Often erroneously described as a desert, the southernmost point of Kent offers a barren and bewitching backdrop for a getaway. A vast swathe of this shingle headland is designated a National Nature Reserve, cradling around a third of all British plant species, with some 600 having been recorded, from rugged sea kale to delicate orchids. Exposed to the Channel and loomed over by twin nuclear power stations, Dungeness has, over recent decades, become an unlikely enclave for artists and a popular spot for day-trippers, horticulturalists and birders alike.
What to do
For a small entrance fee, it’s possible to reach the top of the Grade II-listed Dungeness Old Lighthouse, which guided passing mariners between 1904 and 1960. Nearby is a cluster of artist studios and galleries: at Marina, artist Paddy Hamilton exhibits stylish lino prints. Photographer Chris Shore and watercolourist Helen Taylor sell their work in a unique showroom made from Edwardian railway carriages in nearby Caithness. Further inland lies the RSPB Dungeness Nature Reserve, home to four nature trails and multiple birding hides. Be sure to bring binoculars or rent them at the visitor centre.
Where to eat
Serving up beach vistas and freshly caught seafood, shipping-container cafe The Snack Shack is the best spot for lunch on a dry day. The menu depends upon the morning catch, but staples include lime-and-chilli fish with flatbread, crab rolls and smoked cod chowder. For dinner, reserve a table at family-run The Pilot Inn, and enjoy arguably the best fish and chips in the area.
Check out Romney Marsh Brewery’s beer garden, located out the back of Dungeness’s quaint station, a terminus on the 13.5-mile Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The small bar is aptly called Ales by the Rails, and there are few more quintessential local activities than sipping a lager while watching miniature steam locomotives roll in and out.
Dungeness’s most famous resident was the late filmmaker and activist Derek Jarman, who created a garden from the shingle around his home, Prospect Cottage, incorporating iron sculptures, driftwood and wildflowers. Jarman died in 1994; his home is something of a pilgrimage site for many creatives today.
Where to stay
Set on the Dungeness shore, Shingle House is a striking gem that engages with the area’s vast expanses of beach and sky through huge bifold doors. The cedar timber house has been stained black to mirror the style of the old fishermen’s huts that line the coast. Sleeps eight, from £1,750 for four nights.
Published in the December 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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