The British are known to celebrate the
eccentric and the quirky -- even when it comes to their visitor attractions. Amid
the island nation’s varied countryside, there are places that celebrate bubble cars, witchcraft, cuckoo clocks, paperweights and a teetotal pub.
Bear in mind that many of these offbeat attractions,
run by passionate people who are enthused about their bizarre corner of the
world, are not as fine tuned as the more famous Disney, Legoland or Universal
Studios theme parks. But buy a ticket with childlike glee and you may find
yourself revelling with a toddler’s fascination at these odd new experiences.
First, head to the Lake District's Puzzling Place in the town of
Keswick, a house of illusion that is devoted to brain teasers. It has mind-bending
optical illusions, holograms and an “Anti Gravity” room where balls roll
uphill, water flows at an unnatural angle and everyone appears to stand at an
impossible slant. Also in Keswick is the Cumberland Pencil Museum where you can
marvel at a secret spy -style World War II pencil, get up close to one of the
world’s longest pencils, nearly eight metres long, and follow the history of
pencil making through the ages.
Believe it or not, you can actually visit
the Forbidden Corner in Middleham,
North Yorkshire, an insane amusement park infested with talking statues, shrinking
rooms, giant statues, secret doors and endless underground labyrinths. It
started out life as a World War II tank depot until the owner began filling it
with eccentric features. The private venture was then opened to the public in
1994 due to popular demand.
In Southwold, Suffolk, few can resist the Whack
a Banker machine or the Booth of Truth at the Under
The Pier Show, a hair-brained arcade of home-made contraptions,
mad cap games and exhibits that is the brainchild of local scientist and
inventor Tim Hunkin. Check out the Doctor game, where you hold the stethoscope
against your chest as the machine diagnoses your complaint and writes out a
fake prescription, or the utterly bizarre Autofrisk machine, which brashly
tells visitors to “stand in position and let the rubber gloves give you a
After that, head to the strange village of Portmerion in North Wales. Its out-of-place
Italianate architecture, which dates back to the 1920s, is a mixture of decorative
styles and eccentric designs, creating a fantasy land that was later used as
the backdrop to the 1960s British sci-fi drama, The Prisoner.
Throw in classical colonnades, cupolas and a Buddha statue from the 1958 film Inn
of the Sixth Happiness, all cradled by the majestic Welsh mountains, and it is
a rather bizarre place to spend an afternoon.
Then again Gnome Magic might just top it all. The five-acre
garden in Dedham, near Colchester, Essex celebrates the colourful 2ft-tall
terracotta figures that have adorned gardens around Britain since the mid 19th
Century. Here you can visit more than 800 gnomes that are scattered around the
park, and there is a museum and wooded area on-site for spotting the little
creatures. You can also paint your own smiling hooded dwarf to take home with
There are few chances for normal folk to
get behind the controls of heavy construction machinery. But at the UK’s four Diggerland parks, in Kent, Yorkshire,
Durham and Devon, you can drive excavators, dumper trucks and tractors through
the mud and puddles all day long. You can also take part in digger or dumper truck races.
Before broadcasting began in 1924, musical
entertainment in the home stemmed from self-playing musical instruments and
automata. Keith Harding’s World of
Mechanical Music in Gloucestershire will take you back to that time, as restored
instruments from the 1920s and ‘30s are played by guides in the form of live
entertainment, from a huge, hand-made gramophone to the wind-up banjo.
It is possible that the Margate Shell Grotto in Kent has been
around for more than 200 years. There is even speculation that the builders
included the Knights Templar, with a construction date of mid-12th Century. No
matter how it began, today the 189sqm of mosaic grotto is a chance to gawp at
the 4.6 million cockle, mussel, oyster and whelk shells festooned in elaborate
mosaics covering every surface. There are even abstract patterns of roses,
animal faces and skulls.
In Devon, the House of Marbles is a traditional
working games and glass factory, which stocks approximately 25 million marbles.
Try out one of the longest marble runs in Britain -- laid out straight it would
be 60m long -- and marvel at a two tonne giant marble floating on water. Visitors
can also try their hand at glass
blowing – and you get to keep the objects you make.