A Trip to Dungeness

Dungeness has been one of those places on my wish list to visit for a long time.  I first heard about it as the filmmaker Derek Jarman lived there.  He designed a spectacular garden in what some people would consider inhospitable land.  Dungeness is a shingle desert on the Kent coastline, and has often been described as an apocalyptic landscape, or looking like the end of the world.  I can be really affected by landscape (I remember the first time I went to Suffolk and felt unnerved by that big view and sky), so I was slightly worried how it would make me feel.  But it didn't make me feel uneasy, I was just excited to be there.  The little houses dotted amongst the shingle, the skeletons of old boats piercing the horizon, the power station looming in the distance.  We had packed our cameras, my Olympus OM1 film camera, and the Super 8 cine film camera too.  Derek Jarman shot quite a few of his films on Super 8, so it was a bit of a homage to him.  So we set off to explore.  Dungeness is alive with noise. Footsteps on the shingle, the gulls, and the constant hum of the power station.  The photos are a mixture of mine and Suzi's images and some from the film camera also.

We saw a figure on the horizon beach-combing.  He headed towards us and we had quite a big chat about the area. His name was Chris Shaw.  He told us with glee that he, C. Shaw, liked to keep the shingle clean, and he beach-combs regularly to pick up all the plastic and debris that has been washed up.  He told us that in the summer when holidaymakers are enjoying the sandy beach at nearby Camber, his finds increase, as plastic shoes, buckets and spades get washed around the spit and arrive at Dungeness.  He then collects them and adds them to his 'plastic tree' sculpture in his garden.  

He also told us about this building - it used to be the old lifeboat changing rooms.

Women in large billowing skirts would launch the lifeboat and were paid in tokens (worth around 4.5 pence per week), and they used these to buy all their food.  Banksy also chose Dungeness as the location for one of his pieces.  It lasted for the grand total of 3 days on a rusty old shipping container, until somebody decided that it might look better somewhere else!  Now there's just a big hole where it once was.

And then we wandered over to Prospect Cottage (Derek Jarman's house).  Its bright yellow window frames are complemented by the gorse growing out of the shingle.  His garden started almost as an accident when he used a piece of driftwood from the beach to stake a rose.  He continued to collect items from the beach and experimented with plants that would grow within this landscape.  Somebody was in the house when we went for a look, so we didn't really want to go trampling, and admired from the road.

The pieces of driftwood resemble standing stones.

The light is spectacular down there, and it can change really quickly.


Just as we were going back to the car, we noticed a sign saying 'Open Studios'.  We were greeted by a smiley face outside a little shed.  Paddy's an artist down there.  He noticed our cameras, and he told us a story about how he had been travelling on the back of a motorbike, and had dropped his camera at 50mph but the camera still worked.  He'd forgotten how to shoot manually though, so we had a quick one to one and got him up and running again!

The sun had gone down, and the houses and boats were now silhouettes set against the lights of the power station in the distance.  I'm just so pleased to have visited, and there are plans for a return later this year.  I will share the Super 8 film once it has been developed!

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