Is it time to let your imagination wander and your creative juices flow? Follow the literary trail of White Cliffs Country! For centuries this unique destination has inspired many famous writers and it's little wonder. Our dramatic clifftops, wild beaches and seascapes, charming towns, picturesque villages and pretty countryside are full of history, tradition and beauty - a creative artist's dream. Picture yourself standing in the footsteps of the whimsical authors to see what inspired them - and maybe put pen to paper as well!
William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Matthew Arnold, Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, George Eliot, William Wordsworth, Daniel Defoe, Paul Theroux, William Cobbett, Tom Paine, Robert Bridges, Celia Fiennes, Frances Fyfield... to name but a few of the literary greats in whose footsteps you can follow while you're here.
Literary Connections - Deal
Over the years, literary travellers passing through Deal have recorded their observations of the Kentish seaside town - some of which have been less than complimentary!
Today Deal has changed and is a pretty and thriving town by the coast, but remains unspoiled - it's steeped in history and is winner of the Telegraph’s High Street of the Year (2013) and The Solar Centre's Best Seaside Resort in the UK (2020).
The seafront is a special place and fantastic for a stroll along the promenade. If you walk to the end of the 1000ft long pier and look back towards the shore, you’ll see history unfolding in the ages of the houses that stretch north and south along the coastline. The café at the end of the pier won an award for its architecture and is a great place to stop to refuel.
Middle Street in Deal is an unmissable part of the town, with quaint, historical cottages that were used by smugglers during the 18th Century. You can find out more about its fascinating and notorious past by following the historic town trail. Deal is awash with lovely places to eat and drink, so happy exploring!
In 1697, Celia Fiennes 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.' (THROUGH ENGLAND ON A SIDE-SADDLE)
By the 1820s, William Cobbett found Deal to be 'a most villanous place'. But he was clearly prejudiced, 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)
Even in 1982, 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)
The Downs was once a place of safe anchorage for ships, perhaps awaiting orders or a favourable wind. Jane Austen mentions 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, Jane Austen refers to'the ball at Deal on Friday' when writing to her sister, Cassandra. (Letters, 27th August 1805)
While staying at his weekend home in St Margaret's Bay, Noel Coward came into Deal to shop and to visit one of the town's cinemas. (The cinemas were located in Queen Street, King Street and Seafront.) He records a miserable evening spent watching the film version of his play, Bitter Sweet, on 1st July 1946, declaring it to be 'a nauseating hotchpotch of vulgarity, false values, seedy dialogue, stale sentiment, vile performance and abominable direction.' (DIARIES)
Novels and Memoirs
A Hanging Matter by David Donachie (1994)
Set in Deal, Kent in 1794, this naval adventure involves the world of smuggling and contraband.
Undercurrents by Frances Fyfield (2001)
Considered to be one of our country's finest crime writers, she based her compelling mystery at Deal (though 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 Pier by Rayner Heppenstall (1986)
John Rayner Heppenstall, British novelist, poet and diarist and BBC radio presenter writes his story of murder around Deal and its pier.
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 it is here that James Bond is sent to investigate. However, as previously ‘secret’ photographs come to light, you can easily picture James Bond in Fleming's own St Margaret's Bay (near Dover) with its Sci-Fi radar masts and cold-war bunker disguised as a bungalow.
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'.
Paul Theroux , visiting in 1982, cast a foreigner's eye over Walmer, saying it had 'the smack of a London suburb - flower gardens and elderly shoppers'. (THE KINGDOM BY THE SEA)
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 has left us a poem about the summer-house which stood in the grounds. From the wooden building, the young Bridges could look out over the 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.
I had seen his castle-flag to fall half-mast
One morn as I sat looking on the sea,
When thus all England's grief came first to me,
Who hold my childhood favour'd that I knew
So well the face that won at Waterloo.
(ELEGY: THE SUMMER-HOUSE ON THE MOUND, published 1899.)
Literary Connections – Dover
Dover stands as the gateway to England. Over the years, many travellers have passed through on their way to the continent, and some have paused for long enough to give us their impressions. Similarly to Deal, they have not always been complimentary!
