Dungeness.

Saturday 24 April 2021 – Dungeness.

I find it hard to believe that there are (only) 97 days to go until we leave for Auckland. Some times it seems that departure day is so far away, yet other times it feels like there’s no time left at all. 97 days is a bit of a non-period to note; stuck between the newly important ‘100 days’ and the more useful three months. However, as I start typing, that is what the countdown says, and right now I am thinking ‘Wow, there is not a lot of time left.’ Most days I just wish time would hurry up and it would be July now. Is it normal to wish life away?

In unrelated, but interesting news, I entered a piece of flash fiction (in this case a story in under 250 words) into a competition last week. I have no expectation of getting any response other than the ‘thanks for your entry’ email I have already received, but it felt good to do it. This is the first time I have shared any fiction writing with anyone other than Eleanor and a couple of people who provided feedback on the short story I wrote; and still need to finish editing. When the competition closes at the end of May I will post the flash fiction.

Eleanor left for a week in Walthamstow this morning. After doing a few chores at home, (OK, I didn’t but I intended to; I went to the supermarket and wrote that last blog entry instead of painting the wall inside the wardrobe) I drove to Dungeness. I love the sparseness of Dungeness, and have become mildly obsessed with Prospect Cottage, the late Derek Jarman’s home, and it’s semi-famous garden. I used this book as inspiration for today’s photography; though I don’t claim to have managed anything as lovely as what can be found in those pages.

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This entire section of Kent coast is mostly barren, pebbly and marshy flood lands, a narrow ridge with houses is all that separates the sea from pouring inland and I expect that at some point later in my children’s lifetime the sea will claim this land and there will only be marsh and sea, maybe with the occasional chimney visible at low tide.

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It’s sunny and would be warm if there was not a biting cold wind blowing along the coast. I wrapped up warm, as did the seemingly million other people who decided to clog the roads with their dreadfully slow driving and head to the coast as well. Dungeness was as busy as I’ve ever seen it.

Parking outside Prospect Cottage I intended to spend some time here walking around and taking photos of the garden. Given the number of people this was a somewhat flawed plan, so I took a couple of pictures before leaving the family with the kids running around to do their thing and went for a walk on the more deserted beach.

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The nuclear power station perched ominously on the edge of Dungeness beach frequently comes up in Jarman’s diaries; he occasionally dreamed about it blowing up, but most often he refers to it as a quiet neighbour. One of the few interesting backdrops to a cottage on a pebble desert.

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It is a vast beach, though most of the photographically interesting stuff is around the small working fishing fleet. Much like Hastings, Dungeness’s fishing boats are beach launched; using old tractors, diggers and diesel powered winches to get the boats into and out of the water, there is nothing elegant, modern or renewable about beach-launched fishing.

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I am sure I have said it before in previous Dungeness posts, but I love this place. I love the bleakness and harshness of the environment; not much grows on those sun, wind and salt scorched pebbles. There is little sand; maybe some at low tide, this not a holiday-maker beach. Few people come here to sunbathe and swim; people come here to fish, to bird watch, to walk, to be alone; or like me, to voyeur at the boats, the rocks and the fishing cottages slowly being converted into luxury Air BnBs. Sadly it is becoming increasingly popular. I blame the Instagram generation, which includes me I guess.

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I walked a loop, taking some photos of the beach before going to one of the areas with a concentration of boats, tractors and the associated detritus that comes with working boats, before heading back to the cottage. On the subject of detritus; I was really surprised, and very disappointed at the amount of rubbish on the beach around the fishing boats, there was a lot of rope, wire, fishing line, plastic, all sorts of crap, all over the place. For people who should care about the sea and what lives in it they are rather cavalier about how they treat it.

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The natural world is wonderful, I love how over years, maybe decades; or maybe, just over a few weeks, the beach has created its own wave formation, replicating those of the sea. Like the sea these beach waves will be different, maybe not the next time I visit, but not long after.

