The kidnapping of renowned businessman Colin Armstrong owner of unique theme park The Forbidden Corner has shocked the Dales community.

Staff at the Forbidden Corner, near Middleham in Wensleydale, said they had no further information about the incident in Ecuador South America, but their thoughts are with his family.

Mr Armstrong, 78, is said to have been kidnapped by a group of up to 15 men dressed as policemen at his ranch home in Baba in Los Rios Province, Guayaquil, in the early hours of Saturday morning. A Colombian woman understood to be his partner Katherine Paola Santos, is also said to have been taken.

Colin Armstrong is the founder of Agripac a major agricultural supply company in Ecuador where he has lived for large parts of the year for decades. His son Nicolas also helps run the company. In Britain the family is well known for establishing the Forbidden Corner the wonderland grotto at Tupgill Park which attracts up to 150,000 visitors a year.

Mr Armstrong’s parents owned the Tupgill Park estate where he grew up. When his own family was young he started to develop a grotto on the site bringing on board local architect Malcolm Tempest, who helped create the lavish follies, fountains and labyrinth of tunnels which make up the Forbidden Corner.

Darlington and Stockton Times: British businessman and the former UK honorary consul in Guayaquil, Colin Armstrong

Initially, Mr Armstrong was reluctant to allow public access to the site but as its fame grew, he relented and in the first year over 10,000 people came. He ran into trouble with the authorities after failing to get planning permission and it was only after an appeal with thousands of people signing a petition that the site was opened fully and it has grown from strength to strength, employing over 50 people. In February 2024 the park will be celebrating its 30th anniversary.

For years Mr Armstrong has lived for much of the time in Ecuador where he has developed the agricultural supply business which now employs over 300 people. He is a former consulate for the Guayaquil area and in 2011 was awarded an OBE and CMG by the Queen for services to the Monarchy.

His son Nicolas took over as Honorary Consul in Guayaquil in 2016 and is President of the local British Chamber of Commerce in the area.

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Police in Ecuador said: “Following an apparent criminal act against a businessman specialist police units are carrying out operative and investigative work on the ground.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said they are in contact with the Ecuadorian authorities following the disappearance of a British man and are supporting his family but have not named Mr Armstrong.

In Wensleydale, the news has shocked many. One resident who asked not to be named said: “It must be very difficult for his family, although he is not seen in the area that much he is extremely well known and has done a lot, providing employment with the Forbidden Corner. Everyone is just hoping it turns out well.”