I’ve put together this post about outdoor art as I’m a firm believer in accessible art for all. I’ve found outdoor sculptures are a particularly effective way to engage young children with art: kids can run, shout and generally be children on a sculpture trail. Sculpture parks are truly inclusive: you can even bring your dog (to most of them anyway). Sculpture trails are a brilliant way to have a cultural day out in the fresh air.
Outdoor art with kids
I’m a big fan of art and I’m keen for my two sons to gain an appreciation of it too. Plenty of art galleries and museums are now embracing their younger visitors with child-friendly exhibitions and fun art trails. The Greenwich Maritime Museum is a particularly brilliant example of a museum doing everything right: my kids were encouraged to run and shout during an organised tour of the museum.
However, not all cultural places are like that: traditional art exhibitions are often crowded, space is limited and there’s an unspoken code of behaviour to adhere to. The problem is, children just aren’t very good at walking through crowded galleries, they often can’t resist the temptation to touch things they shouldn’t and most little kids find it very difficult to be quiet.
An outdoor sculpture trail allows kids to run, make noise and crucially children are often encouraged to touch the artworks. It wasn’t until I requested some help putting this post together from fellow bloggers that I discovered just how many brilliant sculpture parks and sculpture trails we have in the U.K., they’re literally everywhere. Some outdoor art galleries are grand affairs with an entrance charge and a fancy cafe. Other sculpture trails are more modest woodland affairs, but no less appealing to children. And there are also quite a few sculpture parks which sell art to the public, so if you’re looking for some outdoor art for your home, some of the sculpture gardens I’ve included here might be the place to visit.
The Arts Council England and Forestry England have created a partnership with which to showcase both art and our woodlands. Some of the sculpture trails I have detailed here are part of this project to bring art into public forests. There are various forest sites across England where temporary and permanent art installations are put in place thanks to this partnership. To check if there is one near you, have a look on the Forestry England website. Some are in very appealing locations, such as Grizedale in the Lake District, so if you’d like a cultured holiday without setting foot in a city, these forests are perfect.
Living in Hertfordshire, we are fortunate to have two excellent examples of outdoor art very close to where we live. One, the Broxbourne sculpture trail, is a woodland walk where the artworks merge into the landscape around them. The other is the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens, full of incredible world class art by one of the UK’s most famous and successful artists. My children love both of these outdoor art spaces and have learnt a lot from both of them.
So, here’s my compilation of some of the UK’s best sculpture trails. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I’ll be adding to it as I make my way to a few more outdoor art destinations in the future.
Broxbourne Woods Sculpture Trail, Hertfordshire
The Broxbourne Woods Sculpture Trail near Hertford is a really lovely woodland walk perfect for little children. There are nine sculptures spread across the one kilometre trail. Most of the artworks on the sculpture trail are made from wood and some are slowly rotting and returning to nature. One artwork is made from metal: a proud stag half camouflaged amid the trees.
All of the sculptures, produced by Hertfordshire-born artist Daniel Cordell, reflect the history of the area: a life-size Roman statue watches over the woodland: the old Roman road from London to York passes close by. Elsewhere, a sheepherder searches for his flock, a reference to the land originally being used for grazing livestock.
The Broxbourne Sculpture Trail, which weaves its way through deciduous and evergreen areas of woodland, works really well for toddlers as the route is circular and relatively flat. There are enough sculptures to keep little people interested, especially those who might otherwise tire and ask to be carried. The woods are popular for den building and there are extensive forested areas for longer walks and bike rides. The sculpture trail is also suitable for buggies and wheelchairs.
Find out more: Broxbourne Woods Sculpture Trail
Looking for fun days out in Hertfordshire? I’ve written a guide to the best places to visit in Hertfordshire.
Henry Moore Studios and Gardens, Hertfordshire
We’re lucky to live pretty close to the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens and we visit several times a year. Henry Moore’s sculptures are spaced out over a wide area, some are located within the more formal garden area whilst others are placed in the surrounding fields. The Henry Moore Gardens are brilliant for children of all ages. The outdoor art can be touched, a very appealing concept for my young children. Kids can feel how the bronze changes temperature, it can get really hot when the sun is out.
Henry Moore’s sculptures are abstract or semi-abstract, often depicting the female form. Bringing children to the gardens is a great way to introduce them to the idea that art can take many different forms. Visitors can peak into the studios to see the different materials which Henry Moore used: as well as bronze, he worked in stone and wood. The studios are well preserved and show sketches and tools so visitors can get a true understanding of the art process.