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I spent some time around the boats and tractors; there are others taking photos as well so I was not alone, one chap I spoke to had a 1920/30s film camera and I would love to see what he was getting in this harsh light. I had been tempted, even before meeting this guy, to convert all the images from today to black and white, but have decided not to. The book has a good mix of both and it is still my guide to today. This environment would suit monochrome though, there are so many contrasts, visual and otherwise.

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A few photos were taken… Maybe I should buy a film camera?

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I walked back to Prospect Cottage. Mid-beach there are a number of platforms, foundations and blackened piles of wood and iron where old cottages, net or smoke huts once stood. Destroyed by nature, by accident or even deliberately? I have no idea. A part of me wishes everything be torched; leave the power station alone on the beach; a monument to the idea that nuclear was the way to go. Scorch the rest of the earth. The future beckons.

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There are bricks and tiles and twisted, rusted iron rebar lying around; my favourite find was this heavy chain; one end loose and the other connected to something in the stones. I have no idea what such heavy chain would be for? Sometimes it is best not to know, I am sure there are stories from here that would keep the sturdiest of us awake at night. I am not that sturdy. I walk on, I don’t want my mind imagining things more than it does already.

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An hour gone; the wind had not abated and it is getting colder (I cannot believe it is late April), there are fewer cars parked on the roadside so I walk back to Prospect Cottage; hoping that at least the families with small children would have buggered off somewhere warm, and I would have the garden more to myself.

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The wind is annoying. I had the tripod with me, though there was no point in getting it out the car. I rarely use it, I don’t care that much for technical perfection in my photography, though today I want to take close up images of things in the garden, and detail requires some sort of stability; my hands aren’t what they used to be. I am less concerned about windblown foliage, in my mind it adds to the scene, as long as the principal object is still.

The tripod remains in the car and I take slightly blurry photos; again. Though it is not yet the season for colour, and I have chosen to use black and white in some images, the  garden has plenty of colour, though muted variants of green dominate. In this environment the plants protect themselves with comformity, only the strong, or the wisest survives.

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I manage a good fifteen minutes taking photos in the garden, it is small to be fair, but I get frustrated by the wind, by other people (admittedly fewer than before) and by my lack of ability to see what I hoped to see. Though as I edit over the following week I am not unhappy with the images I made. I take few photos, usually only one of any single thing, so a good day out taking photos may only ever be 40 or 50 images; those rare days I take 100 are extraordinary. Today I took 76, about half in the garden, so a fairly prolific day by usual standards.

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It is completely the wrong time of year to be taking photos in a garden, especially one that has been scorched dry by salty winter winds, frost, lack of rain and a Covid enforced lack of gardening in a not yet opened ‘museum’ house. However, it is probably the last time I will get to come here before we go to Auckland. I like that it is still only in early spring re-growth and not in full summer bloom. It’s like it should be this time of year, a small semi-cultivated, managed oasis in what was, not that long ago, a desolate wind-swept pebble landscape; and if Jarman’s dreams of the power station melting down ever come true, then that is what it will return to.

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I am uncertain as to why I became mildly obsessed with Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. I am not a film buff and I have only seen one of his works, the punk film ‘Jubilee’. I have no burning desire to see other films either, and that includes ‘The Garden’ which was largely (fully?) shot in Dungeness.

I read his book Modern Nature at the start of the Covid outbreak last year. Initially, because I am interested in writing about nature and place and it is a classic of that genre, he is a good writer. However, the book also resonated due to the correlation with Jarman’s illness with AIDS and how that pandemic was reported in the 1980s, and the situation we found ourselves in with Covid. The panic, finger pointing and misinformation that surrounded AIDS was replicated here in those initial weeks of Covid, it was as if we had learnt nothing in the intervening years (we hadn’t).

