Dungeness, Kent

Dungeness beach hut

If, as some people argue, the world is actually flat, then I’d like to nominate Dungeness as one of the ends of the earth. It certainly feels remote and strange enough for maps of the area to tell you that in the sea beyond the coast “Here be monsters”.

Dungeness is at the end of a mile and a half shingle promontory, between New Romney, Lydd and Camber on Romney Marsh in Kent. Aside from a collection of seemingly random huts and shacks, it has two nuclear power stations (once upon a time you could visit them, but in these days of tight security, that was thought to be a bad idea), two lighthouses (one defunct), is the terminus of the miniature Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (of which more soon), some fishing boats moored on the shore, and a collection of flora and fauna unique to its shingle landscape.

The Dungeness Estate is privately owned (hence the gates at its entrance), and whoever originally decided to purchase it was obviously a genius, as it has to be one of the best investments ever: Each year more and more shingle is deposited on the shore, so Dungeness, unlike a great deal of the rest of the coast, is actually getting bigger. To see how much it has grown, look at the distance between the old lighthouse (1902) and the new (1962): Both were once almost on the shoreline.

In the aftermath of the First World War, when housing was at a premium, people began to rent plots at Dungeness and erect their own dwellings, often making use of old railway carriages to do so. Some of these are still there, although adapted and added to over the years. It was also home to filmmaker Derek Jarman (you can see his famous garden at Prospect Cottage).

Dungeness Old Lighthouse and Station

Apart from this though, there really is almost “nothing to see” at Dungeness. There is a unique atmosphere, which to an extent it shares with the rest of the Romney Marsh, especially in the over crowded South East of England. Dungeness seems to stand guarding the Marsh, both figuratively and literally: If it wasn’t for its shingle, the sea would once again engulf the Marsh, and it's probably only a matter of time until it does again. It guarded Britain in another way too: At nearby Denge were built the famous concrete Sound Mirrors. They aren’t open to the public, and are in the middle of an island now, but guided tours do happen every so often. I’m hoping to go on the next one, so hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about them here soon. It was also the base for the “Pipeline Under the Ocean” or PLUTO of the Second World War, which supplied fuel to the Normandy Beachhead. The chapel was originally built as a pumping station, but made to look like a chapel. The irony being, it was later converted to that which it was meant to be disguised as. This is just another example of Dungeness’s strangeness. It’s almost like the place doesn’t want to be categorised. A nature reserve with a nuclear power station attached; a chapel that wasn’t and now is; a beach you can’t swim off. That’s probably why I love it.

If you’re planning a visit, take a good map (it really isn’t on the way anywhere, but the easiest way to find it is to follow the signs for Lydd Airport from the A259). There is a pub, and a café at the station, but both are often closed out of season, so if you’re planning a bracing Winter walk, best take a hat (actually, best take a hat most of the year, there’s nearly always a bit of a breeze there!) and a flask. The photos were taken in January, and though its often sunnier, it's usually fresh. One final word of warning: The sea current off of Dungeness is notoriously strong, and swimming is not to be recommended. Even very strong swimmers have been swept away.

Dungeness photos


Main photo by Squirmelia. Used with thanks. More photos from the Dungeness Flickr pool

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