Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Hidden within the white chalk cliffs towering over Ramsgate Sands is a network of tunnels extending approximately 3 and 1/4 miles under the town. There are 11 entrances at strategic points around the town providing easy access to safety within a 5 minute walk of most areas. If the siren was to go off, you and your family could be safe within a five minute’s walk.

Ramsgate Tunnels town entrance

Martin, our guide for the 1 and 1/2 hour tour is born and bred in Ramsgate and his grandparents used the tunnels during the war. He has many fascinating anecdotes to share.

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Ramsgate Tunnels entrance

I would advise you book your tickets online as the tours fill quickly and arriving at the door, hoping to squeeze on a tour may leave you disappointed.

The Ramsgate Tunnels Tour starts in the large entrance tunnel with a short film which takes you back to the days of World War II. Martin then introduces himself and runs you through the history, starting at the beginning when the tunnel was made to join Ramsgate Sands to the existing train line that then ended at Broadstairs. It proved to be a great success and Ramsgate enjoyed a booming tourist industry.

Ramsgate Tunnels vintage sign

As the Second World War approached, the tunnels had fallen into disuse and it was the brains of Mr Brimmell and Mr ABC Kemp, the mayor of Ramsgate, that came up with the ambitious plan to extend the tunnels into a network of deep shelter areas that would provide refuge for 60,000 people.

The Duke of Kent opened the completed tunnels in 1939 and on August 28th 1940 they proved their worth when Ramsgate received more than 500 bombs from a squadron of German pilots who dumped their load rather than carry it home. No lives were lost but the town was left badly damaged.

Ramsgate Tunnels toilets

The toilets of the time

The tunnels were equipped with chemical toilets, bunk beds, seating, lighting and a public addressing system. As homes were damaged above ground, life carried on underneath. Some people even took up residence down there.

Construction of the Ramsgate Tunnels

Ramsgate Tunnels tour

The tunnels were made 6 feet wide and 7 feet high. They were constructed at a depth of 50-75 feet to provide protection from bombs. If the tunnels rose closer to the surface and were deemed unsafe, they were coated with reinforced concrete.

Life in the Ramsgate Tunnels

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Two babies are said to have been born in the tunnels. Dances were held, Christmas dinners enjoyed, a barber, whose shop had been bombed, started to work down there. Life carried on and the children of the time, unaware of the enormity of the situation, had a great time living their underground adventure.

Fortunately, nobody died in the tunnels. The closet Ramsgate came was a man nicknamed ‘Shell’ which is a very sweet story but I’ll let Martin tell you that one, he tells it so much better than I could.

Tickets

Can be bought online

Adults – £6.50
Seniors – £5.00
Child – £4.00

Top Tips

Wear warm clothes. You will need a jacket as the tunnels are cold.

Wear trainers or flat closed shoes, it’s a dusty uneven surface down there.

Young children aren’t going to enjoy this. We had a 2 year old in our group, he screamed and cried all the way round which echoed in the small space. Poor child, he was cold, bored and would much rather be on the beach. It was a shame he was so noisy as he interrupted Martin’s fascinating stories and made it difficult for the group to hear.

Ramsgate Tunnels memoirs

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.

 Pegwell Bay thanet

Pegwell Bay

When looking at a map of Thanet it becomes immediately apparent that there is a hell of a lot to do and see but we had to make a decision to start somewhere. Although we are both familiar with the area we wanted to start with something new to us and so we decided that Pegwell Bay in Ramsgate would be our starting point.

We woke early one Sunday morning and as it wasn’t raining and the sky was promising a clear morning we headed off from our base in Birchington Vale for our first adventure.

Pegwell Bay - Thanet

Pegwell Bay sits on the estuary of the River Stour between Ramsgate and Sandwich and is home to a large nature reserve, many different species of wildlife live here or visit throughout the year. Families can visit the Pegwell Bay Country Park to discover more of the mudflats and salt marshes and take a closer look at the varied nature.

We parked in the residential area along the top of the cliffs and, with Baxter on a lead, walked down the slopes leading to the beach. The beach is rocky and sandy and is dog friendly although there may be a dog ban from 1st April – 30 September between the hours of 10am and 6pm.

Pegwell bay exploring

We were there before 10am and so let Baxter off his lead for a run and around the sandy beach and another failed attempt at catching a seagull. The girls enjoyed larking around on the sand too and we could see Ramsgate Royal harbour in the distance.

Pegwell bay

The Boating Pool Cafeteria

We walked back up one of the staircases to the top of the cliffs which was a good climb and strolled along the top back towards the car. There we came across The Boating Pool Cafeteria, there was a playground which caught the girl’s eyes and a welcome cup of tea which caught mine. Dogs are allowed on the terrace and so we sat down and enjoyed a cuppa in the sunshine whilst watching the men drive their boats on the lake.

The Boating Pool Cafeteria Pegwell Bay

I love the ‘Once upon a time’ look of the Boating Pool, reminiscent of times gone by but once inside you will be invited to a wonderful clean and fresh atmosphere with a fantastic chalkboard menu to choose from. I have a feeling we may be back here soon to try some of the food.

 

The Boating Pool cafeteria Pegwell BayIt did seem the perfect spot to enjoy a lunch or even an afternoon beer or glass of wine as the sun sets over the sea.

