Catharine Hughes visits a desolate edge of Britain
“The Wild-West meets the apocalypse”, “Britain’s only desert”, “a vast stretch of inexplicable bleakness”, “oppressing, desolate, and barren”; all of these phrases have been used to describe the unique landscape that is Dungeness.
Your brain is probably having a difficult time trying to process all this imagery, and then geographically locate it in Kent, so I shall elaborate further.
Dungeness is a cuspate foreland of shingle beach on the south east shore of Kent. To visualise the formation of this, imagine that Britain is made of blue tac and someone pinched the corner and dragged it down ever so slightly. A fun fact for all you shingle fans out there: at around 468 acres, Dungeness is one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe.
But shingle is not all that this mystical land has to offer. Dungeness is a place of international interest, thanks to its conservation work in geomorphology, birdlife and plant communities. It plays host to over 600 species of plants, a third of the total amount found in Britain, and also 600 species of moth, which, believe it or not, is two thirds of Britain’s total.
Much to my dismay, I must debunk the claim that this is Britain’s only desert, but not due to the fact that there are many other hidden deserts on this windswept island. One year it was reported that Dungeness had such a low rainfall that it qualified as a desert (by definition this would have had to have been less than 250mm), but this claim was refuted by a spokesperson for the Met Office in 2015. However, this does not stop people writing about it as a desert, or quell the urge to pretend you’re at Burning Man when you’re actually just on a day out, stood on the edge of Kent.
Despite being described as the end of the earth, Dungeness has had its fair amount of attractions over the years; from being used as a military base, to the location for a Nicki Minaj music video. The beach and marshes have been used for military training and there are marked “danger areas”. Towards the northern edge of the peninsula you can find 3 massive concrete structures, known as “listening ears”. These were built between 1928 and 1930, aimed to detect invading aircrafts by focusing sound waves. The site was chosen for being one of the quietest in Britain.
Whether is was due to this engrossing nugget of history, or pure aesthetic, Nicki Minaj also picked this site for segments of a music video for her song Freedom: the internet will provide you with a very amusing clip of the pop-star being carried through the headland, perhaps the bleakness genuinely hindered her ability to walk.
Nowadays the primary occupier of Dungeness is EDF energy. The French energy company actually pays £77,000 a year to move the shingle around to protect themselves from flooding. There is a public visitors centre and tours of ‘B’ station are available.
From London St Pancras, take the train to Ashford International (final destination-Sandwich, my favourite sentence to be spoken by the automated tannoy voice), followed by another train to Rye (not the end of the references to food-placed-in-between-bread, the train did in fact stop at Ham Street). Upon arrival into Rye station, cross the street and take the bus to Lydd and, ultimately, a desolate bus journey to the final destination of The Pilot.
Featured image credit: Catharine Hughes