Dungeness is the closest you’ll get to a desert in the UK. Although it’s not sandy, this national nature reserve is home to the largest expanse of shingle in Europe so as you’d imagine, it’s quite a sight to behold. Dungeness is surrounded by Kent’s Romney Marsh – a large, flat expanse that allows you to see for miles. It’s a weird and wonderful place that’s home to hundreds of rare birds and plants.
WHAT ARE THE MUST-SEES? As you approach Dungeness, the first thing you’ll probably see are the two block-like nuclear power stations – they’re real local landmarks. Only one is still in business today and even though it’s protected by armed guards, you can pop in for a nose. Owner EDF Energy offers 1.5-hour tours of the power station which must be booked at least three weeks in advance.
Right next door is the Old Lighthouse, a historic Grade II listed building first opened in 1904. For more than 50 years, it helped ships navigate the English Channel before it was decommissioned in 1960. Today, you can climb to the top of the 46m-high lighthouse and have a look around. You can even get married in it! Entry is £2.50 for children and £4 for adults but sadly, no dogs are allowed.
A lot of people come to Dungeness to visit Derek Jarman’s Garden at Prospect Cottage, too. You have to gaze at it from a distance because it’s a private home now but even though the late film director created the garden years ago, it’s still impressive today. Check out the poem painted on the side of his former home, too.
A trip on the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is also a must. This miniature steam railway recently celebrated its 90th anniversary and is a great way to become more acquainted with the local area. Dungeness is the end of the line but from there, you can explore the Cinque Port town of New Romney, enjoy traditional seaside fun at Dymchurch and much more besides. Don’t forget to stop off for a pint of local beer at Ales by the Rails – the recently opened bar at Dungeness station. All-day RomneyRover tickets cost £9 for children and £18 for adults. Dogs travel free.
Enjoy wildlife watching at RSPB Dungeness, which is ideally placed to watch for migrant birds arriving or departing. There are miles of nature trails to explore and a series of hides to shelter in, whatever the weather.
Make sure you check out the RSPB-owned Denge Sound Mirrors, too – wartime “listening ears” designed to warn of enemy planes approaching. You’ll probably recognise them from many an album cover and music video – everyone from Turin Brakes to The Prodigy and Nicki Minaj have visited. The only way to get up close to the sound mirrors is to visit on an RSPB open day.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? Almost everywhere in Dungeness is ideal for dog walking but if you tire of the endless shingle beaches, head to the spectacular dunes of Camber Sands, approximately seven miles away. If you don’t mind sharing with kite surfers, parts of the beach are dog-friendly all year round. I recommend parking at Broomhill Sands, just to the east of the more touristy areas. See where you can go by clicking on this dog-friendly map of Camber Sands.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? You have to try some of the fresh seafood. People travel from miles around for fish and chips at The Pilot Inn and it is pretty damn good. My only niggle is that dogs aren’t allowed inside so fingers crossed for good weather!
Alternatively, check out the Snack Shack which serves up the freshest catch of the day from a converted shipping container. We recommend the lobster roll – and wrapping up in one of the complimentary blankets if it’s a bit blowy out.
If al fresco dining is off the menu, head to the Varne Fish Bar in nearby Lydd-on-Sea for some freshly-cooked comfort food. Yes, it’s a chippy but it serves up a great selection of local fish, has excellent vegetarian options and even sells sausages: perfect for treating your four-legged friends.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY? You can’t beat Apple Fish – a dog-friendly two-bed bungalow on Coast Drive with views over the English Channel. Read my review here. Or, for more holiday home inspiration, check out the other properties available in the area from Mulberry Cottages.
GET ME THERE: Dungeness is around 1.5hrs by car from London. Junction 11 of the M20 is approximately 13 miles away, while the nearest station is Appledore. Alternatively, you can take the train to Hythe and then pick up the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway – but make sure you check the timetables first!