Designed to reflect the serene woodlands that surround them, the sculptures along the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail provide a calm alternative to the adrenaline-fuelled activities that made the area famous.
Nestled among the trees, the installations tell the location’s story. When the Sculpture Trail was founded, back in 1986, the plan was to leave the pieces un-signposted. This would allow visitors to stumble across them organically, lending the eerie impression that the art and the woodlands were part and parcel.
And indeed, in a sense, they are. The sculptures are all designed to be site-specific. Working with native materials and echoing local history, the art tells the story of the forest almost as well as the trees themselves do.
These days, the sculptures are not so subtle. Their popularity has led the Sculpture Trail Trust to put up directions.
There are no explanations alongside the artwork. Explorers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions about the piece’s meaning – plus, its connection to the local forest.
New sculptures in 2021
In the wake of COVID-19, the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail seems more significant than ever. The 4.5-mile walk will hopefully be getting some more artwork by summer 2021.
Staycations are booming, with city-dwellers feeling the urge to escape to the countryside and immerse themselves in nature.
The Trust hopes that by installing more of their famous sculptures along the trail, visitors will flock to the Forest of Dean and be more appreciative than ever of the connection between man and nature.
If plans go ahead, there will be eight new pieces gracing the trails. These include eco-friendly arms hugging trees, graceful wildflower paintings, and a badger-shaped bench shelter made from wicker.
Our absolute favourite of the new installations, though, is one proposed by father-and-daughter duo Robin and Isla Collings, who won the South West England open call for sculpture submissions.
The pair plan to create a steel sculpture embossed with a poem written by 9-year-old Isla inspired by the forest and its surroundings.
The father-daughter team hopes that the work will resonate with families who have been homeschooling throughout the pandemic and making art together.
Just because there are plans to create new sculptures doesn’t mean the older ones are any less worth seeing.
With the collection growing over the years, the art has taken its place in nature. Some of the pieces have rusted, melting into the background and waiting to catch your eye.
One of these is the ethereal Hanging Fire by Cornelia Parker, which was erected in the forest in 1988.
It mimics the shape of a crown in its autumnal colours, and evokes images of fairy rings and perpetually burning fire. The piece is made with cast iron, a nod to the area’s rich mining history, and manages to combine the impact of humans with the natural world.
Another particularly eye-catching piece is Kevin Atherton’s Cathedral, one of the earliest sculptures to join the trail. This stained glass vision hangs between trees, changing as the light plays with the colours.
Though both the name and the shape hint at religion, the content of the glass is purely natural, melding our vision of man-made churches with the natural canopies that stretch over the Forest of Dean.
We think @gregfoot said it best: “This took my breath away”!
The sculpture trail starts and ends at Beechenhurst picnic site, and can be split into smaller sections if you don’t fancy taking on the entire trail in one day.
If you, too, have a hankering to explore some beautiful artwork in the context of an ancient forest, why not plan a trip?
Explore our site for more ideas on how to spend time in the Forest of Dean.