Fan Bay Deep Shelter at The White Cliffs of Dover
Completed in just 100 days, Fan Bay Deep Shelter provided shell- and bomb-resistant accommodation for the soldiers serving on the nearby gun battery in the Second World War. After a mammoth volunteer rediscovery and reconstruction effort, visiting the shelter is now a highlight of many trips to The White Cliffs of Dover.
Your visit to the deep shelter
The deep shelter is now closed for the winter. We look forward to welcoming you again in Spring 2024. Please see our home page for opening times, which will be published in the New Year.
Today, you can experience the shelter just as the soldiers did over 80 years ago. Your visit to Fan Bay Deep Shelter will be a unique and inspiring experience. You’ll be inside the tunnels for around 45 minutes, and you will be wearing a protective helmet with a head torch, which will provide lighting for your journey.
Getting to Fan Bay Deep Shelter
The deep shelter is approximately 40 minutes walk from the visitor centre at Langdon. Here is a downloadable map to help you choose your route. We're sorry - there is no vehicle access to the deep shelter.
Steps into the past
After your safety briefing, you descend the 125 steps into the shelter. Your knowledgeable and friendly guide will show you wartime depictions of the scenes within the tunnels and artefacts and graffiti left by the soldiers and those who followed. You can look at the vain attempt at dismantling the shelter by the scrapman and admire the fossils in the chalk. Halfway through your tour you will emerge into daylight to see the two sound mirrors – relics of an earlier conflict. You'll complete your tour by going back underground, through the longest tunnel in the complex, before you climb the stairs and head back into daylight once more.
Views of the deep shelter
Some of the features you'll be able to see when you take a guided tour of Fan Bay Deep Shelter.
A guided tour descending into Fan Bay Deep Shelter
The staircase of 125 steps in three flights is the original concrete and steel structure that the soldiers would have used to enter the shelter. You can almost sense the relief that they would have felt as they rushed to take cover from shells from the German guns on the French coast, just 20 miles (32km) away, or the enemy aircraft with bombs and machine guns, directly overhead.
We want you to enjoy your experience at Fan Bay Deep Shelter to the full. Please read the following advice.
Please check our opening times and days on the White Cliffs home page here.
Tickets are sold on a first-come-first-served basis. Due to a lack of mobile phone signal, we cannot accept card payments at the deep shelter. If you wish to pay by card, or if you would like to check tour availability before walking out, please ask at the Visitor Centre shop near the car park or at the South Foreland Lighthouse shop. National Trust members with valid membership cards can visit for free.
Tours normally start every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour between 11am and 3pm. Our guides will ensure your safety and show you the entire tunnel complex, together with the sound mirrors. The tunnels are cool and damp. The floor is slippery in places and the tunnel lining can be sharp. We provide a hard hat and head torch, but you’ll need sensible shoes with closed toes. No flip-flops, sandals, or high heels, please.
The tunnels are accessed using the original staircase of 125 concrete steps, descending or ascending 23 metres (75 feet). The staircase has lighting and a handrail and you’ll be encouraged to take the stairs steadily. If you are unsure about the staircase, please ask to see it before you decide to take a tour.
There will be a noticeable temperature change on the staircase as you enter and leave the shelter. Most of the tunnels provide enough height and width to enable upright walking throughout the tour, although some crouching down is needed in a couple of short sections, particularly if you are tall. Please ensure you take any medication you may need into the shelter. If you feel uncomfortable or unwell at any stage during your tour, just let your guide know.
Our tours are child friendly. We must cater for everyone on the tour and very young children may find the stairs challenging and some of the presentation content difficult to absorb. We advise a minimum age of 8 years. We have a number of child-sized hard hats and head torches for their protection. Because of the dimensions of the staircase, it is not possible to carry babies or children into the shelter.
Because of the staircase and limited facilities underground, we regret that we cannot admit dogs, other than assistance dogs, to the deep shelter.
The nearest toilets and catering facilities are at South Foreland Lighthouse, just over ½ mile (1 km) away. We can top up your water bottle at the deep shelter on request.
A short history of Fan Bay Deep Shelter
Defence and attack
Built on the orders of Winston Churchill in 1940, the Fan Bay 3-gun battery was able to fire 6-inch (150 mm) shells 14 miles, attacking enemy shipping and defending the Port of Dover.
