With overseas travel still restricted, my first trip of 2021 was to Deal in another part of England I’ve never explored. It was the perfect base for a week on the Kent coast but Deal itself also has lots to offer, from walks along the lengthy seafront promenade and its very own castle, to some lovely shops and excellent places to eat. Yes, you won’t be surprised to hear that I picked another foodie destination!
After a great trip to Lyme Regis last year I was keen to see where else in the UK has a growing reputation for its food and drink offerings and Deal quickly popped onto my radar. For a small place, it has a surprisingly large number of good restaurants and we even found the pub fayre was good too.
Not knowing what the weather would be like my friend and I wanted plenty of space so booked a two-bedroom cottage through locally based Keepers Cottages. It was bright yellow, really nicely furnished and in a small road just behind Deal Castle. So very close to the seafront and less than five minutes walk to the centre of town.
Deal’s seafront promenade is perfect for easy flat walking and you can go for miles in either direction. On our first day, we did a fairly short walk to the end of the main town and then headed back to the Kings Head, a great pub on Beach Road which has lots of outside seating with umbrellas. Lucky as it rained just as we got there! Inside seating wasn’t allowed at that point so we stayed outside but were rewarded with a fabulous rainbow above the sea – not a bad start to the week.
A couple of days later the restrictions had eased and we went back for dinner inside the pub and were surprised at how good the food was. Smoked haddock, mash and poached egg which was perfect for a chilly evening.
Wet and chilly weather pretty much characterised the week which is always the risk with UK staycays. But we watched the weather forecast obsessively and managed to get out and about during the dry spells. In one of those we managed to visit not one, but two castles which were very close together but very different.
Deal Castle dates back to the reign of King Henry VIII, so is one of the finest Tudor artillery castles in England. Henry was pretty paranoid about safety and security so that shaped the country’s defences. The solid circular buildings that make up the castle look like they would have been hard to penetrate.
Inside the castle, you can explore the tunnels and storerooms below the circular rooms. And there is also an exhibition on the top floor which explains more about the history and tells stories of people who lived there. It’s a fascinating insight into that period.
After leaving Deal Castle we walked along the coast towards Walmer, stopping off on route to pick up takeaway drinks at the Sea Cafe which is close to Deal bandstand. Another great place to buy take out drinks and delicious foodie treats on this part of the seafront is Hut 55 but it had quite limited opening hours.
We were headed for castle number two of the morning, Walmer Castle and Gardens, which feels quite different to its Deal counterpart. It was also an artillery fort built in Henry VIII’s time so the exterior is a similar style, but it’s set in eight acres of beautiful gardens.
There are formal and informal garden styles including herbaceous borders, colourful planting and the Queen Mother’s Garden. She was the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports for over two decades and spent time at the castle, so the garden was created to honour her 95th birthday. There’s also a kitchen garden, wildflower meadows and shady woodland walk in a sunken glen. Even the castle moat has been lawned and planted.
Inside the castle is very different too with wood-panelled corridors and furnished rooms including the famous Wellington Room. The Duke of Wellington was Lord Warden long before the Queen Mother and spent 23 years living at the castle. His room includes his original bed and the armchair where he died. You can also go out onto the terrace and imagine the Duke looking out to sea beyond the row of cannons circling the castle.
Interestingly we didn’t see or hear anything about another of Walmer Castle’s famous residents. During the 1920s it was home to William Lygon, 7th Earl of Beauchamp, who held lavish gay parties at the castle. This led eventually to his dramatic fall from grace, the break-up of his family, and was the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s most famous novel, Brideshead Revisited. I guess English Heritage prefer to focus on the castle’s less scandalous inhabitants!
After leaving Walmer we walked along the seafront for another 20 minutes or so to get to Kingsdown and a great pub called The Zetland Arms. They have tables outside overlooking the sea, but it chucked it down just as we arrived so we had lunch at a lovely table tucked into an alcove inside. Great timing as it was the first day the pubs could serve inside again and we were very excited to have our first drink inside a pub for five months! The food was really good too and a cab back to Deal kept us out of the rain.
