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British Isles Culture

How great thou art: The best art trails in England

We might not be able to visit galleries right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get our art fix elsewhere.

We might not be able to visit galleries right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get our art fix elsewhere. England has plenty of fantastic art and sculpture trails in both its cities and countryside, all of which showcase some of the best local talent the area has to offer. Take a breathe of fresh air and immerse yourself in these worlds of creativity.

50 Windows of Creativity

New for autumn 2020, this self-guided art trail has turned the city of Manchester into an open-air gallery. Featuring 60 works across 50 different locations, the project – the brainchild of Wild in Art – aims to bolster the creative community in the wake of the pandemic.

Comprised of multiple art forms from ceramics to mosaics, the trail will feature the works of local artists and collectives – all of whom have a connection to the Greater Manchester area.

All pieces on display will be available to buy directly from the artists. Wild in Art will also hold a special auction with a select few pieces, with all proceeds split between the makers themselves and the Lord Mayor’s We Love MCR charity.

Banksy Art Trail

The most famous name in street art, Banksy is a true Bristolian legend. Now famous right across the world, the anonymous artist started out on the streets in the 1980s, and many of his earliest works can still be seen hidden around the city.

New for 2020, you can now download the ‘A Piece of… Banksy!’ app, which offers a self-guided walking tour of his most impressive works (complete with audio commentary). Some of the more recognisable works on the trail include Mild, Mild West and Well-Hung Lover, both pictured above.

Broomhill Sculpture Garden

The sculptures here would be impressive in a gallery setting, but here, chancing upon them as you wander down meandering paths in the woods or alongside the tree-shaded river, you feel that such a garden is the only setting in which to exhibit large sculptures. Not that they are all large. Sometimes you are alerted to their presence by the sign before you see the piece almost hidden in the shrubbery.

Broomhill happened because Rinus and Aniet van de Sande, from the Netherlands, started a gallery to encourage young artists in their home country, but wanted an outdoor venue. Holland was not an option ‘because so many galleries and sculpture gardens already existed’, so when they found a run-down hotel with a large, overgrown garden on the outskirts of Barnstaple, they knew it was the right place.

Broomhill’s ten acres are now a mixture of formal garden and natural woodland, and even without the sculptures the steeply terraced and wooded grounds would be a pleasure to stroll in. The combination of the two is stunning, and a must-see for anyone with an interest in art.

Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail

First opened in 1986 and today managed by Forestry England, this wild trail contains 17 sculptures, each extremely different from the next but all inextricably linked to the natural environment in which they stand. All are hidden within the woodland, with the idea that visitors would happen across them by chance or go in search of their existence.

All of the pieces are specific to the Forest of Dean, either inspired in subject by the surrounding landscapes or created using local materials. Interestingly, none of the works are labelled – instead, visitors are encouraged to reflect on and define each sculpture in their own words.

Kielder Art and Architecture Trail

Dotted around Kielder’s vast reservoir and forest are over 20 unique sculptures inspired by the area’s dramatic landscapes. A giant timber head, stone maze, huge rotating metal seats and camera obscura within a stone hut should give you an idea of what to expect.

© Kielder Art and Architecture

Pick up a printed guide at information points or see the website for locations.

Sculpture in the City

Now in its ninth year, this annual summer sculpture trail showcases works from some of the best emerging local artists amid the iconic architecture of the City of London’s insurance district.

Some 20 installations have been erected for the 2020 edition (extended until spring 2021 due to the pandemic), from simple signposts to colourful ceilings. Head to the website to download a map of all the works.

Tout Quarry

On the Isle of Portland not far from Chesil Beach, this industrial estate and abandoned stone quarry has been turned into a nature reserve and a sculpture park with a difference.

© Andrew, Flickr

Explore on foot in search of the 60 hidden sculptures, each intricately carved into the rock by world-famous artists and local stonemasons (who you might be lucky enough to catch at work).

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Halfway between Barnsley and Wakefield lies this magnificent outdoor sculpture park, a tranquil wonderland of open-air art that feels a world apart from the raging M1 motorway just two miles down the road.

The first of its kind in the UK, this 500-acre site is home to around 80 sculptures and installations from both local and international artists. Alongside permanent exhibitions (the most famous of which are Jaume Plensa’s giant head and the Seated Figure by Sean Henry), there are also a number of rotating events – in 2020, these included pieces from the likes of Damien Hirst and Mark Hearld.