Are you looking for the most unusual things to do in the UK? Dungeness should be on top of your list! It’s a super eerie place with a post-apocalyptic landscape, nuclear power station, majestic lighthouses, miniature railway, abandoned fishing boats, quirky architecture, and thriving wildlife.
Words cannot truly describe the incredible landscape of Dungeness!
There’s a real ‘end-of-the-world’ feel about Dungeness, and its mysterious landscape is a photographer’s dream. It’s one of the most haunting, thought-provoking places I have ever visited and definitely one of the most unusual things to do in the UK.
Dungeness means’ dangerous nose’, a reference to how the land juts out into the channel. It has been referred to as a “ghost town” and described by The Guardian as “where the wild west meets the post-apocalyptic”. It’s an eerily beautiful place and is one of my favorite day trips from London as it’s so unique and there is so much to do.
This tiny fishing town is located less than 2 hours from London and lies on the border between Kent and East Sussex. It’s set in a spectacularly stark and uncompromising wild landscape with the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station as its backdrop.
I always search for the most unusual things to do in the UK and Dungeness certainly doesn’t represent the ‘Garden of England’ tag usually associated with Kent. But there is something utterly fascinating about the place, with its lighthouses, miniature railway, abandoned fishing boats, wooden cabins, and thriving wildlife.
The Dungeness headland is Europe’s largest expanse of shingle. It was formed 10,000 years ago when rising sea levels threw up pebbles from the sea bed and has been subject to steady growth ever since as the sea picks up shingle from the west and deposits it around the headland to the east.
The landscape certainly divides opinion with its broad flatness and famous nuclear power station on one side, the shingle protruding far into the sea on the other; railway carriages turned into quaint and spooky dwellings with post-apocalyptic looking huts thrown into the mix.
Dungeness is home to the smallest passenger railway in the world and serves some of the best fish and chips on the Kent coast. It’s also an absolute must for nature lovers, with a flourishing population of birdlife and over 600 species of plants.
So if you are looking for some cool things to do in Kent, here are my top 7 things to do at Dungeness!
1. Dungeness Beach
There are so many things to see and do on the beach!
Described as “Britain’s only desert”, Dungeness beach is full of decaying boats, rusty engines, and abandoned huts, scattered all around. You’ll find a wide variety of weird items abandoned or washed up on the shore. There’s an area of storage containers littered with nets, gas canisters, ropes, lobster pots, and all sorts of boating items.
Is it just me or can you see a hooded figure inside the boat as well?
It’s like an Aladdin’s cave full of treasures and the perfect place for beachcombing, and you never know what you’re going to find.
Dungeness also boasts beautiful sunrises and sunsets. It’s the perfect place to watch the sun appear or disappear with the flat, open ground, and broad sky.
2. RSPB Dungeness Nature Reserve
The nature reserve at Dungeness is the RSPB‘s (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) oldest nature reserve and covers nearly 4 square miles. It is an absolute must for avid wildlife watchers as it is home to a variety of domestic birdlife as well as a third of Britain’s plant species with stunning wildflower meadows.
3. Dungeness Old Lighthouse
The Old Lighthouse was opened by His Majesty, The Prince of Wales (later George V) in 1904, and guided ships through the English Channel for over half a century. It was built using over 3 million bricks and stands at nearly 46 meters tall.
Decommissioned in 1960, this Grade II building is now a popular tourist attraction and museum. Head to the top using the 169 steps that hug the wall on the inside of the lighthouse for incredible panoramic views across the English Channel and surrounding area.
A word of warning: if you are suffering from fear of heights and/or open spaces, going up the stairs inside the lighthouse may be quite challenging for you. I actually bought a ticket but didn’t make it to the top.
The stairs go round on the side of the wall and you can see all the way down in the middle. It’s very high and it looks like the stairs are “hanging”. I had to stop half way up and it took a long time for me to go back down.
On your way to the summit, each level provides interesting facts, including information on how the lighthouse operates and the stories of those who worked there when it was operational.
In total, there have been seven lighthouses, over the years, with one, Dungeness Lighthouse, still being fully operational today. Dungeness Lighthouse started operating in 1961 and was built as the result of the newly built nuclear power station (Dungeness A), obscuring the light of the Old Lighthouse.
4. Dungeness Power Station
The power station at Dungeness is actually made up of two power stations, and they are identified simply as “Dungeness A” and “Dungeness’ B”. Dungeness A was connected to the National Grid in 1965 and Dungeness B in 1983.
Dungeness A closed on 31 December 2006, while Dungeness B has had its license extended to 2028 and is currently owned and operated by EDF Energy.
Dungeness B has a visitor center and is open to the public for tours. As a result of the September 11 attacks, all tours were stopped in 2001, and the visitor center subsequently closed in 2003. EDF opened a new visitor center in 2013 and resumed tours with tighter security measures in place.
5. RHDR Miniature Railway
The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is known as “Kent’s Mainline in Miniature” and offers a truly magical way to admire some of the county’s most beautiful countryside.
It was opened in 1927, and the one-third full-sized steam and diesel locomotives power their way along thirteen and a half miles of track from Dungeness to Hythe.
There are four stations along the route, all within walking distance of a beach, and the journey takes just over an hour, but you can get off along the way.
6. Dungeness Architecture
At Dungeness, in addition to the power station and lighthouse, there is a mixture of unique residential properties and holiday homes scattered across the landscape. They are ranging from award-winning modern architecture, higgledy-piggledy shacks, wooden weatherboard beach houses to converted railway coaches.
One of the famous properties to be found while walking around is the Prospect Cottage.
Prospect Cottage was formerly owned by the late artist and film director Derek Jarman. The cottage was originally a Victorian fisherman’s hut and is painted black with distinctive yellow frames. The garden cultivated in the shingle surrounding the cottage reflects the bleak and windswept landscape – a mixture of sculptures made of driftwood, scrap metal with a few hardy plants scattered in between.
There is a part of John Donne’s poem “The Sun Rising” written on the black timber wall of the cottage:
“Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere”
7. Best Places To Eat In Dungeness
The Britannia Inn is located between the two lighthouses, not far from the RHDR station, and only a two-minute walk from the shingle beach. It’s open all day throughout the summer months and at lunchtimes and early evenings in winter with real fire keeping everyone warm. The pub also has an outside area with a fantastic view.
The Britannia Inn serves excellent quality home-cooked food with locally sourced products, including fresh fish. They also offer a quality British beer from the U.K’s oldest brewery.
THE PILOT INN
The Pilot Inn is located close to the RNLI Lifeboat Station and is famous for serving some of the most delicious fish ‘n’ chips in Kent. Its roots go back to the year 1633 when it was built using the old timbers from the wreck of the Spanish ship called Alfresia.
DUNGENESS SNACK SHACK
The Dungeness Snack Shack is a family-run hut located right on the shingle at Dungeness. All of their fish and seafood is freshly caught by the shack’s very own fishing boats.
The shack’s ethos is to sell their own fresh, local fish in a tasty unpretentious way with a strong focus on sustainability and traceability.
Year-round favorites include their fisherman’s rolls served with grilled fillets in a delicious warm bun and flatbreads filled with the catch of the day, zingy lime, chili, coriander, and sour cream dressing. The lobster and crab rolls are super popular in summer as well as steaming bowls of smoked cod chowder, which is absolutely to die for.
The Dungeness Snack Shack also has a fish hut next door which sells their freshly caught produce for you to take away and enjoy at home.
If you like visiting eerie and unusual places, you will love Dungeness! It’s the perfect day trip from London that you will never forget.
If you are interested in some other unusual things to do in the UK, check out these quirky UK weekend ideas.
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