Going in the other direction alongside the seafront past Deal Pier is another really good walk that you can follow all the way to Sandwich Bay. It takes you alongside two golf courses, the Royal Cinque Ports and then the Royal St George’s which hosted the 2021 Open Championships. I’m not a golfer but I could see the appeal of playing with such a great view.
As it wasn’t the weather for sitting on a beach we just looked at Sandwich Bay from a distance and could see it has a sandy beach where Deal’s is shingle. So I’d imagine it’s popular when the sun is shining. We planned to head inland across the golf course as there’s a public footpath but it had been closed ahead of the Open. Hard to see why as it was still two months away at the time! There was a diverted route to follow which took a bit longer but after about 40 minutes we were in Sandwich town centre.
Sandwich was one of the original Cinque Ports, a group of Kent coastal towns formed for military and trade purposes. Thanks to the disappearance of the Wantsum Channel the historic town centre is now two miles from the sea, but it still has the River Stour running through it and many original medieval buildings.
There’s a walking tour you can follow and after a very nice lunch at the Beach Hut Cafe, we managed to do some of it before the rain got the better of us again! There’s a regular bus service to Deal and the stop was right by the Sandwich Shop, so we popped in for a cuppa while we waited. Needless to say, they do also sell sandwiches and the town is actually credited with giving its name to the food by way of its inventor, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.
As it was still raining we popped into The Rose Hotel bar for a mid-afternoon cocktail. Don’t judge me, I was on holiday! The Rose is a small boutique hotel in a former pub at the end of Deal High Street that has the nicest shops. We’d picked up lunch from the nearby No Name Shop deli a couple of days before and Filberts Fine Food is another great foodie shop.
Dunlin & Diver is a lovely shop next door to No Name and further up is the eclectic homewares shop Hoxton Store. Keep going and you’ll get to Mileage a cool space with vintage furniture and a small teashop. While you’re exploring that part of town you can also head up St George’s Road to check out the Linden Hall Studio contemporary art gallery.
Go in the other direction from The Rose and you’ll find Urban Chic which is run by two sisters with great taste in clothes, accessories and gifts. Other shops worth a look at that end of the High Street include the Beach homewares store, Quirky Giftz and Smoke on the Water.
So that’s where we shopped, but back to one of Deal’s main attractions, it’s great food and drink venues and we didn’t have a bad experience at all. The second evening we could eat inside we had dinner at the Boat Shed restaurant at the Royal Hotel which has a great location right on the seafront. After dinner, we popped into Bohemian where we’d had a glass of wine in the garden a couple of days earlier. It’s a great bar with an extensive gin menu as well as plenty of other options and some quirky decor.
The next evening dinner was at 81 Beach Street which is a lovely bistro-style restaurant and I think was probably my favourite meal of the week. The food was delicious and it’s also really nicely decorated with quite a lot of original art for sale.
The food at The Courtyard in Sondes Road also looked good when we went for pre-dinner cocktails. But we were booked into Victuals and Co in St George’s Passage which was another lovely spot with a great atmosphere. After a meal there we popped into Le Pinardier just around the corner on the High Street, a fab little wine shop with just a few tables. It’s very French so actually felt like we were across the Channel!
Le Pinardier is owned by the same people who run Frog and Scot, a few doors away. This was the restaurant we’d come across the most in our research so we booked it for our last night and were not disappointed. Definitely not the cheapest meal we had in Deal but top quality food, wine and cocktails.
There are also plenty of places for lunch around town including the Popup Cafe and Little Harriettes which serves up afternoon tea as well as lunch. But apart from all of those foodie delights Deal is also just a nice little place to wander around. Middle Street runs parallel to the High Street and there are some very pretty streets in between the two.
And of course, there’s always that lovely long seafront to walk along, even after dark when the lights of the pier make Deal feel like quite a magical place. Definitely a great choice for a UK staycation, even when the weather isn’t too brilliant!
Click on an image below to view more photos in the gallery and check the UK section of my blog for more staycation ideas. A post on our visits to Margate, Broadstairs and Dover during this trip will also be coming soon(ish).