In odd way, as well as finding this lack of progress rather depressing, I found comfort knowing there was a way through this pandemic; that others had been there and done that, and that tying oneself to nature and place played an important, balancing, part in recovery.

I look forward to visiting Prospect Cottage and Dungeness when we return to the UK, maybe the cottage will be open then, maybe not. The future is unknown.

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The Listening Ears

August 30 – Dungeness.

Ever since I read about the sound mirrors at Dungeness I have wanted to go and see them. Today I finally got out there. Dungeness is 25 miles from St Leonards, so it is not as if it is miles away and difficult to get to, as always, no excuses for not going before.

I took the coast road from Pett to Winchelsea so I could take a quick look at Pett Level. There are the remains of an ancient dead forest at the low tide line and I have been interested in seeing them. It is not low tide now, but I want to at least see where to go. I took a couple of photos as I was here.

Dungeness and its nuclear power station is just up the coast, though it looks a world away from here.

The Denge sound mirrors were the third in a series of experiments using sound to create an early warning system in times of war. The first two attempts; an in ground system and ‘sound trumpets’ were developed after the first world war, neither were particularly successful and development of both was soon stopped.

Built between 1928 and 1930 the ‘listening ears’ were designed to pick up the sound of approaching enemy aircraft and reflect it back into a microphone that was connected to operators located elsewhere. The three variations of sound mirror are here; a 30ft and a 20ft circular mirror and a 200ft by 26ft curved wall. The smallest being built first. They were of limited success, easily detecting the slow moving aircraft that were common before they were built, but as technology moved on and aircraft got faster their use faded. Eventually they were replaced by new the fangled radar technology and development was abandoned in 1939. There are a couple of other sound mirrors further up the Kent coast near Hythe.

The sound mirrors are to be found behind the village of Greatstone, a couple of miles up the road from Dungeness itself. They are located on an island in a small lake that forms part of a RSPB (Royal Society for Protection of Birds) reserve. I was planning on walking around the lake; getting a bit of exercise as well as seeing things from different perspectives, which is something I like to do. It was not going to be easy, or ultimately even achievable.

The lake is a couple of hundred metres wide and a kilometre or so long. The first ‘side’ was not too bad, mainly pebbles, which is a pain to walk on, but at least you can walk on them. I got my first glance of the sound mirrors and they are pretty cool.

As I made my way around the back of the lake the going got tougher with the pebbled ground overgrown with grasses, scrubby bushes, brambles and thistle. I was beating an ever more erratic path around the denser patches of the scratching prickly scrub. I was wearing long trousers but was not particularly prepared for this kind of scrub and I could feel the brambles catching my skin through the cotton. I was mostly enjoying the walk as doing something with even a mild hint of adventure was a great change from the mundanity of my day to day.

I managed to get to the back of the sound mirrors, but stupidly lost my sunglasses when I was taking photos. At least they were only the cheap plastic ones I leave in the car, so not a financial loss, but annoying all the same. I need to be more careful with things. I tried to find them once I realised they were gone, but I could not find the exact location I stood to take the photos.

I tried to carry on round the lake and made it a bit further along before the scrub just got too dense and too tall to easily push through and I could not see a clear path ahead. With no way around without going way back and then out into the farmland, I reluctantly turned back. It was easier going back through the paths I had made as I pushed through on the way in.

Once back, passed where I had started and at the front of the lake I made my way to the causeway that goes quite close to the mirrors. On special days (pre-Covid) there are organised tours that cross to the island; but realistically this was close enough to see, especially with the 70-200mm lens. It would have been good to have been able to stand in front of the big mirror and see if I could hear anything reflected back. Unlike the far side of the lake there were a few people at the viewing point, I guess not everyone is as adventurous, or stupid as I am.

I had also packed the Polaroid.

On my slow stroll back to the car I stood on some dog poo; fortunately I was still by the lake so was able to wash it all off, walking back with a wet foot was less fun, but better than stinking out the car. I was hoping there was not going to be a third, minor, misfortune today. Though I guess I could say the 90 minutes it took to drive the 25 miles back home was not exactly fortunate!

