Deal's a funny place. On the surface, it's a cheerful little English seaside town with a noticeable lack of the usual kiss-me-quick tat (probably because kids don't like the shingle beach and would rather spend their summers tormenting each other on sand). I love the place. But it's not always been popular...
Samuel Pepys called it "...pitiful..." Defoe wrote about it in The Great Storm and the town sued him for libel. Dickens, who had spent time in Deal, set part of Bleak House there:
"At last we came into the narrow streets of Deal, and very gloomy they were upon a raw misty morning. The long flat beach, with its little irregular houses, wooden and brick, and its litter of capstans, and great boats, and sheds, and bare upright poles with tackle and blocks, and loose gravelly waste places overgrown with grass and weeds, wore as dull an appearance as any place I ever saw."
Fleming based Moonraker in Deal - Hugo Drax builds his nuclear rocket just outside the town and when a couple of people die, Bond is sent to investigate.
Deal is rightly proud of its deep military roots. Caesar landed down the beach at Walmer in 55BC, and the Marines were in Deal for about a century before the IRA killed 11 of them when the Provos blew up the Walmer bandstand in 1989.
Physically, Deal was was largely spared the post war development bombshell that finished off the job on Dover that the Luftwaffe started. Economically it's been boom and bust since the Napoleonic Wars, driven largely by the military, but also by fishing, coal mining, Phizer and now tourism.
This tiny Kent town really has seen the best and worst of times. But these days, with its mix of Victorian and Georgian second homes, lots of wide open spaces, easy access to great farm produce, a brutalist concrete pier and a handful of reasonable pubs, the whole package is really rather lovely.
Not a big London borough like Brighton or skidrow on sea like Hastings. Not old-world pickled in aspic like Rye, nor as bleak and windswept as Dungeness. Not as hip as Margate or Folkestone. Deal is a unique little place that nobody seems to stumble on by accident. Partly because it's not really on the way to or from anywhere (unless you're Julius Caesar).
This means that most of the people you meet there these days actually want to be there. There's an atmosphere of relaxed and cheerful friendliness. Military exercises have been replaced by, well, just plain old exercise - all year round swimmers plus dog walkers, runners and cyclists making their way to The Zetland and back. People always seem to have time and a willingness to stop and chat.
But for me, Deal's crowning glory, above all else, is the light. All day, every day, in all weathers, from sunrise to sundown, your view of the town and its beach, buildings and pier change by the minute. Sometimes by the second. In fact, I like Deal Pier so much I opened up a store just to sell photographs of it. For the bone idle like me, whiling away time watching this ever-changing tableau is heaven. Cobbett, Pepys and Defoe were writers, not photographers. Unlike them, I can highly recommend it.
"Deal is a most villainous place. It is full of filthy-looking people. Great desolation of abomination has been going on here; tremendous barracks, partly pulled down and partly tumbling down, and partly occupied by soldiers. Everything seems upon the perish..."
William Cobbett, Rural Rides.
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