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The otherworldly appeal of Dungeness / Shingle, shacks and serenity

15 September 2016

My first visit to Dungeness was a midJanuary Monday-to-Friday break with a group some friends to ‘get over’ and/orcontinue the festivities from Christmas and the New Year just a few weeksearlier. An unlikely time for a holiday met with some excellent deals foraccommodation in a sought-after part of the world, resulting in a more cost effective trip with some extra money left over for… well,beer and records in this particular instance.

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Being one of the largest expanses ofshingle in Europe and often referred to as Britain’s only ‘desert’, Dungenessis an area of great importance when it comes to conservation, particularly forgeomorphology and plant and birdlife. As the area is protected so heavily itdoes not allow much room for development. Essentially, there is a great deal ofplanning permission required and all new buildings must only cover the samefootprint of the shack originally in the spot. This has led to some incrediblearchitecture such as the award-winning Pobble House, below.
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On telling friends I was going to visitDungeness, I did receive mixed reactions. Many pondered my intention to visit afamous nuclear power station, others (who had clearly been before)congratulated me on my choice of destination and remarked upon the truly stunningscenery and feeling of tranquility there; they were not wrong at all.
The first evening was spent with a walkacross the shingle with torches, heading north for the Pilot Inn; atraditional, family run pub and one of only two on the estate. The obviouschoice for our party was fish and chips (what else would one do by the sea?).The portions were large and the prices were very reasonable, I recall it beingthe cheapest round of drinks I have purchased in some years and there was evena mild on offer from the beer pumps. The pub closed at 10pm and we took analternate route back to our accommodation and followed the railway tracks. I wouldadvise that the shingle can be fairly heavy-going to walk across, particularlyin the dark… and slightly ‘squiffy’.
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Looking out of my window in the morning, itfelt like I was looking out across the moon for a split second… This was untilI saw an old looking house in the distance; the building greeted me with areminder of Craggy Island – do not get me wrong for one second – it was afeeling of great comfort. The strict regime regarding development not onlyprotects the environment but also makes Dungeness a place really like no other.The Guardian recently described the hamlet as ‘where the wild west meets thepost-apocalyptic’ which seems to set the tone quite well.
Our first day was spent with somebeachcombing (If I’m honest – not an activity I am completely sure Iunderstand) followed by a trip to nearby Rye spent looking around some of thequirkier shops. I recall buying a 7″ single by Martin Stephenson & TheDaintees, I’ve never played it – I digress. We ate in the excellent ‘George inRye’ and had a fantastic variety of craft beers and real ales to accompany ourmeal. After the meal, I browsed through ‘Grammar School Records’ opposite andhitting somewhat of a ‘folk jackpot’, this severely dented my spending money -oops! When it was time to go home, I was eventually coaxed away from the recordstore and we retired to our chalet back on Dungeness. The evening was spentwith a roaring fire; music and time spent playing (and bickering over) gamesuntil the early ours.
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Not too early the next morning, we arosefrom our beds once again gawping at the stunning panorama, taking turns to usethe binoculars to get a better look at the world around us over our morningcoffee. Once everybody had arisen, we cooked a large breakfast and got ready(you guessed it) for some more beachcombing. I found a stone with a perfect sadface (see photo below, it was really quite remarkable). I did also find a great70s looking Ski yoghurt pot that had washed up on the shore in immaculatecondition. Despite my aversion to wandering along the beach picking up stonesand shells, I did thoroughly enjoy the brilliant freshness of the air as wellas the incredible sights around us; old anchors, beaten up sailing boats and ahorizon to die for.
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Before heading home, our final day wasspent with a short trip along the east coast to Littlestone before heading tothe Denge Sound Mirrors which were designed and built by Percy Rothwell in 1928.Although there is no immediate public access to the mirrors, tours are operatedby the RSPB. In our case there was not a tour taking place during our stay andthe mirrors could only be viewed at a distance. Despite this, the concretemirrors at 20 and 30 feet tall (one at 200 feet in length) were still animpressive sight to behold.
I suppose Dungeness was a strange choicefor a January getaway in some respects although it does highlight the wonder ofholidaying in the UK. For a place of such great natural wonder and as a suckerfor the mysticism of bleakness, I personally found it idyllic. Like somethingout of a Shane Meadows film, understated yet magnificent.
Tom
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