Have Bag, Will Travel
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Staying in a cottage neat Leyburn in Yorkshire the children were drawn to a brochure for a nearby attraction called ‘The Forbidden Corner’ just a few miles away near the town of Middleham so we set off one morning to visit. I should have read the brochure with more care because it does point out that it is only possible to visit after pre-booking so after being turned away I made reservations for the next day and had to break the disappointing news to the children.
This is a good idea as it turns out as it allows the site to regulate the number of visitors to prevent it becoming too overcrowded at peak times.
They soon got over it and we made alternative arrangements for the day and then returned at our appointed day and time for the promise of a unique labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, follies, paths and passages that lead nowhere with extraordinary statues at every turn.
There is something quintessentially English about Follies, buildings or places without any real purpose except to satisfy a mad ambition and this is one of the best.
It seemed rather expensive to me when I paid the family entrance fee, left the gift shop and followed the path to the entrance and I was wondering how better I could have spent the £40 but within minutes I was certain that we had made the right decision because it turned out that this is a beautiful, four-acre Victorian garden in the Yorkshire Dales that is full of secrets, oddities and tricks.
It starts as a gentle saunter through a series of gardens with a squirting statue here, a baffling gate there but quickly turns into an enchanting, bewildering underground-overground labyrinth of passages, pathways, spiral staircases, stepping stones, revolving floors, pop-up fountains and wooden doors to somewhere – or nowhere.
It is pure genius and so good that it has recently voted best European folly of the 20th century by The Folly Fellowship and also voted the best children’s attraction in Yorkshire.
Interestingly the Forbidden Corner was not actually designed to be a Family Attraction in the first place. It was simply a private Victorian garden in a quiet spot in the North Yorkshire Dales, owned by a man called Colin Armstrong. He had the idea to turn part of it into a sort of folly for his family and friends. Just as a bit of fun – as English eccentrics with time on their hands tend to do. It is such a crazy place that when he opened it in 1994 he neglected to apply for planning permission and had to wait for six years for retrospective approval.
Places like this are wonderful, you arrive with low expectations and end up being blown away with excitement. On arrival I didn’t see how we could possibly spend a couple of hours there but we ended up going round twice and spending four. It is a giant maze with a labyrinth of paths and tunnels and with no map or formal route to follow then you have to have your wits about you to be careful not to miss something, I know that we did.
We would have stayed even longer because it had a nice restaurant and menu but there is so many hidden jets of water and surprise fountains that the children were soaked through by the time we finished and with no change of clothing we had to abandon dining plans and return to the cottage so here is a big tip – make sure the children have something to change into when you have finished the visit.
If you are close by, even if you are not, a visit to the Forbidden Corner gets my absolute recommendation for a great day out for all the family!
“Everything (in the UK) comes with chips, which are French fries. You put vinegar on them. Cookies are biscuits and potato chips are crisps” – Scott Walters
March 14th in the USA is Potato Chips Day which I confess makes me smirk because in the USA they don’t even know what a potato chip is so I am going to take a look at how people prefer to eat their chips and watch out because I am going to award points for style.
I posted previously on eating fried potatoes in a Friterie in Northern France so it is only really polite to start with our nearest continental neighbours.
Friteries are a feature of this part of northern Europe and are a simple place, usually outside on wooden benches, to buy and eat French fries accompanied by a selection of traditional sauces and accompaniments. The thin strips of potato are fried twice, first to drive out the moisture and second to achieve the essential golden crispness of the French Fry.
You might expect the French, along with close neighbours the Belgians and the Dutch to know a thing or two about chips and they do make a good job of cooking them it has to be grudgingly said but as soon as they are served up they demonstrate a dreadful lack of culinary style and taste.
They immediately apply a dollop of horribly sloppy mayonnaise!
Now mayonnaise is fine on lettuce leaves or as an ingredient in a McDonalds burger, it gives them a bit of taste after all, but it really shouldn’t be smeared all over a helping of lovingly prepared potato chips and I am reminded here about a scene from the film Pulp Fiction and a conversation between Jules and Vincent…
… “Do you know what they put on their French Fries in Holland instead of Ketchup?” – “What? “ – “Mayonnaise” – “No Way.” – “Yes, I’ve seen them do it man they f*****g drown them in that s**t.”
