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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Knaresborough, North Yorkshire: Mother Shipton’s Cave

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Mother Shipton’s Cave bills itself as the “England’s oldest visitor attraction,” and I am the most recent sucker in the centuries-long tradition of visiting this tourist trap – overpriced or not, I wanted the Mother Shipton’s experience.  The main draw of Mother Shipton’s (and I suspect the real reason why the area became a tourist attraction in the first place, since the story of Mother Shipton is heavily mythologised, if not outright made-up) is the petrifying well that turns objects to stone thanks to the extremely high mineral content of the water, but they’ve attempted to turn it into a whole complex with a small museum, wishing well, a few playgrounds, and a forest full of random wood carvings.

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Admission is £6 per person, with an additional £2 charge for parking, which I suppose isn’t really too extortionate, even though the well itself feels like the type of thing you should be able to see for free.  The area is extremely pretty, as is all the countryside in North Yorkshire, so at the very least you get a scenic walk out of the experience.  And it is a fair walk from the parking lot down to the well and cave area – be forewarned that the only toilets in the place are right near the chequerboard patterned entrance (many of the houses in the village seem to share this chequerboard motif, which I found rather charming).

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On the way, you’ll find lots of logs and stumps with faces carved into them – I guess to make the forest seem more darkly atmospheric.  It was of course raining during our visit, but the leaves were thick enough overhead to provide a protective canopy.  The forest includes unusually tall beech trees that thrive from growing on the banks of the Nidd (the river that feeds the well).

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The well itself is very, um, petrifying.  The lumps sticking out the side are apparently a top hat and bonnet belonging to a pair of Victorians, which have since grown into the stone.  You’ll notice there are things hanging from the side, mostly small teddy bears, which they sell online once petrified, though curiously, not in the shop, at least on the day I visited.  Celebrities (well, mostly very minor celebrities, like soap stars and the cast of Blue Peter) frequently are permitted to hang choice objects from the side, which end up in the small museum, but not so for us ordinary folk, which is where I think they’re missing a trick.  I’m sure that people would be thrilled to create their own petrified objects (the process takes about 3-6 months, so perhaps people could leave their address and have their stuff sent to them once petrified) for a small fee – I know I would!

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There’s a cave nearby with a Mother Shipton statue in the back – this is where Mother Shipton was supposedly born, as her teenage mother had fled to the cave to give birth, rather than be forced by the midwife to reveal the name of the baby’s father.  Again, this is all just based on local folklore, but they flesh out the story in some detail via a audio guide mounted in the cave.  Poor Mother Shipton just happened to look exactly like a fairytale witch, with a nose and chin so pointy that they almost touched.  The audio guide included some of Mother Shipton’s prophecies (which is her main claim to fame, though most of them seem to have been written centuries after she was meant to have lived) – she was allegedly visited by a few of Henry VIII’s cronies, and accurately predicted their deaths (though she doesn’t appear to have given them any information regarding that which might have been useful to their avoiding execution) and the 1665 plague, which really doesn’t seem like that much of a challenge, even if true.  I mean, Henry VIII obviously liked to turn against friends and wives and have them killed, and the plague was always reoccurring in England, so she really didn’t have to have any “powers” to come up with this crap.

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There’s a wishing well hidden round the side of the well, with very specific instructions.  You must dunk your right hand in the extremely cold water, and then let it dry naturally – my hand felt as though it was about to drop off from frostbite, which I guess would be my own stupid fault for buying into it.  My wish hasn’t come true yet, so I can’t say what I wished for, or whether the well works (yeah, I’m definitely not superstitious).

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And then there is the very small museum/gift shop, which had the Aladdin soundtrack playing when I was inside (bonus!).  It holds a few cases of petrified objects, mostly, as I said, from “celebs” I’d never heard of, but there was a shoe belonging to Queen Mary (wife of George V), Agatha Christie’s purse, and John Wayne’s hat.

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And there were a few life-size tableaux round the corner of notable locals; some random local politician, a very tall blind man who worked as a guide in Mother Shipton’s Cave (pictured above), and once again, Mother Shipton herself.

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Aside from the couple “adventure” playgrounds for children (which looked like very standard playgrounds to me), and a small cafe, that was pretty much all there was to Mother Shipton’s (and of course, those adorable ducklings in the river), so it really doesn’t take more than an hour to see, and that’s assuming you stand there and listen to all the audio information down by the well.  It’s not a terrible stop if you’re in the area, and want to see the original British tourist trap and some petrified crap (which is not necessarily an unworthy goal), but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.  Very lovely area though, I will give it that.  3/5

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