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I visited one of the UK’s strangest beaches and it’s one of the ‘best seasides’ | Travel News | Travel

Staring out at a vast stretch of shingle which, in the distance, appeared to rise up into a sudden drop towards the ocean, I completely understood why Dungeness attracts visitors from far and wide. Though the coastline in Kent is unlike any seaside town I’ve been to before, I can understand why Condé Nast Traveller listed it among its “best seaside towns in England” round-up in the summer of 2023.

Sometimes mistakenly described as a desert, Dungeness is a beautifully eerie stretch of seemingly barren coastline, dotted only with the wreckages of fishing boats, a smattering of rugged cottages and a lone pub looking out across the land.

This special beach sits on the headline of the most south-easterly point of Kent and is known for its array of wildlife, vast open shingle, wet grassland, freshwater pits, incredible wildflower meadows and curious little plants that flourish between the beach’s rocks and shells.

The vast shingle landscape is a designated National Nature Reserve, one which has been described by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) as one of the “best places for wildlife in the UK”. It’s also a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Though on a day when the clouds hang low and a fine mist rolls in, I can see why Dungeness has been used as a filming location for utopian and sci-fi productions, such as 2020’s Brave New World or 2018’s Electric Dreams. However, we were lucky enough to arrive on one of the first cloudless days of spring. It was a day when the sun hung overhead, its hazy rays making each wave sparkle as though gemstones were rising to the surface with the swell.

A day like this makes it understandable why the beach provided a safe haven for film director Derek Jarman to make his famous garden on the shingle shore. It was Jarman’s Prospect Cottage which had first drawn me to Dungeness, with its buttercup yellow windows emphasised against the pitch-black walls of the cabin. There is something about it that is both beautiful and ominous.

Perhaps that is a reflection of the landscape it calls home. The headland sits about three miles into the English Channel, on the southern coast of England, and has a rich history which weaves throughout each pebble and shell.

The name Dungeness is derived from Old Norse ‘nes’ meaning headland. HistoryHit.com suggests that this is “likely connecting the area to the Denge Marsh which Dungeness shelters”. The region was first marked by the Romans, who built sea defences at Dymchurch and Rhee Wall – something which has been maintained ever since.

The first of Dungeness’ lighthouses was built in 1615, a wooden structure to replace warning beacons for sailors. Others have followed over the years.

During the D-Day landings in Normandy during World War II, Dungeness became the site of PLUTO: Pipe Line Under The Ocean, which successfully supplied one million gallons of fuel a day via high-pressure hoses.

Later, the coastline became home to two nuclear power stations which still loom over the beach today.

Though the water glistens from beyond the shingle, this is not the place to swim. The water gets very deep very fast, and the currents are extremely strong.

However, beyond walking, there are plenty of other things to do at Dungeness. Photographers will love the unique landscape offering some incredible photo opportunities, and those who enjoy seafood can expect some lovely fresh dishes from local vendors.

Derek Jarman’s garden and Prospect Cottage are open for guided tours at select times, and if you wander away from the beach, you can explore Denge, home to the monolithic Sound Mirrors (built as early warning devices around the coastlines of the nation) and an array of birds.

Dungeness also has a host of quirky cottages which are rented out as holiday lets for those who are seeking a unique UK seaside holiday unlike any place they’ve been before.

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