The Forbidden Corner, Coverham

The Forbidden Corner, Coverham

An Englishman's home is his castle, or so they say. His own little world. The Forbidden Corner, near Leyburn in Wensleydale is a very English place, and indeed is its own little world. What the Forbidden Corner is, exactly, is hard to describe. A public garden, yes, but also a maze. A folly, but a folly hidden from site. A sculpture, and a piece of theatre; a fairground fun house that tries to unnerve as well as startle.

Getting in is itself something of an odyssey. Tickets must be booked in advance, to comply with National Park planning regulations; and once you have one, you must explore winding country lanes before reaching the car park and the gift shop, which looks like an ordinary, standard gift shop aimed at the holiday-souvenir and school-trip market. "Have you been here before?" asks the girl on the ticket desk, giving you a leaflet. "The clues are all in the leaflet, but not in the right order." And what you thought might be a plan of the site is a spread of cryptic ditties, each one hinting of treasures within. A sign at the door asks you to make sure you close all gates and doors behind you; and the next thing you find is a building with a wide, gaping mouth, inviting you to walk inside.

The Forbidden Corner was designed, originally, as a private folly. Tupgill Park, Coverham, is the family estate of a diplomat called Colin Armstrong. Over twenty-five years ago, he started clearing paths in a small wood originally planted as a windbreak. Things grew, and he hired a local architect called Malcolm Tempest to design a grotto. The grotto is still there, at the heart of the garden, but surrounded by a labyrinth of paths, glades, and formal gardens, on a site which feels much, much larger than a map would have you think. After a court battle with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Armstrong opened his folly to the public; and every winter it is changed, altered and extended, to keep the visitors coming back.

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