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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Speed

Dover Bluebird Heritage Trail

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

The historic town of Dover has so much to offer history enthusiasts in addition to its iconic cliffs and castle. A great way to explore its history is by following the Bluebird Trail, but how accessible is it?


Don't need accessibility info? Jump to The Visit to find out more about the trail and the history you can discover.


Location



The recommended starting point is at the Dover War Memorial, located in front of the Town Hall at:


The Maison Dieu

Biggin Street

Dover

Kent

CT16 1DL




Access


Parking There are several car parks in the area, but there are also on-street disabled bays in the town centre. We parked on Worthington Street. Car parks are marked on Google Maps and on the Trail guide. Charges and restrictions may apply, check the information at your chosen place of parking.


The Grounds are generally accessible and in good condition, but some parts are challenging. Expect to encounter uneven paving and inclines and declines at various points. There is only one place that is accessed via steps, so it is mostly wheelchair accessible but the steep incline of some sections of the route make it a challenge, so much so that we did not complete the trail in its entirety.


Unless you go inside some of the places on the trail (only possible during open season), there aren't many places to sit and rest, but benches and low walls can be found along the route. It is a busy town centre.


Facilities The town has many places to purchase food and drink or to dine. Public toilet information can be found here.


The nearest changing places toilet is located in Dover Gateway.



The Visit


The Bluebird Heritage Trail is a great way to discover the town's less well-known history. The trail guides you around the town, taking you to a variety of historic sites, memorials, and museums.


Wonderfully flexible as a self-led tour, you can choose how long to spend at each place, which bits to miss if you can't do it all, and which places to explore more.


Some of the destinations are museums, some can be viewed from outside.


You can access the trail guide via their website, which I'll link to in the For More on the Sites section.


The town has trail markers and information boards, so even if you visit outside of opening times for the indoor attractions, there is still plenty to read and see.



A highlight for me was seeing the remains of Dover Priory, thought to be the place of King Stephen's death in 1154. King Stephen is one of the less famous monarchs of England, yet his history and that of the period of his reign is fascinating.


King Stephen's remains are a bit of a mystery. It was said that the remains of the King and his family were thrown into a creek when Faversham Abbey (where they were buried) was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s. Many believe that the bones of the King and his wife and son were re-interred in a tomb at the St Mary of Charity Parish Church, but this has not been confirmed. What we do know is that he definitely died in Dover and was buried at Faversham Abbey in Kent, which he and his queen, Matilda, had founded in 1147.


It's not just the mystery of his remains that makes Stephen an interesting King of England. His reign was notoriously problematic, having claimed the throne of England on the death of his uncle, King Henry I, despite Henry having named his daughter, Empress Matilda, as his heir and Stephen having vowed to support her. His cousin Matilda attempted to take the throne, and the wars plagued the country for fifteen years.


Given that Stephen's reign lasted nineteen years and was challenged for fifteen of them, it's easy to see why his reign was overshadowed by the turmoil, known to history as The Anarchy.


With family feuds, the divisive need for support from the nobleman and clergymen of England, the infamous daring escape from imprisonment of Empress Matilda in a snowstorm, and the sudden death of Stephen's heir leading to Stephen naming his cousin Matilda's son as his new heir (despite having another son of his own) in a bid for peace, The Anarchy is a tumultuous and fascinating part of English history.


BBC's Horrible Histories tackled it entertainingly but accurately in this song, which also addresses the potentially confusing matter of Stephen's wife having the same name as his cousin.




What's more, before all this had happened, Stephen had narrowly escaped almost certain death in what became known as The White Ship Disaster, the very event which led to the problem of succession and Stephen claiming the throne.


The White Ship was the vessel transporting Henry I's son and heir, William Adelin, and many other family members and nobles back to England from France. It sank off the coast of Normandy and left only one survivor, a butcher from Rouen, who reported that the heir William died whilst attempting to save his half-sister from drowning. Guess what the half-sister's name was ... Yep! Matilda. That's already three Matilda's connected to Stephen: his wife, his illegitimate cousin, and his cousin who would become his rival for the throne. Best not bring his grandmother into the equation.


So how did Stephen escape death alongside his cousins? He disembarked before the ship set sail. What if Stephen had stayed onboard? What if William Adelin hadn't tried to save his half-sister? What if the disaster never happened? Yes, The White Ship Disaster is one of the great what-ifs of history.


With all that, you can perhaps understand why I was so excited to be at the site of King Stephen's death, and thanks to the Dover Bluebird Heritage Trail, you can easily find it, too. But if twelfth-century monarchs aren't for you, there's plenty more to see in this wonderfully historic port town.


Top Tips


  • If you want to see inside the museums that are on the trail, check their opening times ahead of your visit


  • Be aware that the Roman Painted House, one of the points of interest on the trail, is only open during summer months


  • It takes several hours to do the trail; we spent most of a day and did not do points 13 to 31. If you want to go inside and look around the museums or stop for lunch, plan for a whole day out


  • Though mostly accessible to wheelchair users, there are some parts that are steep or narrow, and the Admiralty Pier is accessed via steps


  • Rest points are few and far between but there are plenty of cafes in the town where you can sit and take refreshments as paying customers



For More on the History


For more on King Stephen and The Anarchy, I recommend Matthew Lewis's Stephen and Matilda's Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy (Pen and Sword History, 2020)


For more on The White Ship Disaster, try The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I's Dream by Charles Spencer (William Collins, 2021)


For More on the Sites


You can access the Dover Bluebird Heritage Trail here. Simply download a PDF copy from the website. Alternatively, printed copies can be obtained at Dover Museum, which is one of the sites on the trail.


Final Note


With the rising cost of fuel, my visits to places of historic interest have been fewer than I'd like in recent months, but I do have a couple of short visits to write about and we do have a trip to Scotland planned as I need to take one of my artworks to a gallery for an exhibition, so we will be sure to stop by some historic places while we're there. Meanwhile, if you're curious, you can check out my artwork by visiting my website here.


Until then, happy travels!



*Disclaimer: This blog is written as a travel blog with a disability focus and history theme. It is intended to entertain and inform but is in no way a comprehensive guide and I do not attempt to provide a full accessibility guide for any site. Readers planning to visit any sites should check site websites or contact sites directly for up-to-date information on opening times, facilities, accessibility and other required information.





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