The town is the ‘history’ capital of White Cliffs Country and currently undergoing regeneration. You’ll find some amazing places to visit - don't miss Dover Castle with its Secret Wartime Tunnels and Dover Museum – home to the Bronze Age Boat, the world’s oldest surviving seagoing boat. The iconic White Cliffs of Dover are a must-do - for breathtaking views and bracing walks. Head down to the award-winning seafront which was recently redesigned and transformed by Tonkin Liu architecture studios, with an esplanade creation that takes the form of three waves washing up against the sheltered beach.
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), 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'.
However it was considered more favourable in 1823 by William Cobbett (1763-1835) 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 1982, the American, Paul Theroux (1941-), whilst sourcing material for his book THE KINGDOM BY THE SEA, observed that 'Dover had a slight continental tang' 'the town had a slightly garlicky flavour'.
In 1851, the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) arrived in Dover with his new wife and stayed in the town before setting off on honeymoon to the continent. Arnold captured the scene from his window at night in verse and so came the poem, DOVER BEACH, published in 1867.
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; -
on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles, which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
St Mary's Church
In 1816, Lord Byron (1788-1824) fled from England - most likely in fear for his safety, following accusations of adultery, cruelty, incest and sodomy. 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 when he reached Lake Geneva later that year. The grave is no longer there, but the poem remains.
I stood beside the grave of him who blazed
The comet of a season, and I saw
The humblest of all sepulchres, and gazed
With not the less of sorrow and of awe
On that neglected turf and quiet stone,
With name no clearer than the names unknown,
Which lay unread around it.
In 1818 Byron began his famous poem DON JUAN which contains several references to Dover:
Don Juan now saw Albion’s earliest beauties,
Thy cliffs dear Dover! harbour and hotel;
Thy custom house, with all its delicate duties;
Thy waiters running mucks at every bell;
Thy packets, all whose passengers are booties;
To those who upon land or water dwell;
And last, not least, to stranger uninstructed;
Thy long bills whence nothing is deducted.
(FROM DON JUAN, CANTO 10 LXIX)
Did William Shakespeare (1564-1616) ever visit Dover? We can't be sure but there is a scene in his tragedy, KING LEAR, which takes place near the town. The old Earl of Gloucester, who bas been cruelly blinded, comes to Dover, wanting to end his wretched 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 earlier banished. Filled with pity for his father, Edgar makes him believe he does in fact climb the cliff and throw himself off. Of course, Gloucester is unharmed - but there are some powerful descriptions of the view from the top of the cliff.
'Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful
And dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles; half way down
Hangs one that gathers sampire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.
The fishermen that walk upon the beach
Appear like mice, and yond tall anchoring bark
Diminish'd to her cock, her cock a buoy
Almost too small for sight. The murmuring surge,
That on th'unnumber'd idle pebble chafes,
Cannot be heard so high.
KING LEAR Act IV Scene VI (/608)
Samphire Hoe is a fascinating and beautiful part of White Cliffs Country. Made from the material dug to create the Channel Tunnel and originally known as the Lower Shakespeare Cliff site, the famous quotation from KING LEAR above was the source of inspiration for the new name. In 1994, Eurotunnel and the Dover Express organized a competition to name this ‘newest piece of England’. Hundreds of entries were received from which the judges chose Samphire Hoe.
Rock Samphire grows on the Hoe. For many years it was an important local plant, being collected and eaten.
Ian Fleming (1908-1964) - who has may links with the area describes Dover Castle as 'the wonderful cardboard castle' in his James Bond novel MOONRAKER, published in 1955.
Lord Warden Square
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a frequent visitor to East Kent. He knew the Lord Warden Hotel well enough to mention the proprietors - Mr and Mrs Birmingham - by name 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.' Only when the mail and the train's passengers are safely on board can the packet set sail for France.
A magnificent view awaits those who climb the cliffs above the town, as Dorothy Wordsworth (1771-1855) discovered. She had travelled with her brother, the poet, on a visit to France in 1802, and had been seasick on the return journey from Calais. So the pleasures of Dover acted as a great restorative, as she recalls in her diary entry for 30th August 1802.
It was very pleasant to me, when we were in harbour
at Dover, to breathe the fresh air, and to look up and
see the stars among the Ropes of the vessel. The next
day was very hot. We both bathed, and sat upon the
Dover Cliffs, and looked upon France with many a
melancholy and tender thought. We could see the
shores almost as plain as if it were but an English lake.
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:
There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover
tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There'll be love and laughter and peace ever after
tomorrow, when the world is free.
The shepherd will tend his sheep
The valley will bloom again
and Jimmy will go to sleep
in his own little room again.
