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Local’s View: castles and counterculture in Deal

A town with seaside charm and vibrant creative culture to boot? We’re in. And given the wealth of distractions, delights and delicacies to be found in this historic port on the Kentish coast, we’d wager you are too. Let us show you round…

Words
Jabin Ali
Local’s View: castles and counterculture in Deal

It’s fair to say that the seaside town of Deal has had its share of historic notoriety. Positioned where the North Sea and the English Channel meet, its boatmen were internationally celebrated for their skilled seamanship but, with the French coast only 25 miles away – and visible on a clear day – it was a haven for smugglers, most notably during the 17th century. This maritime history is not easy to forget, for Deal’s shoreline is punctuated by three castles (on which more later). Step in from the beach and the architectural intrigue continues. Here you’ll find a fascinating mix of styles and periods, from towering Tudor fortresses to fine Georgian dwellings.

In recent times, Deal has undergone something of a secret revival. It remains one of the hidden gems of the Kent coastline, often overlooked in favour of neighbours Margate or Dover, but amid its maze of narrow, cobbled streets and quaint fishermen’s cottages you’ll find some of the freshest seafood on offer, as well as plenty of quirky galleries filled with local art. So, whether you’re a history buff, a foodie or a beady-eyed collector, we think Deal is definitely worth a visit. And to help you out, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite things to see and do while you’re there, from its thriving Saturday market to the shops and cafes that line its award-winning high street.

SHOPPING

Dunlin and Diver, 112 High St

Based on the corner of Oak Street, leading straight to the sea, Dunlin and Diver stocks carefully curated goods from small designers and makers. Head inside to browse a selection of homeware including beeswax candles and Moroccan walnut kitchen utensils, or to try pieces from its coveted clothing range.

Deal farmers’ market

Visit Deal on the first Saturday of the month and you’ll happen upon its Deal farmers’s market. Found in the heart of the town’s Georgian conservation area, it has been running since 1699 and offers an array of bric-a-brac, flowers and plant stalls, among other things. There is also no shortage of epicurean delights, from locally picked fruit and independent wines to charcuterie and freshly baked bread. Pick up cheese and chutneys from The Kentish Provender, nab a sourdough or olive loaf to pair with pâté from local delicatessen No Name Shop, or peruse nostalgic cakes and seasonal picnic food at Eat and Mess, before making your way to the beach to enjoy it all en plein air.

Smugglers Records, 9 King St

If music be the food of love, then it follows that Deal must surely be the banqueting house. And its rich offerings centre around Smugglers Records, a shop with humble beginnings that has since earned its accolade as one of the best indie record stores in the south-east. Will Greenham founded Smugglers Records as an offshoot of his label of the same name, and the vinyl store – housing an impressive selection of world, folk and psychedelic music – has since expanded to host events (and houses a bar with local beer on tap). The staff are knowledgeable and more than willing to offer new recommendations and there is even a Smugglers Festival, held annually to sell-out crowds.

Will & Yates, 104-104 High St

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more Inigo-appropriate destination than Will & Yates. This gallery-cum-homestore, which brings together art and interiors, stocks everything from original oil paintings and prints by resident artist Caroline Yates, to furniture, natural skincare and ceramics from independent makers. Its tasteful selection of items makes for brilliant browsing, though you’re sure to come away with a present or two as well.

DINING & DRINKING

Frog and Scot, 86 High St

Benoit Dezecot (the Frog) and Sarah Ross (the Scot) opened their bistro in 2016 and it has since gone from strength to strength. This Deal establishment was included in both the 2018 and 2020 Michelin Guides and serves up a mix of classic and contemporary dishes. Though its chalky blackboard offerings change daily, expect a menu revolving around fresh, seasonal produce: think scallop ceviche, wild hake with braised fennel, or roast guinea fowl with apricots and a nutty cauliflower-and-almond puree. Its casual yet elegant confines are the perfect spot from which to savour the early evening sun, before heading for a digestif at Le Pinardier, a wine shop and bar run by the same couple just a few doors down.

81 Beach Street

81 Beach Street arguably has the best view of the Deal seafront – and its fare is just as impressive. Order the panko-breaded squid with lemon-and-saffron mayo to start, or the potted crab on charred sourdough. Then watch the sun set on the horizon as you finish with a peanut butter and banana parfait, or the lemon posset matched with thyme, pink gin and ginger.

