I recently returned from a Christmas break in Deal, Kent. It is where I spent the first 18 years of my life and is still very special to both me and my children. We stayed in an eighteenth century cottage in Middle Street, which is in the heart of the conservation area (the first in Kent) – where the press gangs and sailors of Nelson’s navy once roamed and one of the most beautiful streets in England.
Deal is steeped in history – originally known as Addelam, it is mentioned in the Doomsday book, and is unique in once having been a port without a harbour. Instead, the anchorage known as The Downs located between the Deal shoreline and the notorious ‘ship swallower’ of the Goodwin Sands provided shelter for ships in the channel, and Deal became a thriving port. Over time the Downs and the maritime traffic it generated made Deal worthy of protection by castles in the town itself and at nearby Sandown and Walmer and to become home to the Royal Marines.
In 1702 it was described as one of the four great ports of England, along with Portsmouth, Rochester and Plymouth and the town formed part of the defences of what became known as “the invasion coast”. Deal also had a unique status conferred upon it by Royal Charter in the 12th century which established the town as one of the confederation of five ports (The Cinque Ports) to serve the crown with ships as the need arose. In return the towns received exemption from tax and tolls. This led to extensive smuggling, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Deal’s smuggling activities were so notorious that Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger had the town’s luggers (large, two masted open boats) burned on the beach. Deal’s boatmen also went to sea to for salvage and to save the lives of shipwreck victims and there has been a lifeboat stationed at nearby Walmer since the mid 19th century. There has also been a pier at Deal from the same period, though the present one dates from the mid 20th century.
There are many pleasures to be had whilst staying in Deal. Here’s ten of my favourites things to do, in no particular order:
- A stroll along the broad promenade and then onto the pier (said to be the same length as the Titanic but actually 200 ft longer)
- A walk through the winding narrow streets of the conversation area to admire the restored cottages and town houses, and perhaps to visit one of the fine old pubs like The Ship Inn, The Deal Hoy or the Royal Hotel (where Admiral Nelson frequently stayed. Nelson also donated the tomb of Captain Parker, inscribed “My gallant good friend and able assistant”, which can be found in St George’s Churchyard.)
- Coffee or a bite to eat in the Black Douglas (run by the descendants of the Scottish knight)
- Sitting out on the seafront in front of the picturesque Kings Arms
- Shopping for fresh fish at Jenkin’s fishmongers
- Lunch or dinner at The Courtyard Oyster Bar and Restaurant
- Browsing in the boutiques of the High Street (Deal was inaugural High Street of the year for the Daily Telegraph in 2014)
- Visiting my folks, who still live in Walmer, or my friends ‘The Turnips’ (You don’t know them of course, but I can assure they are quite wonderful Deal and Walmer folk)
- A visit to the nearby visit to the picturesque former fishing village of Kingsdown immediately south of Walmer and the beachside pub The Zetland Arms
- And of course…taking pictures of one of my favourite places in the world – my Deal Gallery can be found here