A weekend in Deal
PUBLISHED: 10:48 02 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013
With its cafÃ© culture, Georgian architecture and 'pier of the year', artistic Deal is a great place to visit for a weekend on the Kent coast
Deal's beautiful pebble beach came first in The Daily Telegraph's '10 top spots to lay your beach towel', its pier was named Pier of the year in 2008 and its promenade has a café culture that seems almost continental; the town also has two wonderful castles and some grand Georgian architecture. It's an extremely welcoming, friendly place where people smile at you in the street, truly living up to its motto, Adjuvate Advenas, meaning 'Befriend the Stranger'.
Literary associations abound: poet Robert Bridges was born in nearby Walmer, novelist Paul Theroux called Deal a 'small mild town' and locally based Jane Austen referred to 'The Ball at Deal on Friday'. When Charles Dickens was visiting Lord Warden Square in nearby Dover he commented on the 'many gay eyes of the Marine Parade' Er... Say that again Mr Dickens? Sure you're not getting confused with Brighton?
At Deal memorial bandstand there are Sunday afternoon concerts from May to September, and throughout July there's the Deal Festival (contact Willie Cooper, 01227 786111), based at six venues across town. These include classical music performances, a talk by Germaine Greer (7 July) and a performance by the Ukulele orchestra of Great Britain (16 July). There'll also be a series of art exhibitions and workshops plus artists' Open studio sessions throughout the festival period (contact Penny Jackson, 01304 239736).
Shipping and smuggling
From being a small fishing village in the 13th century the town became a limb of the Cinque Port of Sandwich, after which Henry V111 built three castles (Deal, Walmer and Sandown) to defend the coastline and the many ships that sheltered in The Downs, the stretch of Deal-side sea between the coastline and the ship-wrecking Goodwin Sands.
Deal became the busiest port in England, ranking alongside Rochester, Portsmouth and Plymouth, and was granted a royal charter in 1699. It burgeoned during the Napoleonic Wars, when barracks, naval and military hospitals and a naval yard were constructed. Smuggling flourished from the mid 1600s.
Steam power ended Deal's maritime heyday, because ships no longer required the sanctuary of The Downs to await favourable winds. Tourists began arriving around 1847 and to meet this influx, elegant villas were built on the site of the old Naval Yard.
Troop arrivals for the Boer War and World War 1 revitalised the town, then Kent coalfields expanded during the 1920s, whereupon houses were built for the miners, who'd come from all over England. The mines closed by 1989 and the Royal Marines departed in 1996. But Deal is still a booming tourist centre and home to artists, writers and actors.
A great Deal
The pier, seen on May Kent Life's cover, has a three-tiered head with a café, bar lounge and fishing decks, plus sensational views out to sea and unique outlooks back towards town.
Beach Street is the principle promenade area, near the Royal Hotel, where Admiral Nelson outraged locals by living with Lady Hamilton. It's a joy to wander along the network of small quaint streets, and behind Beach Street is Alfred Square and Middle Street, once the centre of the town's fleshpots, and home to the smuggling trade, pubs, press gangs and prostitutes; beneath many houses are warrens of interlinking tunnels for concealing contraband. The actor famous for the Carry on films, Charles Hawtrey, lived in Middle Street.
There are plenty of restaurants, cafés and pubs, and the High Street is packed with interesting individual shops, including a traditional 1950's-style butcher. At the far end is the Town Hall and St George's church, beside the Tourist Information Centre (very friendly, helpful staff). At the other end of the High Street is elegant Victoria Road, once a high-class residential area. Just past Deal Castle is the Prince of Wales Terrace, which marks the sea frontage of the Old Naval Yard of 1703, which became a Victorian promenade.
Explore two Castles
Both Deal and Walmer castles were built by Henry VIII, and Walmer is the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. It has beautiful gardens, a museum and a room used by HM the Queen Mother for entertaining. Deal Castle's battlements offer great ocean views, and its dark passages wind through the bastions.
Deal Castle, tel: 01304 372762 and Walmer Castle, tel: 01304 364288
Visit Time Ball Tower
Built in 1853, the ball on the tower was designed to drop at precisely one o'clock so that all the ships in The Downs could set their chronometers to Greenwich Mean Time. You can see collections of historical clocks, navigational instruments and interactive displays of shutter and semaphore telegraphs.
Time Ball Tower, tel: 01304 360897
Maritime museum, tel: 01304 373684
Enjoy top-class cuisine
Dunkerley's Restaurant and Hotel won three star silver awards for its cuisine, and is renowned for its fresh local seafood. You'll find Dunkerley's in Beach Street, as close to the sea as it sounds. Or try 81 Beach Street, which offers contemporary English cooking and interesting varied menus, and comes highly recommended.
Dunkerley's, tel: 01304 375016 and 81 Beach Street, tel: 01304 368136
Wander the White Cliffs
The famous White Cliffs of Dover have a visitors' centre with a gift and coffee/snack shop. Much of the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and part of the Heritage coast, with rare flora and fauns. Guided walks are held, and maps are on sale.
Tel: 01304 202576
See the light
Dating from 1843, South Foreland lighthouse was part of a national system of light signals for guiding shipping. In 1898, it was the base used by Marconi to demonstrate radio telegraphy, and was the site for trial lighting systems, including Michael Faraday's electrical experiments in 1858.
Tel: 01304 852463
Explore Dover Castle
You can tour the maze of tunnels, used during the Second World War as a strategic planning centre, and see a recreated wartime RAF plotting room and telecommunications centre. There's also a Roman lighthouse, Saxon church, medieval underground works - and at least nine ghosts!. June is Tudor Month, with events to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's coronation.
Tel: 01304 211067