White cliffs of Dover explained
The white cliffs of Dover are cliffs which form part of the British coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France. The cliffs are part of the North Downs formation. The cliff face, which reaches up to 106 metres high, owes its striking façade to its composition of chalk (pure white calcium carbonate) accentuated by streaks of black flint. The cliffs spread east and west from the town of Dover in the county of Kent, an ancient and still important English port.
The cliffs have great symbolic value for Britain because they face towards Continental Europe across the narrowest part of the English Channel, where invasions have historically threatened and against which the cliffs form a symbolic guard. Because crossing at Dover was the primary route to the continent before air travel, the white line of cliffs also formed the first (or last) sight of the UK for travellers.
The cliffs are located along the coastline between approximately: Latitude 51°06'N, Longitude 1°14'E and Latitude 51°12'N, Longitude 1°24'E. Shakespeare Cliff marks the point where England most closely approaches continental Europe. On a clear day, the cliffs are easily visible from the French coast.
The cliffs are composed mainly of coccoliths. White cliffs like those of Dover (but smaller) are also found on the Danish islands of Mon and Langeland or the coasts of the island of Rügen in Germany. The cliff face continues to erode at an average rate of one centimetre per year, although occasionally - most recently in 2001 - large chunks of the edge, up to several metres at once, will fall into the channel with little warning. Visitors are, therefore, urged to remain at least five metres back from the edge.
Several species of cliff nesting birds nest on the cliff face, including, fulmar and colonies of Black-legged Kittiwake.However, contrary to the words of the famous song ("There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover"), bluebirds are an American species not found in the UK.
Behind the cliff face are miles of hidden tunnels that were created during the Middle Ages and later played a role in the defence of Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. The tunnels were later enlarged to become the Secret Wartime Tunnels beneath Dover castle.
References in culture
- In Matthew Arnold's 1867 poem "Dover Beach", the cliffs are a sign of reassuring strength. Rudyard Kipling's 1902 poem "The Broken Men" ends with the lines "How stands the old Lord Warden? Are Dover's cliffs still white?" to represent the English exiles' homesickness. The most iconic reference is perhaps the World War II song, sung by Vera Lynn, "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover".
- Other people to cover the song or sing about the white cliffs include Glenn Miller, The Righteous Brothers, Kay Kyser, Kate Smith, Blur, in the song "Clover Over Dover", Coil, in the song "Ostia (The death of Pasolini)"; The Decemberists, Louis Prima, Robson and Jerome, Clutch, Andrew Bird, Current 93 and Fatboy Slim. Other poetry includes Alice Duer Miller's "The White Cliffs", on which the 1944 film The White Cliffs of Dover was based. The cliffs are also mentioned in Jimmy Cliff's hit Many Rivers to Cross and rap duo EPMD's Crossover.
- In Ian Fleming's third James Bond novel, Moonraker, a chapter is set at the cliffs. The villain attempts to assassinate Bond and Gala Brand by bombing the cliff so they are showered in debris.
- Guitarist Eric Johnson wrote a well-known composition called "Cliffs of Dover", which won a Grammy.
- In the animated film The Chipmunk Adventure one of the songs, "Off to See the World" refers to seeing the "Cliffs of Dover"
- in 2000, Shakespere's Cliff was used as a level setting in Tomb Raider III:The Lost Artifact. In this level, the protagonist Lara Croft is on the journey searching for an artefact named the Hand of Rathmore in Paris. She adventures through the channel tunnel between Dover and Calais.
- In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, the cliffs were named as the 3rd greatest natural wonder in Britain. The cliffs were also seen in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner.
- Twenty-eight days before it was released, a Biohazard sign was projected on the cliffs to promote the 2007 film 28 Weeks Later.
- Jamaica Kincaid references the white cliffs of Dover in her essay "On Seeing England for the First Time." 
- British band Blur's song Clover over Dover tells about the White cliffs of Dover.
Notes and References
- News: BBC. News. 'Biohazard' image on Dover cliffs. 2007-04-13. 2007-05-04.
- http://www.nyu.edu/cas/ewp/html/johnson2000.html Jamaica Kincaid:retrieved October/18/2008