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A Journey to the Centre of the Earth

I took Charlotte to visit Margate Caves this afternoon. I haven’t been there in years and it’s showing signs of neglect and graffiti. Nobody really knows how old the place is, a thousand years or more but certainly, some of the carvings show a strong medieval influence and the caves themselves weren’t rediscovered until 1789.

They are huge and most of the passages under Cliftonville to the sea are closed off. There is of course the famous ‘Shell Grotto’ a few hundred yards away and that is an enigma in its own right, a kind of underground pagan cathedral covered in shells and dating back quite possibly to Roman times or even the 19th century.

There is a mystery here. Who built these things and what was there purpose in what was a relatively wild and unpopulated area of Britain until recent times. In fact, until the last century, locals in The Isle of Thanet reportedly spoke a dialect of Dutch, harking back to Saxon times. However, with the caves in such a bad way and no strong written history of the times when they might have been built, an enormous feat of work in a small fishing community like Margate, I doubt we will ever really find out the true story.

As a final thought and with so many refugees flooding into Margate, previously twinned with the Iraqi city of Basra and soon to be renamed 'Mogadishu on Sea', the caves might well be an answer to the housing problem. After all, only this summer, we had the serious suggestion in the Sunday Times that a decommissioned aircraft carrier might be moored off the remains of the old Margate pier to accommodate them all.


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