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Beautifully bonkers – the best of weird Britain (Part the Second)

juli 9, 2013
av Laura Canning | guides

Headington Shark. Pic by Henry Flowers via Wikimedia Commons. We’ve covered bus shelters, haunted Cornish inns and crooked pubs in the first part of our look at weird Britain, and now we move on to shell grottoes, gnome reserves and titter type names like Back Passage and Bell End. We bring you Beautifully bonkers – the best of weird Britain (Part the Second):

Shell Grotto, Kent

This was featured in George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces last Christmas and we nodded along in emphatic agreement as George’s jaw dropped when he saw the 4.6 million shells in this hidden grotto at Margate, Kent, making up 2000 square feet of mosaic along the walls and ceilings of a 70-feet long passageway.

Properly jaw-dropping it is, and since it was discovered in 1835 no-one has been able to figure out who built it or why. A smuggler’s cave or a rich man’s folly are the most popular theories, although our money’s on dwarves building a seaside version of Khazad-dûm.

Gnome Reserve, Devon

Poor old gnomes. Slandered, kidnapped/ liberated and generally hooted at as the epitome of tack.

Not here at the Gnome Reserve near Bradworthy, where over a thousand of the hatted critters frolic free around a four-acre site of woodland, gardens, meadows and ponds.

We bet they move when you’re not looking, and they probably take the boat out on the pond too when everyone’s gone home. The Gnome Reserve also has a Gnome Museum (of course it does), where you can view the antique gnomes that spawned their colourful modern cousins.

The brick train. Pic by Dan Mullen via Wikimedia Commons. Brick Train, Co Durham

There are over 180,000 bricks making up this full-length train sculpture beside the A6 in Darlington, which in some parts of the country might be the closest you get to a choo-choo.

This isn’t the case in Darlington, where the sculpture was commissioned in 1997 in honour of the nineteenth century mill owners, coal masters and bankers who chipped in to open the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the world's first steam-operated public railway. We wonder what a sculpture to today’s bankers might consist of…

Headington Shark, Oxfordshire

A shark? Head-first in the roof of a house in Oxfordshire? We don’t know much about art but we know what we like…

The Headington Shark was designed by John Buckley and commissioned by Bill Heine who, when asked why he commissioned a shark to go through his roof, said it ‘was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation…. It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.’

We’re not quite sure how this works, but again, we don’t know much about art. And one of the team used to cycle past the shark every day, which is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write.

Imagine calling a town Dounby... Quirk collection II – names

Tee hee. We’ve found a town called Twatt. Two, actually – one in the Shetlands and one in Orkney. And a Back Passage in London. And a Minge Lane in Worcestershire and a Brown Willy in Cornwall and our very own Sandy Balls in Hampshire...

Yes, we are juvenile and we have the sense of humour (and laughs) of Beavis and Butthead. And names hilarious to the childish can be found all over the globe, e.g. Beaverlick in Kentucky, Dildo in Canada and Iron Knob in Australia. But British ones just seem more old-fashioned and therefore funnier – and we hope we never get too old and sensible to not snigger at a name like Lickey End. Chortle.

Got your own weird attraction to visit? Alas, we don’t (yet) have ‘ghosts on site’ or ‘weirdness nearby’ filters for, but if you put the postcode of the peculiar place you want to gto to into our search box on the homepage, you can see campsites and holiday parks within five to sixty miles.

More madness

Proper British: baked beans and mad museums

The big cats are out there: a guide to British beasts