The Henry Moore Studios and Gardens are well geared up for families, there’s a sculpture trail where children have to spot particular sculptures and there are art workshops at certain times of year which we enjoy attending. There are also temporary indoor exhibitions which focus on different areas of Henry Moore’s work, including his wood works and sketches.
Find out more: Henry Moore Studios and Gardens
Lee Valley Sculpture Trail near Enfield
Part of the vast Lee Valley Country Park, this three mile sculpture trail is a brilliant destination for a walk or bike ride next to the river. There’s a real mix of sculptures here – metal creatures, carved wooden benches depicting different wildlife and stone boulders for kids to clamber on.
The general theme is the natural history of the local environment so it’s perfect for combining exercise with a spot of wildlife education.
Find out more: Lee Valley Sculpture Trail
The Line, London
by Catherine at Cultural Wednesday
The Line is less of a sculpture trail and more of a sculpture walk. Part of the Olympic legacy The Line follows the Greenwich meridian for just over four and a half miles between the edge of the Olympic Park and the O2. Even better you get to take the Emirates Cable Car across the Thames which I think gives the best views from any part of the London Transport network. Both ends of the trail are accessible by public transport (North Greenwich for the O2 and either Pudding Mill Lane or Stratford High Street for Stratford) making this a car free day out.
Six sculptures are dotted along the route including a massive and slightly spooky cross section of a ship by Richard Wilson. Take your eyes off the view for a few moments as you cross the cable car to look down at Quantum Cloud by Antony Gormley sitting on the foreshore of the Thames. The Line takes you through a post industrial landscape that was once home to bustling docks and chemical plants but is now thriving in a new way. Along the route there are numerous café’s in which to stop and contemplate the art that you have seen. Best of all The Line is free and always open.
Find out more: The Line
Wat Tyler Country Park Sculpture Trail, Essex
by Georgia at Brit Voyage
Hidden in Essex, on the Thames, Wat Tyler Country Park is a popular spot for dog walkers and families alike. Visitors who scale the length of the eastern side of the park will discover 11 fascinating and unusual sculptures, many of them interactive. The park was once the site of an explosives factory, and the variety of millennial sculptures certainly catapult it into the 21st Century.
Wat Tyler Country Park is named after one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt of the 14th century, and sculptor Robert Koenig clearly took inspiration from the history of the area to craft the collection of imposing wooden figures. ‘After the Uprising’ even stands alone in a clearing, distanced from the other clusters of sculptures, perhaps emphasising the significance of the history, as well as the place.
It’s not all wooden figures, though. Keep searching along the sculpture trail and visitors will find Sonic Marshmallows, an installation perfect for family fun, and Progression, inspired by students at local secondary schools. Indeed, Wat Tyler Country Park is a perfect blend of community, creativity, and culture, so find a time to visit.
Find out more: Wat Tyler Country Park
The Sculpture Park, Churt, Surrey
If you’re thinking of setting up your own little sculpture garden, this might be the place to visit. At The Sculpture Park, you’ll discover a two mile trail through extensive gardens with an arboretum and water park. There are over 600 sculptures on display in this 10 acre setting and pretty much everything is for sale.
The Sculpture Park has a really eclectic mix of artworks by contemporary British and international artists. Although I’ve yet to visit this sculpture garden, I can imagine that it would be a real hit with children given its vast array of styles and subject matter.
Find out more: The Sculpture Park
New Art Centre, Roche Court, Wiltshire
This sculpture park, near Salisbury, features works by modern and contemporary artists including Barbara Hepworth, Richard Long and Antony Caro as well as emerging artists. Founded originally in London in 1958, the New Art Centre relocated to 19th century Roche Court in 1994.
The sculptures, all of which are for sale, are set in the parkland of the country house. There are several gallery spaces which host exhibitions of both sculptural art and works in other media including painting and ceramics.
Find out more: New Art Centre.
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, Cornwall
by Stella Jane at Around the World in 24 Hours
St. Ives is a small town in Cornwall, but it has a large importance in British art history. And one of the most important artists to live in St. Ives was the late sculptor Barbara Hepworth. She is often called one of the major British artists of the 20th century. No trip to St. Ives is complete without a stop at the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden. Adults and children alike will appreciate the beauty of this peaceful place.
