shell grotto margate

If like me, you are attracted to mystery and you enjoy being wowed by unexplainable facts then the Shell Grotto in Margate has to be high on your bucket list. Trust me and read on, you are going to love it.

Hidden away in the back streets of an unsuspecting residential area of Margate, within walking distance of the centre, is a curiosity that will hold your wonder for days after your visit. In fact, it is so insignificant you would be forgiven for passing it by or for even not finding it all! It is said it was discovered by mistake in 1835, when James Newlove was digging a duck pond in the ground and came across a hole. Like any loving father, he lowered his son into it to explore and his son returned, thankfully, describing a labyrinth of tunnels covered in shells below ground.

shell grotto margate

Well, that’s one story of how it was discovered but there are a number of stories out there and after 180 years of exaggeration and embellishment there’s not a lot of chance finding out the truth!

Anyway, in 1838, three years later, James opened the Shell Grotto to the public and now, almost 200 years to the day, it hasn’t lost its ability to draw the curious in. It remains a hugely popular place to visit when in Margate.

“My brother found out about the underground place sometime before it was known. He never dared to tell father. He found the chalk loose at one end of the passage next to the cottage, which was built afterwards, and he opened it up by taking the stuff away, as it were in rough blocks. Then when the opening was wide enough, he crawled through and got into the Grotto. And so did I. Yes, and two or three other young girls too. We crept in through the opening, and had to scrub ourselves right through the dirty chalk, and lor, we did make a mess of ourselves. But we got in and saw it all; we had to take a candle in a lantern round somebody’s neck.

“Once, when we were in, father shouted for us, and we were in a fine hurry to get out. “Where are those girls?” The reason he wanted us then was because a new governess, a clergyman’s daughter, had just arrived, and we were to be introduced. So we got out as quick as might be, and we were all white and dirty from the chalk and the dust. We needed some brushing, I can tell you; and we had to do it quick too.

“But it was really discovered in 1837, and my brother was dropped down the Dome with a light. He had been through it before, but had not told father.”

— Fanny Newlove

The Shell Grotto

Shell Grotto Margate

The Shell Grotto measures 104ft long and the walls are covered in 4.6 million shells mosaiced into intricate panels each depicting a separate design and meaning. There is the Turtle Panel, the Aries Panel, the Skeleton Panel and the Ankh-Isis Panel amongst the 20 that have been named since the discovery.

shell grotto margate

To date no documents have come to light mentioning the Grotto, no correspondence, no maps and no plans of construction, so nobody knows really with any certainty what it was built for. All we have to work on are theories.

  • Those who believe the Shell Grotto was a place of worship
  • Those who think the Shell Grotto was a rich man’s folly.
  • Those who are certain the Shell Grotto was a smuggler’s cave.

Who knows?

What we do know is 99% of the shells used are all locally found but in the corners of the Altar Room, there are queen conches from the Caribbean which adds an exotic touch to the mystery.

shell grotto margate

When to visit and how much does it cost

The Shell Grotto is open daily from 10am – 5pm from the beginning of the Easter holidays to the end of October half term and in winter at the weekends.

Tickets cost £4.00 for adults, £3.50 for concessionaries, £1.50 for children and a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) £8

shell grotto margate

What else is there to do?

There is a wonderful shop selling all sorts of shell related products and precious stones plus a cafe where you can get a drink and a bite to eat. Read up more on the Shell Grotto website and if you are in the area go and see it for yourself.

Sorrento ItalyI can’t believe a year has passed since we went to Sorrento and I still haven’t got around to writing about it. That just goes to prove how hard it is juggling a blog and a full-time job… oh and an extended family, a house, a home and all of the other bits and pieces that go in to make the normal run-of-the-mill life. There is never enough time in the day!

We visited last year, just Paul and I, to attend our friend’s wedding. Trust me, Sorrento makes a wonderfully romantic venue for tieing the knot.

Although I lived in Italy for almost 20 years, I never got to see Sorrento and the surrounding area. I had heard of its beauty many times and knew it was extremely popular the world over. Sorrento was firmly on my bucket list and our wedding invitation was the perfect occasion to tick it off.

