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Alan in Wonderland b ln Bte

I have always had a great fondness for the writing of Lewis Carroll. It’s true that the stories can appear somewhat dated and the sensibilities of a different age shine through on almost every page, but it’s the sense of the ludicrous that appeals to me the most. Incidentally, if you happen to want a day out down

here in the East Riding and you decide to visit Beverley, which is a very beautiful town, you can see a couple of Lewis Carroll’s inspirations while you are there. Further up the town from the spectacular Beverley Minster is the much more modest Church of St Mary. The Church is well worth a visit just on account of the many stars picked out on its ceilings but also around the stone lintels and the frame of the south doorway there is not one but several carvings that simply have to be the prototypes of the Cheshire Cat. As proof that this is not simply a coincidence and

that Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll’s real name) must have visited the place is the amazing stone carving above the door to the vestry. There, as crisp and clean as if it was created yesterday instead of 600 years ago is the finest representation of Alice’s White Rabbit imaginable. The real name of the carving is the ‘Pilgrim Hare’ but it is said that Dodgson deliberately sent his first illustrator to St Mary’s and there is no doubt about it; both the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit owe much to these delightful medieval carvings. So, while I am on the subject of Alice and her

amazing adventures, there is another place I want to tell you about. Not far from the village of Leyburn, near Middleham and at a place called Tupgill Park is what is rightfully advertised as being ‘the strangest place in the world’. The attraction is called ‘The Forbidden Corner’ and I wouldn’t have missed going there a couple of weeks ago for all the tea in China. It was a blazing hot day, with autumn in the Dales

as splendid as it gets. This meant a family picnic, which is always a good start to any adventure. There were plenty of Kate’s grandchildren on hand (in fact all of them) to add to the excitement and after many sandwiches, and of course pork pies, we sauntered through the entrance and into what I can only describe as the quirkiest and yet the most enjoyable experience I can ever remember. Now here is the difficult thing. Part of the reason I

enjoyed the experience so much was that nobody who had been there before was prepared to tell me anything about it. I feel this was very important and so I find myself in something of a cleft stick. I really do think you should go there – and if you have children or grandchildren you simply have to take them with you, but if I let you know everything you are likely to encounter there, it won’t be half as thrilling for you. For this reason I will restrict myself to the limited amount that the attraction itself advertises. I suppose the Forbidden Corner is best described as a ‘folly’. It was the daydream of a very wealthy man


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who wanted to impress his own children but it proved to be so popular he was eventually prevailed upon to open it to the public. Even now you have to book in advance and once you have been you will understand why. There are places in the Forbidden Corner where you would not want to come upon a crowd – and much of what is there is better with only a few people present. It would be best to wear fairly stout footwear,

especially if the weather is wet and you can expect to be somewhat exhausted by the time you have staggered round the whole four acres. The website will tell you that the Forbidden Corner is ‘a unique labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, follies and surprises’, but this barely touches the true experience of being there. Certainly if like me you are fond of the stories of Lewis Carroll, you wouldn’t want to miss the experience because although the Forbidden Garden is not actually based on any of Alice’s adventures, it represents all of them, plus the Hunting of the Snark thrown in for good measure. One of the things that impressed me most about the

place was that apart from a few mechanical surprises, there is absolutely no technology involved. All the children present were shrieking with delight at every corner – but there wasn’t a video game, a television set or a mobile phone in sight. For anyone of my age, who grew up with a level of

freedom that is positively unknown in the modern world, it was like stepping back forty or fifty years – to a place where the natural imagination of a ten-year-old is made manifest in stone. It really is that good and I am green with envy concerning the children for whom all these delights were originally conceived. If you decide to go, give yourself plenty of time

because although there are only four acres, in reality there is more here than in the whole kingdom of Narnia, Treasure Island and Asgard put together. Don’t try in advance to find out too much about the

experience but let the child within you take over, allow the years to roll away and live again all those wonderful words and imaginings that make British children’s literature the greatest collected treasure the world has ever known.

By the end of the afternoon that we were there I

wasn’t really sure what was real and what wasn’t – but since that’s pretty much my natural state in any case it wasn’t too much of a problem. I had been scared out of my wits on several occasions, been soaked to the skin; I had walked until my feet were dropping off and I had laughed so much that my ribs positively cried out; but I cannot remember when I had a better time or when I felt so keenly since I was very young the absolute joy of allowing one’s imagination to run riot. By the way, don’t forget to book in advance. You

can’t simply queue up and walk into the Forbidden Corner. I promise you that no Hollywood movie will compare with what awaits you and if, like me, you have a keen sense of the bizarre, it’s a must.

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