Dungeness is a hamlet built on one of Europe’s largest expanses of shingle. It’s located on a remote headland near Kent, fairly near the white cliffs of Dover.
The shingle is strewn with abandoned fishing boats and shipping containers. The hamlet has around 100 (mostly single storey) tin and wood houses, which makes the whole area look like something from an American road movie. An imposing nuclear power station and connected pylons make up the inland horizon.
If you’re looking for a highly unusual destination to visit whilst in the UK, it makes a great day out or weekend trip. Dungeness is on a 10,000 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest, due to the unusual geology and the rare fauna and flora that can be found there. The shingle has patches of sea kale which look strangely like cactii, adding to the American road movie feel. It’s jokingly referred to as the UK’s only desert- technically untrue, but spiritually spot on.
Why Dungeness is good for photography
The hamlet itself has long been a mecca for artists and photographers who are drawn to the flat, unfettered landscape, the strange manmade shapes (which look like art sculptures), the atmosphere and the ever changing light and seascape.
I visited Dungeness on a late September afternoon, specifically to take photos. I personally found that even at that time of year, the light was better at the end of the afternoon day. It was just too bright at noon – contrast levels were too high. I imagine it would be fantastic at dawn, in fog, or in bleak winter sunshine.
What’s incredible is that it’s a highly desirable place to live, despite the nuclear power station and pylons. Houses are often snapped up by architects who then refurbish them and sell them on for 0.5 to 1 million.
The British film producer and writer Derek Jarman lived in a house here called Prospect Cottage, which still stands. Dungeness provided him with a lot of inspiration for his creativity. You can learn about this in this Nowness film, Great Gardens: Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage.
I found my future retirement home, for when I eventually stop wandering. It’s called The Experimental Station. See below….
It’s a former government building where experiments were conducted to test marine and signal apparatus, including the very first unmanned lighthouse. More recently it’s been refurbished internally by architects and has won RIBA design awards. You’ve got to admit, it would be one hell of a special place to live. At times you would surely be struck by lightening!
It even has its own 1950s fog horn tester in the garden. Surely what every aspiring photographer and writer needs 😉
How to get to Dungeness
To visit Dungeness I recommend hiring a car and staying in a local Airbnb. It’s quite pricey but cheaper accommodation can be found 30 minutes away. There are buses from Ashford and Dover, but only one per hour.
It’s quite a remote area so a car is a must in my view.