Cloisters Sorrento

The Cloisters in Sorrento is the perfect wedding venue.

As the wedding was to be held on the Saturday, we decided to ask the grandparents to look after the girls for a few days and make a short break out of it, after all, what’s the point of going all that way to turn around and come straight back? I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing the places I had heard so much about.

lemon tree sorrento

When anyone speaks of Sorrento in Italy, you hear descriptive words like lemons, music, stunning views and romance – in Italian obviously but I’ll save you that for now. I had conjured up a meraviglioso picture in my mind and I was curious to see how close my thoughts were to reality.

Getting to Sorrento

Getting to Sorrento is fun. We booked flights into Naples – another notorious city I want to return to one day. Then from the city you have a few options – hire a car and drive along the coast, jump on a coach or bus, get a taxi or take the ferry and sail around the coast to the harbour of Sorrento. Guess which option we went for?

The ferry!

Naples to Sorrento ferry

In order to do this, you have to catch a bus from the airport to Naples harbour. It’s not difficult and there are plenty of instructions online in places like TripAdvisor. It’s cheap and easy and on arrival, there are plenty of places where you can buy your ticket. All of them speak English and will be able to direct you to the right dock.

There are various ferries and we caught the one above. It meant we had to sit inside and couldn’t see much out of the windows that were covered in sea salt but there was a great Italian waiter who was selling drinks and snacks, so we bought a couple of beers to get into the holiday mood.

Cheers to being a couple for a few days and cin cin to Italia!

The ferry doesn’t take long and our friends due to marry were waiting in the harbour for us, they had been there a couple of days already, as stated by Italian law when you get married in the country.

Sorrento harbour Italy

Wheeling the suitcase into town – luckily there’s a lift in the cliff!

We stopped for drinks with them and then made our way via a lift in the cliff up to the town and on to our hotel with plans to meet later for dinner.

Hotels in Sorrento

We did what everyone does – pump ‘Hotels in Sorrento’ into the search box and click go. Up came the normal sites and after a few days of research, we decided on Hotel Europa. It was walking distance from the centre, situated on the coast and had some great reviews.

Hotel Europa Palace Sorrento

We weren’t disappointed – apart from the noise from the road, the Sorrentini do love to hit their hooters! The hotel had a charm of years-gone-by. I could imagine being here in the 20’s and being part of the ‘in crowd’. Our bedroom was comfortable and there were some lovely facilities, like the swimming pool and beach.

Hotel Europa Sorrento

Places to eat in Sorrento

We had booked bed and breakfast as we knew we’d be out and about during the days and eating with our friends in the evenings. We needn’t have worried as Sorrento is a town full of restaurants, pizzerias, bars and various eateries to suit all pockets. The streets are lined with choice – fish, pasta, pizza, meat, you name it, you can find it and freshly cooked too with wonderful waiting service. Prices are reasonable plus, if you’re lucky, there is a glass of limoncello offered by the house with the bill. Salute!

eating in Sorrento

Shopping in Sorrento

If like me, you like to buy things to take home that remind you of your time spent in a place, you won’t be disappointed. Sorrento has streets and alleys lined with shops selling everything you’d imagine to buy; leather, limoncello, ceramics, oil paintings and much more. I adored the handmade leather sandals, typical to the area but couldn’t verify spending €100 on a pair no matter how beautiful they were. Reluctantly leaving the overpriced sandals to one side, I filled our suitcase with limoncello, an oil painting, a leather purse, a beautiful scarf and plenty more bits and pieces.

You will love the shopping!

shopping in sorrento

Things to do in Sorrento

There are plenty of romantic things to do in Sorrento – getting married has to be the best by far! But we also enjoyed beautiful walks along the stunning coastline, through the town and stopping on the clifftops to watch the sunset is a must. There’s a wide terrace where people congregate to watch the sun descend over the sea, luckily there is a bar there too, so order an Aperol spritz and enjoy the moment.

sunset in Sorrento

sunset in sorrento

Fun things to do in Sorrento

Sorrento is beautifully positioned as the perfect base for exploring the area and on our 4-night break we managed to fit in Vesuvio, Pompei and the Island of Capri which I shall be writing about separately as they were so impressive.

