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"Summer Discoveries – Pt II"

The second discovery we made this summer was The Forbidden Corner, up near Middleham.

What an extraordinary place, and well worth a visit.

It’s quite hard to describe in many ways. A common description is “folly” or “maze”, and they seem as good as any. It’s essentially a very large, enclosed garden (in the sense of a walled garden, not in the sense of having a roof), which is organised internally as a complex maze with several distinct areas, and at least two substantial underground sections. (I never quite managed to establish in my mind whether all the parts of the underground section meet up!!)

The maze is probably the most helpful description, as you can mostly only see a few tens of feet ahead or less (due to trees, hedges, walls, gates, etc), although there are some wider open courtyards / gardens. There are always clear paths to follow, although again in the way that a normal maze has paths through it. There are almost no dead-ends, except for in the proper hedge maze (where you expect to find them), but paths often loop round and branch, and take you back to where you started.

It is a fantastically confusing and inviting place, and after about an hour and a half of walking around, thinking we’d probably seen most of it (although a bit confused about all the warnings of the underground bit), we took a turn we hadn’t noticed before, and came across the other half of the garden, including all the underground tunnels! My advice is not to try and get a specific place, but to wander and take paths that look interesting, and try to remember paths you haven’t taken, so that if (when) you end up in the same place again, you can try a different way. Our boys were desperate to find the stepping stones, and we must have spent an hour trying to get to them. We kept seeing them, but couldn’t get there!!!! Our efforts covered almost the whole garden (which was nice), but it was only when we more or less gave up that we stumbled across the entrance.

It is by no stretch the imagination a safe place. There are long drops, narrow stone staircases, open water, rocks which stick out, etc. The regular signs telling parents to watch children are well advised, and I would hesitate to take my younger son with his school friends (at least, not on my own), as there would be every chance they would run off and come a cropper. I don’t say this as a negative criticism at all, on the contrary it’s refreshing to have somewhere with a bit of bite, which hasn’t been health-and-safety-ed to death. I suppose, upon reflection, that it’s a similar level of hazard to Fountains Abbey, or Brimham Rocks (“if not duffers won’t drown”), but it isprobably the least “tamed” of any of the places we’ve visited recently, which was refreshing.

It’s worth a quick word about the underground bits. They are very dark, low, and narrow – essentially single file and one-way. There are stark warnings for people with anxiety or claustrophobia, and these are well placed. They are like a maze, in as much as there are junctions, but not really any dead-ends (you just end up somewhere else). In fact, it’s kind of one-way tunnels from entrances (or which there are a few) to exits (of which there are a few), which join up with each other from time to time. The one-way aspect needs to be borne in mind, as when it’s as busy as when we were there then it is very difficult to backtrack. The one-way-ness isn’t enforced as such, but strongly encouraged by doors which can only be opened from one side, plus of course the fact that the tunnels are only really big enough single-file. You don’t need to go into the tunnels, and would still enjoy the garden. The first bit of tunnel we found wasn’t part of the main bit – it was a single downhill tube, which got narrower and narrower, and ended with a very small aperture. The boys could fit through fine, but we had to remove our backpacks and squeeze through sideways on our hands and knees. Probably best avoided by adults.

We also had a certain ambivalence about it spiritually. The underground sections are all “halloweeny”, and trying to create a scary atmosphere. There’s pictures of snakes, and the walls resemble bones, and there’s skeletons in closest, and so on. At one point a statue of a centurian (I think) is whispering an incantation, which as far as I could tell was just Latin, but clearly intended to sound like a magic. Like halloween, the feel is intentionally dark magic and evil. There’s also a “mausoleum” elsewhere, which is bit like a ghost train (except you just walk through it). It’s a long, extremely dark, underground tunnel, with sudden noises, and things that light up, and pictures which come to life and start bleeding, and coffins, and zombies and things. I wouldn’t haven taken my 6 year old through it if I’d have known what wass coming, but he doesn’t appear to come to any harm. More humourously, three older teenage girls went in just ahead of us, and 5 seconds later they came running out screaming. They did go back in again, and we decided to gave them a few minutes headstart!

On balance, I think it probably comes down (just about) on the side of the intention being “harmless fun”, rather than anything more sinister – for instance other “fairytale” imagery is freely mixed in (dragons, giants). Never-the-less, in principle I am not comfortable with glorfying evil and darkness, and I think it was a shame Forbidden Corner has chosen that route.

All of that said, I would visit again. It’s a magical place (in a good way), especially for children, with wonder and discovery around every corner, literally.

Final point in closing – there are several water “traps”, where the unwary get sprayed with water, in some cases substantially so. It’s a good idea to take a change of clothes for children, as they have ample opportunity to get soaked. My top tip is to check the ground – if it’s wet, then watch out!

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