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Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink

John Donne – The Sun Rising**

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Last week we embarked upon yet another trip to those strange and barren lands which make up Dungeness and the remote surrounding area. Hoping for some late summer warmth and to avoid the lashing rain typical of this time of year, I knew instinctively it would be tantalisingly free from holidaymakers. The near-deserted desert flanked by a fairly balmy English channel, not by any means tame but thankfully not a roaring fury either, which struck me as appropriately British.

We had brought the bicycles with us, intending to cycle everywhere possible, but forgot to bring the ordinance survey map. As a result, we spent the trip cycling up and down the thankfully expansive stretch of beach at low tide, intermittently halted by treacherous patches of less compact sand and psychotic wasps (are there any other kind?).

The changeable weather, as is often the case, eventually worked in our favour in terms of photographic opportunity. Looking at times apocalyptic, the variety and drama of the cloud formation and tone melded into a perfect storm, with bursts of sun spattering sparkles onto the mudflats as if the gods were hurling around lightning bolts upstairs, in some reckless game unfolding on the Elysium Fields.

I managed to capture an element of this, the extreme contrast between light and dark resulting in existing colour looking naturally over-saturated, its spectrum of pigment creating a beautiful adjacency with the frowning eyebrows of the stormy black clouds. Some images benefited from removing the hue; as we sat on the beach we remarked upon how, no matter how good a camera is, it will never exactly represent what you see through your own eyes, the view undulating microscopically as each millisecond passes, the camera having a limited technical capability and not a patch on nature’s own genius of invention. Transferring the images to black and white instantly recaptured the sense of overbearing impressed upon us by this weather, the immensity of the clouds and fluctuation of density were heightened and brought closer to reality by a slight shift in levels of tone in post-processing.

We initially hoped for clear blue skies. Thankfully we were given much more.

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Taken on a Nikon D60 with Nikon 18-55mm VR lens. Minor post-production in Adobe Photoshop.

**The entire poem is carved in wood and attached to the cladding of Derek Jarmans’ former house, Prospect Cottage, located in Dungeness.

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I left my soul there / Down by the sea / I lost control here / Living free – Morcheeba, The Sea

I think anyone who has visited Dungeness will attest to the fact it is a strange and often eerie place. A vast network of barren flatlands, it is home to a host of wildlife, some alien-looking concrete sculptures, a thankfully underrated and thus often deserted beautiful beach, and a much loved, rideable little steam train which has filled the dreams of many a Kentish child.

On visiting the area, one is struck immediately by the landscape. The gleaming green wetlands of an RSPB nature reserve contrast, in a bittersweet thrill, with the deserted expanse which runs along the seafront; startling red rusting machinery and crumbling fisherman’s shacks dot the horizon. The effect is very much ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘ and its power hinges partly on the same provocation of human emotion which made successful that infamous film – the exposure. The vulnerable haunting nature of a sparsely populated area. A lack of shelter, a lack of shade. Nowhere to hide, no-one to help. Of course at Dungeness there are plenty of houses, but certain areas of the front are almost entirely empty. A few architects and design gurus have taken the opportunity to build experimental structures, which sit upon the plains like spaceships landed on an African peninsula.

A trip up the lighthouse allows you to survey this scene in all its glory, the mini steamtrain line on its perpetual circuit, the endless patches of reds and browns interspersed with grey waves of shingle and sprinkles of green, the open ground scorched from the all-seeing sun in tandem with the assisting sea breeze.

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An exploratory walk North-West leads you over this dusty earth and through to the nature reserve where upon the horizon great blue lakes appear, quenching the entire landscape. The air becomes fresher, the wildlife more prolific and an abundance of beautiful birds showcase the best of nature’s design and make you remember why the RSPB are so important.

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Emerging from this bliss and turning North-East will lead you straight to the ‘Acoustic Mirrors’. Set amongst the lush vegetation and straddling an impressive lake, these striking concrete structures were erected around the time of the second world war. Dungeness, the only part of Britain classified as desert by the Met office, seemed a perfect spot to erect these objects, relying as they did on quiet surroundings to pick up the noise of approaching enemy planes. The acoustic mirrors, or ‘listening ears’ as they were known, were an early exploration into the principles of radar, their use discontinued once new technological advancements surpassed their capability. They are now of historical interest and it is possible to cross the water to walk around them.

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And besides all this you still have the glistening beach, shrouded with an ominous rising steamy mist at low tide on a hot day and thanks to the proximity of local favorite camber sands, used mainly by locals, with a few scattered tourists.

In all, the place is, well, strange. The first time, a bit too strange. But the second time. The second time I fell in love. See you soon Dungeness x

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Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

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Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

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Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

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Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

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All photographs Kate Withstandley except those specified