My most recent summer adventure began at 3pm on August 2nd in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales.
We had driven up from London that morning on a mission to visit one of the strangest places in the world -- The Forbidden Corner, an award-winning children's park populated with mazes, tunnels, secret chambers and fanciful oddities. Built 20 years ago by eccentric millionaire Colin Armstrong and architect Malcolm Tempest, it has recently been voted the best European folly of the 20th century by the Folly Fellowship. (And, by the way, how fantastic is it that there is a Folly Fellowship?)
The friends we were travelling with were newbies, but I had visited The Forbidden Corner in 2007 and, for three years, its gothic strangeness had haunted my thoughts until I wondered if I was a character in a Daphne du Maurier novel: "Last night I dreamt I went to The Forbidden Corner again."
I knew I would return.
And guess what?
This time, you're coming too.
We enter by Diabolical Gate. Go ahead, you first.
Which took you more by surprise -- the waving epiglottis or the ogre-like belches emanating from the lingual cavern?
Okay, now look around. A forest of narrow yew-lined footpaths rises up before you and stretches deeper and deeper into the heart of a mysterious world. Your quest has officially begun.
Armed only with a checklist of clues and your natural-born instincts, your challenge is to find the 30-odd sites of interest within the labyrinth-like grounds. (Don't bother asking for a map -- none exists.) At every turn, there are decisions to make and tricks to avoid, but if you persevere, you will discover secret grottoes, talking statues, even a revolving room...and that's all I'm going to reveal.
Note to Parents: Wear appropriate footwear so you can keep pace with your children who will turn into squealing blurs of delight. Seriously, don't lose sight of them -- they are your only hope of getting out.
Take two rights, a left and a right and you might wind up in an underground grotto with a path of stepping stones...
...that leads to a trick fountain...
...that leads to an underground temple manned by Roman sentinels.
Conversely, take two lefts, a right and a left and you could find yourself on a mysterious staircase to nowhere.
There are so many meandering twists and turns that sometimes just when you're convinced you're getting close to something, the path you're on suddenly veers away from it. Hang on -- haven't we passed that cupid before?
"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."
Me: Avery and Luca, you can have unlimited candy for the rest of the trip if you will just tell me how you got to the other side of this maze. (beat) Yes, I pinky swear.
There are stone towers guarded by watchful gargoyles...
...thatch-roofed hobbit houses...
...and an exuberant herb garden anchored by a turreted dovecote.
Eventually, thanks to the unerring instincts of my youthful companion, I discovered the pathway back to civilization again. (Thank goodness for spongy 8-year old brains that have room after room of available storage. My mental file cabinets are full to bursting. I am becoming increasingly convinced that in order to remember something new, I have to toss something old out.)
From The Forbidden Corner, it was a quick hop to our resting place for the night, the charming Black Bull Inn in the village of Middleham.
The next morning, we were greeted by the clippety-clop of hundreds of sleek, shiny thoroughbreds passing beneath our bedroom window on their way to morning training. Apparently, Middleham is world-famous for its racehorses. Yawn. Just another day in Yorkshire.
After a quick romp on the mist-laden moors, it was back to the car to settle in for an all-day drive to catch a 5pm ferry to the Shetland Islands.
Up next: Drama in Aberdeen ( also known as "What Do You Mean, You Can't Find Our Reservation?!")