Dungeness, a National Nature Reserve and end of the train line for us was a real surprise – a desolate but stunningly beautiful place. Right by the sea but a far cry from the traditional English seaside resort, I loved it with its unusual and captivating shingle landscape. Apparently officially termed a desert (Britain’s only one) due to dryness and lack of surface vegetation, unusual flora and fauna thrive here and it is an important ecological site.
We stepped off the train and found ourselves beside one of the two lighthouses, built in 1901 but no longer operational you can climb 150 feet to the top during the summer months. Everyone else seemed to be making this their goal for the afternoon, we decided to opt out and take the other direction. We found the second lighthouse further along, still working it was opened in 1963 but is not open to the public.
Also quick to catch our eye was the Dungeness Power Station – a nuclear power plant which can’t be ignored but it didn’t dominate the landscape in quite the way I would have expected. Son had read about their visitor centre and was keen to check it out. We discovered it was at least a mile to walk from the station, on a hot sunny day with limited time before our train back we decided to focus on the scenery at hand and leave this for another visit.
Loads of little cottages dotted here and there along the shingle, most made from old railway carriages, some are owned and lived in by fishermen who have their boats nearby. Artists and sellers of mystical artefacts are also drawn to this place, we found evidence of them too and I completely understand why they would be drawn to this eerie, desolate environment with its unusual and wonderful quality of light.
We found the boardwalk and followed the path to the sea. The beach was pebbly, Husband and Son skimmed stones and were in their element. Quite a breeze blowing on a still day elsewhere, it must be seriously windswept here in winter but on a hot, sunny day this breeze felt refreshing. There were beach fishermen, no swimming and you would be mad to even try. The beach shelves sharply and the currents seemed really strong. I found it mesmerizing to sit on the pebbles and watch the waves crash onto the beach.
Prospect Cottage, one of those quirky little houses and a little further away from the beach was home to Derek Jarman, a film director also remembered for his shingle cottage garden. He created it in the shadow of the nuclear power station from flotsam washed up nearby combined with salt-loving beach plants.
We strolled back to the quaint old fashioned station in plenty of time for our train, taking in more of that shingle landscape. I didn’t expect to love this place so much. Dungeness is bare, bleak and windblown but so hauntingly beautiful.