In February we spent a long weekend in Deal, a small seaside town in Kent, on the south coast of England. It’s a place that’s easy to reach from London: under two hours by car, or an hour and 40 minutes by train. We decided it was our favourite coastal town to flee to when we want to escape the city grind. Here are the reasons why.
The sea, the sea
Deal’s Georgian seafront runs along a pebble beach that was nominated no. 1 in the Telegraph’s ’10 top spots to lay your beach towel’. Deal can be windy; it sits at one of the more exposed edges of the Channel between England and France. But it’s a fine place for beach-based basking in the summer, or for lobbing pebbles into the briny sea in winter (an activity which was possibly the highlight of the holiday for our children).
You can almost taste the salty sea air when you’re walking around the centre of Deal. As well as the atmosphere, the nautical influence is everywhere in the town’s decor style. Deal residents seem to be extraordinarily proud of the town’s maritime past; walking round the older parts of the town, you’ll see replica ships in almost every other window. There are also plenty of traditional timber-clad coastal townhouses, painted in jaunty nautical colours.
Gourmet food and drink
Unsurprisingly, Deal is awash with delicious seafood. The town’s fish and chip shops are of a high standard (we enjoyed dinner from the Happy Fryer on our first evening there). But if you want more gourmet fare, The Court Yard is a welcoming, bright oyster restaurant (the courtyard of its name has a glass roof). I went there mid-afternoon with my son and they were very kind to us, bringing a colouring book and crayons along with our delicately flavoured Mersea Island oysters.
There’s a top-notch off-licence and wine bar, selling mainly European wines. As well as a place to drink fine vintages, Le Pinardier has managed to transform its small interior into a music venue and art gallery.
There is a weekly market in Deal, and on the first Saturday of every month there’s a farmer’s market, where you can buy fine local cheeses, and freshly caught fish.
Curios and knick-knacks
Deal is a hoarder’s paradise. Whether you like quirky antiques, or more modern curios – upcycled, or freshly created – there’s a shop to suit your needs. D even managed to pick up a crocheted stag’s-head faux hunting trophy on the high street as a surprise birthday present for me (I know, I’m a little peculiar in my tastes…)
According to the London Evening Standard, Deal is a good place for a ‘hipster holiday‘; with its “sizeable artistic and gay community” it is a “lively escape for young Londoners”.
The ‘H’ word may leave you wincing in horror, but Deal has plenty to recommend itself to people who are hipsters by nature but not in name. Smugglers Records, for instance, is a shop selling both vinyl and craft beer. It even has two music festivals: a one-day folk celebration, and an annual weekend-long festival of world, psychedelic, jazz and folk music.
Like many seaside towns up and down England’s south coast, from Margate in the east to as far west as Weymouth and Portland, the influence of London’s hipsters is very evident when you’re strolling though Deal. You see plenty of bearded men on the streets, although I didn’t spot any man-buns. Perhaps they’ve had their day on the cool Kentish coast.
Old-school seaside charm
If you’re turned off by the idea of hipsters, never fear. Deal still has plenty of traditional seaside charm, including a slightly run-down amusement arcade, and a rusty-looking 1960s concrete pier. We even ran into Frank Skinner over the weekend. Twice. Who could be more old-school charming than the football-loving funnyman?
Daniel Defoe wrote of Deal:
If I had any satire left to write,
Could I with suited spleen indite,
My verse should blast that fatal town,
And drown’d sailors’ widows pull it down;
The town was notorious for smuggling in the 17th century, with the problem becoming so bad that in 1784 Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger ordered every single Deal vessel to be burnt, in an attempt to stem the flow of sea-based looting and pilfering. The area where the smugglers lived is now Deal’s conservation area, and the networks of narrow, twisting roads set just back from the seafront are supposedly built over tunnels and secret hiding places for marauding outlaws.
We stayed in this beautiful conservation area, in a quaint place called Seashell Cottage, a Sykes Cottages property formerly inhabited by ‘sprat-wafflers’, or fishermen. I would recommend the area as the best place to stay if you’re visiting Deal for a short time.
At the other end of Deal’s main seafront drag there’s Deal Castle, which along with neighbouring Walmer Castle was built by Henry VIII as part of England’s coastal defence. Both castles are maintained by English Heritage and I’ve posted more about Deal Castle here. The route along Deal’s seafront is listed in the Times’ Easy cycling guide and a trip to see both castles by bike in one day is easily done, even with kids.
Deal is 9 miles from Dover, off the A2. Direct trains run regularly from Charing Cross and Kings Cross stations in London.
Have you been to Deal? What are your reasons to love (or hate) the town?
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If you’re a fan of British seaside towns, you can also read about our trip to Christmas Tree Wonderland in Bournemouth. I highly recommend it!