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The best alternative art day trips

Leave the city behind for a day and get your cultural fix at one of these enticing spots

By Eddy Frankel
Shell Grotto, Margate, Kent, art
Dominic Dibbs/Alamy Stock Photo

1. Margate’s shell grotto

On the surface, Margate is a hellish clash of disgruntled locals and yuppy Londoners who are just there to drive up house prices and force flat whites down everyone’s throats like some unholy elixir of gentrification. But there’s also something far more magical: a subterranean cave decorated with countless shells. Shit yeah, folk art, m’er f’ers. It was discovered in 1835 when some bloke dropped his son into a hole in the ground made during the digging of a duck pond (naturally). What that poor kid saw was a warren of tunnels and domes covered in intricate shell art. No one is sure when the cave dates from or who built it. Is it a Regency folly or a site of pagan ritual sacrifice? Or maybe it’s the first ever attempt at gentrifying Margate. Properly scary, either way.  

Grotto Hill, Kent, CT9 2BU. Open daily until Oct 29, 10am-5pm. £4, £3.50 concs.

Image: Dominic Dibbs/Alamy Stock Photo

Derek Jarman's Cottage, Dungeness, Kent
Britta Jaschinski

2. Derek Jarman’s house

If you peer out across the seemingly endless shingle of Dungeness beach, you’ll see two things: an immense, hulking, belching nuclear power station in the background; and a tiny, perfectly formed, totally adorable house and garden in the foreground. That brutal cocktail of industrial smog, isolation and seaside quaintness is what made filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman fall in love with this little house and garden. He dedicated much of his later years while he was sick to making verdant life flourish in the harsh environment, also creating a series of improvised sculptures that poke out of the ground like skinny totem poles. It’s a beautiful tribute to a brilliant artist. 

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness Rd, Kent, TN29 9NE. Walk from Dungeness rail. Free. The house is privately owned, so you can’t go walking around the garden, but visitors are welcome to look from outside.

Image: Britta Jaschinski   

Marc Chagall, stained glass, all saints church, tudeley, art
© P.F. Ive (

3. Chagall’s stained glass

The gorgeous stained-glass windows at All Saints’ Tudeley, designed by the great master of twentieth-century symbolism Marc Chagall, came out of tragedy. When Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid’s daughter Sarah died aged just 21, in a sailing accident off Rye in 1963, the family reached out to Chagall to design a window for their local church as a memorial. When he saw the window installed, he thought: All right, I’ll do the rest. It’s now the only church in the world with all its windows designed by Chagall, and their soft undulating blues with little bursts of yellow and pink are lovely. 

All Saints’ Church, Tudeley, Tonbridge, Kent, TN11 0NZ. Tonbridge rail. Open daily. £2.50 donation. 

Image: © P.F. Ive (

royston, cave, Hertfordshire, art
67photo/Alamy Stock Photo

4. Royston’s hidden cave

As with the Margate Shell Grotto, someone shoved a child into a hole discovered during building works. In this case, the hole turned out to be Royston Cave. It was back in 1742, which was clearly a time when children were totally and usefully expendable. That little tot climbed down into a cave filled with intricate and beautiful carvings depicting the crucifixion, a litany of saints and indecipherable – possibly pagan – symbols. Historians can’t figure out how old it is or what it was used for. Possibilities include a Knights Templar site, a place of Masonic worship and a spiritual centre where two ley lines cross. The mystery is yours to unravel –just bring a kid to push in first.    

Katherine’s Yard, Melbourn St, Hertfordshire, SG8 7BZ. Walk from Royston rail. Open weekends, bank holidays and Wednesdays, 2pm-4pm, throughout August. £5, £4 concs.

Image: 67photo/Alamy Stock Photo


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