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The Drop Redoubt... Open Day with the Western Heights Association

I must start this by admitting to having known little or nothing about the Drop Redoubt, on the Western heights of Dover, until recently.  My friend Andy Raynor invited me down on the occasion of their first Open Days of 2018.  He is one of the volunteer members of The Western Heights Association, a group who look after this historic site, which is actually owned by English Heritage who in turn leave the administration of the defence works in the hands of the association.  One part of these extensive Napoleonic era defence works is the Drop Redoubt, the one part which is currently safe enough to be opened to the public on just a couple of Open Weekends during the year.  The first for 2018 was held on the weekend of 19/20 May, when we made the journey down to Dover to have a look.  What we found took me completely by surprise.

Having found a small car park on the Centre section of the Military Road we had a marvellous view over Dover Harbour and the sea towards France beyond.  A short walk on a path behind an old part of the fortifications, the St Martins Battery, now derelict and always accessible, we got to the entrance for the Drop Redoubt itself.  A doorway in the side of an embankment was open, and we found ourselves having to bend double to walk through the tunnel and coming out to find ourselves standing within a brick lined inner ditch.  Mind you, the term ditch really doesn’t do it justice.  About 40 feet wide and walls maybe 20 or so feet high, it surrounds the inner fort.  The straight lines of the ditch surrounding that inner fort are covered by firing slits one each corner of the fort so any troops who had managed to get into it would have been confined and at the mercy of the defenders.

Walking around we came to the Association’s stand by the entrance door to the inner fort.  Inside, steps led to the inner gun rooms.  These in themselves are huge and really very impressive.  A longer staircase leads up to the top of the Redoubt itself, where you have access to the upper ramparts, a Parade Ground, the main Magazine as well as additional staircases down into the other gun rooms within the redoubt.  While mentioning it I have to say that the views over the harbour, out to sea and across to Dover Castle on the Eastern hill are superb.

For the Open Days, there were members of the Association who were there to explain the history of the Redoubt and their work to restore it.  There was also a fine model of the Drop Redoubt as it used to be, with many buildings that were once built in front of it, though now long gone, and built by my friend Andy Raynor.  The other element that brought things to life were some displays by re-enactors in Napoleonic Uniform and giving parade and musket firing drills.  The other element was provided by a group of Steam Punk enthusiasts, all in their own style of dress.  Add one or two stands for traders and there was plenty to provide entertainment while having the chance to see inside this amazing bit of history, a Napoleonic defence work which is hidden from view other than during the few open days they hold each year.  There are other extensive elements to the Western Heights fortifications, particularly the Citadel, but these remain in an unsafe condition to enable them to be open to the public, but as restorations continue so in time perhaps they will be able to open these up as well.

There is one other element which was open, the Grand Shaft.  This was a shaft to enable troops to get down directly to the town.  A triple staircase set with a central light shaft.  It is 26ft in diameter, 140 ft deep and at the bottom a 180 ft gallery to open in Snargate Street.

My thanks go to Andy for the invitation and the chance to see this gem hidden away in the heights above Dover Harbour.  Sadly on the day of our visit, my gout was playing up and even the thought of walking all those steps was just too much for me.  So that sets me up for a return trip on another of their future Open Day.


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