These trails take in everything from street art in Birmingham to Henry Moores in West Yorkshire – where our man and his dog find the natural attractions as alluring as the manmade ones
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
As we head up out of the trees by the lake, the snow comes down and for a few minutes we can see nothing but the grey shapes of sheep as they huddle together. I even mistake the ovine drinking trough for a piece of modern art, an error that could probably only happen here in the Yorkshire SculpturePark, 500 acres of parkland, pasture and lake where on your winter walk you are as likely to bump into a Highland cow or Texel ewe as a Gormley or Caro.
Wilf, my terrier, thinks he knows which is more interesting, delivering a stinging jet of canine criticism towards Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads. What Wilf lacks in artistic nous, however, he makes up for in appreciation of the walk, recognising a good yomp when he sees one. We had started at the car park, passing Barbara Hepworth’s Family of Man, then looped around the various gallery buildings. There was plenty to see around these outlying buildings: we got sidetracked by a multicoloured octopus and a video installation, but finally dropped down to the Cascade Bridge and then up into the snowstorm on the hill.
Not all the park is available to dog-walkers unfortunately. We are going to abandon the hound later in order to see Jaume Plensa’s Wilsis, a seven-metre-tall head by the lake. In the meantime we press on, climbing to the Longside Gallery (closed in winter) then on to a wooded ridge where Andy Goldsworthy has constructed Hanging Trees, three stone-walled rectangles, each containing a dead tree.
The joy of this walk is partly in the conversation and debate. I’m with someone who loathes Goldsworthy’s “bouldery balderdash” while I am a committed fan of his subtle stonework. Our verbal battle keeps the cold at bay all the way down through beautiful beech woods, back to the lake where we find Henry Moore. His bronzes really are the tour-de-force moments of the entire park and are given centre stage on the broad lawns below the visitor centre. And so we complete our first circuit, a 90-minute loop, depending on how fast you walk while smiling appreciatively, or shaking your fist, at large random objects.
We pop Wilf back into the car and stride out for the shorter lakeside route, which is definitely worth the extra effort, although I am adamant that the frozen lake with swans beats any human artistic effort – another heated debate to keep us going. I’m also quite taken with the endeavours of a previous generation: the park was once home to a formidable branch of the Wentworth family who loved nothing better than constructing follies, inserting all kinds of pyramids, grottoes and grotesque stony nonsense into the woods.
When I suggest that they did “garden furniture” with more humour and skill than all the pompous modern artists, we are propelled all the way back up the hill on a tidal wave of discussion.Advertisement
And there we reach the cafe, a lovely minimalist hunk of concrete with spectacular views – or a hideous brutalist nightmare – depending on your point of view. And there, at long last, we reach full agreement: both the curried parsnip soup and the coffee walnut cake are excellent.
• Free entry, car parking £11 for the day, ysp.org.uk
Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail
One of the UK’s first sculpture trails, this one provides some big-hitting names – Cornelia Parker and Ian Hamilton Finlay are here – plus three good walks of between two and five miles. Given the age of the site (it was started in 1986), some of the sculptures do look a bit weathered, in fact some have been “decommissioned” and are gently disappearing into the forest. Sixteen pieces, however, remain. Worth seeking out is Kevin Atherton’s Cathedral, which uses stained glass to create a sense of awe in what is one of Britain’s finest ancient forests, the real star of the fine walks. The start/finish – point at Beechenhurst Lodge also has a good cafe and play area.
• Free entry, car parking £5 a day (£4 a day weekends), forestofdean-sculpture.org.uk
The Sculpture Park, Surrey
This 100-acre park lies at the western end of the North Downs, six miles south of Farnham. About 800 sculptures are dotted throughout the woodland and around various lakes with several marked walks. It’s an eclectic mix: expect the mythical and wacky alongside super-serious pieces – something for everyone. There are plenty of colourful, fun things to keep the children amused, and, if you are truly moved, there are lots of pieces on sale. Visitors are encouraged to bring picnics, but you may find the Bel and Dragon pub opposite the entrance a warmer location. There is also the Orchard Barn Cafe a mile down the road.
• Adult £10, child (4-15) £5, thesculpturepark.com
Digbeth street art, Birmingham
It could be the sheer quantity of canals – 35 miles of them – that led to Birmingham’s graffiti explosion. What better canvas than vast brick walls with few passersby?
The cognoscenti reckons that Digbeth, just south-east of the city centre, has the best. Local graffiti artist Panda says: “It’s got such a special mix of art: graffiti, of course, but also film locations, quirky shops, and architecture – I love it.” In his company I start the walk at Selfridges (close to both New Street and Moor Street stations) . We take the tunnel on Park Street, turning right as we emerge into Shaw’s Passage, then left up Allison Street and right into Bordesley Street, for the first graffiti by Philth and by Panda himself. Opposite is the old Typhoo Tea factory, site of graffiti by Stock and a recent location for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. We head up Canal Street and turn right on Fazeley Street for murals by Juice 126, Newso, Tempo 33 and G-Anders. Left on to the canal towpath, then right down the Grand Union canal takes us past an ever-changing roster of graffiti (“watch out for Fox by Annatomix”). Coming off at Coventry Road, we then turn right into Upper Trinity and grab a coffee at Mutt Cycles (“coolest motorbike shop in the country”) then on past lots of murals into Lower Trinity and the Custard Factory, where there’s food at Kanteen, more graffiti and Panda’s workshop, where I could learn to spray, too.
• Free, self-guided: details, map and photos at walkruncycle.com
Grizedale Forest, Cumbria
Spread over 6,500 acres of forest between Coniston Water and Windermere, Grizedale is a big place with a good choice of trails. The artwork is geared toward wood, stone and fun, with plenty to divert the kids on a day out. Ridding Wood path is just a one-mile stroll, but highly recommended is the 10-mile Silurian Way, which will bag you a couple of dozen artworks.
Begin at the visitor centre and follow the green-topped posts in a clockwise circuit that takes in Kerry Morrison’s Some Fern, now getting pleasingly weathered, then on to Andy Goldsworthy’s Taking a Wall for a Walk. Around halfway, in the village of Satterthwaite, there’s a handy pub, the Eagle’s Head, for a pie and a pint. Other sculptures worth seeking out are Our Lady of the Water by Alannah Robins and Richard Harris’s contributions, Dry Stone Passage and Cliff Structure, both beautifully seasoned by moss and foliage these days.
• Free entry, car parking £8 for the day, grizedalesculpture.org
You can take a tour, or just go DIY as there is plenty of information online detailing the whereabouts of various original Banksy artworks. In the city centre you could start at the bridge on Park Street, where it crosses Frog Lane, spotting Well-Hung Lover, a little augmented by lesser artists, one of them armed with a paintball gun by the look of things. Steps lead you down, via Frog Lane, to another classic on Lower Lamb Street, You Don’t Need Planning Permission.
Beyond that, take the Cross Harbour Ferry to Spike Island for Girl with a Pierced Eardrum on Hanover Place then stride east, maybe stopping at cafe Little Victories before hitting the M Shed, a gallery where The Grim Reaper is on display, a Banksy that was cut from the side of Thekla, a nightclub on a former cargo ship, to save it from the elements. And so it goes on – for several miles if you fancy heading out to Easton where Banksy reputedly earned his spurs, but there are many distractions on the way: Bristol is a great walking city.