Marks out of 10 for the French and the Belgians and the Dutch – 6 and that includes a bonus point because (as you can see in the first picture) at least they call them chips!
However, if you think that is bad then let’s cross the River Rhine into Germany where they serve up a variation called pommes rot-weis (potatoes red and white) named rather unimaginatively it is said after the colour scheme on level-crossing barriers and this toxic combination is achieved by smothering the poor chips in not just the evil mayonnaise but a good slug of tomato ketchup for good measure which has the effect of turning the classic dish into a sort of Salvador Dali gastro-interpretation.
I don’t know about the colour of level crossing barriers more like the rags and blood of a barbers pole if you ask me.
Marks out of 10 for the Germans – 4.
As I mentioned in my previous post Spain makes a creditable claim to be origin of chips so let’s head south now across the Pyrenees into Iberia.
Spain has patatas aioli which is a mayonnaise with garlic and having already dismissed mayonnaise as inappropriate then the addition of the foul tasting noxious onion bulb is not going to improve it one taste bud notch in my opinion; and then there is patatas bravas with a spicy sauce whose ingredients vary from region to region.
Generally I am a big fan of Spanish Tapas but my recommendation would have to be to avoid the patatas bravas at all costs.
I have two issues with them. First of all they don’t even look like chips and instead of being long and slender they are served in solid lumps of fried potato and secondly the bravas sauce is often so fierce that it completely spoils the dish all together and you can add to that the fact that it frequently (depending on region) includes a whole host of odd ingredients such as chorizo, baked chicken or fried fish, none of which in my opinion should be anywhere near a sauce for simple chips – if you want to muck about with vegetables then stick to pumpkins.
Marks out of 10 for the Spanish – 3.
Hastily retreating to the United Kingdom I am first going to head north to Scotland despite the fact that Scots deep fry chocolate so cannot really be taken seriously in a cooking sense. In Glasgow and Edinburgh they have a fondness for gravy with chips and I find that odd because in my culinary opinion gravy should only really be served up with the weekly Sunday roast.
Having said that it is really rather tasty so marks out of 10 for the Scots – 7.
Which brings me back rather neatly to England and especially my home town, the fishing port of Grimsby. They know a thing or two about chips in Grimsby let me tell you and there is a chip shop in every street – sometimes two and people there know best how to cook them and to eat them.
Never mind the fancy restaurant trend for twice or even thrice fried potatoes they just cut them up and sling them in a vat of boiling fat or preferably beef dripping and then serve them piping hot and crispy on the outside with delicate fluffy middles with the only two accompaniments that chips really need – a generous sprinkle of salt and lashings of good vinegar. No mayonnaise, no gravy, no tomato sauce and definitely no curry!
Marks out of 10 for the English – 10 – of course.
So what about the USA you might ask. Well to be honest I have dismissed the New World completely. Is that fair? Challenge me if you dare!
Whilst I am prepared to concede that they know how to prepare French Fries in McDonalds and other similar places the bottom line is simply this – they don’t even know what chips are, they think they come in a foil packet. Americans please take note – these are not potato chips they are potato crisps!
My research informs me that in Australia they cannot make their minds up whether they are potato crisps or potato chips. Let me help my antipodean pals on this point – these are potato crisps!
Anyway marks out of 10 for the USA – 0. This might seem a little harsh but the rules are that you have got to compare apples with apples!
So let’s finally go north to Canada
“in Eastern Canada there is poutine with curds of cheese and gravy. None for me thanks but there people are gaga for the stuff”…
My blogging pal Sue from “Travel Tales of Life”
Graphic content warning – do not proceed beyond this point if you have a weak stomach or are of a nervous disposition…
…because this is Poutine from Canada…
When I first heard of this I was convinced that it was some sort of wind-up, but apparently not, you can even get it in McDonalds, but thankfully only in Canada…
Try eating that in your car without making a mess of your shirt and trousers while you are driving.
Marks out of 10 for Canada – minus 10
Anyway, enough of all this, let me tell you my favourite. In this picture taken in France my mum has gone for the tomato ketchup option and is wagging her fry around to prove it. Alan has kept things simple and luckily is not wagging his fry at anyone, my brother Richard, who has a bit of a reputation for wagging his fry, has gone for the classic salt and vinegar combo and although I am not in the picture (obviously I was taking it) you can clearly see my preferred accompaniment is a bottle of cold beer – just don’t mistake it for the vinegar and pour it over the chips!
