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Dungeness, England’s Only Desert.


Dungeness is one of the most unique places that I’ve ever been to in the UK.

It was believed that it had such a low rainfall that it was called The Only Desert in the UK, but the Met Office refuted this in 2015. But the title has stuck.

What is Dungeness? It’s not a village, it’s not a town. It’s a shingle headland between Lydd and Romney Marsh, with 12.5 square miles of shingle.

Dungeness power stations
Dungeness power stations

There are two power stations, two lighthouses, two pubs, and the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch miniature steam railway ends there.

Wooden houses look as though they’ve been roughly, randomly dropped onto the shingle, or blown there, but they’re not as flimsy and Jerry-built as they look. They’ve proved time and time again that they can withstand the constant windy weather and the strongest gales.

Greenhouses blow away, but the houses stand firm.

Some of the houses are converted railway carriages, spreading out long and thin across the shingle .


Walking is difficult, crunching across the stones and shells. People who live there must develop strong muscles in their calves.

Dungeness was originally a fishing community with over 20 boats, but now only three remain.

The houses are now sought-after and have changed hands for over £320,000 – for a wooden hut with no land to speak of! Any alterations are strictly controlled.

Derek Jarman's house
Derek Jarman’s house

I spotted the late Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. It’s impossible to miss it. His famous garden really stands out from its bleak surroundings.

Derek Jarman's garden
Derek Jarman’s garden

Derek Jarman was a film director, author, diarist and artist.

After he became ill with AIDS he moved to Dungeness where he created his amazing garden out of flotsam and seaside-loving plants.

Derek Jarman's garden
Derek Jarman’s garden

Jarman died in 1994, but visitors are welcome to walk round his garden, which isn’t easy as it’s all planted on shingle.

Living Architecture
Living Architecture

A bit further along is The Shingle House.


I was really looking forward to seeing it as we’d stayed in another of Living Architecture’s houses, The Balancing Barn in Suffolk.


There were a couple of cars parked outside and I know that Living Architecture’s properties are rented out for short holiday lets. So I was about to creep away when the front door opened and a lady stood there. She turned out to be the housekeeper and she kindly let me have a look round.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I love their style.

The Shingle House is amazing. Once you step inside, the tiny wooden shack turns into a large maze, with every inch of it cleverly utilised.

Doors go off in different directions, with windows framed like paintings showing off the unique views.

A glass corridor joins the main house to what was obviously originally outside sheds.

What a wonderful place to stay, to relax and explore the area!

We carried on along the road until we came to the Britannia Inn, a local pub in a wooden building.

Inside it’s fascinating, but I thought the food prices were a bit too high. I doubt if the locals can afford to eat there very often. So we had a coffee and carried on exploring.

A sculpture of flotsam
A sculpture of flotsam

On the other side of the road is an artist’s studio.

I’ve never seen anything like it! There’s a sculpture – no, it’s not really a sculpture. I don’t know what to call it. It’s made up of flotsam from the beach, odd sandals, flip-flops, crocs, a spade, broken sunglasses, one flipper, and much more.

If I walked along the beach and saw an old, lost shoe, I would carefully step round it and curse the people who dropped litter in such an important natural environment. But a Dungeness artist’s face would light up and he’d say, Wow, a red flip-flop! That will fit perfectly in the middle on the left-hand side!

Here and there are sheds selling fresh local fish. But there are no shops for bread, milk, etc.


Past the power stations there is a row of cottages and the end one is run by the RSPB.

Two men were in the garden, making a note of any birds that were spotted.

Dungeness is home to over 600 types of plant, which is a third of all those found in the UK.

There are many rare insects; moths, bees, beetles, and spiders.

Warm water flows out from the power stations into the sea and it attracts many breeds of birds to the area.

We spotted a flock of plovers, which are an uncommon sight, and buzzards hovered over the lakes.

The light in Dungeness is unusual and very clear. Houses and old boats stand out, begging to be photographed or painted. It’s no wonder that the area is an artist’s idea of Heaven!


2 Responses

  1. A strange place, to be sure. As a kid I went on the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Light Railway. A fantastic experience. I last went in 1991. Every year I intend to go again, but stuck in that corner of England, it’s a big commitment: a long tortuous drive, or a very expensive train journey. I’ll maybe do it next summer and combine it with a trip to France.

  2. Fascinating. England never ceases to amaze.
    There are artists in North Africa, too, who glue together old flotsam flip flops to make amazing african animal sculptures.

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