It’s The Way I Shell ‘Em

Shell grotto skylight

I don’t think anyone outside of the UK is likely to get the joke in my headline, but never mind, it gave me a chuckle.

We’re returning once again to the list of challenges y’all set me just before Christmas. Today I take on the one set by Sue from Travel Tales of Life. First Sue suggested Flyboarding, she then went on to suggest a polar dip, Via Ferrata, caving, ziplining, stand up paddle boarding or a bobsled ride. Anyone who follows Travel Tales of Life will know that these are all things she has probably done herself, so kudos to Sue for not suggesting something she wouldn’t be willing to do herself (unlike some of the suggestions other people made, ahem, yes, you know who you are).

Sue was clearly thinking “Adrenaline”, I was clearly thinking “Gift shop” – which one of those activities would likely come with a good gift shop? And then I spotted it – caving! Close to where I live is the old seaside town of Margate, and in Margate is the Shell Grotto cave that I’ve been meaning to visit for years, so this was the perfect opportunity. I appreciate this probably isn’t quite what Sue had in mind when she suggested caving, but as far as I’m concerned:

CAVE + ME IN IT = CAVING. It adds up right?

The Shell Grotto is a small but fascinating place. A mere 21 metres long, but with walls covered in a whopping 4.6 million shells; what a feat of shell-sticking! The shell grotto was apparently accidentally discovered in the 1830s by a school boy who fell into it through a hole in the ground while trying to retrieve something. Let’s just pause on that for a minute and imagine – you’re a schoolboy and you fall into this magical shell-covered underground world that nobody knows about – this is the stuff of great adventure stories right?

There are many theories, but nobody actually knows exactly how old the grotto is, or why it was made in the first place. I can understand how they might not have figured out the original purpose yet, but I can’t understand why they haven’t been able to do the dating – I don’t think that’s beyond the scope of modern science. Maybe Jacqueline could come over and help them.

Click on any pics you want to make bigger…

Entrance to grotto

Now don’t tell me this entrance isn’t adrenaline-inducing, look at the steep twisty stairs, and the handrail!

Walking through to shell grotto

No shells yet, but whoa! Scary!

Vanessa in shell grotto

Ooh now we see the pretty shells

Old photo of ladies at grotto

It’s like I’m there with them

Shell grotto altar


Vanessa peeping round shell corner


I’m fairly certain that Sue also suggested that after the activity, I should stroll along the seafront to a charming cafe so that Neil could buy me a beer and some lunch (no need to check, I’m pretty sure that’s what she said).

Vanessa with a beer

Looking at shells is thirsty work!

  Vanessa's lunch

Anyone have any suggestions about why this grotto was created then?

Old grotto poster


54 responses to “It’s The Way I Shell ‘Em

  1. Wow, that looks really amazing and well worth a visit!! I’m sure Sue will be suitably impressed – well at least I am.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was born in Margate and lived there till I was 20. No Vanessa I wasn’t that school boy who discovered the grotto in 1836 thank you very much! I was always fascinated by it so it was lovely to see it again through your charming blog. No idea which theory about its creation is right. As kids we always believed it was haunted but you don’t look too scared in the photos! By the way congratulations on achieving that onerous part of the challenge that involved having a lovely lunch and a cold beer! 🙂


    • I wouldn’t DARE to suggest you were the 1836 school boy. It is quite fascinating isn’t it. I hadn’t heard the rumour that it was haunted, but I can see how that idea might come about as it’s quite creepy down there. Yes, glad I managed to achieve that final gruelling lunch and beer part 🙂


  3. Aren’t you going to explain the joke to us non-Brits. C’mon. Don’t be so secretive.

    I love the mystery even more than the beauty. What are you saying? That there aren’t any theories? This + Stonehedge = greatest Brit mysteries. How is it I’ve never heard of this? Seems like kind of a big deal to me.

    Look at you! You’re so pretty!


    • Oh well the joke isn’t that exciting, it just makes reference to an old time British comedian called Frank Carson who had a catchphrase “It’s the way I tell em!”.

      I don’t really think that many people outside of the area know about it, I hadn’t heard of it before I moved to the area. It’s really just a tiny hole-in-the-ground place, ha! It’s the way I tell ’em! The mystery is potentially a big deal but I guess nobody’s really picked up on that in a big way.

      And than you for the compliment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You look like you were having fun. Maybe an oyster house wanted to recycle the leftovers. Maybe Davy Jones lived there. Interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m guessing the location of a very long time-out for a prehistoric naughty girl.


