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Go South 5 – Dungeness Mystery and Magic

We eventually got to walk along the expanse of shingle at Dungeness. When we tried for the second time the wind had abated but as the evening was approaching the temperature was dropping.

We still appreciated its mystery and magic. Most people who visit Dungeness are fascinated and captured by its unique atmosphere but find it hard to describe or explain. It is not beautiful but it has an attraction.

Old huts once used by fishermen remain scattered thinly along the banks of shingle, as do their sad unused boats.

Silvery blue foliage of sea-kale softens the flinty shingle flatness.

Many fishermen’s homes are still in use but now instead of nets and pots around their doors, cars are parked. The homesteaders no longer tackle the dangers of the seas in search of fish and shellfish but instead tackle morning and evening commuter traffic. Some interesting fishing artifacts however have been salvaged and now grace the homes as decorative features or are integrated with plants and shingle in the sea-shore gardens.

One of the highlights of all our visits to Dungeness, and in fact the main reason for our first visit when we fell for its charms, is to visit the atmospheric and unique garden of the late film director and writer, Derek Jarman. We drove up in anticipation again this year, parked a little way away out of respect for the current owners and I walked across with my  trusty Nikon only to be disappointed. It now seems less cared for and  lacking in atmosphere but nevertheless loaded with memories. The first time we saw the garden when Jarman was still living there, we just could not believe that any garden could evoke such deep emotions and emerge you in its own unique character. Jarman was a one-off when it came to garden design. The garden was a perfect reflection of its environment, the sea, the shingle, its fishing history and its plant life. This was the only garden capable of sending a shiver up the spine!

Sometimes the strange beauty of Dungeness lies in its emptiness and simplicity.

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Go South 4. Dungeness RSPB Reserve.

Our plans to explore the shingle slopes of Dungeness soon came somewhat adrift. The wind increased to gale force. We decided to defy it and take the walk along the fisherman’s boardwalk across to the water’s edge. This was a stupid idea to say the least – the strongest gusts blew us off the boardwalk. We understood what it was like to be the “tumbleweed” of Dungeness, the dried Sea Kale plants.

We eventually struggled to the end by holding onto each other and making slow progress and tried to walk along the water’s edge. We couldn’t move as every step we moved forward the wind blew us straight back.

We gave up, went back to the car and drove along the coast a little to the RSPB Dungeness Reserve, situated in a more sheltered area. We vowed to return to Dungeness itself when the wind had calmed down.

The reserve was worth a visit so in the end we didn’t mind the diversion. Here was a strange watery landscape where unusual plants grow and unusual birds live and visit.

We particularly loved seeing the Vipers Bugloss in flower with its bright blue petals and strange structure. The dramatic seed heads of the Teasels and Mulleins looked so architectural and strongly structural, and would feed the finches as the cold weather set in.

The harsh environment created distorted trees and bushes twisted and stunted like bonsai creations.

I am forgetting what the RSPB is all about – the birds. Dungeness did not disappoint for despite the extreme winds which kept birds down on the ground we did manage to see a first ever bird, the Great Egret. We are getting used to seeing Little Egrets in the UK wherever there is a large expanse of water but we had never seen its much larger cousin. This was a red-letter day as we saw pairs of both species on the same lagoon.

After an hour walking around the reserve the wind appeared to be calming down so we bravely decided to give Dungeness another try.That will be the theme of the post “Go South 5. The Magic and Mystery of Dungeness”.

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Go South 3. Beach huts and boats.

Beach huts and boats. Now that is my kind of seaside village! Driving towards Dungeness we stopped off at Littlestone-on-sea where we spotted these favourite features. It was spitting with rain and heavily overcast as we set out on our wander along the shingle beach, camera in hand.

When we reached the patch where the beach huts and boats lived we were saddened to realise that what we saw was in fact the remnants of a fishing industry now largely  gone. The boats were full of fishing debris and what looked like beach huts from a distance were the old storage sheds for fishing gear. They had been spruced up with colourful paint but at least they were still used for storage.

In the gloomy light, the brightly painted huts glowed and invited a closer look. The decorators had been enjoying themselves letting their imaginations flow. Once again I moved in close in search of patterns and textures in addition to the more obvious blazes of colour.

Some hut owners had added words of wisdom, fancy numbers and names.

Our slow exploration of the huts and fishing debris came to a sudden end as the rain turned heavy and the wind speeded up uncomfortably. But a few things did tempt me to stop and shoot off a few more photos.

We arrived back at the car somewhat sodden and extremely windswept, hoping that we could dry out using the car heater. We drove on down the coast road towards one of our favourite places anywhere, Dungeness. We have visited the mysterious world of Dungeness with its wild and exposed expanses of shingle several times before but its special magical atmosphere still entices us back.

So, Go South 4 should be all about Dungeness but it didn’t quite work out like that.