1 May 2013

There is life on Mars

After yesterday’s rather heavy post today, I thought I would try and lift your spirits a little.

So without further ado I present to you my idea of the king of inspiring places to go: Dungeness.

Okay, don’t let the name put you off. This really is a unique and interesting place, though it is an acquired taste I will admit. Here are a few facts to whet your appetite:
Dungeness is one of the largest expanses of shingle in the world
It contains a nature reserve
Is an area of special scientific interest
There are 600 species of plants
Many rare insects and animails
There are two lighthouses
There’s a nuclear power station.

Journey to the edge of the world
The absolute best way to approach Dungeness is on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway This is a miniature steam railway that starts down the road from my house in Hythe and goes all the way to the lighthouse near the nuclear power station. The trip takes just over an hour and is a journey from the 1950s civilisation of Hythe to the wilderness of Dungeness. Think of it as a benign version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but that lasts an hour. That might be dramatic, but the journey does feel as though you are heading away from your comfort zone and into the unknown. The further along the journey you are the more remote it feels until near the end the houses finally vanish and you are in the open shingle semi-wilderness of Dungeness. It is a splendid journey, if a little camp.

Arriving at Dungeness Station
Once you are there, if it’s a clear day – and don’t go unless it is – you can start by climbing the steps of the black lighthouse next to the station. This gives amazing views of the Romney Marsh, Camber Sands, the sea and the power station. Did I mention the nuclear power station? It is ever present. I can see it now from Hythe while I am typing this. After the lighthouse just go and explore by walking about. It doesn’t really matter which way you go it is all simply amazing. You can find places to sit on the shingle and just stare. If thinking is your aim on the trip then may I suggest you walk away from the station toward the power station – you can’t miss it – when you get closer to the station the road heads left along the power station perimeter and goes to the sea. At the end of the road climb a shingle dune and sit on the seaward side of it. You could stay here for hours just looking at the blue sea. There might be a few fisherman on the shoreline in front of you and probably some people with cameras. The walk to here takes 10 minutes.
Wooden walkway from the sea
After that head left with the sea on your right. Have a look at some of the houses and buildings as you walk along. The houses are mostly built around a central core that consists of an old railway carriage. After a while head back inland. There is a wooden walkway if you get far enough which leads to a pub called the Britannia – never been. If you are feeling particularly energetic instead of the Britannia head right away from the power station – which you should just be able to make out as it is the largest structure within about 50 miles. Eventually you will see a cottage on the left side of the road which is matte black with yellow painted window frames. this is the former home of Derek Jarman. If you are in doubt that you are looking at the right cottage take a look at the garden. Jarman made a unique garden here, there might be a few tourists crawling about the place. I believe that you are welcome to look around, but please respect the privacy of the people who live in the house.

After looking at this amazing garden for a while continue away from the power station until you reach a pub called The Pilot where they serve what is claimed to be the best fish and chips in the UK. They are certainly amongst the largest portions of fish and chips I have seen.

A lot of sky is visible at the Pilot
Once you are replete with pub grub you can amble back to the railway station to find that you have missed the last train back to Hythe and that you are, in fact, stranded on what could pass as the surface of Mars. They don’t call Dungeness the Fifth Quarter for nothing. There is a cafe at the station, though, so if it isn’t closed you can console yourself with a weak coffee.

The surface of Mars?
So, why do I like it so much? It is difficult to verbalise. But I must try, I suppose. The place has a stillness to it. It is weird, yes, but also beautiful and, of course, unique. It is a very special place. You can spend a day here in stillness with a notebook. You can take good photographs even if you have zero creative skill with a camera. It is the opposite of London (though London is amazing too) and the opposite of consumerism. It is the opposite of the things that distract one from being creative. Have a look at this gallery of photographs of the place and book your ticket.

Did I mention the Nuclear Power Station yet?
Oh and while you are in the area and in the mood for inspiration, might I also suggest you go to Camber Sands the day after you’ve visited Dungeness? It is basically a massive sandy beach just along the other side of the peninsular that Dungeness sits on.
Camber Sands. Unlike Dungeness, but adjacent to it

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