  6. TermiteWriter

    That’s fascinating! In some of the pictures it looks as if it could have been made as a dwelling. How about a secret love nest for two star-crossed lovers? That would be a lovely romantic explanation!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating. Funny, there is no more information about this place. What about the painting / picture of the women. How did that come to be there? An odd photo to be found there surely? 1920s comes to mind or some time around there. I’m intrigued.
    Wonderful of you to take Sue on on her challenge. You’ve certainly gone out on a limb to succeed and we all appreciate your bravery. 😀 😛 ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think the picture of the women was taken after it was opened up as a tourist attraction and then they’ve put that there for some reason that I can’t quite work out! Everything else down there as far as I can make out is just how it was when it was found (apart from the lighting), so I don’t know why they’ve just decided to put up a picture, maybe they wanted to hide something behind there.

      I WAS brave wasn’t I 🙂 Of course Sue’s in Australia right now so I’m not sure when she’ll see this.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This looks wonderfully cool. I’m adding it to my list of things to do the next time we’re near your neck of the woods. And yes, I have no doubt Sue wanted you to have a beer!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What an enchanting place! Your regime totally fulfills the challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I LOVE this post! Well of course I do. After all that adrenaline of course you needed lunch and a beer. It’s the way we do it for sure. In face it’s often that beer carrot at the end that keeps me going. 🙂 I appreciate the lovely words and the links Vanessa. Adventure on!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. That was really interesting! And yeah, what’s with not knowing how old the place is? Someone’s clearly not trying very hard. What was with the image of the women on the wall? Was that painted on there? Projected on? Seems some explanation is in order for that. And truly–some kid falling in there? Totally awesome day for him. My guess would be it was an underground Catholic church when Catholicism was illegal? It happened all over Europe, so why not, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well the women on the wall is a photograph, I’m not really sure why they put it there, it’s clearly not part of what was there originally, it’s been done more recently, but I don’t know why. Well the underground Catholic church sounds like quite a sensible suggestion, but why all the shells? 4.6 million, that’s showing some dedication!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is clearly part of the lost city of Atlantis. And I am dazzled.

    I also could go for a beer right about now.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Um, how much did you have to shell out to go there? Sorry, it was the only shell joke that came to mind. I’m thinking this does indeed resemble the Little Mermaid’s paradise. Quite mysterious. And the beer? I hope it’s better for one’s teeth than prosecco. I’ve just read an article about how prosecco erodes tooth enamel. What to drink now?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow…that’s the most unusual cave I have ever seen. I wonder how long it took to create the cave? And those ladies, were they the ones who decorated the walls?…was it some kind of secret place for rituals? So many questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Looks good down there! And, I’m sure whether Sue said you needed to to drink beer and eat afterwords or not. It was implied 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What an interesting place, Vanessa!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I could never have completed this challenge, because I’m claustrophobic. Thus, I’m incredibly impressed with your successful endeavor of exploring the shell cave. And because of you, I’ve seen photos of an amazing place I’ll NEVER, ever enter. You deserved the break after. I would have gone for TWO of those beers.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Well, I’m thinking someone did it to ask for some sort of divine intervention or forgiveness. Perhaps to heal a loved one? Or atone for some sin? Archaeologists have a few dating techniques that might work, but you’d need someone to authorize taking samples and then pay for the tests. 🙂

    And this definitely counts as caving in my book. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  19. So hard to believe all this effort was put into something and there’s not a word anywhere of why or how or when. It looks like a tourist attraction, but maybe an art project by one whose family disapproved and thought art wasn’t n appropriate past time? Maybe a whimsy created by a wealthy family for their amusement and entertainment of friends long forgotten. Cool

    Liked by 1 person

    • For some reason I don’t think anyone has properly investigated it, I’m sure they could find out more if some time and money was invested into it. Maybe that’ll happen one day. Yes, one of the suggestions there is that it was a rich person’s folly (I love the word folly).

      Liked by 1 person

  20. We have a very old (1692) house on the coast in Scotland. Behind the house is a cobbled yard backed with what were once two caves – now given floors and doors. One of these two old caves has a spring coming out of the back wall into a drain that goes into the harbour. Pressed into the soft back wall of the cave, around the spring, are many many shells. We were told (34 yrs ago when my folks bought the house) that in ancient – and even in not so ancient – times, barren women would go there to pray for a child and mark their prayers by adding a shell to the back wall. I have no idea if it is true but all the local folk believe the spring has ‘magical/mystical’ properties! In the next village there is an ancient house the outside of which is covered with shells pressed into the plaster. It is known as ‘The Buckie House’. In Scotland a ‘Groatie Buckie’ is a cowrie shell, and finding one is supposed to bring good luck. Maybe long ago all over Britain there was a whole concept of having shells to wish for things or to bring good luck.
    If I am ever in Margate I will make sure to visit the Shell Grotto – so fascinating!


  21. This looks like a fascinating place to visit! You were very brave to enter it. A good story could be written around this place.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Kourtney Heintz

    What a cool place! I also don’t understand why they can’t figure out how old it is.

    Liked by 1 person

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