By Fiona Duffy
Imagine a combination of Alice’s Wonderland, the Crystal Maze, the dungeons of Hogwarts and the most bonkers dream you’ve ever had… and you still won’t come anywhere close to describing what lies within The Forbidden Corner in Tupgill Park, Coverham, North Yorkshire.
This ‘garden folly’ set in four acres of woodland was originally built by Colin Armstrong to entertain family and friends – but, due to popular demand, opened to the public in 1996.
“It started as a private fantasy,” Mr Armstrong has explained in previous interviews. “When the children were small they used to run round paths in a little wood playing hide- and-seek. Then we got hold of a strimmer in order to clear the paths, and started making a sort of maze that got more and more complicated.”
The result? An award-winning labyrinth of grottos, tunnels, secret chambers, caves and ivy-strangled towers, that has more than earned its title as The Strangest Place in the World. Mr Armstrong apparently sourced ideas from all over the world including Skipton Castle and Portmeirion in Wales.
Intrigued, we stepped inside the yawning mouth of a giant cave (complete with teeth and lips) only for it to emit an ear-splitting, rumbling, belch as we passed the uvula (dangly bit that hangs down the back of the throat).
And so the scene was set for the entire visit. It’s an eclectic mix of the amusing (a talking horse and too many sudden squirtings of water to count), the bizarre (a random pair of legs sticking out from a wall), the cute (Wind In the Willows type creatures enjoying a genteel game of cricket) with the ‘where’s the way out?’ creepy. The Latin earnest whisperings of a Roman soldier statue, screeching crown and giant, pouncing, cat are the stuff of nightmares. (You can see why this place has special appeal at Halloween).
But in the same way that we line up for another ride on the terrifying rollercoaster or settle down to watch a spine-tingling film, we can’t get enough of it.
Onwards we go, deeper and deeper into this strange world of machete-wielding giants; glittering, glass pyramids; spooky maze, underground paths; shrinking doors and revolving floors where every door on offer takes you on a different journey. (We’re still convinced we missed out big chunks).
Kids will either love or hate it. While most squealed with delight at unexpected noises and sudden soakings from all directions (upwards, downwards and sideways) we did spot a few tearful, trembling, pitiful souls. Very young children and those of a sensitive disposition or prone to nightmares might not appreciate the delights of this attraction.
Afterwards, you can calm frayed nerves and quench thirsts in The Corner Café – which has indoor and outdoor seating – and pick up visit mementoes in the Corner Shop.
It’s easy to see why The Forbidden Corner won ‘Best large visitor attraction’ at The White Rose awards in 2015 and is, again, a finalist for this year’s award.
It’s bonkers. Brilliantly bonkers.
Tips to enhance your visit
Wear shoes or boots – wellies are ideal. The ground is soft, and often wet, so sandals aren’t a great choice (as I discovered).
Be prepared for ‘surprise’ showers and unexpected drenchings.
Small doorways, steps, and uneven grounds make this tricky for buggies and wheelchairs. Ask about access before you book.
To prevent overcrowding, admission is by pre-booked tickets only. Buy or reserve via www.theforbiddencorner.co.uk or call 01969 640638.
No dogs are allowed, except guide dogs.
Keen for a closer look? Take a look at this ‘tour’ on You Tube
Senior Citizens: £10.50
Children aged 4 to 15: £9.50 – Children under 4 enter for free.
Family (2 adults + 2 children): £40.00
2016 Opening Times:
Every day 24th March – 31st October then Sundays only until Christmas.
Monday – Saturday 12 noon – 6 pm (or dusk if earlier).
Sundays and bank Holidays 10 am – 6 pm (or dusk if earlier