Yorkshire boasts a wealth of big-hitting tourist attractions, but hidden away there are a few entertaining oddities which would be a shame to miss. Here, in no particular order, are ten of the best.
Housed on an industrial estate just outside Leyburn, the Teapottery calls itself, with justification, the "home of eccentric teapots". Though the main reason for visiting is to buy teapots in the shape of guitars, police helmets, valve radios, toasters and wheelbarrows, you can also tour the workshops and see each carefully explained step in the production line.
The Mart Theatre
With echoes of Shakespearean inns, Skipton’s animal auction mart doubles as a theatre. On certain nights, the main show ring becomes an auditorium, mounting plays, opera, folk music and stand-up comedy. Barriers are removed, the concrete apron is scrubbed down and the exhibition hall becomes a theatre bar. How do thesps and Dales farmers get on, you might wonder? Like a house (or barn) on fire. Farmers love the animal-enhancing lights while the theatre company gets quirky accommodation. It’s win-win all the way.
East Yorkshire’s Spurn Head is an amalgam of wild nature, nautical significance and military history. As you drive along its windblown single-track road, the Humber Estuary to your right, the ships riding at anchor in the North Sea to your left, and three generations of light-house, the pilot’s control tower and a jetty ahead, it really does feel like the end of the world.
Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire is, unlike most ruined English monasteries, in surprisingly good health. It’s not only a working monastery, but also the country’s premier Roman Catholic public school, whose alumni include Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, actor Richard Everett and sculptor Antony Gormley. In addition to viewing its Roman Catholic worship and tradition, visitors can also walk in the grounds, use the Sports Centre, or attend spiritual classes.
The Cold War Bunker
To those who lived through the Cold War, this bunker, west of York’s city centre conjures up mushroom-clouded Armageddon. To younger visitors, it’s just a jumble of risible old technology set in echoing reinforced concrete. Commissioned in 1961, and one of twenty-nine such facilities, it was manned 24/7 by the Royal Observer Corps, tasked with monitoring nuclear explosions. Here's a chilling thought: had it ever been used, most of us would have been dead!
Nellies (officially the White Horse), in Beverley, reminds us how much the British pub has changed. A seventeenth century coaching inn, its warren of small rooms glory in stone, tile and wood floors, have open coal fires, gas lighting, and a hotchpotch of scuttles, fire-irons, brasses and old pictures. There's not a carpet, fruit-machine or jukebox in sight.
Eden Camp in North Yorkshire started life as a Prisoner of War facility during World War II. Having become a derelict eyesore, it was acquired during the 1980s by local visionary Stan Johnson, who converted it into a fascinating museum. A perfect fusion of form and content, its original huts are devoted to different aspects of the war – the rise of Hitler (Hut 1) for example, or the Home Front (Hut 2). Displays are graphic, and even vibrant.
Image courtesy of Eden Camp
The Forbidden Corner
A huge puzzle of spirits and giants, with monsters and myths strung out along labyrinthine paths and tunnels, The Forbidden Corner near Middleham has follies and riddles and mysterious voices galore. Built in the grounds of Tupgill Park, by its owner C. R. Armstrong, to amuse his children, and subsequently opened briefly to the public to raise money for charity, The Forbidden Corner was so popular with visitors that it has now become a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s easier to enjoy than describe – so check it out.
The pentagonal Fort Paull, just outside Hull, is a ‘Palmerston’ Fort built in the 1860s and named after the then Prime Minister. After its 1960 decommissioning it seemed destined to subside into brambled dereliction. Then a local group took it in hand, and, in 2000, opened it as a military museum. Don’t look here for a coherent recreation of the World War II. Enjoy instead a ragbag of wartime memorabilia, tanks, guns, planes and exhibitions on the Women’s Land Army, child evacuees and the use of carrier pigeons. It’s chaotic, but oddly charming.
The Peace Museum
The only British representative of an international movement, Bradford’s Peace Museum is tucked away at the top of a steep staircase in an old bank in the centre of the city. Its collections include books, cuttings, works of art, posters, banners, photographs, letters and film, all relating to the Peace movement – there’s even a piece of Greenham Common’s perimeter fence. But its greatest resource are its development officers – if you visit, pick their brains.
Explore more of this northern area with the Rough Guide to Yorkshire. Teapot photograph courtesy of the Teapottery.