The Sculpture Garden is located in the back of Barbara Hepworth’s former home, Trewyn Studio. One ticket buys admission to both the museum in the studio and the Sculpture Garden. Barbara Hepworth herself designed the Sculpture Garden, so you have the opportunity to see her works as she wanted them to be seen.
Barbara Hepworth created many different kinds of sculpture during her lifetime, from the tiny to the monumental, and she worked with a variety of materials. But the pieces in the Sculpture Garden are mainly large bronze sculptures. Because of their green colour, they almost seem to be plants growing in the garden themselves. Some of the most famous pieces in the garden include “Conversation with Magic Stones” and “Two Forms (Divided Circle)”. Children who visit the garden will enjoy peeking through the different corners and holes in the sculptures–almost as much as they’ll enjoy saying hello to the adorable cats who call the garden home.
Find out more: Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, Gloucestershire
by Lucy at On the Luce
Deep among ancient woodland, the 4.5-mile-long looping Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail takes you past 16 sculptures, each inspired by the Forest of Dean’s history and landscapes, from carved wooden railway sleepers and a giant stone acorn to deer spun from iron wire. The trail was set up in 1986 and has a mix of permanent and temporary sculptures along the route, with some designed to eventually get absorbed back into the forest. Most famous is the striking ‘Cathedral’, a 15 foot by 10 foot stained-glass window which hangs between the trees.
The Sculpture Trail is located near Beechenhurst Lodge in the Forest of Dean, where you can pick up a map to help you get around. It takes around two–three hours to walk, though there are a couple of shortcuts marked if you’ve got young kids or don’t want to walk the whole way. For younger children there’s also a 1.3-mile interactive activity trail at Beechenhurst – currently inspired by Shaun the Sheep after stints featuring the Gruffalo and Stick Man – as well as a children’s playground, designed by sculptor Andy Frost and inspired by the Forest’s mining and forestry industries.
Find out more: Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail
British Ironworks Centre & Shropshire Sculpture Park
by Juergen Klein at Dare 2 Go
The British Ironworks Centre is a very family friendly place, full of amazing creatures. This commercial company lives from creating and selling eye-catching sculptures, from tiny to oversized, to private businesses and households. Their 60-acre park near Shrewsbury exhibits the best pieces from their workshop.
The variety and talent showcased in their art is quite breathtaking. Already when you drive into the property, you pass groups of wild animals jumping across the hedges, colourful gorillas lining the drive, and other strange looking creatures made from steel.
At the entrance you are greeted by a fierce looking colourful robot, looking through his brightly lit LED eyes straight down at you. Inside you find a large “zoo” of endangered African wildlife, grazing the parklands.
Scattered across the property are more eye-catching metal sculptures, mostly made from recycled materials. You find fantasy robots, a large phoenix-like bird perched on an old Jaguar limousine, a monster spider (where, if you dare, you can stand under for a photo), and a couple of pieces with much deeper meaning.
Their resident sculptor, Alfie Bradley, created two thought provoking centrepieces. One, which he made at age 24 from donated spoons, is an oversized gorilla in a shiny cage. The other is the ‘Knife Angel’, a statue made from over 100,000 knives. This angel denounces the violence in Great Britain; most knives, which he used to assemble the statue, originate from police evidence tubes.
On site are a large restaurant and a shop, where you can buy quirky ironworks sculptures for your home or office.
Find out more: British Ironwork Centre
Burghley House, Lincolnshire
by Angharad at This Bristol Brood
On the edge of the old market town of Stamford, within the grounds of the magnificent Burghley House, is an outdoor Sculpture Garden set in 14 acres of picturesque gardens. Pathways lead visitors around the contemporary sculptures, some of which are permanent and can be viewed all year-round, others are showcased in annual exhibitions that run from April to October.
Kids especially will love the magical sensory Garden of Surprises with its water fountains, mirror maze, ‘smoking cave’, Neptune’s Cave and interactive obelisks. Be sure to take wellies/crocs, swimming costumes or waterproofs and a change of clothes for children as there’s lots of splashing and water play to be done.
During school holidays, Burghley often runs seasonal-themed, family activity trails around the sculpture gardens, with treats for successful hunters. There’s also an on-site cafe and gift shop, acres of landscaped parkland (keep your eyes open for deer!) and the mansion house itself, which is truly fascinating to explore.