Enjoy some of my favourite photos that I took in Sorrento.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

short break sorrento

Ballerina DVD

Ballerina was one film that the twins saw at the cinema and said immediately they wanted to see again, they adored it. I knew that when it came out on DVD it would be worth purchasing as the girls could watch and re-watch as many times as they liked. They do three dance lessons a week including tap, modern and ballet so, Ballerina really speaks to them and inspires them to improve and follow their own dreams.

The story is centred around Felicie, a young orphan with the single passion of becoming a prima ballerina. Felicie doesn’t walk anywhere, she dances and leaps and twirls and springs. Tables and chairs don’t get in her way, she glides over them, slides across them or pirouettes around them. Felicie is obsessed with dancing. Her best friend in the orphanage is Victor. Victor is an aspiring inventor, he is always making machines or objects, some work out but most don’t. However, this doesn’t deter Victor in his mission to become a famous inventor. He is also a tiny bit in love with Felicie. Together the children hatch a plan to escape the orphanage and run away to Paris where their dreams can come true.

Ballerina follows the children and watches how they do everything in their power to make their dreams come true, including the odd lie here and there (Felicie).

It is a very enjoyable film and one I shall enjoy watching again with them too.

In case you want to add it to your home viewing bookcase then today – 17th April you can, Ballerina is available for Digital Download and also in Blu-ray and DVD versions courtesy of Entertainment One.

Cast includes:-

Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) as aspiring young dancer, Félicie;
Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Lawless) as Félicie’s best friend and aspiring inventor, Victor;
Carly Rae Jepsen (Castle, Grease Live!) as former prima ballerina, Odette;
Maddie Ziegler (Pretty Little Liars, Dance Moms) as a snobby trained ballerina, Camille Le Haut.

Download the free activity sheet below for the Ballerinas in your home.

Ballerina activity sheet

Disclosure: We were sent a DVD to review – all opinions are our own and we really do love this film!

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-

Picking up from our walk around Thanet our next section to explore was to be Ramsgate Royal Harbour.

We parked in the residential area at the top of the slope leading into the centre of Ramsgate and walked along the cliff top down into the harbour. The weather was mild and sunny and the harbour held a peaceful Sunday atmosphere. You could feel it was a day off, a fun day and it excited us.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-

One of my favourite things to do when strolling around a harbour is to look at the boats, check out the most expensive one and wonder who it could belong to. Ramsgate was no different and offered some splendid examples that are way out of my wage packet.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-

Ramsgate Royal Harbour

Ramsgate Harbour is the only harbour in the United Kingdom awarded the right to call itself a Royal Harbour. This was bestowed by King George IV after he was taken by the hospitality shown by the people of Ramsgate when he used the harbour to depart and return with the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1821.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-

On the quayside there is a Clock House which is home to the Ramsgate meridian, 5 minutes and 41 seconds ahead of Greenwich meantime. The Clock House is also home to Ramsgate Maritime Museum which gives an introduction to the town’s important maritime past.

Ramsgate-Royal-Harbour-museum

We didn’t call in this time as the weather was so nice, we chose to walk along the seafront and see if we could find anything else for future visits.

Ramsgate fresh seafood

We passed by Peter’s Fish Factory and spotted this wonderful Fresh Seafood van offering all sorts of delicious food.

Further on we came to the coast where there is a lovely beach with a park and amusements for children.

Ramsgate beach

Along the promenade there are paintings on the wall, each of us had fun choosing our favourites and the girls stopped to read some as they passed by.

Walking along a little bit further threw up two fantastic surprises, the first, a colourful Rainbow staircase painted by a local school to brighten up the huge concrete wall…

Ramsgate rainbow stairs

and then, hidden in that concrete wall are the Ramsgate Tunnels!

