Literary connections

Dramatic clifftops, wild seascapes and characterful towns all wrapped up with fascinating history and heritage - come and see for yourself the landscapes that inspired literary greats such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Noel Coward.

This beautiful part of the country has inspired writers for centuries and it's easy to see why - sit on Shakespeare's Beach in Dover, play on the golf course that inspired a scene in Ian Fleming's Goldfinger, stroll around the gardens frequented by Jane Austen. White Cliffs Country may just inspire you, too.

A shingle beach with waves lapping at the shore and a row of houses and hotels on the seafront in the distance.
Once a major naval base, the lovely seaside town of Deal has inspired many writers and is the setting for several novels.


One of England’s first female travellers, Celia Fiennes (born in 1662) was known for her travels riding side-saddle on her horse - she was the first woman to visit every county in England long before stagecoaches and kept a journal of her journeys. In 1888 one of Celia’s descendants published her travel journal in its entirety - Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary. Of Deal, Celia noted "the buildings new and neate brickwork with gardens", asserting that "they are most masters of shipps houses and seamen or else those that belong to the Cordage and saile makeing". To her, Deal seemed "a good thriveing place". 

By the 1820s, activist and radical journalist William Cobbett found Deal to be "a most villanous place". He was clearly prejudiced, though, confessing, "I was glad to hurry along through it, and to leave its inns and public-houses to be occupied by the tarred, and trowsered, and blue-and-buff crew whose very vicinage I always detest" (Rural Rides). In 1982, American novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux could still see evidence of those who earned their living from the sea in this "small mild town". "The seafront was just rope and hauled-up fishing dinghies, and the wind was blowing along the stony shingly shore." (The Kingdom by the Sea)

From the 17th to early 19th centuries, Deal was a major Naval base with The Downs, the sea off the coast, providing safe anchorage for ships awaiting orders or a favourable wind. Jane Austen mentioned in one of her letters that her brother, Charles, who was a sailor, was joining his ship at Deal: "21st January 1799 - Charles leaves us tonight. The 'Tamar' is in the Downs, and Mr Daysh advises him to join her there directly... He will proceed in one of the night coaches to Deal." In the early 19th century, balls were held at the Assembly Rooms which stood on the corner of Duke Street. While staying at Goodnestone Farm in 1805, Austen refers to "the ball at Deal on Friday" when writing to her sister, Cassandra. (Letters, 27th August 1805)

Novels and memoirs

  • The Pier by Rayner Heppenstall (1986) - the British novelist, poet and diarist and BBC radio presenter wrote his story of murder around Deal and its pier.
  • A Hanging Matter by David Donachie (1994) - set in Deal in 1794, this naval adventure involved the world of smuggling and contraband.
  • Undercurrents by Frances Fyfield (2001) - considered to be one of our country's finest crime writers, Fyfield based her compelling mystery in Deal (known in the novel as Warbling).
  • The Boy With No Shoes by William Horwood (2004) - a moving memoir based on the author's childhood in Deal after the Second World War.
The view from the cliffs at Kingsdown with wildflowers in the foreground and the shore and Deal Pier in the distance.
The cliffs at Kingsdown provided Ian Fleming with inspiration for 'Moonraker'.


Kingsdown is assumed to be the setting for Ian Fleming's novel Moonraker, published in 1955. It is here "on the edge of the cliffs between Dover and Deal" that Sir Hugo Drax is building the Moonraker, an atomic rocket, and where James Bond is sent to investigate. However, you can easily picture James Bond in St Margaret's Bay (where Fleming lived on the beach) with its sci-fi radar masts and cold-war bunkers. As in Goldfinger, Fleming demonstrates his local knowledge as he paints pictures of the landscape with his description of "the black and white confetti of the ravens and gulls tossed against the vivid backcloth of green fields".


Poets Walk is named after Robert Bridges, Walmer's Poet Laureate. He was born at Roselands in 1844, and although the family house has long since vanished, Bridges wrote a poem about the summerhouse which stood in the grounds from where he could look out over the English Channel. In the poem, he recalls the day in 1852 when he saw the flag at Walmer Castle flying at half-mast on the death of the Duke of Wellington. The Iron Duke had been a friend of the Bridges family and his death was a personal loss for the young boy, as well as an event of national importance.


The novelist Jane Austen was a frequent visitor to Goodnestone Park in the 1790s and early 1800s. Jane's eldest brother, Edward, had married Elizabeth, one of the daughters of the house, and the couple began their married life at nearby Rowling. Elizabeth's widowed mother lived at the Dower House - Goodnestone Farm - and Jane Austen wrote several letters from here. She began writing her first novel, Pride and Prejudice, immediately after staying at Goodnestone in 1796.

A green lawn with a long rectangular pond, a person sitting on a bench, a red-rooved house to the right and a church tower in the distance.
Jane Austen was a frequent visitor to Goodnestone Park in the late 1700s.


We can't be sure that William Shakespeare visited Dover but there is a scene in King Lear which takes place near the town. The old Earl of Gloucester, who has been cruelly blinded, comes to Dover, wanting to end his life. He knows of a cliff overlooking the sea and asks to be led there. The man he asks is, unknown to him, his son Edgar, whom he had banished. Filled with pity for his father, Edgar makes him believe he does in fact climb the cliff and throw himself off. Gloucester is unharmed, but there are some powerful descriptions of the view from the top of the cliff, now known as Shakespeare Cliffs.

