Last weekend we stayed in a little cottage on the South Downs, hard by the ancient smuggling village of Alfriston, East Sussex. Two places, barely fifty miles apart, attest to the extraordinary variety of the English landscape. Dungeness (above), where we went on Saturday, is a flat promontory composed entirely of shingle, one of the largest such aggregations in existence. Here all things are in a state of gradual reclamation: metal, driftwood, stone. The elemental powers simply grind them all to dust. Though barely twenty-seven miles away, just across the horizon, France might as well not exist; the place screams isolation and insularity, notwithstanding the twinkling lights of the nuclear power station that squats with a measure of contingency on the western edge. Fishing boats perch atop the vertiginous beach of loose, salt-encrusted stones, waiting stoically for their working life to expire; cottages cling to the ground as best they can. Dungeness makes David Copperfield’s Yarmouth feel positively cosy; it could easily be the farthest extremity of the world.