Dungeness is a fascinating place to visit. The area has a long and captivating history. I like its remoteness. The shingle beaches, the sea cabbages growing in between the charming bungalows, each with its own story to tell. Some say Dungeness is the UK’s only desert. However, it certainly has one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe.
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Of course, the lighthouses are the main attraction for me, and there is still evidence of the last three, though there have been more. Beyond the Old lighthouse, other buildings remain at the experimental station and old fog signal, although some have now been modernised.
Dungeness has inspired many artists and writers. Probably one of the most notable is film director, artist and author Derek Jarman, who bought Prospect Cottage as his perfect retreat.
I have had the pleasure of arriving by train on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, which stops just by the Old Lighthouse. The Old Lighthouse is open to the public, so you have to climb it if it’s open!
The operational lighthouse is one of the newer Trinity House Lighthouses, full of modern technology. This lighthouse was located here when the nuclear power station was built.
Dungeness is a large low lying expanse of headland jutting out from the southern shores of Kent into the busy shipping lanes of the English Channel.
Unlike many areas in Britain, which are suffering from coastal erosion, Dungeness has been gradually building up over the years due to onshore drifting, caused by the meeting of two currents that move its bank of shingle, sand and saltmarsh ever-southwards.
Designated a National Nature Reserve, a Special Area of Conservation and Site of Special Scientific Interest, the area is home to various wildlife species, including several bumblebees.
Perhaps because of its bleak landscape, Dungeness and its lighthouses have unsurprisingly found themselves the setting for many books and films. The children’s author Malcolm Saville set several of his books in the area, most notably The Elusive Grasshopper (1951) and The Thin Grey Man (1966).
The Old Lighthouse has been used as a film set by Ken Russell. It also featured in a BBC episode of Inspector Lynley.
Writer and presenter Ben Fogle visited the area with his dog Storm, as part of the Channel 4 series “Walks With My Dog”.
The BBC also filmed at Dungeness as part of the series “Holiday of My Lifetime” featuring Len Goodman and Bill Oddie.
Many music videos have been filmed in the area. The Lighthouse Family’s video “High” was partly filmed here. The beach and bungalows are featured, but sadly, none of the lighthouses starred in the video!
Best Places to visit in Dungeness
There are many interesting buildings scattered around the Dungeness peninsula. Here are some of the those I think are worth visiting.
Enjoy your visit to Dungeness!
There have been five high lighthouses at Dungeness and two low lights since the 1600s. In addition the site has seen many experiments in aids to navigation.
The fourth tower, built in 1904, was decommissioned when Trinity House built the current tower in 1961 following the construction of the nuclear power station.
The Old Lighthouse is open to the public. You can climb it and admire the incredible panoramic views.
The Round House was built in 1843 around the base of Samuel Wyatt’s 1792 tower. Wyatt’s lighthouse was later demolished, and the cottages are now privately owned.
Although you can’t visit the operational light, you can get up close to it.
Dungeness Experimental Station
A short distance away is the site of the former experimental station. Many pioneering experiments have been carried out here over the years connected with lighthouse technology.
Trinity House used the experimental station for testing aids to navigation and fog signals. Many of the buildings are now privately owned and have recently been renovated. Some of these you can now stay in.
The experimental station is on private property. However, you can still see the site – one of the best vantage points is from the top of the Old lighthouse!
Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
If you get the chance, it’s great to visit Dungeness by train. Opened in 1927, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway comprises scaled-down steam and diesel locomotives that travel 13½ miles.
The line starts from Hythe, passing four stations en route, and terminating at Dungeness, near the Old Lighthouse. The journey takes just over an hour – unless you stop at one of the stations along the way!
Originally the line ran from Hythe to New Romney, but it was later extended to Dungeness.
During the Second World War, the military took over. The comedy duo Laurel and Hardy reopened the line in March 1947.
A second standard gauge branch railway ran from nearby Lydd, this was closed to passengers in 1937.
A freight service remained until 1953, and a short section was reinstated in the 1960s to serve Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.
Royal Naval Shore Signal Station
Built for the Navy during the war, the signal station was located close to the Experimental Station and Old Lighthouse. The row of cottages for the Royal Navy staff who manned the station were built inside the Dymchurch Redoubt. The largest of the cottages is now a bird observatory, and the others are privately owned.
Dungeness Power Station
The first power station, Dungeness A, was built in 1965 and closed in 2006. The second, Dungeness B, was built in 1983.
The site of the power station building obscured the 1904 lighthouse. As a result, the new lighthouse was located further to the end of the peninsula. The Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) also built the access road down to the lighthouse.
The power station has a public visitor centre, and it is possible to book a guided tour and visit the interactive exhibition area.
The Coastguard Lookout was built in 1905 as a radar monitoring station. Following the introduction of GPS it was decommissioned around 2000.
It has now been converted into a holiday residence.
Marconi’s former wireless shed
Close to the operational 1961 lighthouse is Guglielmo Marconi’s wooden shed. From here, he carried out radio tests during the 1890s. The site was later used as a research station by the Decca Navigator Company, testing radars.
The building has since been converted into a contemporary holiday cottage.
There are some interesting bungalows scattered around the shingle shoreline. Around 30 of these were built from former railway carriages.
Following the passenger railway line discontinuation, the former workers were allowed to buy old rolling stock, and many of these were converted into cottages from the 1920s.
Many of the cottages were owned by fishermen, whose boats lined up on the shoreline.
One of the most famous of these is Prospect Cottage, owned by film director, artist, gardener and author Derek Jarman. Jarman bought the cottage towards the end of his life. Along one side of this cottage is inscribed a poem from John Donne’s “The Sunne Rising”.
His garden has been the subject of several books, created using local plants and some introduced by Jarman. Derek Jarman is buried in nearby St Clement’s Church in Old Romney.
Thought to be the first lifeboat station in Dungeness, the original building has now been converted into a private residence. Located close to the current Lifeboat station, it was moved several times as the sea encroached.
Alongside the road near the Lifeboat Station is a preserved Tanning Copper. Dungeness fishermen used the Tanning Coppers to dry and preserve fishing nets and clothing.
New fishing nets were boiled in big hot water copper tubs, heated by a fire underneath. Above the water, a plant resin called kutch slowly dissolved into the water. This acted as a preservative for the nets and clothing.
Electricity Link Station
Located close to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, the Link Station was built in 1957 connecting the grids of France and Britain. It was sold around 2019 and had planning permission to be converted into an artist’s studio.
The Watering House
The Watering House was built in the late 19th century for the family who provided fresh water to passing ships.
Watch House and Coastguard Cottages
The Watch House was built around 1810 and used as a lookout during both World Wars. The five Coastguard Cottages were built later towards the end of the 19th century.
Acoustic Sound Mirrors
At the former RAF site near Greatstone, on the northern edge of the Dungeness headland, are three large concrete structures. Known as the ‘listening ears’, these acoustic mirrors were built in 1928 – 1930 and were used as an experimental early warning system.
They were not particularly effective, and were abandoned when radar was introduced. The site is now owned by the RSPB.
Romney Marsh Visitor Centre
Just beyond the Sound Mirrors, located in a nature reserve is the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre, with wildlife areas, exhibitions, picnic area and cafe.
Located in gravel pits on Denge Beach, the area is a refuge for domestic and migratory birds, with different species arriving each season. From lapwings to cuckoos, tufted ducks and pintails. There are various nature trails and hides overlooking the wetlands and shingle.
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