We did venture into the tunnels a bit and I found out that there are tours of the tunnels which is better to book yourself on, especially in high season. We all promised to return another time to explore.

In a nutshell the Ramsgate tunnels were created to house people during the war. 60,000 people could find shelter here and there were over 1000 permanent residents at one time.

Ramsgate tunnels

The Ramsgate Arches

We started to make our way back to the car and walked alongside the harbour taking in the fabulous Ramsgate Arches which are now homes to restaurants, art shops and vintage stores. The arches start off quite small as you can see from the first photo.

Ramsgate arches

Ramsgate arches

Ramsgate arches

You can also see the emblem of the Cinque Ports of which Ramsgate is considered to be a Limb of one of the ports.

Ramsgate-Cinque-Ports-symbol

Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys

Another place of interest we noted on our walk was the Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys which in a first instance can give off some distressing ideas of what this could possibly be but a little investigation proved that the smack boys were apprentices to the fishing smack skippers of Ramsgate.

Ramsgate-home-for-smack-boys

Lastly was the pretty and peaceful Sailor’s Church.

The Sailors’ Church and Harbour Mission was built in 1878 by Canon Eustace Brenan, vicar of the nearby Christ Church. He was aware how hard and dangerous the Smack Boys work was and their need for physical help and spiritual guidance. He built the church so when the Smack Boys came ashore they could find comfort in the rooms above the church.

Ramsgate sailors church

I loved the look of this old building on the harbour but haven’t been able to find out yet what it once was. A nightclub? An amusement arcade? The statues are still in almost perfect condition and although the building needs a lot of restoring I hope somebody does take the project on.

Ramsgate old building

One last spot was on the wall of a home where our car was parked. A blue plaque informing us that Charles Darwin had visited Ramsgate and stayed in this house. The twins have heard and talked about Charles Darwin at school so were excited to find he’d been here too.

Ramsgate Charles Darwin

 

girls on bikes

It was bound to happen, wasn’t it?

In fact, husband went as far as to say to Bessie, as she stepped on the coach to leave with the Year 4 group Kingswood Camp bound, ‘Pick your jacket up! You’re going to lose it if you’re not careful!’

Yes, you already know where this is going, don’t you? One school trip later and one lost jacket.

dab pose

The teacher looked me as if I was dumb when I said, ‘It’s brand new.’ As we were specifically told not to send them with anything new. Do jackets count? Their old jackets have been around for two years and are looking very much the worse for wear. Husband, who delighted in reminding me told me, ‘Send them with their old coats.’ as I was packing and sorting out all of their kit. Did I listen? Of course not!

dad and girls

Blacks had sent these perfect Berghaus jackets to review. They were waterproof, had removable fleeces on the inside, looked very smart and would be perfect for the weather at this time of year. The programme at Kingswood is fantastic, building dens, climbing high, zip wires and a lot of activity. They would be the perfect jackets to wear, fit for all weather and tough.

We had even tried them out on a visit to the coast a couple of weekends ago and decided they were fabulous.

Now we only have one and I am writing emails, contacting via Facebook and disturbing the teachers via email too to see if I have any luck getting it back, after all, it’s a really good coat and like all mums, I bought it big so it would last a year or two.

Westgate on Sea - ice cream

Blacks really have some great gear for kids for all weathers and all seasons. I must remember to thank them for the black waterproof trousers that were sent through as they did return, covered in mud but that’s what they were for. With elasticated waistbands that are easy to pull over jeans or leggings, they came in very handy on rainy days.

I do apologise if this post is shorter than usual but I really do want to find that jacket, you would too if you had one. So I’m going to start phoning and emailing until I am sure that nobody has the jacket. Wish me luck!

girls going on a school trip

Disclosure: We were sent two jackets for the girls to review and some waterproof trousers from Blacks, I really do like them and I’d love to find the lost one. All opinions are my own. You can find them on the following social channels too.

Twitter: @blacks_online     Instagram: blacks_online     Facebook: blacksonline