How can I possibly describe Dungeness to a newcomer?
Forget about shopping precincts, high streets or corner shops. Imagine a flat land covered with shingles, (I understand the largest expanse in the world) with scattered little shacks - some of wooden construction, others built from old railway coaches, most of them black - adding an incredible charm to the place. A few old boats are parked in the front gardens. They have finished their working lives at sea and are revered by their owners.
Some of the huts are now owned by artists. Derek Jarman fell in love with this corner and bought one. He was the first occupant to design a garden with the flora that grows among the stones. Near the shore, more huts. Railway lines run to the sea, where the RNLI boat is working, saving lives. The line of the little railway stops at the foot of one of the two lighthouses that stand proudly among this incredible world - a fisherman's paradise!
If you find yourself in need of food and drink, two pubs welcome visitors. In the background stands the nuclear power station, adding a very strange, uncomfortable feeling to the place.
Who visits Dungeness? Fishermen, twitchers who visit the National Nature Reserve where birds migrate from around the world, artists of course, who paint, and even film crews. I have spent many hours walking, painting and enjoying being alive there.
The first time I visited, I stayed in the car. A gale force wind was blowing; dark clouds were travelling fast in a tormented sky. I felt breathless in front of what I thought was desolation and loneliness. How wrong I was.
I came back in all seasons under different weather. I discovered the sharp, crisp light glistening in the spring, the incredible heat of the summer sun reflecting on the stones, the melancholic moods of autumn when the lower sun caresses the landscape and the late winter afternoon when the red skies transform the lighthouses into giants, throwing their long dark shadows on the scenery. I also discovered some beautiful flowers growing between the shingle. One day I will have to put them to paper. I have also learnt about the huge variety of wildlife inhabiting the area.
Most of my paintings of the area have been sold. Some of the buyers had visited the bird sanctuary or were fishing enthusiasts. One very special lady made my day. She contacted me wanting to buy a painting of Derek Jarman's cottage. She was his niece. She told me that a painting says much more than a photograph.
I am drawn to Dungeness like a magnet. I have fallen under a spell. During the winter months when its visitors have gone, I find magic there. I am sure that the land is inhabited by wizards and witches.
ARTICLE written for Magazine HYTHE & ROMNEY LIFE