Find out more: Burghley House
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire
The first sculpture park in the UK and probably the most well known is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield. Set across the 500 acre 18th century Bretton Hall estate, this is an all day affair: bring a picnic, bring the dog and enjoy permanent and temporary sculptures by world class artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Damien Hirst.
There are around 80 open air artworks at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with highlights including the iconic Family of Man, a collection of nine pieces by Barbara Hepworth representing the human form from childhood through to maturity.
The list of artists who feature at the YSP either through permanent site-specific artworks, donations or through temporary exhibitions is impressive: Elizabeth Frink, Eduardo Paolozzi, Anthony Caro and Yorkshireman Andy Goldsworthy are all represented among many others.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park embraces families: there are specific child-friendly sculptures such as the musical interactive piece Playground by artist collective Greyworld. There’s a variety of children’s resources to download from the Park’s website and the usual list of family-friendly facilities.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is free to enter, you just pay for parking. And if you don’t mind heading indoors, Yorkshire is home to three other impressive galleries. In the city of Leeds you’ll find the Henry Moore Institute and the excellent Leeds Art Gallery while Wakefield is home to The Hepworth celebrating the art of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, both born and raised in or close to Wakefield.
Find out more: Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Otley Chevin Geology Sculpture Trail, Yorkshire
by Anna at My Travel Scrapbook
The Chevin Forest Geology Sculpture Trail is an artistic and educational sculpture trail. The Chevin is a ridge in West Yorkshire which overlooks the pretty Yorkshire town of Otley. It is often called the Otley Chevin and is covered in lush woodland.
While you can happily wander aimlessly through the trees, there is one particular trail you should not miss – the Chevin Forest Geology Trail.
The Chevin Forest Geology Trail consists of nine timber structures carved by local artist, Shane Green. He also created 18 timber structures for the London Olympics.
The sculptures you can see on your walk in the Chevin are designed to explain the history and geology of the Chevin. For example, the trail starts with a monument to the family who donated the land to the public. A mountain bike, a compass and a climber have been carved onto a 300-year-old tree to represent the Fawkes family’s donation. There is even a caveman on the trail who is over 7-foot-tall and carries a large spear.
There are many wonderful things to do in Yorkshire, but walking the sculpture trail in the Otley Chevin is one of the best.
Find out more: Otley Chevin geology sculpture trail
Another Place, Crosby Beach, Merseyside
I’m seriously considering re-routing my summer holiday plans to incorporate a visit to Crosby Beach near Liverpool. Of all the sculpture trails in the UK this is the one I am most keen to visit. Another Place is a permanent installation of 100 cast iron figures by the renowned artist Antony Gormley.
Made from casts of his own body, these figures have a haunting quality to them (at least I feel like they do when I look at the pictures). They gaze out to sea as the waves wash around them or in some cases over them. There’s plenty to discuss about this installation: the location of Merseyside where man has migrated over hundreds of years, the position of the figures facing away from the viewer and their disappearance at high tide. The figures are rusting and barnacles are appearing on them, weathering with time just as the wooden figures in the forest sculpture trails are doing elsewhere around the country.
Please note, if you’re planning to take children to Crosby Beach, its not a typical seaside affair: there’s no swimming to be had here and I believe facilities are fairly limited. You’ll be coming for the art and the dramatic view which these figures are a part of.
Find out more: Another Place
Grizedale Sculpture, Lake District, Cumbria
Grizedale Forest near Coniston Water in the Lake District, has been hosting temporary and permanent sculptures and installations since 1977. The longest running of the Forestry Commission art projects, Grizedale is the setting for a wide variety of events, exhibitions and performances.
The sculptures are set over 10 square miles of woodland and can be explored on foot or by bike. There’s a visitor centre with an indoor exhibition space along with a café.
Amid the trees, walkers will discover a wide variety of sculptures such as RUUP by Estonian artist Birgit Õigus. This piece has several purposes: its shape (RUUP means megaphone in Estonian) encourages visitors to listen to the sounds around them in the forest. Each part of the sculpture can act as a shelter or as a small stage for performances.
As well as the art, at Grizedale you’ll also find an adventure play area, Go Ape, bike hire and cycle trails. If you’re holidaying in the Lake District, Grizedale is definitely worth a day out.
Find out more: Grizedale Sculpture
Kielder Art and Architecture, Northumberland
Kielder is an interesting place: it’s home to the largest (by capacity) reservoir in the UK and a vast man-man forest. There are holiday lodges (complete in some cases with hot tubs), a dark sky observatory, various sports facilities and, hence its inclusion here, a series of sculptures and installations.
