Romans and Rambling around Dover and Deal
Dover Castle is the place to set the historical context; its two Roman lighthouses are the oldest structures on the site and the best-preserved in the UK, and there’s a tangle of architectural styles and artefacts: crennelations and cannons galore, Gothic chapels, a spectacular medieval banquet hall and fantastically evocative wartime tunnels and underground rooms. We found more than a day’s worth of splendid past to explore there, but the history lesson became a little overwhelming by lunchtime, so you can always head down the hill and through the town to the marina as we did, for a breezy walk past the rows of grand Victorian houses to maritime-themed Cullen’s Yard for some good seafood.
A trip to the old fishing port of Deal (Julius Caesar’s first landing place in Britain) is another afternoon option; take a Summer boat trip and learn about the notorious Goodwin Sands and the ships that foundered on them, and after a toast to the sunset at one of Deal’s beachside pubs, follow a walking tour of the town’s spookiest smugglers’ haunts.
Wallett’s Court Hotel, Spa and Restaurant was our destination for dinner as well as for the night. It’s a family-run business set in an immaculately restored old manor house with four-poster beds, original Jacobean features, quintessentially Kentish views of rolling fields and even the odd ghost of its own! The restaurant is worth more than one visit; locally sourced, seasonal foods feature in a thoughtful, modern menu. It's also one of the best hotels with hot tubs in the UK, if you are fan of a good soak.
It may be worth noting that the cliff tunnels spread for miles, and include staircases and whole rooms. They were originally cut by smugglers in the 18th century and were then expanded to house guns and provide shelter for military personnel during the War. Most are now so unstable that access has been blocked for safety reasons, but a five mile ramble east along the cliffs from Dover towards the village of St Margaret’s – and then another of the same distance to Deal if the mood takes you - will reveal a number of entry points at least big enough to peer into, if you know where to look. And if you don’t, it’s not so great a loss: you’ll still see blue and yellow fields in the Spring, grass stretching down to breathtaking, 500 foot drops into the sea, rare flora such as the tiny, pink pyramid orchid and seagulls wheeling in the air between us and France, which appears surprisingly close, as a dark grey smear on the horizon. The whole walk will take you past the South Foreland Lighthouse – the site of the first international radio transmission – and The Bluebirds Tea Room (inside the old coast guard building), which marks the half way point. It’s the perfect way to work up an appetite for the cod, chips and mushy peas at Dunkerley’s on Deal seafront – a traditional end to a seaside break – and you’re bound to spot a real bluebird on the way.
Departed from: London
Duration: 2 days
Open Return from London to Dover on South West Trains: £52
Two nights’ dinner, B&B at Wallett’s Court: £249
Admission to Dover Castle: £10.30
Lunch at Cullen’s Yard: £30
Boat trip: £6
Tea at Bluebirds: £5
Late lunch at Dunkerley’s: £20
TOTAL: £378.30 (All costs are given per person, based on two sharing.)
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