In the shadow of not one, but two nuclear power stations sits Britain’s own Mad Max, post-apocalyptic wasteland come Scandinavian fishing village. Home to artists, film-makers and poets, this strange place could easily be the set of a Tarantino film.
We parked the car off the road outside ‘Prospect Cottage’, once owned by Derek Jarman. The house is painted black with bright yellow windows. The poem, ‘The Sunne Rising’ by John Donne is painted on one side.
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
From here we walked through wrecked fishing boats and fishing huts, inspecting the debris scattered on the shingle. Not knowing anything about the place before we went there, we became more and more confused as we passed old pieces of machinery, splintered wooden boards and all kinds of boat. There even appeared to be some sort of brick oven, isolated in the middle of the ‘desert’.
The winds were up to 85mph. Two minutes outside the car and Hayley was turning blue so a quick coat switch took place… leaving me to turn blue but earn husband points in the process. We passed through the wreckage and reached the beach. It was pretty hard going on the shingle with the wind blowing in our faces. We realised that if you jumped you actually moved about two feet in the direction of the wind. It had snowed that morning, then rained for several hours. As we got to the water, a rainbow appeared over a deserted fishing boat.
Dungeness is a favourite spot for sea birdwatching, due to the run off from the power plant. The warm waters attract a lot of fish, which in turn attract a lot of birds! We spotted some gulls paddling in the shallows alongside some small birds which thanks to Elliot Montieth I now know to be Turnstones. I had naively thought them to be young gulls, so we approached them to see if they’d allow us to get a better look. Unsurprisingly they were spooked and flew off, but not before I took a nice action shot of them fleeing the human intruders!
Having scared the life out of the little beggars we climbed back up the mountain of shingle and wandered through more old fishing boats and a carpet of fish heads and bones. A couple were sitting in their car watching some black backed gulls. They had brought a carcass with them by the looks of it and were trying to encourage some sort of feeding frenzy. The gulls seemed reluctant to take the bait and splashed about in a puddle of rain instead.
Always looking for interesting knick knacks for show and tell at school, (why should the children have all the fun?) I noticed a shark egg casing half buried in the shingle. It made for a nice photo being backlit by the sun, so I left the egg casing behind for someone else to find another day. Stranger than the egg casing was a coconut that had been washed up covered with shells. I wonder where that had travelled from. We also thought we might have found some valuable whale vomit… but decided it probably wasn’t and we didn’t really fancy carrying it around. Among the curiosities, Hayley found some good spots for a bit of extreme Yoga in the 85mph winds.
The power plant owned by EDF has been kind enough to build a birding hut on top of the shingle mountain right by the spot where the run off attracts the fish and in turn the birds. We climbed to the top of the shingle to make the most of it and get out of the wind for few minutes, but it was locked. Cheers EDF, I suppose Saturday would be a silly day to open the thing up! We made do with sitting on the crest of the hill and watched as hundreds of gulls, and one cormorant, swooped and hovered in the spray of the nuclear waves.
We had scoffed a trail bar as we watched the gulls, but watching them snaffle all that fish made us hungry, so we headed into ‘town’ hoping that there might be a cafe or somewhere to grab some lunch. We passed the old lighthouse and a cafe that had shut, then spotted a pub in the distance. Jackpot. Dungeness is famous for its cod fishing. I think all those fish heads we walked through were cod. We ate some delicious cod and chips, drank some of Kent’s ‘master’ beer, and decided that having warmed up, we probably didn’t fancy the nature reserve. We walked back to the car through some ramshackle dwellings, again fit for a Kubrick or Tarantino film.
In the setting sun we got back into the car and headed for London. I had picked Dungeness for a daytrip after having the worst time at work and wanting to get as far away from the place as possible. Only 75 miles from London, we discovered a place that is not only a change of scenery, but a change in way of life, in thinking and in spirit. Dungeness I salute you.