Dungeness is a weird place,” a friend told me at the pub on Friday. “It’s just weird.

We should go there!” everyone agreed. So the girls and I did, on Sunday, with a mission to gather seashells.

My dad stayed at the weekend, part of his annual trip to Wimbledon with the Lovely Melanie. He drove up, which meant we had a car at our disposal, but my original plan to visit the beach at Camber Sands was scuppered by the rotten weather forecast.

But Dungeness, despite being on the coast, is not a beach excursion; Dungeness is a classic English destination. Rotten weather would only make it a more English day out! So-called patriots with the flag of St George hanging from a window can only dream of being as English as us!

DSCF8294Which is why on Sunday morning we made some sandwiches and weak squash, put raincoats, cardigans and an ironic towel in a bag, and set off down the M20 to visit a nuclear power station and collect sea shells in Britain’s only officially-classified desert.

We were a little late arriving, as Millie got confused following the directions on my phone and we missed three motorway turn-offs. But we we eventually pulled into a car park at Lydd, just down the road from Dungeness proper. The sky was monochrome and the wind brisk, but it wasn’t actually raining, and there were miles of pebbly shingle beach loaded with shells and pebbles.

There was even a film crew working in Lydd beach car park. A man couldn’t contain his amazement that they were filming someone putting rubbish in a bin. “They’re filming someone putting rubbish in a bin!” he shouted at us in amazement, as we climbed out of the car.

Yeah, whatever Hollywood – we’re after shells!

And, by crikey, we found shells! Ignoring the wind and the steadily building rain we found cockles (with cockles still inside them, much to the girls amazement), mussels, spiral shells, pink shells, yellow shells, big shells, small shells, just…SHELLS!

“Daddy, look at this one!” was the call roughly every 15 seconds.

“Yep, definitely a shell,” I’d reply (except for the one time when Amber had found a piece of plastic) or “Nice one,” and “That’s a beauty.”

Never have I seen anyone so fascinated by shells – these two are natural marine biologists. I’d seldom seen them happier than when scrabbling around Lydd beach on a damp and blustery Sunday morning, half filling their buckets with an impressive collection of shells.

DSCF8247After an hour I decided it was time to move on and head for the mother lode at Dungeness…

Ten minutes up the road was Dungeness, across a landscape that looks to have been missed out when England was being designed, as though one corner of the plans had slipped off the edge of the desk and been overlooked. But then, when the mistake was noticed, the designer panicked and filled it with anything they had lying around: two lighthouses, stranded fishing boats, rusty machinery, wooden cabins, slabs of broken concrete, a nuclear power station, all plonked down amidst miles and miles and miles of pale shingle.

As my friends said, “Dungeness is a weird place!”

The wind was howling, rain was flying parallel to the ground and anyone with a nugget of sense was hiding in the pub (the pub next door to the nuclear power station – think about that!)

But after eating our sandwiches in the car the Carter Family were out on the shingle, hunting for shells and having the time of their lives. Every few seconds one or other child would scream, making me think they’d fallen down an abandoned mineshaft or something; but no, it was simply another fine shell added to the ever-growing collection.

DSCF8280Ignoring the wind and rain, we crunched across the endless shingle desert; me, surprised by the radiation detectors and amazed by the abandoned boats; the girls, staggered by the number and variety and size of shells, filling first their pockets, then mine, with them.

As requested, the girls also kept their eyes peeled for white stones for Uncle Trev’s grave. A small handful of candidates were found, including one that’s in the shape of a heart. Trev would have liked that, just as he’d have loved the day had he been there. 🙂

Once we got home the girls went into the garden to sort through their haul, throwing away the rubbish then washing, grading and sorting each shell, placing it carefully in its assigned place as though these were the archives of the Natural History Museum (Amber’s classification system was a bit more…open than Millie’s. Their methodology reflecting, I think, their psychology).

Now we only need to figure out what to do with all these shells. There was talk of going round the neighbours and selling them – perhaps in necklaces, perhaps as “raw” shells – but I tried to discourage that (especially as our neighbours were out, too – well within earshot!)

I had some vague ideas of using them to decorate the garden, but a friend on Facebook had the idea of simply colouring them in with felt-tips (thanks, Emma!).

Anyone want to buy a job lot of hand-picked psychedelic shells…?


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