It’s a funny place, Kent.
I grew up in Essex so I like to think I am down with all things eastern. Lincolnshire – *high five*, Suffolk – I’m with you tractor-loving brethern. But Kent – it’s meant to be the Garden of England but those quaint cottages, rolling downs, even the white cliffs, as beautiful as they are, just don’t move me. I thought I had Kent sussed – then I went to Dungeness.
Dungeness is the world’s largest expanse of shingle and the UK’s only desert. It is an extremely bleak, yet rather beautiful place – its flat expanse only broken by lighthouses, buildings traditionally made of old railway coaches but with the nuclear powers stations looming ominously and incongruously over the almost lunar landscape. The foreland can only be accessed by two ramshackle roads or rather eccentric miniature steam railway, complete with Royal carriage, just in case her Maj fancies a walk on the shingle.
We rode to Dungeness from St Mary’s Bay, about 10 miles north up the coast. We tried to follow the road all the way down the coast, but some of Coast Drive north of New Romney was just a grass track, unsuitable for the road bikes. So we just cycled down the concrete seawall instead.
Battling through some coastal cross winds was well rewarded with Tea and Jaffa Cakes in the Light Railway Cafe. The road surface was variable, at best and despite some the coast road through Greatstone and Lydd being a 40 speed limit, the volume was moderately low and I felt safe – which is important to me, as I am still ever so slightly wobbly at times on the new road bike. The only other cyclists we saw were commuters from the power station, but you could tell regular vehicle users of the coast road were used to cycle traffic. I imagine they get a lot during the holiday season.
Dungeness is astonishing place and really rather evocative. On a clear day it was wonderful to be able to see from the shingle, across the marshes of Romney to the chalk downs. Getting to cycle through a a bona fide desert was a delight, though I suspect it might be a little more difficult to add to my desert-crossing list.
Kent, I take it back. You are more than just cliched green and pleasant land, you are full of surprises – miles of pebbly shingle, quirky buildings, looming nuclear monoliths and odd plants battling against the elements and thriving – that’s much more my idea of a garden of England.
You can see more of my Dungeness photos on Flickr.
*For the sake of blog continuity my road bike does have name, but the title was irresistible.