Don't trip over your toga

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Recapture the past in Dover, says John Harrison

A 31ft remnant of the world's oldest known seafaring boat went on show in the Dover Museum last month. The sight of its 3,000-year-old timber frame, discovered 18ft below ground during road works in the town, cannot fail to stir the imagination.

All sorts of questions arise. What was it used for? How was it powered? How did it get there? The answers are: to carry cargo across the Channel; by about 20 paddlers; it could because the site was then beside the estuary of the broad River Dour, now just a narrow stream.

The boat is among three major attractions at the museum and adjoining White Cliffs Experience. Another, Roman Encounters, allows children to make mosaics, wear a toga and test their strength to see if they would measure up to being a legionary.

In Our Finest Hours they explore the shops and pub in a 1940s blitzed street until the sirens start wailing and an air raid warden hurries them into a shelter.

For school visits, Dover also has the former South Foreland lighthouse (on a lonely cliff top three miles east of the town) which will have the distinction - weather permitting - of being the first place in Britain to see the sun rise on January 1, 2000.

Children can climb the narrow staircase to the lamp, whose 26-mile beam helped guide ships past the Goodwin Sands from 1843 to 1988. They hear about the geo-graphy of the area and how the lighthouse was powered and staffed until it was superseded by global satellite positioning.

In December the cliff top will be the scene of special celebrations to mark the centenary of the world's first shore-to-ship wireless communication. This was made by Marconi from the lighthouse to the East Goodwin lightship on Christmas Eve, 1898. Amateur radio enthusiasts will dress up in costume to re-enact the event. And further celebrations are being planned there to mark the centenary of the first international wireless transmission, on March 27 next year. Marconi was responsible for this too, sending it from the lighthouse to Wimereux, on the French coast, 32 miles away.

Dover MuseumWhite Cliffs Experience, tel: 01304 21010. School groups Pounds 3 a child, one adult free with 10 children.South Foreland Lighthouse, tel: 01304 202756. School groups 75p a child, adults Pounds 1.50. Booking essential

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