Travel bites: a family weekend in East Kent
Escape to the seaside
It is rare that if I leave London behind to explore the UK, I am disappointed. The simple fact of leaving the capital behind, its chaos, filth, noise, it is enough to rejoice in my view, but when one is lucky to have sunshine, glorious weather, the sea and medieval castles, then it seems almost perfection.
School inset days were the excuse to book a few nights away back in those long, gloomy December nights. As always the travel plans are left to yours truly so I picked a location that not only I had never visited in 29 years I have live on these shores, but also somewhere not too long to drive to, and where the whole family could have something to enjoy: Deal.
A couple of years ago we spent a fabulous weekend near Margate, so I thought we should return to Kent to explore its southern areas with their heritage and long, pebbly beaches.
Initially we had actually booked a dog friendly hotel on Deal’s waterfront, but – as I called to ‘just double check’ 4 days prior to arrival, they somehow had not gotten the memo on dog and child. I had to cancel and scrambled to find al alternative, realising that COVID is well and truly over and accommodation for the weekend was very hard to find.
I resolved to Airbnb and found a reasonably priced cottage in Walmer, which seemed to have everything we needed and good reviews. Thankfully, so it turned out to be and we arrived on a thursday evening when the sun was setting and everything was golden. A perfect welcome to Kent!
The next day we headed to Dover where we did a loop by the harbour and a quick stop over at the Knights Templar Church on the hills behind the bay before making our way to the castle complex. This is a large site, and it’s not just a castle but way more. It is a landmark site, managed by English Heritage so if you, like me, are a member, then you make the most of your membership fee as there is so much to see here!
The medieval castle is interesting and furnished with replicas, very colourful items that kids will enjoy. It’s up and down stone staircases, towers and hidden rooms, so myself and Oli had a fun exploration while husband and dog waited outside. The site is dog friendly but of course not inside the castle.
There’s a cafe in one of the side walled areas with bland coffee and a good selection of cakes and snacks and plenty of buildings with different use and from different eras; they include a military museum, a roman light house and a medieval church. We did not visit the very popular Wartime tunnels as we did not think a 6yo would have made the most of it, so something for another time.
The view from the castle area is stunning and you can take in the whole harbour and, not our luck, France on a clear day.
We then drove to nearby St Margaret beach just to see if we could see the famous white cliffs and actually decided to stop for lunch at the Coastguard pub, which was pretty decent, with friendly service, good menu and child and dog friendly (they even have a sandpit for kids). We walked along the beach to enjoy the sights for a bit before heading back to our Airbnb where we changed to beach attire and hit the local beach.
I am glad we ended up staying in Walmer. While it’s very residential (we had no shops in the immediate vicinity), it is also quieter and has a nice pace of life. We were two streets away from the beach and right outside our front door was a gorgeous recreation ground (Maerke Wood) which was perfect for us. Amber absolutely loved its lush, cool grass and the 6yo loved the playground, making friends with the local kids.
Walmer beach is huge, and parking is free (not that we needed it); it’s pebbly and it’s windy, very open. It is dog friendly (in the summer months nearby beaches aren’t). The boys swam in the freezing channel waters, while I just watched and related in the sunshine. It felt like a proper holiday for sure.
Further on, towards Deal, there are a few cafes, a sailing club, a lifeboat house. Overall Walmer is a pretty seaside town, with a well maintained XV century castle and gardens (which of course, we visited on our final morning). We had a breakfast at top rated Goose on the Green (very friendly staff, reasonable prices and dog friendly).
Just as well we did not stay in Deal, as probably we’d not have slept as well as we did in Walmer. Deal seafront is lively, busy, with loads of bars and restaurants and the pier; the town has some very interesting period building (including derelict Regent cinema on the sea front and vintage ice cream shop Deal Parlour).
The high street is a mix of typical chains (from Poundland to Boots), farmers’ market and some quirky, elegant boutiques (I popped into a friend of a friend’s jewellery store full of beautiful pieces). There are vintage shops, record stored, artisan coffee shops and french boulangeries. It is definitely a place worth spending a couple of days! We had dinner here two nights out of three, first forgettable one at local pub The Port Arms and then at Royal Hotel brasserie, in fact this was the place we had originally booked, which is slighly more refined than our previous night but nothing to shout about.
Deal Castle is also interesting although quite small and not dog friendly, it was great to visit, and in shape similar to Walmer albeit without the latter’s extensive gardens and woods.
We made it to historic Sandwich too for a couple of reasons. Just outside the town is Richborough Roman Fort, also on English Heritage and recently reopened to include a modern replica of the wooden entry bridge and a small museum dedicated to the history of the site, its importance as the gateway to Roman Britain (who knew) and artifacts here found. It was a hot day, but this site is also dog friendly so all of us made the most of a cool drink and our umbrella vouching as a sun parasol. Amber did so well, considering she’s not so young anymore (aren’t we all).
We also had a chance to walk around Sandwich itself, grab a quick pleasant lunch at Pit Stop (yes an actual sandwich) and sightsee the pretty and not too busy streets as well as a couple of medieval churches (St Clements has an impressive norman tower) and the Medieval Centre, which is a small and interactive museum with volunteers dressed in medieval garb and occupied in a number of craft from textiles to smyth; it’s free and really worth a look especially if you have children and it’s by the historic Toll Bridge House.
In the town there is also a fully restored and fully working art deco cinema: Oli and I popped in, went upstairs and chatted to one of the staff about how wonderful the venue is and noticed how many authentic features are still present. Stunning.
Three days and it was already time to get back to London but I can honestly say my batteries were recharged. East Kent is definitely a great place for a weekend! There is much to see and do and we could have spent a week and still not have managed all, from local classic cars fairs to farm shops and wildlife parks.