THE unique Shell Grotto in Cliftonville has been restored to its former glory – following a record year for visitors at the attraction.
The £150,000 conservation project started in 2009, thanks to grants from English Heritage and Thanet council as well as donations from the Friends of Shell Grotto volunteer group.
The third and final phase of the restoration project consisted of internal works to secure the ornate mosaic of shells with six hundred pins.
After a thorough survey and repairs to the structure of the tunnels and roof, the grotto has been preserved for its growing number of visitors.
This year has been a bumper year for Margate's hidden gem with more than 15,000 visitors going underground.
Owner Sarah Vickery is delighted with the restoration and hopes interest in the unique site will continue, following the arrival of Turner Contemporary this year. She said: "Visitor numbers are 60 to 70 per cent up on last year.
"With Turner Contemporary opening and Dreamland on the horizon, it's been a great year."
The first phase was a comprehensive survey of the condition of the structure and mosaics, followed by the vital second stage of reinforcing the external structure.
Fourteen tons of concrete were removed from the roof and replaced by a turf ceiling to reduce the weight and pressure on the ornate mosaics below.
The friends group is an independent trust formed in 2008 and made up of volunteers who work to promote and conserve the Shell Grotto.
Annual membership costs £10 a year and includes unlimited free entry, invitations to events, newsletters and discounts at attractions.
For more information, visit www.shellgrottofriends.org