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We have been visiting Deal in Kent for our holidays for about ten years as our family own a property down there. In all that time, we have been admiring the outside of the main tourist attraction there, the castle owned by English Heritage. This year we made ourselves members of English Heritage so we could have some inexpensive days out on our holiday. This was pretty much free for us as I used my Tesco clubcard vouchers to do this or alternatively you can pay £47 for an individual membership for an adult, or £82 for a couple membership. We have used ours many times in the past year, so I highly recommend getting membership.
===Where is Deal Castle?===
Deal Castle is located on the sea front in the little town of Deal in Kent. It is a little further up the coast from Dover, and close to Sandwich. It's address is Marine Road, Deal, Kent - CT14 7BA. The first time we visited Deal, we were given instructions of turning right at the castle, and we literally failed to see it. Rather than being a tall keep like other castles I have experienced, it is quite a short squat building. There is a car park at the side of the property, but we didn't use this when we visited as we were within walking distance of the property. There is a train station in Deal, and you can also take the Stagecoach East Kent bus service, number 84 to get to the property.
===Visiting the Castle:===
Between April and the end of September the castle is open daily between 10am and 6pm. For the rest of the year, it is open only on weekends at the same times. Cost of entry is pretty reasonable. It is £4.90 for an adult, £2.90 for a child, £4.40 for concessions, £12.70 for a family, or free to English Heritage members. Visiting the castle takes a minimum of one hour. We had quite a rushed visit, and spent longer than this looking round. Details can be checked on the English Heritage web site.
===What is its History?===
Deal castle is a Tudor property built by Henry VIII in the late 1530s. It was built very quickly in about a year as a defensive property. It was built at the same time as nearby Walmer castle which is also an English Heritage property. They were an elaborate coastal defence at the time because Henry VIII had turned his back on catholicism and was afraid of attack by Catholics in France and Spain. The towns of Deal and Walmer built up around the castles, and are now almost joined together.
The property is mostly a shell with little original artefacts remaining inside.
===Our experience of visiting the castle:===
We visited the castle on a Friday afternoon in the school holidays, and it was quite busy. We were never really on our own at any point in the castle, but it is not the largest of properties and quite open plan inside, so it felt quite busy.
You enter the castle from the main road and you go through the gatehouse with large original oak doors with iron studs to the Guards room. This is now the visitors shop where you pay to enter, pick up audio guides, and can buy some items such as guide books and small souvenirs. It was the smallest shop I have seen visiting any English Heritage propery, and the only member of staff I recall seeing was the chap behind the counter here.
We were given a worksheet for the children to complete as we were going round. My children are kind of too small for this kind of activity as they are only 4 and 5, but older children would enjoy answering questions about the site and solving anagrams and colouring in. We brought our sheets home to colour later.
We went firstly into the round keep which is on a couple of levels with stone spiral staircases inside at the middle of the keep. The castle has an unusual structure in my eyes (having not seen it myself elsewhere) where the round keep is surrounded by half circles which are known as bastions or lumettes. This is then repeated in the outer wall, where again there are another 6 larger bastions, and the thing that my children were most eager to see - the defensive cannons.
Inside the keep, we spent a little bit of time looking round the first floor at the original brick ovens, a big open tudor fireplace, and a more modern 20th century chapel. There was also a really large 19th century mangle located in what was the laundry.
This keep would never have been a house as such like larger castles, but would have provided accomodation for one captain, 34 soldiers, a trumpeter and a drummer. Looking at the size of the castle, this would have been pretty crowded compared to how we live now.
The basement of the castle had storage rooms which would have been filled with wine and ammunition such as explosive gunpowder. There is also a system of tunnels going around the outside of the bastions which you can walk through. My children found this the highlight to our visit, though it was pretty dark, and very damp. In parts it had puddles so deep we couldn't walk through in our trainers. You can walk all the way round the keep through these narrow passages, but we managed about half before giving up. If we went again I would take torches and also wear more waterproof footwear so we could appreciate this feature more.
We also went up to the second floor of the keep, but I found this a little disappoiniting as it has been modernised in more recent times, so the original wall coverings have been replaced with panelling. Here there were portraits of the former Captains of the Castle. We didn't linger long though as it wasn't that interesting for my children.
There was not a lot of writing around the property like you get on some signs at some sites, and we unfortunately did not do the audio guide. I may have found this floor more interesting as a result.
We then went up onto the outer bastions. This was far more interesting for small children. You can only go onto the seaward side, but from here there were good views out to sea, and looking into Walmer and Deal.
The cannons were the highlight. There are 4 32 pounder guns dating from around 1800, and with some link to our home town of Rotherham. These are Blomefield pattern. My boys loved pretending they were loading these with cannon balls and firing out to sea.
===Final thoughts on the Castle:===
We perhaps didn't get the full advantage to visiting this property as we didn't do the full audio tour and hear the history as we went round. It is hard to do that kind of activity with younger children though. We did get a good sense of the purpose of the property, but I always find it hard to imagine the property in use when they are this sparse.
It would have been good to have at least one member of heritage staff wandering around to answer questions and point things out, or alternatively a few more signs. We did enjoy our visit, and would go again when the kids are a bit older.
While it is not the best example of a castle with the larger Dover castle being nearby, it is still in a less adapted condition than nearby Walmer castle which has been someone's home and therefore been adapted. It is also in very good condition and it is interesting to compare to castles which are more defensive in nature. I find it interesting to see that it has no moat and instead relies on extremely thick walls and gun fire.
So is it a big deal? Well we are glad we finally visited as we have seen this property from the outside on so many occasions, and we now have seen it from the other side. It is certainly worthy of a couple of hours of your time if you are in the area.