Over the years since, many writers have passed through Dover on their way to mainland Europe:

Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe), writing in 1724 in A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, was not impressed by Dover: "Neither Dover nor its Castle has anything of note to be said of them," he remarked, adding that the harbour and the pier were "ill repaired, dangerous and good for little". The town was considered more favourably in 1823 by William Cobbett who commented in his Rural Rides that he found the town of Dover to be "like other sea-port towns; but really much more clean, and with less blackguard people in it than I ever observed in any sea-port before. It is a most picturesque place, to be sure". 

In 1816, Lord Byron fled from England following accusations of adultery and other such 'crimes'. He stayed in Dover for two nights before sailing for Ostend. Waiting for the wind to change, Byron passed the time by visiting St Mary's churchyard where Charles Churchill, a well-known poet, had been buried in 1764. The experience moved him to write an elegy Churchill’s Grave. In 1818, Byron began his famous poem Don Juan which also contains several references to the town.

On 7 November 1820, William Wordsworth, with his wife and sister, Dorothy, landed in Dover to their great relief. Their boat had struck the rocks just outside Boulogne, leaving them stranded. Fortunately they had been rescued by carts once the tide had turned and Wordsworth's delight at being safely back in England inspired him to write two sonnets At Dover 1820 and After Landing - The Valley of Dover 1820.

In 1851, the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold arrived in Dover with his new wife and stayed in the town before setting off on honeymoon; he captured the scene from his window at night in verse and so came the poem, Dover Beach, published in 1867.

George Eliot stayed at Sydney Villas in East Cliff, Dover in the spring of 1855. She set herself a rigorous routine, translating in the mornings, walking up Castle Hill or along the beach in the afternoons, then returning to her lodgings to read and translate again. She wrote in a letter that she was enjoying the "perfect quiet" and "a bright sun shining on cliff and softly rounded hill and fringed sea". 

Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor to East Kent. He knew the Lord Warden Hotel well enough to mention the proprietors - Mr and Mrs Birmingham - in his short piece The Calais Night Mail of 1865. He tells of being in Dover, waiting on board the night packet "for the South-Eastern Train to come down with the Mail". He describes the "many gay eyes of the Marine Parade" twinkling in the distance and then the arrival of the train itself: "A screech, a bell, and two red eyes come gliding down the Admiralty Pier." 

And who could forget the lyrics from The White Cliffs of Dover, written in 1941 by Walter Kent and Nat Burton? Vera Lynn made the words famous with her version in 1942 to lift the spirits of the troops during the Second World War. The song has become a powerful and evocative reminder of 'home', peace and freedom, although we know there never will be bluebirds here (as they are native to north America, not Britain!). 

A golf green surrounded by rough grass and the sea in the distance - golden light and a blue sky.
Royal St George's golf course was the inspiration for Ian Fleming's Royal St Marks in 'Goldfinger'.


Radical thinker and writer Thomas Paine spent a year at 20 New Street in Sandwich in 1759 trying to make a living as a staymaker - his true vocation was as a writer and by the 1770s he was publishing pamphlets and articles, setting out his revolutionary ideas. He is best known for his Rights of Man but his Common Sense of 1776 had a strong influence on the American Declaration of Independence. His ideas were ahead of his time: not only did he oppose slavery, he also had strong views on what he saw as the inferior position of women.

Recent travel writers have been enchanted by the old town of Sandwich. Paul Theroux, visiting the town in 1982, speaks for them all. He found it "a lovely place surrounded by flat green fields", "still pretty and old-fangled". (The Kingdom by the Sea)

But earlier visitors were less impressed. In 1697, Celia Fiennes found Sandwich "a sad old town" and "run so to decay that except one or two good houses its just like to drop down the whole town" (Through England on a Side Saddle) and Daniel Defoe, passing though 25 years later, called it 'an old decayed, poor, miserable town". (A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain)

St Peter's Church features in a novel by the author W W Jacobs. At Sunwich Port, published in 1902, uses Sandwich as the inspiration for "the ancient port of Sunwich" in a story of sea captains, rivalry and romance, and opens with a description of the town church which still shares many features with St Peter's today.

Ian Fleming was a frequent visitor to the Guilford Hotel at Sandwich Bay and played golf regularly at Royal St George's. This golf course features in the James Bond book Goldfinger published in 1959, thinly disguised as Royal St Mark's. In a contest which foreshadows the book's final outcome, Bond plays the wealthy gold smuggler, Auric Goldfinger. It is a tense match, but Bond finds time to take his eyes off the game: "he gazed at the glittering distant sea and at the faraway crescent of white cliffs beyond Pegwell Bay..." And Bond's view is clearly Fleming's own that the Sandwich golf course is 'the greatest seaside course in the world'.

The children's writer Rosemary Sutcliff used her historical novel The Lantern Bearers (1959) to recreate Richborough in all its former glory. Set in 410 AD, the year the Romans finally left Britain, the story unfolds against the backdrop of Rutupiae – the Roman fort at Richborough.

Green grass ditches with the remains of Roman walls in the background at Richborough Roman Fort.
Richborough Roman Fort is the setting for Rosemary Sutcliff's 1959 novel 'The Lantern Bearers'.