The art installations, which are both sculptures and architectural forms, are dotted across the forest and along the lake shore. I’d imagine this would be a brilliant place for a cycling holiday with kids (another one to add to my list). Some of these works can be explored: the most well known piece, by American art group SIMPARCH entitled Silvas Capitalis (roughly translated from Latin as forest head) is a large wooden head which visitors can walk into through an open mouth. The head can be climbed and there are views onto the woodland through the head’s eyes.
On the lake front are the Janus Chairs, three seats which rotate. When facing inwards together they form a shelter with their forms arching over the sitters. There’s also a minotaur’s maze and a variety of more abstract forms to explore across the park.
There are several trails to follow through the park of varying lengths and full details of each sculpture is documented on the Kielder Art and Architecture website.
Find out more: Kielder Art and Architecture
The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
by Susanne at Adventures around Scotland
The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail is located at Feshiebridge within the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. It opened in 2007 after the sculptures were moved from another part of Scotland to an area closer to the artist’s home. The trail is free to visit and follows a circular route within a woodland setting which has an accessible path suitable for pushchairs and wheelchair users.
The sculptures by Frank Bruce are mainly created from reclaimed timber, with the exception of three stone pieces. The individual pieces are united under the title ‘Patriotism & Poverty‘. The individual themes covers politics, Scottish culture and our relationship with others. It is quite amazing how Bruce has emphasised the natural features of the wood to incorporate them in his designs. Most of the sculptures take the form of figures and some appear incredibly lifelike. You can almost imagine them moving around the forest when you’re not looking,
The artist always envisaged that his work would follow the cycle of birth, life and decay. Some of the sculptures have already started to rot and a few have had to be cut down and laid on the ground for safety reasons. The natural setting and the natural cycle add an extra level of meaning to this fascinating trail.
Find out more: Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail
National Wallace Monument sculpture trail in Stirling, Scotland
by Sheridan Cahoon at Outside Vibes
Overlooking the town of Stirling is a monument to one of Scotland’s most iconic heroes, Sir William Wallace. Designed as a single tower and set atop the Abbey Craig the William Wallace monument is a testament to not only his life but also to the history of Scotland.
Although the Abbey Craig is only a little over 100 metres tall, Wallace’s monument stands proud atop and is viewable from everywhere in Stirling. Visiting the monument itself is a must-do when visiting Stirling but what is really interesting, and not well known to tourists, is to walk the trails surrounding the Abbey Craig. Following the wooded path from the car-park and visitor centre, up to the monument, you walk through a bit of Scottish history.
This main trail is lined with delightful woodcarvings that share some of the beauty of Scotland, various animals and historical figures immerse you into the nature you are strolling through. Alongside these carvings are informational signs that provide quite interesting facts and finds about the history of Scotland as a country and it’s development geologically.
This lovely sculpture trail takes you directly up to the William Wallace monument, where after discovering more about Scotland’s history you are able to continue along the Craig following a longer footpath through the wild forest before ending back at the visitor centre.
Find out more: National Wallace Monument sculpture trail
Nugent’s Woods in Portaferry, Northern Ireland
This narrow stretch of woodland sits on the edge of Strangford Lough, to the south of Belfast. There’s a marked trail of around a mile which takes in lovely views over the lough as well as leading through the mixed woodland where visitors have the chance to spot the resident red squirrels.
The sculptures are a recent addition – a mix of wooden animals and carved benches. There’s one seat with a poignant CS Lewis quote, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again”.
The woods are managed by the National Trust. There’s a car park at the start of the walk (near the Exploris Aquarium) and plenty of places close by for refreshments.
Find out more: Nugent’s Woods
Do you have a favourite sculpture trail near you? Let me know about your favourite outdoor art in the comments below. I’ll be adding to this list of sculpture trails over the coming months so do pop back later in the year to see if there’s a new outdoor art location to visit.
Looking for more open air culture? Read my article about the best open air museums in the UK.
I’ve also written about the best places to meet up outside – ideal if you want to meet family and friends in an outdoor setting.
If you’re travelling across the UK and you’d like to avoid using a service station, I’ve put together an extensive blog post about alternative places to stop just off the motorway
Looking for walks which are a little more challenging for your family? Take a look at my blog post about multi day hikes in Europe.