The battery was within reach of the German gun positions in occupied France, and to protect the troops at the battery, the Royal Engineers built the deep shelter. Starting at the existing sound mirrors, and using only hand-held tools, they tunnelled deep into the chalk cliffs, supporting the rock with tons of steel framework and lining. The shelter provided basic living accommodation for up to 154 soldiers and officers and we can only marvel at their achievement today.
Abandoned and Forgotten
After the Second World War, the battery remained in service as a training facility, staffed by the 4th Training Regiment. In early 1952, outdated and too costly to maintain, the last shot was fired. The guns were removed and placed into storage, and the rest of the metal site structures sold for scrap. The metal tunnel lining and supports proved too difficult and dangerous to remove, and only a small section was dismantled, which can be seen today.
The site was abandoned in the mid-1950s and became a scene of dereliction and vandalism. During the 1970s, to clear the cliffs of the relics of war, the visible structures were demolished, and the tunnel entrance covered with a thick layer of spoil. An unsuccessful attempt was made to demolish the sound mirrors and these were covered with over 4 metres of spoil, also sealing the underground exits.
During the 1980s erosion and subsidence caused a small hole to develop leading to the now partly infilled staircase. Explorers worked their way in, and we can see the graffiti they left today.
The National Trust acquired the site in 2012. The entrance ‘hole’ was sealed, and the site secured.
Volunteering on an epic scale
Starting in late 2013, over 50 volunteers donated over 3000 hours of their time which, together with partner and donor contributions, saw the staircase and tunnels cleared of soil, demolished masonry, and rubbish. In late 2014, over 600 tonnes of spoil were removed from the sound mirrors, exposing these iconic structures for the first time in over 40 years.
The tunnel entrances at the staircase and sound mirrors were rebuilt, the original plant room and generator room discovered, excavated and re-roofed and on 20 July 2015, the first guided tour descended the staircase. Since then, over 50,000 visitors have embarked on this unique experience. The sound mirrors are now scheduled monuments, giving them added protection by law.
The Fan Bay Sound Mirrors
With Louis Bleriot’s epic flight across the channel in 1909, the Strait of Dover no longer offered our island nation security from attack. During the First World War, Britain came under aerial bombardment for the first time and new ways of protecting ourselves were needed.
The first sound mirror experiments were conducted in 1915 using ‘dishes’ cut directly into chalk at a site near Maidstone, Kent. These early attempts soon gave way to larger, more complex concrete structures, faced with smooth cement. Sound mirrors became relatively common around the south and east coasts of England coast from Hampshire in the south, to County Durham in the northeast.
How sound mirrors work
Sound mirrors used a curved surface to concentrate the sounds generated by the aircraft’s engine, reflecting these into a funnel-shaped collector to which was connected a stethoscope. This increased the range at which the aircraft could be heard. A specially trained operator would listen intently for the distant noise and warn of a potential air raid, giving an estimate of height and bearing. Over a decade after the first mirror was constructed, the collector would be replaced by a sensitive microphone and the stethoscope by an electronic amplifier and headphones. The mirrors were superseded by radar in the late 1930s.
Visiting the sound mirrors
Your guided tour of Fan Bay Deep Shelter includes a visit to the two sound mirrors at Fan Bay, one built in 1916/17, the other around 1920. You can even try out the sound mirror effect for yourself on our specially designed platform.
Captain Strange and Fan Bay
Visiting Fan Bay has become an even more exciting experience as a wartime leader of the battery has been brought to life by a volunteer.
Arthur Lionel Strange was born in Wolverhampton in 1920. He joined the army at 18 years old and was commissioned as a second Lieutenant in 1941. Strange took command of Fan Bay Battery in August 1944 and was promoted to Captain, Temporary Major. He remained in command at Fan Bay until early 1945.
Unfortunately, like the deep shelter, Captain Strange became somewhat forgotten and unknown. Fan Bay’s amazing re-discovery has led to a quest for knowledge of the site and its role in the Second World War.
Meet ‘Captain Strange’
On selected days from April to October, Gordon Wise, one of our volunteers who led the excavation of Fan Bay Deep Shelter, helps to bring Fan Bay to life. Sporting an accurate replica uniform, Gordon enjoys sharing his wide knowledge of the military history of the area with our visitors.
'Captain Strange' will be back on duty during our 2024 season.
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