David Behrens: Park planners bounced into a bad decision by fake castle folly

You really can't win with planning departments, can you?

The Forbidden Corner

Given the number of architectural aberrations that have been allowed to spring up like carbuncles over the years, it’s almost a relief when a project unsympathetic to its surroundings is sent back to the drawing board.

But this week in the Yorkshire Dales, an extension to a tourist attraction was recommended for refusal because it blended in too well.

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Forbidden Corner is a folly on the Tupgill Park Estate, near Leyburn – a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers through which children can squeeze, accompanied, with some difficulty, by their parents.

It has won awards and is a not insignificant local employer and it drives tourism in a part of the county whose economy relies upon it.

So you would have thought that a new investment there would be welcome. A viewing platform, the completion of a gatehouse and the towers of a mock medieval castle was what they were proposing.

That, said the planning committee at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, would be a problem. Why? Because visitors might mistake it from a distance for a real castle.

Now, no-one doubts that the Dales National Park is an area of unparalleled beauty which must be protected at all costs, or that its custodians make an excellent job of its care, but honestly, are visitors really so gullible as to confuse a real fortress with a toy one?

There are quite a few children’s bouncy castles around the South Bay at Scarborough, but I don’t recall reading of any scandal about families having mistaken one for Scarborough’s actual castle.

That seems to have been the nub of the issue at Leyburn, where the model castle is not made of inflatable latex but hewn from stone that looks entirely at home in its surroundings. Had it been latex, the planners would have thrown it out for being gaudy and unsympathetic – but the owners could have bounced back from that, I suppose.

As it was, it was ruled that the castle would introduce “an unacceptable amount of pastiche” into the landscape.

Even if that were so, would it really matter? The worst case scenario, as I see it, is of a family setting out for Bolton Castle, eight miles away, mistaking a fold in the map for the A1 and arriving instead at Forbidden Corner. Signage and common sense would soon correct any misconception that Mary Queen of Scots might have been imprisoned for a year in an establishment with a cafe, a gift shop and a cartoon face carved into the castle walls.

The whole business exposed an interesting dichotomy in Yorkshire’s tourism strategy, having emerged on the same day that the authorities on the east coast announced a 10-year marketing plan to increase income from visitors and create new jobs.

A few days before that, in the North York Moors, North Yorkshire’s other national park (let’s not forget, it is the only county in England to have two), it was announced that boosting the economy would now be a priority. The involvement of more children was said to be of particular importance.

The North York Moors park has permitted the construction of a high wire climbing course between the treetops. Adventurous types over a certain height can swing from branches like primates, restricted only by their ability to not get their cagoules caught in their crampons.

Like Forbidden Corner, it is a popular and presumably profitable enterprise that brings visitors into the region, and confusion with the battlements of the nearby Pickering Castle is not an issue.

You might think, given the millions in Government funding lost, that authorities would go out of their way to attract enterprises such as these.

Of course, there must be a balance – no one would want to see a slots o’ fun arcade on the edge of Malham Tarn – but we live in a competitive world, and the tourist pound is as important for North Yorkshire today as heavy industry once was for the West Riding.

If ever I hear a child emerge from Luna Park in Scarborough complaining that the medieval castle was bouncier than expected, I’ll know we have gone too far. Until then, I think we can rely on visitors to tell the difference between a stately home and a doll’s house.