The Rose, 91 High St

If you’d like Inigo’s recommendation for one place to stay in Deal, it would undoubtedly be The Rose. Housed in a 200-year-old landmark building on Deal’s high street, this boutique hotel’s moody, romantic interiors offer a warm and welcome respite from the bracing sea breeze. After undergoing extensive renovations, it reopened in 2018 with eight rooms decorated in bold colours, furnished with a mix of mid-century and antique pieces. The hotel bar retains its original 1950s panelling, while the restaurant menu, presided over by Nuno Mendes (of Chiltern Firehouse fame), celebrates the finest wild and foraged ingredients from across the Kent coast. We love the oyster mushrooms and whipped goat’s curd for breakfast, while dinner options include braised ox cheek with salt-baked celeriac.

PASSING TIME

Linden Hall Studio, 31 St George’s Rd

Housed in an airy converted chapel complete with a light-filled mezzanine, Linden Hall Studio has interiors that remind us of Inigo’s very own office. But here the comparisons must end, for this local gallery sells not houses but some brilliant contemporary art, spanning a range of media and styles. The space also hosts visiting artists, running a programme of events and masterclasses. Head to its website for even more goodies – here you’ll find a fantastic series of films featuring artists in conversation with gallery director Myles Corley.

Don’t Walk Walk, 10 Victoria Rd

At the other end of the high street you’ll find Don’t Walk Walk, the gallery hailed by Noel Fielding (one of its artists) as “a funky treasure pod by the sea”. Owner Neil Horenz-Kelly chose its name as a test to see if visitors would be willing to walk to the other end of town to sample the gallery’s work, with its punk-rock aesthetic. Showcasing both emerging and established artists, the gallery exhibits art that provides challenging and thought-provoking perspectives for its viewers. Go with an open mind and be prepared to dive in.

Taylor-Jones & Son, 114 High St

Based in a Grade II-listed building, Taylor-Jones & Son is full of character. Directors Sonja and Richard Taylor-Jones recently obtained planning permission to expand into the building’s underground Georgian wine vaults, which were once the entrance to Deal’s infamous smuggling tunnels. This historic space now represents a wide selection of painters and photographers alongside the directors’ own works – Richard is a wildlife filmmaker and photographer, while Sonja is a jeweller working in gold and silver.

LANDMARKS

Deal, Sandown and Walmer Castles

Abundant in history, Deal offers not one but three Tudor castles for visitors to explore. Constructed by Henry VIII as part of a chain of coastal defences, these circular artillery forts were built to protect the English shoreline against threats of invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire. Their intricate, almost floral shapes bely the strategic planning behind their architecture, which was designed to concentrate heavy fire on ships while simultaneously defending against a land force. Of the three, Sandown has experienced the most coastal erosion, but Walmer, transformed over the centuries into an elegant retreat for royals and aristocrats, has more than eight acres of pleasure gardens and woodland. Meanwhile, Deal Castle – the site of Anne of Cleves’ arrival in England – still has its 300-year-old graffiti, found on the rooftop.

Deal Beach and pier

How could we not include the main attraction itself: Deal’s fabulous coastline. Pristine and pebbly, there’s no nicer spot for a seaside stroll or, if you’re feeling brave, to go for a dip. Borrow a bike to explore the length of the shore along the promenade, hike along the 10 miles of white cliffs towards Dover armed with a picnic or, if you just can’t wait for a snack, head to the 1950s concrete pier for lobster and maybe even a spot of fishing.

BUY

If all this has you hankering for a new life on the coast, book a viewing at the Deal Lugger, a delightful Grade II-listed three-bedroom house just a short walk from the shore, in the old town. Built in 1820 and named after the boats that once worked the pebble beach, it’s been beautifully restored and is now the ideal seaside retreat: airy in summer and cosy in winter.

The Kent coast is clearly where it’s at – and we’ve another delight to entice you, just half an hour away by car. West Lawn Gardens is an Arts and Crafts house in Sandgate, just the other side of Folkestone to Deal. Restored and decorated beautifully, it also has exceptional views of the Channel from its south-facing windows. Snap it up while you can.

Further reading

A Home with a History: artist Russell Loughlan on how he used colour to reconnect with the history of his Georgian terrace house in Deal

A Home with a History: Nolan Watson’s masterful mise-en-scènes in a Kentish cottage

 

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