First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Dungeness is one of the great uncommon landscapes of Britain, a vast sheet of pebbles – the greatest in all Europe – studded with tough fleshy and prickly plants, thronged with wild birds, a Kentish pampas that pokes a knobbly nose into the English channel. Dungeness is a great wilderness, but not unaffected by man – there are fishing boats and tarry fishermen’s huts, scattered bungalows, and the giant, pale grey boxes of a nuclear power station.
Our first encounter with the naked rambler was at the start of our walk, when he rose up in all his glory from the shingle bank beyond the power station, bade us good day and marched off past the scandalised beach fishermen of Dungeness. We soon forgot him as we followed a grassy path through the RSPB’s enormous 2,000-acre reserve whose pools, pastures and reed beds lie at the heart of the great shingle wasteland.
Swans sailed with nonchalant grace on the meres. ‘Look!’ exclaimed Jane suddenly. ‘Marsh harrier!’. The big bird of prey got up quite slowly from its stance in a field of stubble and flapped off low over the reeds, the sun glinting among its wing feathers. There was great complaining and loud lamentation among the shelduck and coots, and a party of teal sprang into the air and went away from the vicinity of the dark destroyer as fast as they could. We saw the harrier several times after that, quartering its territory like a king and causing commotion wherever it went.
Among the birds, the yellow-horned poppies, the wide stony wastes and the gentle whisper of the wind, it was easy to forget the strangeness that the nuclear power station and its marching columns of pylons brought to the scene. We turned for home with a two-mile trudge across the pebble sheet in prospect, and there were the ghostly grey boxes and the skeleton pylon army ahead, dwarfed under the blue bowl of the sky.
And here came the naked rambler once more, this time clad in the briefest of brief briefs. We exchanged greetings and he was gone like an Old Testament prophet into the wilderness, leaving us the plants, the birds, the pebbles and the blue sea horizon, with a blood-red sunset spreading in the west.
Start: Britannia Inn, Dungeness, TN29 9ND (OS ref TR 092169)
Rail – Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (rhdr.org.uk) to Dungeness
Bus service 11/11A/11B (stagecoachbus.com) from Ashford via Lydd.
Road – From Lydd (signposted off A259, Rye-New Romney), follow ‘Dungeness Nature Reserve’; then, near power station, ‘Britannia Inn’.
Walk (7½ miles, easy but pebbly!, OS Explorer 125. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Follow boardwalk near black-and-white lighthouse to shore. Right past power station – hard-surfaced track by fence makes easier walking! In 1¾ miles, turn right inland by Lydd Ranges boundary tower (065167) on gravel road. In ½ a mile, road bends left – in 600m, pass roadway on left (057179). In 400m, right (054181, blue topped post, ‘Footpath No. HL33’). Follow grassy path through RSPB reserve. In ⅔ of a mile, keep ahead at 3-finger post (059184, ‘Hooker’s Pits’); follow bridleway blue arrows to road (063196). Right (‘footpath’ fingerpost), across shingle (occasional wooden posts) for 2 miles, aiming for black lighthouse. Cross road (083175); beyond old coastguard cottages, road to Britannia Inn.
NB: Last section across shingle is hard going! Keep to path – risk of unexploded ordnance!
Lunch: Britannia Inn (01797-321959) or Pilot Inn (01797-320314; thepilotdungeness.co.uk)
Dungeness RSPB Reserve: 01797-320588; rspb.org.uk/dungeness