Words do come easy to us. There are plenty to play with in Kent’s prettiest town. Take house names. The quizzical Fanny’s Dilemma. The often out of season Christmas House. Then there’s the nautical: Dolphin Cottage, Sea Haze and Lighthouse Cottage. The meteorologically optimistic Blue Skies. The whippersnapper Tally Ho Cottage. Puns aplenty, not least The Little Deal Cottage. Fancy a tipple? The New Inn has been old for at least a couple of centuries. After the didactic? Down a pint in The Just Reproach. Le Pinardier wine shop smacks of the French connection (Calais is a smooth pebble’s throw from Deal). There’s the ever amusing Ticklebelly Alley. Short Street lives down to its name, being a mere three buildings long. Whatever the syntax, Deal is the last word when it comes to oozing charm. All that’s missing is Grey Gardens. That cottage is on its way. Words do come easy to us.
En route to white cliffed Walmer, we stroll past the mid 20th century Deal Pier with its early 21st century pavilion café. Sunset, super moon, sunrise. A tripartite fusion of light. Back a few weeks, over afternoon tea in Northern Ireland’s Rowallane Gardens, architect John O’Connell had admired his compatriot’s work. “Niall McLauglin’s pavilion exerts a superbly robust simplicity.” Eventually we rock up to the pearly queen gates and hoary hedges of Walmer Castle. The monument has an illustrious past – and present (us). The Duke of Wellington (the one aristo who doesn’t need a genealogical number) died at this castle. He was born at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin (admittedly when it was a private residence). A life bookended by beauty. Walmer Castle was the home of the alliterative Lady Lettice Lygon in the early 20th century. In the following decades, The Queen Mother took up residence every July in her role as Lord Warden of the Cinq Ports. Queen Victoria stayed a few times, calling it a “curious old castle”.
“I cook very good fish,” affirms the incredibly vivacious Lady Dalziel Douglas. Her Christian name has that strangely silent Scottish “Z”. Like Culzean. Or Menzies. As Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde once quipped, we can resist everything except temptation. And that includes very good cooked fish. “Deal is mad!” she exclaims. Dalziel is our hostess at The Black Douglas which overlooks Deal Pier. It’s named after her ancestor who was a gallant supporter of Robert the Bruce, fighting in 70 battles. “For much of the year we have Deal to ourselves.” The Black Douglas is part restaurant, part home, part gallery. A more recent ancestor is Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s beau. “That’s my son Sholto’s wall,” she says, pointing to a display of some rather fine artwork. “He’s 12 now. Sholto is named after Bosie’s father.” The pan fried seabass filets are served with homemade aioli.
“Non je ne regrette riens!” wails a recording of Edith Piaf across the dining room. Le Chat Noir film posters follow the French theme. “Padam padam!” thunders the Parisian chanteuse as chocolate rose and almond tart puddings appear. The bathroom is a refuge of English humour. There’s a placard of fishing hooks labelled “Assorted Tackle” hanging over the basin. That pales in comparison to the whoopsie wallpaper: it’s enough to make a vicar blush. “Let’s go to The Boho for a nightcap!” beckons Lady Dalziel Douglas. The Bohemian to you. Words.