The Scotsman

Explore the real Deal

The Kent coastal town has old-fashioned charms and a lovely boutique hotel, finds Kate Wickers


Ifell for the seaside town of Deal in Kent (the location for the recent ITV drama Liar )backin 2008. I was instantly taken with its 1930s seafront shelters that look like flying saucers; the no-frills concrete pier lined with fishermen patiently throwing back dogfish; and the pastel-shaded Grade 2 listed 17th-century fishermen’s cottages and grand Georgian villas that line the glistening pebble beach. The town also makes a great base for exploring this stretch of coast, from nearby St Margaret’s Bay to sandy Broadstair­s’ traditiona­l seaside charm, to Joss Bay with its surf school, to the chalk stacks and caves of Botany Bay.

With smuggling at the heart of its history, this was a town once packed with taverns and brothels, so unlawful that in 1784 Prime Minister William Pitt sent soldiers in to burn all the boats. Smugglers’ tunnels and secret hiding places run from house to house, and the 600-year old Ship Inn on Middle Street is a good place to get a feel for Deal’s authentici­ty. Order a pint of the aptly named Dark Conspiracy, and soak up the unbeatable atmosphere free from television, video and slot machines. King of camp Charles Hawtrey, of Carry On fame, lived nearby and was often barred for bawdy behaviour.

Today, Deal is regularly named one of the best places to live in the UK. The Saturday Market – a mix of local produce, vintage clothing and bric-abrac – thrives. Grab a cinnamon bun from the Swedish Bun Lady, who rises at 3am to bake, and breakfast while you browse.

The town’s first boutique hotel, The Rose, opened two years ago, transformi­ng what was a run-down old boozer into something arty and romantic. Its chic restaurant dishes up locally sourced food with a twist, and l tuck into a Black Pig pork chop with rainbow chard and anchovy dressing. Unlike Soho House, to which it has been compared, there’s nothing formulaic about the eight unique bedrooms styled with vintage finds.

On the High Street, The Hoxton Store is full of treats such as ostrichfea­ther dusters, cactus-shaped vases, silky cotton kimonos, and craft candles. Dunlin and Diver is known for its subtly tasteful coastal-themed textiles and crafts – think felt pebbles and natural jute bags. Taylor-jones & Son gallery has an ever-changing collection of world-class art and photograph­y, curated by Richard Taylor-jones, whose own “Buoy” series (a study of single marker buoys in the English Channel) and recent

“Moon One” collection are strikingly special. Pop in to say hello to Delilah, Richard’s old English sheepdog. The Don’t Walk Gallery, owned by artist Ned Kelly, has what he describes as “a punk rock ethic”, and among the collection you’ll find pencil art by Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves), while Noel Fielding’s oil stick drawings are a colourful riot of fun.

For foodies, the Frog & Scot bistro, run by Benoit Dezecot and Sarah Ross – the eponymous Frog and Scot – is all about its large blackboard, regularly updated with whatever is fresh and seasonal. Whatever’s cooking will be tasty, and the Michelin 2020 Guide agrees (try their scallops with samphire risotto or snails with garlic butter). The Dining Club feels like a secret – a private members’ club ( just £10 to join per household), housed in an attractive Georgian house, with an ever-changing thematic set menu, such as “Kent’s Finest”. For family meals, The Lane cafe has sharing breakfast platters and calorific milkshakes; 81 Beach Street does a great Sunday roast; and at the end of the pier (the last to be built in the UK), you’ll find The Deal Kitchen, which is as perfect for summer evening

Clockwise from main: the pebble beach at Deal; one of the town’s quaint streets; a room at The Rose

sunsets as it is for stormy winter nights, with views to France.

Perhaps Deal’s greatest charm is that it is joyously undemandin­g. Picnics on the beach are a favourite, while keeping watch for the common seals en route to their colony at Pegwell Bay. Seal-watching trips run along the River Stour from neighbouri­ng Sandwich. There are dizzying cliff path walks from St Margaret’s Bay, slot machines to feed in the Deal Arcade, and ice cream sundaes to scoff at the retro Beach Parlour – a wonderful throwback to the 1960s. Deal Castle is atmospheri­c – perfectly symmetrica­l in the shape of a Tudor Rose, built by Henry VIII in 1539, full of dingy nooks and crannies and the low circular keep at its centre is perfect for a game of hide and seek.

We rent bikes from Hut 55 on the beach, which doubles as a lovely café, and ride along the coastal path past Walmer Castle, to Kingsdown where beach gardens are filled with wild fennel and mallow and stripy beach huts line the front, to The Zetland Arms where we refuel on Malteser cheesecake. Simple pleasures, time spent with friends and family – now that’s what I call the real Deal. ■

Deal’s greatest charm is that it is joyously undemandin­g

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