After my interview at Radio Kent, I took my daughters down to Dover. Last week I chaired the meeting of Dover Pride, after which I was shown around Dover’s Western Heights (see my posting “Dover – a hidden Kent treasure” from October 26th). I wanted to share what I had seen with my children, so I walked them around the fortifications and explained the history as it was told to me last week.
They both said what a great time they’d had walking around this living history, so I suggested that after lunch I’d take them to Dover Castle at the other end of the town.
I wish now that I hadn’t.
The approach to the Castle was a solid traffic jam, and we waited patiently for what seemed like ages until a member of English Heritage staff approached us. “Our tills have all gone down. If you give me your credit card I’ll take your payment for you…”. I made it clear I really wanted to see the Wartime Tunnels, and she told us we could join the 3pm tour. So now we had a guide book and three tickets, but still didn’t get into the Castle grounds for another ten minutes, by which time there were no parking spaces as they’d let in too many people.
It all seemed a bit ‘self sufficient’ as there were no guides apparent, but eventually we found a chap distributing headsets for a ‘self service’ tour about Hubert de Burgh, Justiciar under Kign John in the 1200’s. Whilst my youngest’s headset gave her a documentary in French, my own were a little more exotic, telling me about the exhibition in Japanese!
We arrived at the Wartime Tunnels tour area a ten to three, and were told to wait. At ten past three a guide took the group in. “Is this the three o’clock tour?” I naievely asked. “No – it’s ten past. You’ll have to go back to the desk.” Despite my protestations that we were there well before three, she was having none of it. Thoroughly dispirited and concerned about getting the kids back, we left. As we walked to the car park we found a group of people around the entrance to the underground wartime hospital, and stopped with another family to listen to the guide. “Sorry” said the guide “You can’t listen unless you’ve booked for this tour…”.
It was the final straw. Disorganised and downright rude, this was a place where takings on the gate seemed more important than customer care. As family members of the National Trust, I had thought we’d buy membership to English Heritage before we left, as the gate fee was discounted off the price.
But on Friday’s evidence, we won’t be bothering.