The last few years city art trails (mainly run for charity), have become more popular. I’ve usually missed getting to see them due to lack of time off, or just missing the days. Once the Gromit Unleashed sculpture trail arrived in Oxford over the Easter holidays back in 2018, we headed to Oxford on a slightly drizzly day to visit both Oxford Castle and do the trail. It was a lot of fun, and since then we’ve been to other temporary sculpture trails, and I’m always looking out for other trails to do.
If you’ve never experienced an art trail before, then do look out for them near to you. They’re great for families to get out and about, and to explore local areas.
What is an art trail or sculpture trail?
Art trails (or sculpture trails) are largely set up in cities or larger towns as a temporary exhibition, to provide a fun and interesting activity celebrating artworks. They’re usually themed around a character (think the Green Man trail, the Gromit Unleashed, the bee trail around Manchester. The sculptures are usually large, places in different places around the city, and designed by different artists or community groups from the city. Many trails are done for charity, with the sculptures auctioned off afterwards. Often you can get hold of a trail map from a local information centre or online, or pay to get a children’s activity sheet. Then you follow the trail in a day, or across weeks if you’re local, to spot as many of the sculptures as you can find.
Trails are a great way to enjoy a day out to explore more around a town or city, especially when you’ve got children. Artwork is a good diversion when out shopping too.
Art and sculpture trails in 2022 and in future
School holidays and weekends are a great time for getting out on temporary one off trails, this year’s will start from around April onwards:
- Morph’s Epic Art Adventure, North Tyneside. 29th January to 3rd April 2022 with 20 lifesize Morph’s around Whitley Bay, Wallsend, Killingworth, Forest Hall, Tynemouth, North Shields and Cullercoats.
- Sculpture in the City – annual sculpture exhibitions that rotate from one year to the next in the City of London. Download the information, or get a leaflet from St Paul’s Cathedral. This year’s until 10th April.
- The Big Hoot, Hemel Hempstead from 10 February to 19 April 2022. 12 owls, follow the trail via leaflet or app.
- Elmer the Elephant – Elephant Park, Elephant and Castle, London, from 3rd March, 10 Elmers will be on show around the park, start of the trail is Walworth Library, and you can also pick up the trail leaflet from Southwark Heritage Centre
- A dog’s trail, Cardiff – 50 Snoopy sculptures across the city, from 8 April to 5 June, celebrating the Dog’s Trust’s new rehoming centre.
- The Big Hoot – Ipswich, May to September. Forty owls, plus smaller ones from schools and community groups.
- The Big Splash, Isle of Man – will be held May to September, with a pod of dolphin sculptures.
- Hares of Hampshire art trail – 16 June to 25 August, these 30 giant hare sculptures will be in place across Winchester and Southampton, with schools and community groups designing smaller hares too.
- The Owl and the Pussycat trail – Knowsley will include 30 pairs of owls and cat sculptures.
- Elmer’s Big Belfast Trail – first Northern Ireland trail over summer 2022.
- Follow that Duck, across the south coast in Hastings, Bexhill and St Leonards on Sea for 10 weeks over the summer.
- GoGoDiscover – Norwich and Norfolk, 27 June to 10 September. Part 2 of the prehistoric trail, adding mammoths around Norfolk, as well as the Tyrannosaurus Rex sculptures.
- Giraffe about town – Edinburgh in summer. Large giraffe sculptures across the city.
- The Big Burton Carousel, Burton upon Trent – there will be 30 galloping carousel horses that celebrate Burton’s history in carousel craftsmanship in Summer 2022.
- Snowdogs Support Life – Kirkless, Autumn 2022. 30 snowdogs, and extra smaller sculptures will be in towns and villages across Kirklees.
Permanent sculpture parks and walks
Around the UK in rural areas and country parks, there are permanent sculpture parks you can visit and walk around. They range from a handful of sculptures, to parks with hundreds of artwork pieces in, from natural designs to huge pieces. You can find some of them in the below, many are free to enter (you just pay for parking):
- Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield – over 40 years old, this parkland has 100 pieces of art to discover, as well as a handful of indoor galleries to enjoy. Great option for families.
