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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

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

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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   

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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 (www.tudeley.org)

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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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Where to find London’s best arty bits

Top ten art exhibitions in London

Shortcut it straight to the good stuff by heading to one of the very best art exhibitions taking place in the capital right now. From modern and fancy, to classical and serene, we’ve got your next art outing sorted. 

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By: Time Out London Art


Susan J

Fantastic little place. The employee was very polite as well as the little shop well laid out. The grotto itself is important to see the photographs may the actual place justice it can just amazing how very much detail has been put into the design of the place. 

Ron A

Many years ago I visited the shell grotto in Margate. I immediately got the impression that this was the entrance to something much bigger down below. I mentioned this at the time but was told that they could not investigate as did not want to damage the floor. Maybe this could now be investigated using ground radar device that finds stuff underground without damaging the surface and approach an archaeological  society or university/company that has this equipment for a survey, possibly finding the sites true purpose and possibly immense riches!