There'll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover
tomorrow, just you wait and see.
George Eliot - the pen name adopted by the novelist Marian Evans (1819-1880) - stayed at Sydney Villas, East Cliff, for five weeks 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, and 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'. When she left for London in April, it was to go and live with George Henry Lewes, who had finally separated from his wife.
The other sonnet expresses his pleasure in seeing familiar country sights again, after the political turmoil of Europe.
Peace greets us; -
rambling on without an aim
We mark majestic herds of cattle free
To ruminate couched on the grassy lea,
And hear far-off the mellow horn proclaim
The season's harmless pastime.
(AFTER LANDING THE VALLEY OF DOVER- Nov.1820)
On 7th November 1820, William Wordsworth (1770-1850), 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 - but the experience had not been a happy one. Wordsworth's delight at being safely back in England inspired him to write two sonnets. One opens with the poet standing on the Pier, looking back at the town.
From the Pier's head, musing, and with increase
Of wonder, I have watched this seaside Town,
Under the white cliff's battlemented crown,
Hushed to a depth of more than Sabbath peace.
(AT DOVER - 1820)
Literary Connections - Sandwich
Sandwich is one of the original Cinque Ports and once a bustling and prosperous port, it is now said to be “one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Britain”.
Have a wander through the unspoilt medieval streets where there are more half-timbered houses than any other street in England. The newly refurbished quayside is a must and gives a good flavour of the history and heritage surrounding the town.
The town has a great range of independent shops and places to eat and drink. Food has always been associated with the town - in the 18th century the Earl of Sandwich is reputed to have devised the popular snack, and this is celebrated in the annual food festival.
Many recent travel writers have been enchanted by the old town of Sandwich, and Paul Theroux, visiting the town in 1982, speaks for them all. He finds 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 (1662-1741), 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 some 25 years later, called it 'an old decayed, poor, miserable town'. (A TOUR THROUGH THE WHOLE ISLAND OF GREAT BRITAIN)
St Peter's Church
Better known for his short stories, the author W. W. Jacobs (1863-1943) wrote novels as well. One of these, 'AT SUNWICH PORT', published in 1902, uses Sandwich as the inspiration for 'the ancient port of Sunwich'. It is a story of sea captains, of rivalry and romance, and opens with a description of the town church which still shares many features with St Peter's today.
"It is a fine church, and Sunwich is proud of it. The tall grey tower is a landmark at sea, but from the narrow streets of the little town itself it has a disquieting appearance of rising suddenly above the roofs huddled beneath it for the purpose of displaying a black-faced clock with gilt numerals whose mellow chimes have recorded the passing hours for many generations of Sunwich men."
20 New Street
Tom Paine (1737-1809) was a radical thinker and writer who spent a year in Sandwich in 1759, trying to make a living as a staymaker. But 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', published in 1791, but his 'COMMON SENSE' of 1776 had a strong influence on the American Declaration of Independence of the same year. His ideas were ahead of his time: not only did he oppose slavery, but he also had strong views on what he saw as the inferior position of women.
Royal St George's
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 - thinly disguised as Royal St Mark's - features in the James Bond book 'GOLDFINGER' published in 1959. In a contest which foreshadows the book's final outcome, Bond plays the wealthy gold smuggler, Auric Goldfinger, at golf - and wins! 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 (1920-1992), uses 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. In those days it was Tanatus, the Isle of Thanet, that was 'the gateway to Britain'.
Approaching travellers would have seen:
"the grey fortress of Rutupiae that rose massive and menacing above the tawny levels, with all the lonely flatness of Tanatus Island spread beyond it. At night, the Rutupiae Light blazed out, a beacon of civilization holding back the darkness."
Literary Connections – Goodnestone
The novelist, Jane Austen (1775-1817), was a frequent visitor to Goodnestone Park in the 1790s and early years of the 19th century. She began writing her first novel, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, immediately after staying at Goodnestone in 1796.
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.
30th August 1805
'We have walked to Rowling on each of the last two days after dinner, and very great was my pleasure in going over the house and grounds'.
The novelist took an active part in local social life. In addition to the Goodnestone Fair, held each year at Michaelmas, there were balls at Canterbury - and at Goodnestone itself.
5th September 1796
'We dined at Goodnestone and in the evening danced two country dances... I opened the Ball with Edward Bridges.'