GoHerdwick Lake District Art Trail
During Summer 2016 a new species of sheep was introduced to the Lake District. The GoHerdwick Art Trail celebrated the native Herdwick sheep and was a fun spring and summer activity for all the family. Taking their cue from the Shaun the Sheep trails in London and Bristol, the fibreglass ewes formed a colourful collection of sixty works of public art installed for the summer season in several popular Lakeland towns before being auctioned off for charity. We put our boots on and went on a woolly treasure hunt…
A Lake District Art Trail
Like a golden fleece Rebecca Heaton Cooper’s ‘Mathilde’ illuminates the grey bank holiday day. ‘Mathilde’ stands on the main road, gazing forever (or at least until October 2016) towards Helm Crag. Mathilde has the Lakes engrained in her coat. She is shaped by the hand of a Cumbrian artist. And she is stamped with farming tradition. Quite literally. Rebecca’s Herdwick takes its inspiration from the markings on flocks in the South Lakeland area.
The idea for the artwork came when the Grasmere artist and Director of Heaton Cooper Studio saw and photographed a Shepherds Guide published in the 1800’s at The Wordsworth Trust. Smit marks locate a sheep to a particular herd and Rebecca simplified them for inclusion on her Herdwick, working in her recognisable style of mixed media and using earthy landscape colours.
“The marks go with the farms – for example Town End in Grasmere has a mark that goes with that flock,” Rebecca explains, adding that she also included very old map references of the Grasmere area. Like the real Lakeland Herdwicks who always return to their landscape, if Mathilde was lost or stolen, you get the sense she would have a good chance of finding her way home.
One of a colourful Lakeland herd
Mathilde’s ‘herd’ is a colourful and rather unusual bunch. It’s also rather disparate. The 60 sheep are scattered around central Lakeland towns from Windermere to Keswick. Whether painted by the collective hands of primary school children, textured by the experienced hand of a Lakeland painter, or covered in the handprints of local shepherds each sheep is an individual work of art.
Many take their cue from the natural world; outside Hayes Garden World you can spot a number of creatures hiding in the coat of Jayne Lancaster’s Rosie. Frankie Cranfield’s Ms Todd has a wily fox on her coat. Some are about Lakeland history; you can see the 555 bus and the architecture of the Lakeland towns depicted in creative ways. Others are fun, a bit bizarre and not what you expect from the location. Karen Lester uses Chinese art in a nod to Chinese visitors to Bowness and Windermere. Liam Spencer has portrayed his native Manchester and putting Herdy Mercury complete with moustache in the grounds of Dove Cottage shows the collection has a sense of humour.
Charity fundraising sheep
The sheep are a 40th anniversary fundraising campaign for the Lake District Calvert Trust. The trust runs outdoor activities for people with disabilities and the money will go towards the development of a new rehabilitation centre in Keswick. Business Manager (Marketing) for the Calvert Trust Justin Farnan says the project has already gone beyond their expectations. “We are absolutely delighted with how the project has snowballed, and with the uptake from artists, sponsors and the public.” Just a few days in and someone had already spotted all 60, posting a collage on social media. Justin and the team are hoping the ewes will provide a boost to Cumbrian tourism throughout the summer. “We hope they will drive footfall to places like Grasmere and to businesses impacted by December’s flooding,” he says. The 60 sheep will be followed by 50 lambs in two Hide and Seek lamb trails in May, which will be installed for kids to find in local shops and businesses. (There are still two sponsorship opportunities available for anyone who would like to adopt a lamb.) The whole flock will come together in the autumn before being auctioned off by the charity.
Joining the dots
It’s great to see this kind of joined up thinking in my home county. #GoHerdwick is an imaginative campaign that taps into Lakeland history, nature and culture and engages Lakeland artists to do what they do best. It has an effective social media presence and traditional media have also shown an interest. (Cumbria Life magazine is sponsoring the Herdwick in the Heaton Cooper gallery and perhaps unsurprisingly Lakeland Radio lays claim to Herdy Mercury.)
The locations of the individual sheep could work better; the fibreglass ewes are most thought provoking and photogenic when placed in or near the natural landscape like Mathilde. Tied to the locations of sponsors many are behind glass in shops; it’s hard to take a good photo of them and it seems wrong somehow to trap these representations of the hardiest of breeds inside. I do wonder why the beautiful stone wall inspired Burley at Low Wood Hotel is stuck in the car park around the back rather than at the front or near the jetty looking out to sea. And while Bella the Lazonby School sheep at Booths in Windermere looks at home next to the compost outside the shop, the location doesn’t really show her off.
Free the Herdwick
I would love to see them in hillsides, in valleys or beside streams but appreciate that the idea is to make them accessible to all, to raise money through sponsorship, to drop them into unexpected locations and to drive people to the Lakeland towns. Perhaps once they are auctioned at the end of their stay some of them will find new homes in nature.
The Herdwicks are mostly scattered around the route of the 555 bus, which is partially disrupted at the moment but there are plans to have everything back to normal by the early summer. It would be hard to walk the trail in one go (unless you are very fit or have a lot of time) as they are literally all over the place, at hotels on the main road and in shops and galleries. But at each location you can ditch the car and walk around. Or you can take the bus and do them over several different days. There are maps that will help you locate them, available for £2 at central locations in five Lakeland towns. We managed to tick off 16 Herdwicks in one rainy afternoon. Like real sheep, some are harder to catch than others – two of them are installed on Windermere Lakes Cruises boats.
Already the locals have their favourites. Rebecca Heaton Cooper loves the daffodil strewn Dilly in St Oswald’s Church made by Grasmere School. She laughs and explains that she’s biased, “Both my kids have done a daffodil. The school has really pulled it out of the bag.” She also likes Rachy McKenzie’s 100 Years and Counting artwork in Keswick. Meanwhile Justin and the rest of the Calvert Trust staff are staying impartial. “Just like parents with their children we’d never admit to having a favourite. We love them all.”
Whether you are a visitor to the Lakes or a local, I urge you to check out the #GoHerdwick trail. You’ll end up in places you never expected to see sheep, like churches and posh hotels. You’ll experience local art. You’ll help to raise money for a charity that does excellent work in this county. And you’ll get to know a breed that is part of the fabric of the Lake District. Who knows, you may even be inspired to buy one of the fantasy ewes. I particularly like Mathilde. And my birthday is in November, if you are asking.