I love that these listening ears and their cousins in Hythe are still standing, and that there is real interest in preserving these wonderful reminders of our inquisitive nature; and our ability (for some people at least) to learn from apparent failure.

Dungeness.

Tuesday 23 June 2020 – Dungeness.

We have not been up to much over the last few weeks, lock down has slowly been easing, though that has not really changed us much. We continue to work from home and continue to be sensible when we go out. We have visited a friends garden and had friends to ours, these were extremely pleasant, almost forgetting that there is much more pleasure in being physically in the same place as friends, rather than the ‘new normal’ (Oh, how I hate that phrase) of online conversations which were becoming normalised in a rather scary way.

Apart from small supermarkets we have not been inside many shops, yet. I haven’t even ordered much on line recently (which reminds me, there was a record I was going to order Smile ).

The best news is we came down to St Leonards 10 days ago and have been here since. As we are here and work has been stressful and annoying lately, I decided to take a few days off work this week. It is turning into the hottest week of the year so far, 30 degrees, so I am very glad we are not in London. It is significantly cooler in the flat, half way up a hill I get a lovely sea breeze, taking the sting out of the heat, and I am going to have a swim as soon as I hit publish.

Today was the first day of the four days off, Eleanor is working and is mega-busy. I grabbed the big Canon 5d, a couple of lens and the Polaroid and went on a photo mission to Dungeness; about 25 miles up the coast in Kent. I have been there before, but never on my own and never with the big camera. I will be going back again that is for sure, maybe in the pouring rain next time.

It was not ideal conditions for photography, brutal late-morning sun, no shade, flat, shingle beach, harsh and glary as hell. It was the ideal conditions for Dungeness, and perfect for me as I much prefer extremes. I took a lot of photos, it was the most fun I had out taking photos for a very long time. I had to call it quits in the end as I could feel my face burning under the intense sun, and I had prepared properly and put sun block on before I left home. I didn’t take a hat though, must buy one!

I started by the nuclear power station that dominates the south end of the beach. It has been there for quite a long time and I think most people are quite casual about it. There is only a small fence, and no signs saying you cannot take photos; though there is a ban of flying drones. Something to be encouraged anywhere in my view. I love how the UK Coast Path walks round it’s walls.

Almost every building that is not inside the power plant fence has been converted into a beach house, there is almost nothing here; two cafe/bars, no shops, the beach is shingle, not the usual beach type holiday place. It is very beautiful though.

I am wondering if this was part of any early warning system for the power plant?

I drove back up the beach from the power plant and parked outside Prospect Cottage. The cottage was bought by the artist/filmmaker Derek Jarman in 1986 and he lived there until his untimely death in 1994. The house was passed to his partner Keith Collins who lived there until he too died in 2018. There was an ArtFund fundraising event earlier this year, which I bought a print from, to raise money to buy the property and ensure it’s up-keep in to the future. It is a lovely building and has amazing gardens and I will go back when it opens again.

I took a photo on the Polaroid and to pay homage to the print I purchased.

I took a lot of photos walking around the shingle to the sea outside the cottage. It was a real tonic and I felt a huge lift just from being there and taking photos; of derelict things Smile

The next post I have in mind will just be text, so enjoy the overdose of images, maybe hold some in your mind for next time.

South Coast Road Trip-Part 3

Friday 14 – Saturday 15 July 2017 – East Sussex, Kent and back to London, England

It was another light breakfast this morning, for today we are feasting. Well, maybe not feasting exactly, but we did have lunch booked at the highly regarded Fish Cafe in Rye so it was important to save space.

