fun

Leyburn, North Yorkshire: The Forbidden Corner

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The Forbidden Corner is one of my new favourite places (and I mean that literally, I’ve added it to the Favourite Places list and everything!)  Sure, there were too many children there for my taste (to be fair, I am a crab-ass, and any children is too many as far as I’m concerned), and the weather was extremely terrible, but I still had a blast, which means it must have been good.  The Forbidden Corner is hard to describe; it’s kind of like a maze combined with lots of whimsical follies and just random crap, with a slightly sinister haunted house/funhouse vibe, and with some bawdy touches thrown in for good measure – the goal is meant to be to find the exit, but really it’s all about exploring this crazy place.

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It’s in the middle of the lovely Yorkshire countryside, and is easy enough to find if you follow the signs from Leyburn, but the signs do perplexingly allude to a “ticket office” that apparently no longer exists.  Basically, you’re meant to book tickets in advance, which we were totally unaware of, as the website fails to clearly indicate this (sure, they have a button you can click to buy tickets, but so does pretty much every museum – it doesn’t usually mean that you MUST buy advance tickets).  Fortunately, since we visited on such a cold and rainy day, they had room to let us in (I think it helped that we were pretty much the only people there without kids, so they probably figured we wouldn’t take that long), but you may not be as lucky, so do book to guarantee that you won’t end up sad and disappointed.  It’s £11 per person, not sure if they offer any kind of discount for booking online.

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Now, this is a bit of a tricky one to write about, since most of the fun is in being surprised, and experiencing the place for yourself, so I’m going to try to give a very generic overview, and only show pictures that don’t give too much away.  First of all, even if it’s not raining, wellies and some sort of waterproof jacket might not be a bad idea, because you WILL get wet.  There are lots of fountains and other things that unexpectedly squirt you throughout, and you won’t manage to avoid all of them.  Since I don’t actually own a waterproof jacket myself (yes, I do live in Britain), I had to borrow my boyfriend’s, which was probably good as it provided extra coverage.

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Even from the start, you’re faced with choices, as there are three different doors you can enter the maze from, and each will lead you down a different path.  When I say maze, I don’t mean that in the traditional labyrinth sense, though there actually is a hedge maze within the larger maze, but this is far more involved, as the paths all cross each other, and you traverse through various buildings and passageways on your journey.  I’m fairly sure we ended up going through things backwards, though I’m not convinced there’s necessarily a right way to take (I’m only going by the fact that we found the grotto near the beginning, when I think you’re not meant to find it til near the end).

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They give you a brochure when you enter that has objects you’re meant to check off as you find them (though as they didn’t provide pencils or pens, we had to mentally check them); I think in theory finding everything will mean you’ve seen the whole Forbidden Corner, and there were at least two that we never managed to locate.  There’s also very cryptic clues along the way that I kept forgetting to read, which is a shame as they might have been of some use in finding the exit.

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I’m really struggling not to give too much away, because I feel like I can’t properly convey how awesome this place was without describing it a bit.  I have to say that my favourite parts were probably the aforementioned grotto, and the mausoleum; we were the only visitors in there at the time, I guess because it was probably too scary for most children (it was super “haunted,” as the gate warned us, kind of a Yorkshire take on Disneyworld’s Haunted Mansion, so yeah, awesome).

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It’s meant to take a good few hours to make your way through; we left after about two hours because we were so cold and wet, but I could have easily spent most of the day there (as it is, I’ll have to go back to try to find the proper exit)!  It’s so bizarre, and I genuinely think adults will appreciate it just as much as (if not more than) children, as they’ll get all the little jokes and bawdy humour (speaking of, be sure to use the set of toilets in the parking lot…men will especially enjoy the murals above the urinals (not that I went in there myself of course…ok, maybe I peeked in after my boyfriend made sure there was no one inside)).  I don’t think it would be great for very young kids at any rate, as a lot of them seemed to be scared and crying, but I’m sure older kids would love it, even if they don’t “get” everything (it was originally built as a private maze for the owner’s friends and family, which I think explains a lot).  There is also a fair amount of walking, and some quite steep and slippery steps, so also take those things into consideration if you visit.

