Friday, 25 June 2010

Dungeness – Desolation and Renewal


When Alan asked me to sum up Dungeness in one word, I answered “Bleak”.  We visited on a bright sunny day with the temperature hitting the high 20s centigrade and I was proved wrong.

Dungeness is a Headland formed of a shingle beach on the south coast of England. It is one of the largest expanses of shingle in the world and harbours 600 plant species – a third of the species found in England.

The sea has gradually receded and continues to do so and there have been five lighthouses here since 1615, each one farther out than the last.

P1010761The latest of these looks very modernistic and replaced one only a few yards inland which is now open to the public.


Alan climbed the 169 steps to the top and reported a glorious view. I, very sensibly, stayed below with the dog and just enjoyed his photos.

The large building in the background of the first photo is a Nuclear Power Station. To be more accurate, 2 stations. The first is decommissioned now and the second has had its life extended to 2018.  It may be part of the reason I chose ‘bleak’ as a description of the area. Everyone knows of 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl and the fear of a nuclear accident is always with us.

For my older readers, there will also be the memories of the Cold War when missiles were ready to unleash the power of the atom in anger.  We were told we would have a 4 minute warning and speculation about the results of a nuclear strike were in all the media.  We can’t forget that time.


Derelict sheds and rotting fishing boats show the social and economic changes in the area. Trying to be balanced and not to fall into the trap of believing that the ‘old times’ were the ‘good times’, fishermen had a hard and dangerous trade, venturing out into a treacherous sea without guarantee of a catch. Perhaps their children will have longer lives by not following in their fathers’ footsteps?

There is still some fishing being done along the coast and we saw a van at the local farmers’ market near our base, selling local fish when we visited this morning.

P1010750Now some of the old tarred, timber cottages have been sold to people who are deliberately dropping out of the rat race. Among them is Prospect Cottage where Derek Jarman spent the last 15 years of his life creating this beautiful garden. The plants are all local.  For those who don’t know of him, he worked as scene designer for some of Ken Russell’s films, made his own rather avant garde films, including ‘War Requiem’ starring  Sir Lawrence Olivier. Olivier came out of retirement to act in the film and it was the last role he played.

Jarman also worked on videos with Marianne Faithful, The Petshop Boys, and The Sex Pistols – I wonder if he is the only person to cross the cultural divide between Olivier and The Sex Pistols?

He died in 1994 of an HIV related illness and his garden has become famous to many more people than he would have dreamed of. Slowmotion angels has some good images of him, his work, and his garden.

In a way, the visit was a disappointment. The landscape calls for horizontal rain or, better still, fog. I’ve seen it in both moods and ‘bleak’ is not a criticism.  Now I’ve added another view, different again - but not better.

There are more photos on Picasa.

Oh, I’ve just remembered! Some episodes of Dr Who were filmed here in the 70s.

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