To maximise the pending dining experience we are going to take in some sea air and enjoy the delights of two of Kent’s finest but totally different beaches. First on the list is Camber Sands, renowned for its Pontins Holiday Camp and long sandy beaches. With a bit of sun out it did not disappoint, though I could never come here for a holiday. Not with a Pontins nearby. I am also sure if a beach with a German sausage hut on it is really for me either.

Nor a terrace.

But the beach is big, and the sea is miles away. It is a big beach, with a pretty tame sea, especially by the standards of Auckland’s Piha. But tragedy is never far away from water and five young men died here last summer when they were trapped and stuck on a sandbank and were caught by the incoming tide. A terrible tragedy. Never underestimate the sea.

We took a brief walk before driving further up the coast to the surreal, desolate and totally ‘me’ beach at Dungeness. Like Camber Sands and its German sausage hut, I am not sure if I can really do a beach with a nuclear power station on it.

Though you do not come here for the beach, it is all pebbles, but it is a beautiful place and I have vowed to come back and spend some proper photography time here, preferably in a big storm! We stopped for another bad coffee, though the least bad of all the bad coffees we have had so far, so things were getting better. Must be the influence of London. Dungeness is going upmarket.

One of the reasons this is a magnet for photographers is the old fishers’ cottages, I am still using the mobile phone camera so none of these are brilliant, though I am pretty pleased with most of the photos I took. We were lucky that a few dark clouds managed to stray across as we were there.

With lunch not that far away we drove on up the coast to Lydd. I spotted this wrecked boat as we drove past and just had to stop for a few photos. The Jeniray, and her younger sibling Carole Ann. I could have spent a bit of time here, but we didn’t have much left, so it was a few quick snaps of the boats and those magnificent clouds before we were back in the car again.

I liked Lydd!

Completing the loop past Lydd and on to Romney, before heading back to Rye. Though I had to stop for one last photo of those clouds settling down on top of the windmills.

Parking up in Rye we had a few minutes for a stroll before our reservation at the Fish Cafe. We had walked most of the way there before I realised I had not ‘paid and displayed’ in the carpark, so I had a mad dash back to resolve it before I ended up with some monster parking fine. I was lucky…

Lunch, as we expected, was very nice. As was pud, the two (small) glasses of wine, though the coffee was a let down… a recurring nightmare for me. We had an afternoon to kill so took a longer, slower walk around Rye. We loved it when we stayed here in October 2014, though we were not so enamoured with the town this time, maybe it was just busier, and it has gotten a lot or expensive in the past three years. I still like it, just less. There are loads more posts of Rye in the posts from Oct 2014.

On the way back to the B & B we picked up a couple of snacky things to nibble on as we didn’t fancy another meal come dinner time . There was a big breakfast waiting if we wanted it in the morning. We finally spent a few hours doing nothing, reading and having a holiday rest. I did try out the big, deep and wonderful bath in the room as well. Bliss!

The next morning it was holiday all over 😦 After breakfast we were back in the car and taking a slow journey homewards, mainly due to me not really knowing which way to go. Funnily enough we did manage to find Chapel Down vineyard quite easily. It was 10:30am, I was driving, so it was only a very small tasting. We have had, and enjoyed, a few of their wines in the past, so it was quite simple for them to lure is into buying some product. No complaints mind. The English pinot noir was really nice. Who would have thought!

I will say, that finally, after almost a week, I managed to get a good flat white in the cafe at Chapel Down. We must be getting close to civilisation again.

I was not looking forward to London, and yeah, this was why. A very long and slow journey through the Blackwall Tunnel.

It was a great week away, we stayed in some interesting places, found a couple of towns that we want to return to and stay a few more nights in. Maybe one of them will finally turn into our place by the sea!  We shall see.

I love being on holiday, but equally I love coming home after one as well. The return from this one was slightly less enjoyable as we have the decorators in from Monday doing some insurance work after a minor subsidence issue. We have to shift all the furniture out of the front room, not a lot of fun, hopefully it will only last a couple of weeks, but who knows…..