A Dungeness Travel Guide
Not your average desert…
Did you know Antarctica is a desert? The largest in the world in fact. Apparently being hot and full of sand no longer stands you in good stead to make the desert awards short-list, all you need to qualify these days is less than 25 cm’s of rain per year. And onto the podium walks Dungeness in Kent : a grand total of 24.6 cm’s and the most peculiar of barren and hostile landscapes I’ve ever seen in England. (I discount Middlesbrough from this list due to the fact the amount of teen pregnancy’s make it anything but barren)
By definition though, my living room could also be classed as a desert on these conditions – we got 2 inches of rain 3 years ago when the roof sprung a leak, and it constantly looks like a dust storm passed through. Come to think of it, tumbleweeds are regular when my hubby tries to crack a wise one.
Dungeness In A Nutshell
When I was a little girl we moved from the north-east of England down to the south coast for one year. My dad was an engineer and he took a short contract with the Dungeness Power Station. Living in the ‘Garden Of England’, enveloped by beautiful coastlines and really old picturesque villages full of history, it wasn’t lost on me, even at 7 years of age, the absolute contrast of the Dungeness headland. Every day we would exit the village of Romney Marsh and drive the long poker straight road in our convertible Lancia to a soundtrack of Dire Straits to collect my dad from work. With the roof down you could see for miles across the flat barren land, past neglected fisherman’s huts and an awful brown shingle, out to sea. Couple that with the eye-sore on the horizon that is Dungeness Nuclear Power Station and you can understand why years later, watching Grand Designs, I was so confused to see a little clip of this place from my childhood as the in-spot where artists and authors where rushing to to build their new avant-garde homes. It piqued my interest and ever since I have been longing to return to see what all the fuss is about.
Nothing much has changed I guess, except maybe my perception of what is beautiful and interesting. The nuclear power station still sits there like Stalin made a pipe organ, chucking out waste hot water from its cylinders creating thermals and a rich seabed which attract the birds and in-turn the twitchers. And the landscape is so post-apocalyptic you do think twice about getting out of the car. Yet despite the fact nothing grows higher than a thistle and the terrain is so flat it looks like a brown Monopoly board an hour into the game (only 1 storey houses mind you, no hotels), there is still this ethereal feel to Dungeness which explains the sudden interest of architects and their wealthy clients on the arty-spectrum.
The reason Dungeness can be called a desert is all down to its unique micro-climate. In a Bermuda Triangle kind of way, the world of weather carries on as normal around this little Kentish peninsula. You can see the clouds forming across the sea and inland towards Rye, but right above you will be blue skies, a gentle wind that seems to carry a little static, and a deadly silence that could only come from a vacuum : it’s weird and wonderful.
Making A Day Of It In Dungeness
468 acres of headland could easily swallow up half a day if you were so inclined. Should you find yourself in Kent looking for things to do, maybe on a day trip from London, then I definitely recommend adding Dungeness beach to your bucket list. 30 years ago Dungeness’s community was mostly made up of fishermen and their families, and although many have moved on and more creative folk have moved in, fish is still the focus of the peninsula, in fact, Dungeness crab is quite famous! There are 3 places to eat in Dungeness – a crab shack and two pubs; The End Of The Line and Britannia Inn. We loved the crab shack – a popular little get-up of alfresco dining, everything seafoody served from a white van as fresh as they come with a great view out to sea.
Dungeness is a photographers dream, although owing to the fact this is a residential area and it’s a unique landscape with a delicate and fragile wildlife habitat, respect must be shown and if the photography is for commercial use permission must be granted. That said, there are still a tonne of old boats, 2 lighthouses, an ethereal light and the sea in the distance, you will not be able to help yourself snapping away.
The Old Lighthouse can be visited for only £4 and once you’ve done the climb to the top and seen the views, there’s an interesting little museum describing the history of the lighthouses that have stood here since the 12th century.
As a Specially Protected Area (SPA), the Dungeness National Nature Reserve and RSPB Reserve can make for an interesting visit. Dungeness is home to a third of all plant species found in the UK and is a designated site of Scientific interest. Owing to its unusual landscape and positioning, it’s a hive of wildlife activity and you can make the most of it by walking the 2 mile circular route around the reserve – and don’t forget your binoculars for the bird hides! There are regular events going on like pond dipping and history talks too.
However you decide to spend your time in Dungeness, you have to allow a couple of hours for your brain to adjust to this other-worldly environment and just absorb its weirdness. It’s absolutely a nature lovers dream but even if that’s not your bag you won’t leave uninspired, I promise.
Have you been? It would make a great day trip from London. I’d love to hear your thoughts…
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