Moisture glistened on the walls in the brilliance of moonlight. I couldn't see the Moon, though I knew what it was. Somehow. There was no running water, just a dampness giving rise to a clammy, musty smell, which pervaded the darkness.
I could feel a sharpness as my hand brushed against the wall and I quickly withdrew it taking great care in case I stumbled on the uneven floor. I cannot recall how I found myself in this place and I had no idea where 'here' actually was, though it was certainly a place I did not want to be. I knew that much. I was afraid. This was an eerie place. But I became more curious and made no effort to escape. To get out.
In the grey dimness I could not see any definition. Just greyness.
Suddenly the entire place lit up with dazzling lights twinkling in the brightness. Shells. Millions of shells all shining in unison. Silver. Amber. Gold. Many beautiful patterns, never repeating. A wonderment filled me.
The tunnels connecting the caverns were brought to life in this mysterious cavern. The dimness dispelled, my fears seemed to vanish. At that very moment I knew water and lunar light were somehow connected. Promising mystery.
A sense of unease revealed a dark side to this strange place.
Where had I been? I had never before experienced such awe and fear together. A very strange mixture that was very uncomfortable. I didn't understand such feelings of puzzlement and fear. Yet I was intrigued.
That very day brought me to an area of Margate that I had never ventured into before. Something seemed to bring me here as though I was being directed. Turn down this road. Left here and up the hill. Alongside a brick wall the likes of which I had never seen before. Instead of horizontal courses of bricks they followed the incline of the hill.
Something about this area seemed to bring out a curious behaviour in builders. A modern wall built using old methods. Even that didn't seem right. Everything was wrong in this place. My dream had been filled with patterns. A logic shrouded in mystery, but showing definite order.
But something wasn't right. I still felt unsettled.
Words* came into my head from where I do not know.
Enter; the scene that greets you here,
No common scrutiny demands:
These walls, though perfect they appear,
Were fashion'd not by modern hands.
The sea, long centuries ago,
Cast forth from its mysterious cells
The stores here ranged: a goodly show
Of beautiful and glittering shells.
These by ingenious hands were wrought
In accurate and close array,
And eager hands, I doubt not, sought
The Grotto of an ancient day.
Beneath the shrouding earth conceal'd,
Long was it suffered to remain,
Till accident its site reveal'd
And drew it to the world again.
Gaze on these shells, so aptly plac'd
In graceful, well proportion'd lines;
Mark well the harmony, and taste
Shown in the various quaint designs.
Words younger than the ancient caves they described.
I entered the Shell Grotto...
*James Newlove, owner 1835
© Louis Brothnias (2006), Rev 2 (2007)