Dungeness and Camber Sands – what a lot to learn!

The spring seems to have vanished for the moment, and when we went on an outing to Dungeness and Camber Sands with our old friend Bill, it was very cold and windy.

   We started at Camber Sands, and puffed over the dunes to show Bill the expanse of beach. It was deserted except for a party of shivering French schoolchildren, kicking stones disconsolately.
    We often visit Camber Sands in the summer with grand daughter (see previous post), park up by the cafe and beach-goods shops and get into the traditional scene of windbreaks, castle building and sand in the sandwiches. It is the archetypal sunny sandy holiday beach, even if you do have to walk half way to France to get the water above your knees, and it is often very windy.

Camber Sands
Camber Sands

     After the beach, we called in for a coffee at the Gallivant across the road. This place features in  up-market seaside and lifestyle magazines, in lists of top seaside eateries and hotels etc., so Battleaxe wanted to see what it was like.  The bar area was very attractive and cosy, with comfy sofas, furry seats, lots of papers, board games etc.  The coffee was good, and they served us a slice of excellent lemon gateau.  Looking at the menus, they do lunch at around £15 for two courses, which looked good – we’ll come back and try that.

The Gallivant – nice furry chairs

     Then we drove on to Dungeness. We’ve been there a good few times, and never fail to take pleasure in the strange landscape, but I have never blogged about it before.
      The huge shingle spit is a protected National Nature Reserve, home to all sorts of rare plants, birds, insects etc. We didn’t see a single living thing, and only the beginnings of plant life. It was freezing cold with a biting wind – so un-springlike.  For us, the most interesting things are from human intervention – there are two lighthouses, a nuclear power station, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, all sorts of strange little houses including Derek Jarman’s cottage with its garden made with found objects. Above all though, when you look across the flat landscape, it is dotted with rusted, abandoned things – strange metal winches, machines and chunks of metal, broken boats, twisted railway lines and collapsed huts.

Broken boat – Dungeness
Broken boat – Dungeness
Dungeness – looking across to the Power Station

      I’ve found a quirky website about Dungeness which may be written by one of the locals. You get the feeling, looking at the little houses, that they are inhabited by people who want to disappear from twenty-first century life, and totally do their own thing. Many of the houses started life as railway carriages, and according to the website, one of them  is made from Queen Victoria’s personal carriage – we’ll have to have a look next time we visit.
      The most famous inhabitant of Dungeness was Derek Jarman, the film maker. Although Jarman died in 1994, his garden at Prospect Cottage has been well preserved by the current owners of the house.

Prospect Cottage – Derek Jarman’s former home 
Prospect Cottage garden

      The old lighthouse at Dungeness was built in 1904, decommissioned in 1960, to be replaced by the far less attractive new automatic lighthouse nearby. You can climb up the old lighthouse, and I’m sure the view from the top is spectacular, but opening times are erratic and the climb looks punishing.

Old Lighthouse, Dungeness

       The Nuclear Power Station dominates the skyline. Formerly, there were two, Dungeness A and B. A is currently being decommissioned,  but B will remain operational until 2028.  The position of the power station on the ever-shifting shingle spit provides logistical problems, as the sea tries to move the Dungeness shingle north and east. I hadn’t realised until now that part of the reason for the fleets of lorries you see constantly moving shingle at Rye Harbour, Winchelsea Beach and Pett Level is to protect Dungeness, and in particular, the sea defences of the power station. Around 90,000 cubic metres of shingle are moved around each year.
       I also see on the web site that you can book tours of the power station. Battleaxe will definitely be doing that – watch this space!

Dungeness Power Station

      We’ve been on the little Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway several times. Although it is very sweet and good fun it does spend a lot of time chuffing past people’s back gardens, which are only of limited interest.  Currently, the Dungeness Station, which is the end of the line, is being extensively reconstructed, so there was not a lot to see. However, one of the little trains was due to leave – the engine looked beautifully shiny.

Lovely little engine
I like the Brasso!
Ready to leave – with the new lighthouse in the background

       We went for lunch at the Pilot Inn, which Derek Jarman thought had the best fish and chips in England.  We’ve been before, in mid-summer, and it was absolutely heaving. This time, on a chilly April weekday, we thought it would be just us and a few grizzled locals, but no, it was heaving again….  We really needed those fish and chips though. However, they run a very tight ship, we got served quickly and the food was indeed excellent.  I always have a lot of time for places in high profile locations that bother to be good. The Pilot could be a vile pit and still be packed. Another example is the Beachy Head Inn, which is the only pub for miles, in an absolute prime location, also very well run.

The Pilot Inn – heaving
Those fish and chips….. and that was only the medium size.

       On the way home I stopped to photograph what is quite probably the worst situated caravan park in England. It’s right under one of the huge pylon lines that carries electricity from Dungeness, with a pylon actually straddling the caravans. Access to the sea is totally blocked by the huge Lydd Firing Range, stretching along the shore-line for a couple of miles, right up to Camber. Who in their right mind would want to stay here? Perhaps they love pylon architecture – actually, they are impressive.
       Aha… I see from the web site that the big draw here is not sun, sea and sand but pike fishing, on the little lakes behind the caravans. They do week-long fishing and caravan packages for £350, which still seems a lot. Those poor pike must be very special. Ah well, each to their own.
       What a lot Battleaxe learns from blogging.

Fabulous situation
I don’t think so….
Good pylons, though.


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