Located on Kent’s wind-ravaged, southern coastline is the headland of Dungeness – home to barren landscapes, diverse nature, and a nuclear power station…

Arriving in Dungeness is a strange occasion. The land surrounding the small hamlet, scattered with dilapidated shacks and unknown pubs is Britain’s only desert, and one of the only areas to claim such a title in Europe. The shingle headland, that juts out into the English Channel is incredibly flat thus meaning the ominous powers station is in constant view upon arrival, filling one with both surprise and slender apprehension. There is little concrete infrastructure on the headland, excluding the towering nuclear facility first commissioned in 1965.

Two different power stations occupy Dungeness: Dungeness A and Dungeness B. Dungeness A has reached the end of its lifetime, however its neighbour renewed its lease to 2028 in recent years. 2018 saw the plant reduce activity to a minimum given ongoing safety concerns.

Dungeness power plant is located just across the Kent border, 4km east of tourist hotspot Camber Sands.

Visiting the power station is often seen as a form of ‘dark tourism’ – a trend in which visitors arrive to experience the unique and strange surroundings of a particular location. Despite the safety precautions that occur around the reactor, visiting is safe and advertised by local tourist boards, and often encouraged as a good day out for families with children. Quirky galleries arise upon entrance, as well as the power station’s large lighthouse, which is currently shut for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic. The lighthouse, first opened in 1615, offers picturesque views across the shingle ridges that form the headland, offering a truly memorable experience for all involved. In addition to the lighthouse and power station, the deserted landscape has a surprisingly abundant repertoire.

The gift shop on site, the light railway and local restaurant, the Britannia, allow the visitor to make a day on Dungeness truly worthwhile.

Another string to the headland’s bow is its vast abundance of diverse nature. Dungeness is classified as a national nature reserve (NNR), a special area of conservation (SAC), special protected area (SPA) and an SSSI which spans across neighbouring Romney Marsh and the local Rye Bay. It is estimated that over 570 different species call the headland home, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world, let alone the UK. To put it simply, Dungeness is a twitcher’s dream and an angler’s delight. Fishermen line the expansive beach, especially in winter when cod populations are at great prevalence in local waters, with an intriguing phenomenon creating enriched biological productivity.

The boil, named in part for its temperature, attracts marine life from miles around to breed, making it one of the UK’s prime fishing hotspots. It is caused by the discharge of hot wastewater that is pumped through two large pipes into the English Channel. Such occurrences are both impressive and surprisingly safe to visit, yet it is strongly advised to take caution when around that particular section of beach. Its not just the water that sees an influx of new inhabitants, with the skies above witnessing a flurry of seabirds.

The RSPB quotes Dungeness to be the 3rd most diverse site in Britain and attracts thousands each year to its visitor centre there.

For somewhere that, at first, looks underwhelming quickly fills your conscience with endless superlatives. The adjectives associated with Dungeness on first impressions are often ‘strange’ or ‘otherworldly’, however only once you’ve visited can you truly appreciate the sites fascinating juxtaposition. The stark contrast between industry and nature, piercing, winter rain and sweltering summer sunshine, and the understated persona of its infrastructure immediately creates memories to last a lifetime.

Dungeness and the rest of Kent are currently under Tier 3 restrictions, the strictest of all in England. This means all but essential travel to the power station and the surrounding area are prohibited. Following the lifting of restrictions, I’m sure Dungeness and its inhabitants will be ready to welcome curious tourists back to the shingle!