Margate Shell Grotto, Kent

Decorated with more than 4 million shells, nearly all of them indigenous, this seaside grotto was discovered in 1835 by workmen digging in a cottage garden. It consists of a serpentine passage, Gothic archways and two chambers, one circular and one rectangular, with ornate shell designs. It was restored in 2012 and is open throughout the year.

Pope’s Grotto, Twickenham

Poet Alexander Pope started his grotto at his riverside home in the 1720s and kept embellishing it until his death in 1744. It formed a 29ft (9m) tunnel under a road built across his land and led to a shell temple. The tunnel has survived, but the temple is long gone. It was elaborately adorned with shells, flints, crystals, fossils and even pieces of the Giant’s Causeway, and had a rill flowing through it. The grotto is on Historic England’s “At Risk” register, but is undergoing restoration. It is open each year for a limited number of visits.


Goldney Grotto, Bristol

Built between 1737 and 1764 in the 10-acre garden at Goldney Hall, the home of Bristol merchant Thomas Goldney, it comprises a tunnel measuring 100ft (30m) long and three chambers decorated with 200 varieties of shells from the Caribbean and Africa, as well as artificial stalactites, quartz crystals, stone lions and a pool. The hall is now student accommodation for the University of Bristol. Guided tours are organised occasionally by the university via its shop online:

Painshill Crystal Grotto, Surrey

Part of the landscaped gardens at Painshill Park in Cobham, owned in the 18th century by Irish aristocrat Charles Hamilton, the grotto was built on two islands in a man-made lake. It is a fairy tale crystal cave, brimming with stalactites made of quartz and other minerals, and was once admired by Jane Austen. The grotto was restored in 2012 with a £750,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Guided tours take place over the summer.

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