Sunday, 1 June 2014

Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail


Martha and Steph took us to see the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail which starts at Beechenhurst Lodge. The Trail through the Forestry Commission forest is run by a Trust, founded in 1986, which commissions site-responsive works. The Trust's website is "under development", but a little more information is available from the Forestry Commission.

You walk uphill from Beechenhurst Lodge (where you can and should buy the excellent map and Trail description) and soon see the first piece, Place, a gigantic chair sitting on the top of a hill. It is an impressive start.

From here, we headed through the woods passing three further pieces which did not really impress us to enter a former industrial area, the site of the Speech House Colliery. A waterway previously used to drain the mines runs at the bottom of a ravine and two concrete boats have been placed there, one in the stream and one off to the left. The exhibit is named Fire and Water Boats. The effect is pleasingly mysterious.

The route continues along a ridge where there was once a railway line carrying coal and ore through the forest. Iron road consists of a number of carved railway sleepers. The carving takes it beyond a mere industial relic.

As we walk along this track, a life sized creature, Searcher, stands rather forlornly in the wood. The wood itself, with the waterway running presents a lovely view.

A clump of bamboo and a grove with the word "silence" in different languages have little impact on us and seem to stretch the concept of sculpture past breaking point, but we all loved Cone and vessel, a giant fir cone and acorn cup.

In a section of lighter woodland now, we came upon the massive Hill 33, a relatively recent addition dating from 2010. It is a massive structure made of industrial engineering material filled with coal spoil. The fencing creates the sense of some dangerous, slightly mysterious derelict building, but this may of course not have been part of the original concept.

Some of us quite liked House, a small metal square on very tall legs, but Observatory left us cold, principally because the view was simply of a stagnant pond and of course more trees. The next piece Raw however was much more interesting. An entire oak tree, planted in 1800 was felled in 2001 to open out a glade. The wood from the tree was cut into pieces which were assembled into this large cube, which is now visibly decaying. We found this to be a fascinating transformation.

A short distance away, another entertaining concept was Echo, a moulding of the rock patterns in a former quarry. I have tried to align the sculpture with its subject in this photo.

Next we entered an area of tall pines, spaciously planted. The work here was called Cathedral and was simply magnificent. A stained glass window depicting woodland scenes hangs from a wooden framework at the end of a broad track. The tall pines on either side of the track are immediately evocative of the columns of a cathedral nave and the piece is perfectly positioned to maximise this effect. It would be worth coming to see this alone.

A couple of further pieces remained: one was insignificant (Hanging Fire) and the other was out of commission (Melissa's Swing)

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: 4.5 miles.

Map: Explorer OL 14 Wye Valley and Forest of Dean.

Rating: four stars. Absorbing and very interesting.

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