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 2021 and in future
Summer holidays are a great time for getting out on temporary trails, you’ve still got a bit of time left to do some of the trails below that are taking place this year:
- 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.
- The Kingfisher Trail, Cotswolds – 22 different kingfishers around the 2 trails in different Cotswold villages and town locations. These will be auctioned off post exhibition in September.
- Eye Art Trail – the 3rd annual trail, this has 26 large hares and tortoises, plus 16 minis around Eye, Suffolk. The sculptures will be auctioned off on 16th September.
- Cows about Cambridge – find the large and small cows (I love the pun names they’re given!) using the app or downloaded map, the trail ends 4th September. 17-19th September is the farewell event at the Grafton.
- Bears of Sheffield – 100 small and 60 large bears, raising money for The Children’s Hospital Charity. The farewell bear event takes place 14th-17th October at Meadowhall.
- Rocket Round Leicester – 40 colourful rockets around the city, with the last day on 26th September.
- Big Trunk Trail, Luton – 30 giant elephants and 41 elephant calves are on the trail, the latter clustered around 6 indoor locations. End date is 8th October.
- The Big Hare Trail, North Berwick – 10 giant hare sculptures, around until 16th September.
- Gratitude Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, London (on tour) – check dates and locations before buying tickets. Gratitude is sculptures based on people, with the aim of celebrating and thanking the NHS work that they’ve done over the last couple of years. After Edinburgh 26th September, dates for London are to be announnced.
- Light in the North trail – across the North East, Moray, Orkney and Skye, Lighthouse sculptures up to the 18th October.
- GoGoDiscover Tyrannosaurus trail, Norwich – 21 dinosaurs around the city until 11th September.
- Hares About Town, Southend on Sea – held until 12th September, 30 1.6 metre hares are in the town and at the seafront for visitors to find.
- Moor Otters Trail, Dartmoor – open until 19th September, the trail has otters and their cubs around Plymouth, Dartmoor and other villages and towns.
- Lincoln Imp Trail – until 12th September, find the 30 Imps, plus their 60 smaller versions around the city, with the imps inspired by the stone imp seen in Lincoln Cathedral
- Stockport’s Gigantic Leap frog trail – held until 26th September, find the giant frogs around the city.
- Tusk Lion trail, London, Edinburgh and globally – 47 life size lions to raise funds for conservation and highlight the threats to lions.
- North Notts Journeys – 40 book bench sculptures across north Nottinghamshire until 5th September.
Announced for 2022 art trails
- The Big Hoot, Ipswich from June to September 2022. 40 large owls, and smaller ones to be placed around the city.
- Elmer’s Big Belfast Trail – 27th June to 4th September, 50 Elmers will be on the trail.
- GoGoDiscover, Norwich – part 2 of the prehistoric trail, adding mammoths around Norfolk, as well as the Tyrannosaurus Rex sculptures.
- Giraffe about town, Edinburgh – over 40 giraffe sculptures across the city, summer.
- The Big Splash, Isle of Man – will be held May to September, with a pod of dolphin sculptures.
- Hares of Hampshire art trail – over 10 weeks in summer 2022, these giant hare sculptures will be in place across Winchester and Southampton.
- A dog’s trail, Cardiff – happening in Spring 2022,
- 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.
- Follow that Duck, across the south coast in Hastings, Bexhill and St Leonards on Sea. See 30 large ducks and lots of smaller ones along the trail.
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.
- 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.
- Albion Fields, Little Milton, Oxfordshire – a newer park, with 26 installations amongst sometimes re-wilded countryside. Open July to end of October 2021.
- 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.
- 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.
Our 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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