I’d been hearing about the bleak and isolated hamlet of Dungeness, a scattered wasteland on the headland of Kent, for some years, but it was only earlier in Summer that I managed to explore it myself. It’s home to artists and musicians seeking inspiration from its never ending shingle landscape and imposing power station, and it’s easy to see the appeal – every glance feels surreal and otherworldly, ripe for the canvas. Wooden cottages and dark Scandinavian architecture sparsely litter the landscape, making way for discarded lobster boxes and rusting hulls of ships abandoned to the forces of nature.
We spent the morning on this overcast Saturday travelling from London, taking the train to Ashford International before continuing on bus through the Hythe. Dungeness itself doesn’t have the best public transport, but offers a unique way in – through miniature train. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway is comprised of a fleet of 1/3 sized steam locomotives, ran my local enthusiasts, with its pleasant journey ending at Dungeness Power Station.
Throughout the journey everything feels quaint and very middle England, passing through a mixture of sprawling fields, glimpses of railways, and more than a glimpse of a suburban back garden or two. It’s the juxtaposition of this normalness that makes your arrival at Dungeness even more stirring, the absence of colour, light and any real horizon so imposing. Maybe on a clearer day the atmosphere is less sinister, but with my feet sinking in endless shingles, rain in my face and a seamlessly grey horizon where the sea met sky, there was something imposing and frightening about the place.
That’s not to say I regret going, or would advise against it – but it’s mentally and emotionally challenging to be in a landscape that bleak. A quick google shows that the area has been the inspiration for at least three different novels, and it’s no surprise they are all crime in genre. All you’d need to do is stick two rogue police officers there and you’d have the perfect setting for a hit ‘Scandi-Noir’ TV show, full of natural grey palettes.
The main things to do in Dungeness are wonder and discover – there’s a Lighthouse to climb (we skipped this due to the entrance free and the lack of visibility) and some of the local artists have open houses where you can peruse art and see them at work in their studios.
The main event though to any trip here is getting lost down in the shingles, where the boardwalk drops off into pebbles and shrubbery, and where you can potter around very dangerous and derelict hulks of rusting boats. It’s only when we made it back to the ‘main road’ did we discover that you’re not actually meant to be in the ‘shipyard’ areas, but they are hard to resist with their ‘unnaturally’ photographic visions of decay and dystopia.