When I was young one of the more popular attractions of the stretch of coastline where I lived was a place called Marsden Grotto.
It combined two elements; a beachside pub and restaurant called The Grotto built into a former smuggler’s cave for the adults, and an outcrop of rock with a natural archway that you could walk out to a low tide. The latter was an obvious draw for children; the holes and passages eaten into the rock by the North Sea providing a source of adventure. Bent double to avoid bumped heads on the limestone above you could test your courage by venturing deeper into the core of the rock, gathering winkles into your plastic bucket as you did so.
Getting down to the shore was part of that adventure, choosing between the rickety wooden stairs that clung to the cliffside, or opting for the short walk along the tunnel that took you to the top of a lift shaft linked to the pub below. From memory it was free to make the descent (encouraging you into the pub) with a small charge to return (when you were too inebriated or weary to face the stairs). Counting the steps was part of the challenge for the younger visitor.
You’d think that its unique features would make for a successful business, yet the property has changed hands many times over the years, presumably because the maintenance costs (including that lift shaft) must be disproportionately high, and the turnover heavily dependent on our changeable weather. As if that weren’t enough, the rock has also lost some of its appeal.
The outcrop has long fascinated people. At the turn of the 19th century a set of steps were built to enable access to the plateau on top and though long gone you can still see the channel made to accommodate them today. Various entertainments were staged there that could be seen from the nearby cliff tops. I’ve even heard that it was used by the Victorians for al fresco dining, though if this is true it can’t have been much fun competing with the rock’s residents; thousands of seabirds make use of both the cliffs and the summit to build nests.
Twenty years ago however tragedy struck. Constant erosion caused the collapse of the arch that had become a symbol of this stretch of the coast leaving two stacks as a result. Fearing further rockfalls the National Trust (who own this area) demolished the smaller stack to prevent possible accidents. I’m guessing an archway is generally more appealing than a shapeless lump so visitor numbers have probably declined.
For a photographer it remains a compositional element however and it was nice to revisit a place of many happy memories before I climbed the steps back to the car.
There were one hundred and thirty one.