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But yeah, the Forbidden Corner is awesome, and I’m sorry I’m being so cryptic about it, but I hope if you visit, and you have an open mind and a sense of humour, you will really love it as much as I did.  It was so much fun to explore, and I hope I can go back someday to find all the things I missed.  5/5.

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Copenhagen, Denmark: Tivoli Gardens

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The first time I heard of Tivoli Gardens was whilst watching Passport to Europe with Samantha Brown (which was one of my favourite pastimes before I moved to London when I wanted to feel more discontented than usual) a year or two before I’d ever even been to Europe. As soon as I saw her eating a massive candy floss (cotton candy) I was sold on the place, and have been keeping it in the back of my mind for a good seven years, until at long last I found myself in Copenhagen.

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Due to my unfortunate tendency towards motion sickness, pretty much the only rides I can manage are straightforward wooden coasters, with no loops or anything, and even then, I have to be drugged up on Dramamine.  But I do love a good old-fashioned amusement park of the sort that are in increasingly short supply, with promenades, gardens, and a surplus of greasy/sugary food coupled with a modest admission price.  Admission to Tivoli, without a ride pass, is DKK 95, about 12 quid, which is a bit pricy considering all it buys you is the right to walk around the premises, but still better than dropping £40+ on somewhere in the UK or USA.  If you want to go on the rides, it’s an extra DKK 355 for unlimited rides, or alternatively, you can buy individual tickets, which will end up with each ride costing the equivalent of £4-9, so not the best deal. We just skipped them altogether, allowing me to pig out without risk of puking.

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The first clue that Tivoli is cooler than your average amusement park comes when you learn that the theme is based on Tycho Brahe.  The only thing I remember from 9th grade astronomy is the story of Tycho Brahe – I mean, the man had a silver nose, and possibly died from holding in his wee too long at a banquet, that’s memorable stuff.  You’ll find an amazing Tycho Brahe fountain hidden in a quiet corner of the park next to a self-serve ice creamery, but the main way the theme manifests itself is through a few rides featuring steampunky looking rockets.  Everything else seems to be based on either the sea, or world landmarks, a bit like a slightly less commercialised version of Epcot.

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The other main theme is a scary-ass clown, who pops up through the park (though fortunately, we never saw the real thing).  They seem to love clowns on the Continent, and this one is over-the-top terrifying.  Be careful about turning your back on him, as he may have the ability to eat your soul.

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As you can see, Tivoli is otherwise quite lovely, with loads of gardens and fountains interspersed with rides and game stalls.  It’s especially pretty after dark, when everything is lit up, including the fake Taj Mahal, and there’s a special light show over one of the fountains.  There’s also various musical acts performing at different times throughout the park, so there is entertainment to be had outside of the rides and carnival games.

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Tivoli is ringed by restaurants and cafes, most of which you can eat at without entering the park, though if you want proper carnival food, you really need to go inside.  Since we weren’t riding the rides, most of what we did was eat.  I had to get the giant, made to order candy floss, but I also had an ice cream with Tycho, and delicious it was too.  There’s also lots of fried things, and of course the ubiquitous Danish hot dogs, but I definitely gave those a miss.

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I suppose there’s not really much more to say about Tivoli.  I’d highly recommend it if you’re in Copenhagen, as it does have a really nice atmosphere, reminiscent of a smaller version of Conneaut Lake Park as I remember it, admittedly through the golden glow of childhood.  The rides probably aren’t the most thrilling, but if you spent as many hours as I did mooning over pictures of old Victorian amusement parks as I did as a child, you’ll love it, though you’ll probably wish, as I did, that they at least had a funhouse or Laff-in-the-Dark ride for the nausea-inclined amongst us to enjoy.  And now I’ll leave you with a few more random pictures from around the park.