- Sculpture by the Lakes, Dorchester Dorset – 30 giant sculptures by Simon Gudgeon and his wife, with further sculptures by 30 other artists. No children under 14 years, book online.
- Cotswold Sculpture Park, Somerfield Keys, Gloucestershire – Elemental exhibition, open April to September (not Tuesdays/Wednesdays), cafe available.
- Forest of Dean – beautiful walks (cycle trails also available), with well spaced out artworks set into the countryside features, including a beautiful hanging stained glass piece that was my favourite.
- Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives Cornwall – visit her former home and studio and see some of her 30+ exciting sculptures.
- The Sculpture Park, Farnham, Surrey – smaller pieces of artwork (over 800!), in a 10 acre garden to explore. The pieces are for sale, so the artwork changes regularly.
- British Ironworks Sculpture Centre, Shropshire – a 30 acre garden with over 100 metalwork pieces, including an educational Extinction Trail of endangered animals.
- Grizedale Sculpture, Cumbria – we visited towards the end of our uni days, enjoy Grizedale Forest’s 40+ sculptures that work well into the natural habitat. Visit them by foot or bike
- Sainsbury Centre Sculpture Park, Norwich – if you’re going for the indoor art galleries, also check out the 20+ sculptures outside the centre on the University of East Anglia’s campus.
- Henry Moore Studio and Gardens, Perry Green, Hertfordshire – former workplace and home of the sculptor, each year displaying 20 of his pieces. Open end of March to October.
- Jupiter Artland, Wilkieston, nr Edinburgh – a collection of contemporary sculptures, with permanent and temporary exhibitions.
- Kielder Art and Architecture Trail, Northumberland – interactive exhibits on a huge scale.
- Irwell Sculpture Trail, Greater Manchester – 70 sculptures along the 30 mile trail from Bacup to Salford Quays.
- Broomhill Sculpture Garden, Devon – boutique hotel and restaurant with a garden with 150 sculptures. You need to book in advance.
- Compton Verney’s Art in the Park – a lovely good value day out, some of the sculptures are permanent, others are temporary. Lots of family activities, as well as indoor art galleries.
- University of Warwick sculpture park, Coventry – open to the public, sculptures can be seen around the campus site. There’s usually a family fun trail leaflet you can download as well as the more traditional version.
- Fforest Fawr Sculpture Trail, Cardiff – woodland trail with artworks throughout.
Oxford Gromit Unleashed trail experience (2018)
N has seen Shaun the Sheep on children’s tv, but never seen Wallace and Gromit, but he doesn’t mind a trail. Especially when there’s a prize involved at the end. The Gromit Unleashed tour cost us £2 which goes towards the Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal and supports sick children in hospitals.
Rather than being all around the city, the trail was based in the Westgate shopping centre. That meant it was perfect for a drizzly day. No worries about getting drenched while looking for them, although it can get busy when you want to photograph them.
Most were Gromit, although there were a couple of Shaun statues too. And we loved the cheese and teapot sculptures too. The cheese was a perfect size for N to sit on and check out the trail map.
What I loved is how a trail round a shopping centre keeps N happy. He doesn’t moan about being near shops, although I wasn’t on a shopping mission unfortunately. If you’re out with the whole family, it’s the perfect opportunity to leave the OH and kids to do the trail while you shop.
We found it a good way to check out the whole of the shopping centre. With only 10 statues to find, it didn’t take long (we did it in a couple of stages as our castle tour was in the middle. It’s lovely to see children’s excitement at first finding the Gromit, and then seeing all the colour, pattern and theme of each one. And N got to choose a Gromit keyring at the end for completing the trail. He’s already decided it’s going on his bookbag.
Hopefully now we’ve had one trail in Oxford, we’ll get more in future. It would be nice to have them stay for longer, and be more wide spread around the city.
Other sculpture trails we’ve visited:
- Manchester – Bee in the City 100 bees around the city and outskirts
- University of Warwick – contemporary art in the campus grounds
If you know of any more, let me know and I’ll add them. Which trails have you done in the past?
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