So, over to you, How Do You Eat Yours, what is your favourite accompaniment?
After a second night demolishing the Premier Inn in Beverley and the children had caught up on their e-mails we had to clear out and make plans for going back home to Grimsby.
Fearing for the house and not wanting to get back too soon I thought that we might take a detour through UK Capital of Culture – The City of Hull and specifically an area of the city that has been reinvented for the occasion as the Old Town and more specifically, the Museum Quarter.
Odd, isn’t it? I have no trouble with Madrid or Prague, Rome or Lisbon having an Old Town or Museum quarter but I find it difficult to get my head around this in nearby Hull.
It was rather a surprise to most people when Hull became UK Capital of Culture because it has to be said that it great swathes of it are a bit of a dump and the journey in along the A1079, the Beverley Road, did nothing to alter this opinion, it is a dreadful approach to the city, through run down streets of decrepit shops, cheap mini-markets, tattoo parlours, dodgy finance places and betting shops, not the sort of place that anyone would like to spend too much time without a bodyguard that’s for sure.
Anyway, we made it to the Old Town and after a bit of difficulty found a parking spot and made our way to the Museum, which by contrast is all rather nice.
I have to say that my expectations were low but once inside I quickly had to reassess my uninformed predictions. Entrance is free and within five minutes I was open mouthed with respect for this Municipal Museum.
Three Museums actually.
We started in the Street Life Museum which recreates city life in the early twentieth century with buses and trains which amused the children and old fashioned shops that I remembered well enough but left my grandchildren unimpressed.
Upstairs we moved back two hundred years and there were carriages and recreations which I liked but scared some of the children. There was a street scene which included a wheelwright workshop and that interested me because my great-great grandfather , Thomas Insley of Shackerstone in Leicestershire was a wheelwright and carriage maker just about one hundred years ago before his business went bust with the advent of the motor car.
At the very top of the building was a view over the River Hull and the previous site of the industrious city docks, all gone now of course but once this was one of the busiest fishing ports in England, a status only disputed by nearby Grimsby. Rather sad now, no fishing, no ships just crumbling piers and rotting lichen covered timbers which will soon give in to the inevitable and fall into the muddy water and simply disappear.
I spoke briefly to a visitor from the south of England who seemed genuinely surprised by the history of the city. I told him the story that Hull was allegedly the most bombed city in World-War-Two, this was because that despite a blackout no German Bomber crew could hardly miss the River Humber and also because having reached the English coast many crews lost their nerve to carry on, declared an imaginary aircraft fault and simply discharged their bombs on the first available target and just went home.
After the Street Life Museum we moved on to the History Museum but by this time the children were beginning to run out of patience so we rather dashed through the history of the area from the Iron Age to the Medieval and after an hour or so as I became increasingly conscious of their lack of attention we moved on.
We missed out the William Wilberforce Museum and the history of the abolition of slavery and I thought I might do that another day by myself.
So we left the Old Town of Hull and made our way back south for the return journey to Lincolnshire on the opposite side of the Humber and crossed the estuary over the suspension bridge.
At a little over two thousand, two hundred metres the Humber Suspension Bridge is the seventh largest of its type in the World. This statistic used to be even more impressive because when it was first opened in 1981 it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the World for the next sixteen years and the distance by road between Hull and Grimsby was reduced by nearly fifty miles as a consequence of the construction.
For the record, the longest single span suspension bridge is currently the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan.
Eventually we left the visitor area and made for the toll booths and crossed the river and then made our way back to Grimsby past the port of Immingham to the north which handles the largest quantity of goods by weight in the UK and by day is an untidy, grimy sort of place dominated by ugly petro-chemical works and soulless grey industrial buildings but by night is transformed into a glittering Manhattan skyline of tall buildings and bright lights and occasional dancing plumes of flames burning off excess gases which actually makes it all look rather attractive.
Over the last two days we had done our best to demolish the Premier Inn Hotel in Beverley and the Museums in Hull now it was the turn of my house to take the strain!