The otherworldly appeal of Dungeness
Shingle, shacks and serenity
My first visit to Dungeness was a mid January Monday-to-Friday break with a group some friends to ‘get over' and/or continue the festivities from Christmas and the New Year just a few weeks earlier. An unlikely time for a holiday met with some excellent deals for accommodation 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.
Being one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe and often referred to as Britain's only ‘desert', Dungeness is an area of great importance when it comes to conservation, particularly for geomorphology and plant and birdlife. As the area is protected so heavily it does not allow much room for development. Essentially, there is a great deal of planning permission required and all new buildings must only cover the same footprint of the shack originally in the spot. This has led to some incredible architecture such as the award-winning Pobble House, below.
On telling friends I was going to visit Dungeness, I did receive mixed reactions. Many pondered my intention to visit a famous nuclear power station, others (who had clearly been before) congratulated me on my choice of destination and remarked upon the truly stunning scenery and feeling of tranquility there; they were not wrong at all.
The first evening was spent with a walk across the shingle with torches, heading north for the Pilot Inn; a traditional, family run pub and one of only two on the estate. The obvious choice 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 being the cheapest round of drinks I have purchased in some years and there was even a mild on offer from the beer pumps. The pub closed at 10pm and we took an alternate route back to our accommodation and followed the railway tracks. I would advise that the shingle can be fairly heavy-going to walk across, particularly in the dark... and slightly ‘squiffy'.
Looking out of my window in the morning, it felt like I was looking out across the moon for a split second... This was until I saw an old looking house in the distance; the building greeted me with a reminder of Craggy Island - do not get me wrong for one second - it was a feeling of great comfort. The strict regime regarding development not only protects the environment but also makes Dungeness a place really like no other. The Guardian recently described the hamlet as ‘where the wild west meets the post-apocalyptic' which seems to set the tone quite well.
Our first day was spent with some beachcombing (If I'm honest - not an activity I am completely sure I understand) followed by a trip to nearby Rye spent looking around some of the quirkier shops. I recall buying a 7" single by Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, I've never played it - I digress. We ate in the excellent ‘George in Rye' and had a fantastic variety of craft beers and real ales to accompany our meal. After the meal, I browsed through ‘Grammar School Records' opposite and hitting 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 record store and we retired to our chalet back on Dungeness. The evening was spent with a roaring fire; music and time spent playing (and bickering over) games until the early ours.
Not too early the next morning, we arose from our beds once again gawping at the stunning panorama, taking turns to use the binoculars to get a better look at the world around us over our morning coffee. 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 sad face (see photo below, it was really quite remarkable). I did also find a great 70s looking Ski yoghurt pot that had washed up on the shore in immaculate condition. Despite my aversion to wandering along the beach picking up stones and shells, I did thoroughly enjoy the brilliant freshness of the air as well as the incredible sights around us; old anchors, beaten up sailing boats and a horizon to die for.
Before heading home, our final day was spent with a short trip along the east coast to Littlestone before heading to the 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 operated by the RSPB. In our case there was not a tour taking place during our stay and the mirrors could only be viewed at a distance. Despite this, the concrete mirrors at 20 and 30 feet tall (one at 200 feet in length) were still an impressive sight to behold.
I suppose Dungeness was a strange choice for a January getaway in some respects although it does highlight the wonder of holidaying in the UK. For a place of such great natural wonder and as a sucker for the mysticism of bleakness, I personally found it idyllic. Like something out of a Shane Meadows film, understated yet magnificent.