A desert, post-apocalyptic housing and a nuclear power station: Dungeness is guaranteed to be one of the weirdest places you’ll ever encounter. Described as “the end of the world” due to its remote location and barren stretch of coastline, it’s a mecca for nature lovers, photographers and Londoners seeking the ultimate “out there” holiday home location. After a week submerged under the shadow of sky scrapers, I boldly ventured where few bloggers have gone before.
The slow creaking of a rusty, metal sign post sounds a warning bell as we survey the barren landscape ahead. Feeling like I’ve stepped into the set of a Lana Del Rey video, everything appears to take place in slow motion. From the figures struggling along the shingle to the lone cars creeping past the telegraph posts on the town’s one and only road, there’s a surreal, dream-like quality to the town.
Composed of 70% sky and 40% shingle (Dungeness has one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe), the horizon is marked only be the rotting carcasses of old boats and the forlorn silhouettes of 29 cottages built from old railway carriages.
Further in the distance, you can make out the hulking mass and distant thrumb of Dungeness nuclear power station. Still generating electricity today, the power station belongs to EDF Energy who have also recently bought up the entire 468-acre Dungeness Estate. The original lighthouse (built in 1862) and the first to use electricity, still stands in its original position and is open to visitors. A second lighthouse was built in the 1950s closer to the shoreline as it was felt that the nuclear power station would block out the light for those at sea.
Blasted by gale force winds as I sink into the shifting shingle, (a fantastic power work out for the legs), I can’t contemplate how bitterly cold this exposed stretch of coastline must be in winter.
Happily snapping away at the shipwrecks, I’m approached by a couple who sheepishly ask me if I would be offended if they indulged in a spot of nude photography. Nothing is at seems in Dungeness. Beating a hasty retreat, I decide it’s time to pay a visit to Derek Jarman’s house.
The famous film director lived here on and off until his death in 1994. Twenty years on, his humble abode is still visited by film fans in their droves. Wild, colourful and flamboyant, the garden provides a fitting epitah to the man himself.
Designated a National Nature Reserve (NNR), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Dungeness is home to 600 different types of plant as well as rare moths, bees, beetles and spiders – many of which are unique to this area.
In common with Glastonbury, Dungeness is refreshingly devoid of Tesco Metros, Prets or Starbucks, but there is an abundance of quirky galleries squirrelled away in the most unassuming sheds. From spiritual haunts crammed with wind chimes to moody black and white beach shots, there’s an interesting selection of crafts on offer. The two galleries I visited below had open doors but unfortunately no sales personnel present.
No trip to Dungeness can be complete with sampling the local seafood. You can choose from crab shacks at the side of the road to proper pubs (of which there are two to choose from The Britannia Inn and The Pilot Inn.)
Mindful of catching the random bus back to Ashford, I head to the Pilot Inn where they provide the most massive slabs of cod I’ve ever encountered. Watching the waste line, I opt instead for the OAP version (£6.50) which turns out to be a normal size portion.
Heading back towards civilisation, I reflect on a weirdly surreal afternoon’s adventure which has blasted the pollution and urban malaise from my system. While I won’t be moving to one of the railway carriage house anytime soon, it’s good to know that Britain still has some magically wild and remote areas to escape to whenever the need arises.
Free guided tours of the Dungeness nuclear power station are available on request.
Entry to Dungeness light house costs £4.00 per person. Please see opening times for more details.