Last Updated on January 3, 2023

“There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover” were words from a song I recall hearing my grandparents play on their Victrola during my childhood. It was originally made famous in songstress Vera Lynn’s 1942 recording and is considered among the most popular of World War II songs. The lyrics looked toward a time when the war would be over and peace would rule over the iconic White Cliffs, Britain’s symbolic border with the European mainland. This was especially poignant for returning aviators and seamen who would view these white cliffs on their return from perilous war time missions.

How moving that as an adult, I finally had the chance to see these famous cliffs while on a family Disney Cruise that departed from Southeast England’s port of Dover. How to see the White Cliffs of Dover? That’s one way. The town of Dover in the historic county of Kent faces France across the Strait of Dover, the narrowest part of the English Channel.

White Cliffs of Dover United Kingdom

Known as the ‘Gateway to England,’ Dover is a charming English town with beautiful countryside and stunning coastal views. Dover Castle, representing 2,000 years of English history, is perched above the White Cliffs overlooking the town of Dover. The Cliff’s Victorian South Foreland Lighthouse was actually the site of Michael Faraday’s work in pioneering the use of electricity in lighthouses and the first to display an electrically powered signal.

And on the Cliffs, a visitors center now stands on what was once a prison site with an unfinished tramway and an aerial ropeway that delivered coal to the nearby port.

How to Go to White Cliffs of Dover from London?

Dover is roughly 80 miles mostly east and slightly south of London, depending on where in London you’re leaving from. By car, both the M2/A2 and M20 connect London and Dover. Bus service is available from a variety of stops and providers. Frequent and relatively inexpensive train service also makes the roughly hour-long journey.

All are good options for how to see the White Cliffs of Dover.

White Cliffs of Dover by Ship

Before boarding our ship, we also took a picturesque ride on the East Kent Railway heritage train though some of Kent County’s pretty-as-a-picture countryside dotted with charming cottages, grazing cattle and Exmoor ponies, native to the British Isles.

During both World Wars, Dover became known as Fortress Dover, a military zone from where troops staged and embarked for Continental Europe and beyond. During World War II, the town of Dover was bombed from the air, but its shattered seafront was subsequently redeveloped after the war.  Dover’s literal fortress, Dover Castle, remains open for travelers.

Once we boarded the cruise ship, our family went on deck for the sail away. The iconic White Cliffs of Dover were directly in front of us and during our departure, the sun reflecting off the Cliffs gave them a dazzling brightness that almost hurt my eyes. My 12-year-old grandson, who’s a history buff like me, asked about the Cliffs and their significance in history. We also talked about the fascinating geology of the cliff face itself. It left a lasting impression on both of us.

Reaching a height of 350-feet, the Cliffs owe their striking appearance to a composition of chalk and limestone accented by streaks of black flint which have built up over a million years. Stretching for almost 10 miles along the coast, the Cliffs stood guard at the Gateway to England as Britain’s front lines during World War II with large gun batteries protecting the coast from attack by German ships or enemy forces crossing the channel.

Dover Castle. Pixabay
Dover Castle. Pixabay

But like the song, the White Cliffs of Dover had a deeper, more emotional meaning to those who lived in England at that time, and those who fought in the war. The Cliffs became an immortalized symbol of hope and promise that peace and life would once again return with some semblance of normalcy after the war. In this respect, the Cliffs have as much meaning to many Englanders as the Statue of Liberty has for America.

As our ship pulled out of the port and headed to sea, the white shimmering Cliffs remained in view for a long while. I couldn’t help thinking that because peace was indeed restored to Europe after World War II, that the words of the song, “There’ll be love and laughter and peace ever after, tomorrow when the world is free” came true for so many.

Author

  • Michael Kompanik

    Michael Kompanik is a retired Navy CAPT and San Diego freelance journalist. His love of Europe began with his NATO assignment to Naples, Italy in the 90s where he traveled extensively to 17 European countries. Since then, trips to Europe are always on his radar.

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