Dungeness in Kent is a tourist destination with a difference. Not only does it have the largest shingle beach in Europe, making it an important ecological area, but sits in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. It really is unique. We were intrigued, so went for a day trip to discover the best reasons to visit Dungeness.
Located in a seemingly desolate location in the Romney Marshes, in South-East England, Dungeness has even been called the UK’s only desert. Officially, it’s not. However, it has an otherworldly feel, like something from a film set. And, at the same time, Dungeness retains a unique charm and beauty, which add to its popularity.
Read on to find out the best things to see and do at Dungeness and the reasons you need to visit.
Dungeness National Nature Reserve
One of the main reasons to visit Dungeness is its rich variety of wildlife and unique plants. Acres of shingle provide the perfect location for Dungeness’ nature reserve and it is now a special area of conservation.
Over 600 different types of plant and flowers can be found here, and some are very unusual. The biodiversity of the area also attracts a lot of rare insects and bees, some that are endemic to Dungeness.
We parked near to the new lighthouse and headed to the shingle beach, where you can see evidence of the unusual flora.
A wooden board walk leads to the shoreline, where we had great views looking over the headland. One of the natural highlights for us was spotting a lone grey seal bobbing in the choppy waters.
At the end of the boardwalk, we wandered freely over the pebbles. However, you must be careful not to step on any of the fragile species, as many are rare.
Dungeness is also a popular spot for fishermen, and you can see them fishing along the shoreline.
Warning – Don’t be tempted by the lure of the sea, the currents are too dangerous for swimming.
Ancient fishing boats and desolate cabins
As we strolled across the beach, we spotted discarded fishing boats and ancient fishing equipment. Rusted engines, rotting nets and scrap metal all added to a general feeling of abandonment. Yet, some of these boats are still part of an active fleet that goes out each day and are far from discarded.
Overall, there is something very surreal and beautiful about Dungeness. It’s really no surprise that thousands of visitors flock each year to visit.
Further up the road, is an assortment of beach huts, cabins, and reclaimed railway carriages. No two houses look the same and this eclectic mix just adds to the charm of the place.
The most famous of these homes is the distinctive Prospect Cottage. This is the former residence and gardens of art house film director, Derek Jarman.
Jarman made his garden in the shingle famous by challenging conventional ideas of garden beauty. He collected debris from the beach, such as driftwood, flotsam and even crabs legs. Then, he would arrange these to create his unusual sculptures amongst the stones.
After his death, flocks of visitors flocked to see the garden, adding to Dungeness’ popularity.
Dungeness has not one, but two magnificent lighthouses. Its position at the southernmost tip of Kent makes Dungeness a hazardous area for boats. Historically, it was the site of many shipwrecks. In total, 7 lighthouses have now been built at the end of this peninsular, but only two remain today.
The Old Lighthouse is black. HRH Prince of Wales officially opened it in 1904 and after 100 years is now a Grade II listed building. We couldn’t enter the lighthouse, because of Covid restrictions. However, on a normal day you can climb up the tower for magnificent views over the coast.
About half a mile to the east, is the distinctive New Dungeness Lighthouse. This black and white beauty was opened in 1961 but is now operated remotely from Harlow in Essex.
Although Dungeness might feel like a land forgotten, it is connected to the outside world by its own steam railway. Dungeness station is opposite the Old Lighthouse and is possibly the smallest railway in the world.
Dungeness railway is a popular attraction and one of the reasons for many to visit Dungeness. It is the terminal station for the Romney, Hythe, and Dymchurch Railway in Kent.
You can take a trip on this miniature steam locomotive, which takes about an hour. Alternatively stop for refreshments at the aptly named End of the Line restaurant.
Eating at Dungeness
Dungeness also has several other options for eating. As well as the station restaurant, there are a couple of pubs and a fish shack. We ate at the Britannia Inn, which is in front of the Old Lighthouse.
At the other end of the beach is the popular Pilot Inn, who according to Derek Jarman has “Simply the finest fish and chips in all England”.
Dungeness Nature Reserve is also home to RSPB Dungeness. The wide expanse of shingle, wildflower meadows and flooded gravel pits is a haven for birds and attracts them from near and far.
Visitors can follow trails round Dungeness bird reserve or use the bird hides to get a closer look. There is also a Visitors’ Centre, which was closed when we visited.
How to get to Dungeness, Kent
From the M20, leave at junction 10 and follow A2070 towards Brenzett and then the A259 towards New Romney. Turn right onto B2075 towards Lydd.
Follow signposts in Lydd to Dungeness.
The postcode for Dungeness Station is TN29 9NA
Travel by train to Dungeness
The nearest station is Rye, 10 miles (16 km) from Dungeness.
You can then take the bus 100 to Lydd, and bus 11/11A/11B (not Sundays) from Lydd to Dungeness.
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