There is a fundamental difference between a need and a want. Circa 2005, I instantly needed to go to Dungeness, after a million-mile stare at my TV over acres of shingle and carcasses of boats and Victorian railway carriages – how enchanting…
In context – things I don’t voluntarily mention in the pub include my particularly dark fascination with railways, the sea and supertankers… something to do with my father, a master mariner, the last time I saw him was leaving on a train in 1980, he died shortly afterwards in an unexplained accident off the west coast of Africa – on one of his company’s supertankers… hard to hear I know but my fascination with these elements has turned into something positive.
Things I do swank about in public, however, include wild swimming, trail running, fresh fish, secluded beaches and exposed spaces that inspire.
Reader, understand why Dungeness is for me!
Over the years, I have subsequently made many unsuccessful plans to visit Dungeness, but you try convincing someone, anyone in fact, to go to the country’s only desert …windy desert, to sleep on shingle dunes, in properties that historically boast howling cladding, no phone service and are all overlorded by a nuclear power station – oh, didn’t I mention the nuclear power station? You get the picture!
It is not so long ago that in reality the Dungeness proposition was that basic living in beach hut-esque structures that were slowly perishing as the indigenous local fishing community suffocated through climate change and rail links eroded away in favour of more dandy destinations.
Today it’s a different story as at last I successfully encouraged my partner to join me for three nights, I wanted to stay longer, but Dungeness is in demand!
This is where one could be let down, where expectation doesn’t meet reality – quite to the contrary, I knew Dungeness would be good – but not this good!
There are many reasons to be in Dungeness, some of the most attractive include space, sky and the absence of social life, distraction or commerciality. It has a couple of lighthouses, fabulous fish, a dramatic power station backdrop and the most evocative sun rises and sets I’ve ever seen…
It was a sign in itself that I had focused on the Fog Signal Building on one of my many stalking and distracted Dungeness episodes at my desk – over the years the choice of accommodation has broadened and when one considers there are barely 100 homes on the 468-acre nature reserve that is Dungeness you can understand the influence that one single design company has had with its four visionary conversions of notable and landmark buildings, including our very own Fog Signal Building.
Arrival by car along the Dungeness Road takes one past cottages, grand designs owned by ‘DFLs’ (down from Londoners!) and lighthouses to the Experimental Station – as if by magic we meet lovely Brian who appears rather like Mr. Benn at the entrance to the estate, which is also his home, to assist with the access arrangements.
We meander down the drive of concrete and disused railway track, and I unconsciously fall into line with the precise design of the self-contained building, I even park symmetrically to unload to create my nest for the short stay!
The accommodation is peaceful, intelligent and aspiring. I take pictures, I adore, I fill the fridge and I walk around, and around the building with its huge and imposing fog horn whose intention it was to rescue – it feels to me like Dungeness has an intention to rescue.
The sun sets and the welcome teak bathtub feels natural on the skin, underfloor heating comforts and dimming lights frame the desert darkness.
Internally the industrial provenance of the building has been reflected in distinct symmetrical areas for living and relaxing and the bed, while the space is open plan, is cunningly tucked away behind a semi-permanent wall/headboard and curtains that wrap the sumptuous bed at night.
The sun rises and I wander to watch the clockwork routine of the four remaining fishing boats, out of a fleet of 19, coming in with the daily catch of Dover sole, skate and plaice; “The cod has all gone” I am told by my new friend Dave and I return home with a plaice for lunch.
A 4-mile run into Lydd illustrates how close in reality civilization is, yet a few miles south into the English Channel and we are back in our isolated desert haven that is Dungeness.
I cook a roast, light the wood burner, sleep, paint and write …and I stare at the Channel and its hypnotic traffic – the days are so very busy with here peace.
Nothing has been overlooked in this holiday home, and it feels very much like a home, views from every aspect, mod cons to assist but it has an air of simplicity – luxurious simplicity… a who’s who of assistance in Bose, Miele and Charles Eames cater for us.
I respect what, as it turns out, ‘Lovely Brian’ and his business partner Fiona have done here in terms of design – they illustrate patience, detail and thoughtfulness and I can’t wait to feel the calm and sublime hospitality that their other three properties offer; The Coastguard Lookout, Radar and The Pump Station.
Dungeness I’ll be back… and maybe one day, as if by magic, as a desert local… now that’s a need!