Dungeness, at the south-east tip of England, is a curious place. Where else can you find a small steam train running on heritage track, several lighthouses, odd-looking houses, a handful of pubs, and not one but two nuclear power stations? Contributing to the the post-apocalyptic mood, the beach (one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe), is littered with rusting railway tracks and decaying fishing boats. Many of the houses in the area are made from old railway carriages; others resemble the black fishermen’s sheds that are characteristic of the south coast (Derek Jarman’s being the most famous example). Recently the bones of a Tudor ship were found in a local quarry, adding to the haunting drama of the location. It all somehow manages to be eerie and charming at the same time, like stepping into a steampunk movie or a video game.
We first visited Dungeness in 2015. I had heard about the Snack Shack, a fish hut known for selling delicious fish rolls made using freshly caught local fish. But after eating our lunch and investigating the area on foot, we quickly realised that Dungeness was much more than just a coastal foodie destination. We vowed to go back. And for the past few years, we have done so every November, kicking off the Christmas season by renting a house with friends for the weekend and soaking up the area’s characteristic and unusual atmosphere.
The steam train (the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway) goes right past the back of the house, and we enjoy seeing it chuffing along a few times a day, and sometimes ride on its ourselves. We go for walks on the shingle, crunching across the stones in the fog and drizzle to gaze across the English Channel. We’ve visited the various lighthouses, stopping at the Snack Shack for lunch. In the evenings we sit around the fire, watch terrible Christmas films, drink mulled wine, and venture outside to wonder at the stars.
Dungeness is only a little more than an hour’s drive from where we live in London, but it feels like another world, another time — or even an entirely different universe where familiar things from different eras somehow got very jumbled up.
(the images in this post are a combination of film, iPhone and digital)