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Southwold, Suffolk: The Under the Pier Show

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In honour of the unusually warm weather we’re having in London at the moment, I’ll postpone my last couple of posts on Belgium in favour of a few on unconventional British seaside attractions. I spent the weekend in East Anglia at various coastal destinations, but my favourite had to be the brilliant “Under the Pier Show” on Southwold Pier.  I’d been dying to visit it ever since I first read about it last spring, and I can safely say it lived up to the hype.

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At first glance, Southwold seems like a perfectly nice, yet unassuming seaside town, with the usual complement of ice cream parlours, souvenir shops, a traditional arcade, and a beachside cafe.  Upon venturing down the pier, however, you will be rewarded with the sight of a shed crammed full of the most incredible arcade games you’ve ever seen.  This is the Under the Pier Show; created by the marvellous Tim Hunkin, arcade machine inventor extraordinaire.

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For the history of the Under the Pier show, which opened in 2001, I’d like to direct you to their website, which features a biography of Mr. Hunkin, and a short video well worth watching. I’d rather just talk about his amazing machines!  First of all, I’d advise you to bring cash (although they will give cash back with a purchase at the cafe, but that can be a bit of a bother), and plenty of it, because although the games range in price from a modest 40p up to £2, you will want to play almost everything.  There is a change machine though, so you needn’t arriving with pockets jingling.  Secondly, it’d probably be better to arrive early in the day during the summer, as it seems like the kind of place that gets quite crowded.  We got there around 10:30, and it was fairly empty, but was starting to fill up by the time we left an hour or so later, and it’s more fun if you don’t have to queue! (I get enough of that at the bloody post office).  Now, onto the games!

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Dotty was the cutest!

There were about twenty machines in total, and between my boyfriend and I, we tried most of them.  We began with the “Expressive Photobooth,” which is very much like a traditional photobooth, but with a humorous twist (a common theme amongst the machines).  Unexpected things happen inside, like a blowing fan, and a moving seat, which cause you to pose with expressions ranging from distracted to thrilled, and even weightless!  The “Bathyscape” offered a journey to the sea floor (I was drawn in by the promise of being disgusted by raw sewage, thanks to my affinity for authentic smells) , which was hilariously narrated, and culminated in us being swallowed by a fish (mind the stomach acid!).

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Some other favourites were the “Fly Drive,” where you ride on a fly’s proboscis, and land on food for as long as you can without being spotted (watch out for the swatter! I mean it!), “Pirate Practice” which involves bouncing vigorously on a stool to propel a boat to the top of the screen (to the amusement of onlookers), and “Rent-A-Dog,” where one can take the adorable Dotty for a walk.

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Other highlights included the “Mobility Masterclass,” which allows you to experience crossing the street as an elderly person, and “Autofrisk,” a pat-down with an extra “bonus” for the lads.  There were also a few slightly less-involved machines, like Crankenstein and the Doctor, and some unique spins on the traditional fortune telling booth (“Gene Forecaster,” anyone?).  There were several other machines I would have loved to try, especially “Microbreak” and “Quickfit,” which looked like a riot, but we were running out of cash.  I guess that means a return trip is in order!

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Tim Hunkin’s genius isn’t limited to the confines of the arcade building.  He’s been allowed to gradually expand along the pier, so that one can take advantage of his “Quantum Tunneling Telescope” (an improvement over the usual sea views), or have a peek at his water-powered clock.  Along with my penchant for postcards (which are also available courtesy of a coin-operated machine), I am a complete sucker for those machines whereby you convert a pound and a penny into a useless penny with a squashed design on it.  “Decoration Direct” was the most truthful version of what actually happens once you part with your money and turn the crank that I’ve ever seen, and I will forever treasure my Stupid Award, which will remind me “This used to be worth something until I squashed it” every time I find myself in need of 10p.

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I can’t speak highly enough of Tim Hunkin and his fantastically amazing machines.  My descriptions of them really don’t do them justice; they’re something you need to experience for yourself to appreciate the humour and love that’s gone into making them, not to mention the fact that they’re jolly fun!  5/5; and one of the best days out I’ve had in a long time.

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