If you’ve ever chanted the nursery rhyme, “I’m king of the castle/and you’re the dirty rascal”, you’ll be in your element staying in Peverell Tower. It’s a thirteenth century gatehouse in what was one of the walls of Dover Castle, where you’re right underneath the Great Tower which dominates the country for miles around.
To the back of the kitchen, there are the great walls of the castle; beyond it, there’s the former constable’s lodge and the narrow entrance. The front looks out to the English channel, to France, visible as light blue bumps on the horizon, and you can see a P&O ferry docked in the port – in normal times, there would be endless traffic to and from here. On a clear bright day, the view is extraordinary.
This is a treasure of a little apartment, a 13th century bit of fortification – only the way we like it now, with wifi, a shower, John Lewis things in the kitchen and central heating. The best of both worlds, then.
In the bedroom there’s the graffiti left by one Pierre Ausudrey, 1727, probably one of the prisoners formerly kept in the gatehouse. Everyone who comes here, especially the prisoners, seems bent on leaving their mark (don’t join them); there is some lively graffiti in the main castle too.
And for good measure there’s meant to be an actual ghost from the time the place was constructed in the late thirteenth century – apparently, in a retrospective pagan gesture, the builders interred a black dog in the foundations who was later joined by his indignant owner, an old lady; they’re still complaining, though I can’t say I heard.
The castle was built by Henry II around 1180. It’s a great massy building with walls 20 foot deep, but it’s actually made for living in rather than defence. In the other direction, there’s a slope to the Roman pharos, or lighthouse with its Roman layered brickwork still remarkably preserved (the castellations are a Victorian improvement) with crows flying in and out. Next door is the old Saxon Church of St Mary in Castro – this has been a fortified place for a very long time. All around are the slopes of what was once an Iron Age fort. In other words, there’s an awful lot of history packed into this one space.
You can get a tour of the castle during opening hours, and it’s been reconstructed intelligently with materials used at the time – though the reconstruction is good guesswork. The little chapel devoted to St Thomas Becket is a reminder that the castle was built just after King Henry saw off the archbishop up the road in Canterbury. Mercifully, there are no interpretative placards inside, which blight many historic sites. Instead, there is an interpretative centre, and English Heritage, which owns the site, has excellent guides and actors dressed in the costumes of the periods to talk to visitors. Dover Castle has a Napoleonic Wars component too – see the canons on the battlements – and played an important role in the First and particularly Second World War; witness the tunnels dating from both the Napoleonic and Second World wars, which, alas, are out of bounds on account of Covid restrictions.
Peverell Tower is intended for a couple of visitors; if there are more of you, there’s always the house next door, which is practically modern, dating from 1800. You have to bring your own food or order it in, though visitors get a nice hamper with essentials plus wine and cake. This would be the perfect place to bring a sketching pad and paints if you’re that way inclined.
Come five o’clock when the gates close with a clang and the visitors leave, it’s magical. That’s when the place is all yours (plus the security guards). That’s when you’re king of the castle.
Peverell’s Tower, Dover Castle, sleeps two and costs from £490, based on a three night stay. Included in the price is a hamper, as well as entry to all English Heritage sites and events during your stay.
To book, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/holiday-cottages or call 0370 333 1187