Dungeness - The Stunningly Quirky, Unique Headland

We have been to Dungeness a few times with our children on the steam trains but never really got out and explored the beach, so after reading local author, William Shaw’s, “DS Cupidi”  series of books set in Dungeness, we decided a trip was in order to experience the wilderness that is Dungeness for ourselves and see the scene of the crime. 

Dungeness wrecked boat

Dungeness is an absolutely fascinating place. It’s been called ” The end of the world”, “The wild west meets the post-apocalyptic” ( The Guardian) also captioned “Britain’s only desert “by the Met Office and you can see why, as it’s just a hug flat landscape with the largest expanse of shingle beach in Europe.

Britain's only desert

It is an important conservation area because of the plant and wildlife that reside there. It is a National Nature Reserve, a Special Protection Area, a Special Area of Conservation and is considered to be a site of special scientific interest.

quirky boat wreck with graffiti

There’s a huge variety of wildlife in Dungeness. It is apparently home to over 600 varieties of plants. It is also one of the best places in the UK to find different species of moths, beetles and spiders some of which are rare and cannot be found else where in Britain. We didn’t’ come across any spiders thank goodness, but I am reliably told they are there!

BaldHiker Retreats

There are also many species of birds and there is an RSPB bird reserve just along the coast which is very popular with bird watchers.

FE5 boat

It is also home to two  Nuclear Power Stations which dominate the skyline at the far side of the beach. The first was built in 1965 and is now decommissioned. The second was built in 1983 . There is an award winning, interactive visitors centre at the power plant and you can have a guided tour of the plant to see it in operation, although advance permission is now required for this. The power plant is owned by EDF Energy who now own the beach front in Dungeness, some 468 Acres of land. 

EDF energy plant

Apparently the power station causes “noise attenuation” of the shingle on the beach . Allegedly you can hear somebody talking half a mile away because of this !! ( We didn’t try this on our visit as it was far too windy..)

old boat tracks on nature reserve

On this subject of the carrying of noise in Dungeness there are three sound mirrors at the RSPB reserve in Lade Pits, which were built between 1928 and 1935. They were used as early warning sound systems during the war to pick up the sound of approaching aircraft. They were used until the invention of Radar, just before the second world war. We have this on our list of things to come back and find as they sound fascinating.

RSPB reserve in Lade Pits

Look past the power station and you can see two lighthouses. There have been 5 high lighthouses built here but only two have survived the elements.The older of the two remaining lighthouses you can go up and view the whole of the headland during the summer months. The new lighthouse was built when the sea began to recede again and the building of the power plant obscured the light of the old 1904 lighthouse, so a new lighthouse was built further along the shore in 1961.

old lighthouse
new lighthouse

It is also home to the end of the line station for the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Steam Railway. In the summer months you can sit and watch the steam trains go past and give everyone a wave. They also have a lovely “end of the line” cafe there for a hot drink and delicious hot food. If you don’t fancy the drive to Dungeness you can always catch the steam train and have a relaxing journey on one of their miniature steam trains.The railway is open weekdays from April to October and then a reduced time table at weekends in the winter.

old boats

There is an RNLI station along the coast where you can have a look around and a local pub where you can stop and eat and have a much needed hot drink. 

The most fascinating part of the place is the beach. It’s enormous and goes on for miles. Dotted around are little houses built around old railway coaches. These are homes to many of the fishermen who have boats out on the shingle.

shingle of nature reserve

The most famous of these cottages was owned by film director Derek Jarman. Apparently he was a keen gardener and created his garden from bits of the beach including pebbles, Scrap metal and some of the hardier plants along the shore line. It is said that he made living at Dungeness more fashionable and now there are luxury, converted cottages along the coast which are available to hire though out the year.

old tractor plough rusting

Because of it’s unique landscape it has been used many times for music videos, album covers and TV programs. Bands that have shot here include Pink Floyd, Soup Dragons, Lighthouse Family, Aled Jones, The Prodigy and Ninki Minaj. It’s also been featured on East Enders, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Doctor Who and Time Bandits.

There are many boats covering the expanse of shingle from old boats left out in the elements and new boats ready to go and catch some fish. In between these are old boat tracks leading down to the sea and old metal winches , diggers and fishermen’s pots. It really is quite surreal and you do feel like you are walking on a film set at times, so I am not surprised it has been so popular with the media.

old boats and diggers left

Dungeness is a great place to beach fish and apparently is a nationally recognised cod fishing venue in the winter months. It is even considered to be one of the best fishing locations in the UK due to the warmer waters.The warmer waters are known as “The Patch” or “The Boil” by fishermen. This is a place where waste hot water from the power plant is pumped into the sea through outfall pipes. This apparently “enriches the biological productivity of the sea bed” and sea birds come for miles because of it . 

For any keen fishermen reading this, in the summer you can catch  Bass, sole, plaice, mackerel, smoothhound, garfish, bream, dogfish, scad and pollack and in the winter months Codling, whiting, pouting, dabs, flounders and rockling.

colourful boat

They say you either love Dungeness or hate it – We love it- it’s a great place to come and so photogenic. It’s very exposed though, so a warm coat is advisable and hardy shoes to walk along the pebbles. The beach is privately owned but you are free to roam about providing you don’t disturb the local wildlife or disrupt the locals and their fishing boats.

A great trip out and we will definitely go back again to continue exploring and to go and have a look around the RPSB Nature Reserve.

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