Since the coming of Eurostar/Eurotunnel over 25 years ago I have not so much as set foot in the town of Dover. Until this weekend, when a commission from the Yarrow family, written for the choir of St.Mary-the-Virgin in memory of former chorister John Yarrow, allowed me to spend a whole day roaming Dover’s spectacular sights (and not just those ‘iconic’ White Cliffs).
But first there was the rewarding experience of attending an Advent morning service at St Mary’s, in which my new work (a setting of ‘Ave Maris Stella’) was included. This is an ancient church of Saxon foundation, and, sited right in the middle of a seafaring town, it has interesting nautical references, the most haunting being a memorial to the Herald of Free Enterprise victims (the almost 200 people drowned when a cross-channel ferry overturned in 1987.) More cheerfully, St Mary’s has an admirable choir directed by Malcolm Munro, with a strong tenor and bass section which I made grateful use of in the new composition. And I was in full agreement with a sermon by Rev John Walker about the beauty and importance of Advent as a season and festival. Just hearing Wachet Auf! (played as a chorale prelude, and sung as a hymn during this service) always sets me off.
What to see in Dover? Like so many places I visit around the UK, it needs some loving care, but is magnificent in parts, especially looking out to sea from the massive Castle after a bracingly steep walk. Most alluring on a blustery but sunny day was the very clear outline of the French coast, so nearby, though seemingly not appreciated by all local residents (62.1% Leave in 2016.)