Adventures in Kent – Derek Jarman’s garden, lighthouses and Dungeness power station

Eating lunch in view of a nuclear power station is a bizarre experience. One can’t help but think of the Chernobyl disaster; of once-rumoured increases in cancer instances in Co Louth as a result of its proximity to Sellafield; of Louise Lawrence’s Children of the Dust*, a novel with which I became obsessed in my teens, and which would inform my choice to [attempt to] write nuclear holocaust fiction for at least three years of my young life.

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Louise Lawrence’s entirely non-Utopian future aside, Dungeness is a fascinating place – a headland whose coastline has been altered irrevocably by the receding of the shore line and the accretion of more and more shingle, houses that could once have been described as “beachfront” now lie 500 metres from the sea, with another row of houses in front of them. Dungeness has had, to date, five lighthouses – the two remaining models are eerily far from the water, where no one was swimming (blame the shingle), but plenty were sea fishing. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more boring.

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Dungeness also boasts what’s known as Derek Jarman’s garden, because, er, Derek Jarman planted it. Jarman was a British film director who died in 1994 and cultivated a beautiful, postmodern garden in Dungeness, by the shingle strand. He planted only what could and would grow in the area, playing with the local nature, with great results. (I would have gone closer but, y’know, that house actually belongs to someone.)

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Several houses in the area are built from old abandoned railway carriages, which gives them a certain uniformity that is pleasing to the eye, even if the idea itself is rather random.

There’s also a small light railway, not unlike that in Marlay Park – although the train carriages are covered over, which makes for hilarious viewing as too-tall adults (and some children) attempt to get on and off.

It’s an amazing place – it’s the only place in the UK officially classified as a desert (you learn something new every day). It’s certainly barren enough; the panorama is weirdly lunar and oddly bare. In winter I’d imagine it could be very bleak, but on a fairly warm summer day it made a great day trip. Totally recommended if you’re ever in the area.

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* If it’s not too late, don’t read the plot summary – read the book. Imagine yourself 15 years old again and immerse yourself completely in the horror of nuclear war.

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