One last thing worth mentioning was the fabulous sculpture on the green along the cliff tops at West Cliff, Hands and Molecule by David Barnes. The sculpture was unveiled in 2000 to mark the opening of the National Cycle Network (Route 15) in Thanet.

Hands-and-Molecule-David-barnes-Pegwell-Bay

Things to see and do in Pegwell Bay

  • Visit Pegwell Bay Country Park
  • See Hugin, the full-size replica Scandinavian longboat complete with shields situated by the main road on the low clifftops above Pegwell Bay commemorating the first Anglo-Saxon landings in England in this area.
  • Take a look at St Augustine’s Cross, a stone memorial in a fenced enclosure on the south side of Cottington Road. The cross was erected in 1884 to commemorate the arrival of St Augustine in England in AD 597.

NB This post first appeared on another blog I set up called Thanet Uncovered in 2016. It quickly became apparent that with work, family, home and life in general I wouldn’t have the time to run two blogs so I am in the process of closing down Thanet Uncovered and transferring the content onto Mari’s World where I shall have a category for Thanet to store all of our fun times there.

Turner contemporary art

Turner Contemporary If there’s one thing you do visit whilst in Thanet I would make it the Turner Contemporary Gallery which sits at the beginning of the pier arm in Margate overlooking the long sandy beach. A contemporary white building that shines out over the bay and grabs everyone’s attention. I recently visited to take a look at the Seeing Round Corners exhibition and I wasn’t disappointed. The gallery is free to enter and explore and I am always in awe of the exhibitions and artwork laid out. This time was no exception and my tour started outside the building on my walk up the steps to the entrance where I spotted this fabulous interpretation of the Union Jack. I love how all of the different patterns fall into a perfect Union Jack which is immediately recognisable.

the new union jack

Yinka Shonibare

As I stepped through the entrance I found myself in a library. It was, in fact, Yinka Shonibare’s The British Library. On closer inspection, you could see that each of the books lining the shelves had been covered in brightly coloured fabric, a bit like we used to cover our school books back in the day. When you moved in even closer, names printed in gold could be spotted on the spines of the books, lots of very recognisable names.

Yinka-Shonibare-The-British-Library

Yinka Shonibare’s The British Library celebrates and questions how immigration has contributed to the British culture of today. Shelves and shelves of books covered in colourful wax fabric the spines bearing the names of immigrants who have enriched British society.

Yinka-Shonibare

Mark Batchelor

There are some steps leading to the upper level and these are never left without any artwork to admire on your way up. In fact this time I was smiling as I spotted the Mini Disco by Mark Batchelor hanging from the ceiling in perfect symmetry.

Mini-Disco-by-Mark-Batchelor

If you look even closer you will see that each disco ball is made entirely out of colourful plastic sunglasses, but aren’t they effective?

There is a great shop to visit which has so many wonderful things from jewellery to colouring books and I always come away with something no matter how small.

There are also workshops held upstairs for adults and children and I really want to take the twins along one day as I am sure they would gain enormously from being inspired by the work around them and just having a go at something new.

The exhibition is upstairs and includes all sorts of mediums, from art, to sculpture and also video and motion pieces. It’s really interesting and I always wish I could come up with some of these grand ideas that I see displayed.

Back down stairs I popped through the corridors to see what was hanging and was struck by these posters. It saddens me that people amongst us can be so cruel to say such things.

Turner-Contemporary-

Richard Long

As I exited the gallery and started to make me way over to Dreamland where dad was with the girls I looked back, and thank goodness I did otherwise I would have missed this enormous wall art called The Ebb Tide Circle Richard Long. It is painted on the wall and Richard Long uses his body to get the effect of movement. Fascinating.

EbbTide-Circle-Richard-Long

Keep up to date with the Turner Contemporary by checking their website (link at the top of the text) and their Facebook page

We put our caravan in storage over a month ago but we needed to go down and put her ‘blanket’ on plus make sure all was ok, seeing Saturday was going to be a bright and breezy morning off we went to Thanet and once the job was done, we head off to Westgate on Sea for some fish and chips and a walk along the prom.

scooting on the beach

We took the girls scooters as they will go for miles with them but try and get them to walk the same distance and it’s tears, moan, tears.

having a rest

Wrapped up against the chilly wind off we set along the walkway flanking the sea yelling to the girls to STOP! Before they disappeared around the corner out of sight because you just can’t be too careful these days.

flock of seagulls

We walked as far as the next beach and remnants of last week’s storm were visiible in the amount of seaweed on the beach. Sadly it was full of flies – so many flies it was uncomfortable to walk through so we had to turn back.

dancing on stage

So we found a ‘stage’ and did a bit of dancing and prancing about.

beach hut

Walking a little bit further we were surprised to see a row of beach huts still on the beach – surely they’d put them away in the winter? But no, they were chained to the rocks behind, one had the door open and I asked the owner if I could take a few photos as inside was so pretty.

inside a beach hut

Isn’t this the perfect beach hut? Next it was time for coffees and ice creams and one last look before heading back into the enormous rain cloud hanging over North Kent.

looking out to sea

a great day in the fresh air.