Archive for Cave

Return to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik

Posted in Castle, Caves, Gardens, House, Ruins, Scotland with tags , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by mysearchformagic

It’s been well over a year since I made my first trip to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik, but I have thought a lot about this wild and wonderful place since that visit. Last week I was able to visit again, and explore more of its magical corners.

First on my list of things to see was Knightslaw Tower. Although it may look medieval, the tower was actually built in the middle of the eighteenth century by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an enthusiastic antiquarian with a taste for the ancient. When first constructed the tower could be seen from miles around, and dominated the rest of the Penicuik estate. Since its heyday, however, the tower has fallen into disrepair, and the high trees which have grown up around it hide it from the outside world. The result is a rather melancholy, but definitely quite magical ruin.

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

Next I walked on past the majestic ruins of the huge mansion of Penicuik House, built by Sir John’s son James in the 1760s, and into the valley below. Here I found the river Esk, which babbles its way down from here to nearby Roslin Glen, another of my favourite spots. Once over the river I crossed a field, heading uphill until I reached the Hurley Ponds.

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds are another of Sir John Clerk’s creations, part of his ambitious plans to landscape his park at Penicuik. Once used as fishing ponds, they have now largely returned to nature, spookily quiet apart from the odd quack from the resident flock of ducks.

Sir John was obviously rather partial to a magical experience himself, and evidence of this can be found in his construction of the Hurley Cave, a rock-cut underground passage which leads from the side of the hills closest to the house into this secluded valley. The original entrance to the cave was over a bridge across the Esk, where a cascade waterfall was constructed to add to the sense of drama. Visitors would presumably have been guided through the cave with candles or burning torches, and half way down would have found a carved Latin inscription Tenebrosa occultaque cave, beware dark and hidden things. The other end of the cave emerges from a rusticated stone doorway in the hill, and can still be seen today.

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Unfortunately vandalism and structural problems mean that the Hurley Cave has had to be locked up. Its heavy metal door does, however, have a large gap at the top which allows a glimpse of the dark depths beyond. I couldn’t resist sticking my camera into the gap and taking a picture. It offers an enticing hint of what lies beneath.

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Much work has been done to consolidate and preserve Penicuik House and its estate in recent years, largely thanks to the hard work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust. Apparently both the cave and the tower are on their list of works for the future, but restoring both will be an expensive job, and fundraising is ongoing. In the meantime I was happy to enjoy the overgrown, rather sombre mood of the lost gardens, and imagine the dingy depth of the Hurley Cave. I like to think Sir John would have approved!

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

For details on how you can support the sterling work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust, click here.

The Chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Caves, Church, History, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2015 by mysearchformagic

The Blavet valley in Morbihan is famous for its picturesque views and peaceful countryside. Probably its most magical location can be found near the pretty village of St Nicholas des Eaux, at the sixteenth-century chapel of St Gildas.

The magical chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The magical chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

This tiny chapel fits snuggly under a huge craggy cliff just next to the river itself. The best view of it can be found on the other side of the Blavet, from the river-side path that snakes its way from the village.

Legend has it that the chapel was built on the site of a cave inhabited by the hermit Gildas in the sixth century. The site became a place of worship, and Gildas would call the local people to prayer by hitting a ‘ringing rock’, which gave a loud, bell-like tone.

The pulpit rock outside the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The pulpit rock outside the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

Outside the building can be found a rock pulpit from which St Gildas used to deliver his sermons. Just below, a tiny spring reputed to have curative properties emerges from a crack in the rock.

The holy spring emerging from a rock below the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The holy spring emerging from a rock below the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The chapel also has some wonderfully weird carvings on its exterior, including strange faces. With its buggy eyes and chubby cheeks, this sculpture reminded me of the ancient Celtic stone heads that are found throughout Europe. And is it just me, or is that a rather impressive handlebar moustache?

A carved face on the exterior of the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

A carved face on the exterior of the chapel of St Gildas, Morbihan

The chapel was locked on the rather drizzly day that I visited, so I didn’t get a chance to see the famous ‘ringing rock’ which is still preserved inside. Apparently much of the interior is formed from the original cave, which sounds distinctly magical. The wonderful setting of the chapel made it well worth the visit, but I slightly fell in love with this place, so I am determined to go back in the summer, when it will hopefully be open for further investigation…

The Shell Grotto, Margate

Posted in Caves, History, Legend, Margate with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2013 by mysearchformagic

In 1838, workmen digging in the garden of the Belle Vue Cottage on the outskirts of Margate came across a stone slab which covered a narrow hole. On removing the slab they discovered that this hole led down to a tunnel. But this was no ordinary tunnel, for what they had found turned out to be the dome of what the Kentish Gazette described at the time as a ‘kind of Aladdin’s cave’. The complex of tunnels underneath the garden were lined with incredible shell decoration, the like of which had never been seen before. The mysterious Shell Grotto in Margate has been attracting visitors ever since, and indeed this strange attraction is still open to the public today.

The stairs down to the Shell Grotto, Margate

The stairs down to the Shell Grotto, Margate

A visit to the Margate Shell Grotto begins with the small museum at ground level, which gives some of the background to the discovery of the tunnels and the diverse theories that have emerged as to their origins. Next comes the really exciting part. The Grotto lies down a flight of stairs and at the end of a narrow rock-cut cave which descends into the darkness.

The rock-cut tunnel leading to the Shell Grotto, Margate

The rock-cut tunnel leading to the Shell Grotto, Margate

Once inside the grotto proper, every inch of the tunnel walls are decorated with elaborate symbols and patterns, a mosaic created from millions of tiny shells. The effect is breathtaking, particularly in the central roundel which is lit from above by an open dome. The amount of time and effort which went into building this grotto is immense; a similar but much smaller shell grotto created at Goodwood in West Sussex during the 1740s took seven years to build, and that has a floor space of only four square meters, while the shell mosaics in the Margate grotto cover seventy feet of tunnels. Even the task of collecting the many shells would have taken years, because although Margate lies on the coast, the nearest beach which could supply such large quantities of shells is located over six miles away.

Inside the Shell Grotto, Margate

Inside the Shell Grotto, Margate

What is even more strange about the Margate’s Shell Grotto is that noone knows when, why or by whom it was built. Many theories have been put forward over the last century and a half, ranging from the eccentric to the utterly unbelievable. Many have compared it to other 18th Century shell grottoes, but if it had been built during the 1700s then why would it have been blocked up and totally forgotten by the mid 19th Century? If it was an extravagant folly like the example at Goodwood, then why did noone know about it, and why would it be located on what was previously undistinguished farmland? The strange symbols and patterns used in the decoration of the grotto are largely unique, and give few clues to their age. Some have suggested that this is a Roman temple, some believe it to be related to a possible Phoenician trading post, while suggestions that it can be attributed to Minoans, Hindus or Mexicans seem entirely fanciful.

The central dome, Margate Shell Grotto

The central dome, Margate Shell Grotto

Attempts to carbon date the shells have proved fruitless, as the rudimentary lighting used in the grotto in the 19th Century has coated the shells in carbon deposits, and extensive restoration over the years means that analysing the mortar and shells is probably only going to confuse matters further. The map given to visitors attempts to interpret some of the symbols on the walls as a skeleton, an owl, a god and a goddess amongst many others, but the interpretations require a vivid imagination and are frankly rather subjective. It seems then that the Margate Shell grotto is destined to remain an intriguing, magical enigma for many years to come.

To be honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

P1000549

http://shellgrotto.co.uk/