so many iconic English locations easily.

    Definitely thank you for sharing your trip with us.

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  11. Sounds like a great trip, MaryJo! What was it like to simulate a Spitfire? Must have beeen fun! Love the photo of you in it.
    Perhaps the reason the composer put in a Bluebird it was because it symbolizes, happiness, peace and harmony, all things wished for in the song. I have a cd with Vera Lynn singing that song,as well as others. She had a wonderful voice. Wow 103! Amazing!Amazing!

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  12. Sounds like a great trip, MaryJo! What was it like to simulate a Spitfire? Must have beeen fun! Love the photo of you in it.
    Perhaps the reason the composer put in a Bluebird it was because it symbolizes, happiness, peace and harmony, all things wished for in the song. I have a cd with Vera Lynn singing that song,as well as others. She had a wonderful voice. Wow 103! Amazing!

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    • Jane A, flying the simulator gave me some sense of what it was like to fly a small plane, which was tricky. Hard to imagine flying one, shooting at the enemy, and not being shot down myself. Those WWII pilots were very smart and coordinated as well and insanely brave.

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  13. What wonderful tales from a beautiful trip. How cool you “drove” a Spitfire. Congratulations on sticking the landing!!

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  14. Wow, Mary Jo! What an experience for you both. All fun aside, it was a pretty hairy time. My uncle piloted bombers from England and my godfather was a navigator. Both had to overcome shocking odds to come home. Both were in ‘forced landings’ in severely damaged planes (on their respective returns to England luckily – no POW experiences), both reurned to service as soon as they could get out of hospital. Both were awarded medals for bravery. Neither ever really recovered from their experiences which broke the hearts of their loved ones. War stories never end with the war. Many, many years later I was providing talks on PTSD to the community and it was so sad to see lights go on all over the room (figuratively) and to have people come up to me and tell me that I could have been describing their fathers or grandfathers and now they understood why they were as they were. As they say, old sins have long shadows.

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    • MarryD, you are so right about the high cost the soldiers and sailors and fliers paid of freedom–that’s the meaning of Memorial Day. I’m glad your uncle and godfather came home, but am so sorry for the long lasting damage they and their family and friends endured. Your educating people on PTSD is a fitting tribute to them and the others who suffered the lasting effects of war.

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