Art and Culture Days Out Mini Feature Nature & Wildlife

Art, ice-cream & arguments: Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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Who says art, arguments and ice creams don’t mix?

Art Outdoors at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Ever had a row in an art gallery? We had several yesterday, ranging from a punch up to a ten minute tantrum. And you know what? It was fine. Five hundred acres of grounds at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park provide enough space for a family to let off steam on a Sunday afternoon, as well as absorbing some contemporary culture, shaped by the hands of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Andy Goldsworthy and Anthony Gormley. Thankfully for us, not all art hangs silently on a wall…

Art, ice-cream and arguments at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

“Stinky rabbit.” says Cameron under his breath.

“Mum, he’s calling me stinky rabbit again. I am NOT a stinky rabbit.” Hannah yells, folds her arms and stomps off up the hill.

“Ha. I was talking about THAT rabbit,” says Cameron, pointing towards a giant bunny, fashioned out of coiled wire and squatting on the slope. This rather unstinky rabbit is twice the size of a human, has a large space between two halves of its torso and focusses its steely lop eared concentration on 500 acres of parkland.

“No you weren’t, You meant me” shouts Hannah, her lips puffed out like a duck.

“Stinky toilet on a branch,” says Cameron pointedly. Hannah is poised to stamp fresh anger into the Yorkshire earth. But her brother holds up both his hands in a mock conciliatory gesture.

“It’s not all about you, you know,” he gesturing towards the tree ahead of us where lavatories, garden sheds and buckets hang on sturdy stems. Hannah stamps her feet anyway and stomps off again. For the fifth time today, I’m glad we have several hundred metres of parkland between us and the next family.

Trees (from Alternative Landscape Components) by Dennis Openheim

Art outdoors is great family fun

No matter how many families turn up to this highly cultured site, (and there are a lot here today) this sculpture park near Wakefield in West Yorkshire has the capacity to absorb them all. It also absorbs more than 60 art installations as well as a selection of galleries, cafes, rolling hills and lakes. This vast open air gallery is all about using the outdoors as a backdrop to contemporary art, getting fresh air, exercise and a cultural experience all at the same time. And the art here is as varied as the landscape.

View across to Bretton Hall from the Lower Lake

This art helps you appreciate the landscape

Many of the sculptures fit in so well, you’d mistake them for farm infrastucture if you stumbled across them in a field. Take Andy Goldsworthy’s Shadow Stone Fold; a fully working sheep pen that looks like it’s housed a few ewes in its time Our boys quickly decide Hannah is a suitable substitute for the sheep population of West Yorkshire. Their sister suspends her hostility long enough to baa her way through the metal gates and around the sandstone walls. In return for her complicity, she’s fed Jaffa Cakes through a grate.

Hands on art: the kids explore Andy Goldsworthy’s Shadow Stone Fold

At David Nash’s Seventy One Steps, the sculpture fits equally well into the landscape. Friends again, Hannah and Cameron make their way up 71 oak beams steps set into a bed of a coal. Like Hansel and Gretel, they drop jaffa cake crumbs as they climb up and through the woodlands.

David Nash: 71 Steps.
These oak steps set in a bed of coal will slowly be worn back into the earth

Over time this sculpture will decompose and become part of the landscape it was formed from. With all the local birdlife, no doubt the crumbs will disappear far quicker.

Ever changing stillness

A darkened, deconsecrated chapel in one corner of the grounds shows nature’s capacity to devour itself in frame by frame action. An on screen vision of Kingswood Forest in Kent imperceptibly shifts from summer to winter in the space of a few minutes, in an installation by Jem Finer. I sit and watch for while, at first unable to see the subtle changes right before my eyes before slowly tuning into the seemingly still yet ever shifting imagery.

But the stillness of the art does not sit well with the kids who are in no mood for meditation or contemplation. They want to get back outside and run around. Well, this is an art gallery.

Frolicking in a modern folly

We wander down, across the lake and up onto Oxley Bank. On an exposed hill looking out across the grounds of  Bretton Hall Estate we feel part of winter itself as we stand in the centre of a modern folly while the wind blusters through the cage-like creation known as Basket No 7. The Bretton Hall Estate was designed to have viewing points and follies from which to take in or escape the world, and inside this out of place mesh cage you can do both.

The kids explore Basket No 7, Winter/Hörbelt

Inside, the outside world is diced by the mesh of the cage, separating us from the landscape while allowing the weather right in. The cage seems to affect us differently. While Stuart muses on the simultaneous experience of being connected to and disconnected from the environment, the kids run rings between the mesh walls like caged animals.

Amongst the wildlife is still life

Humans are important to the landscape at the sculpture park. For many years the estate was owned by the Wentworth family; distant relatives of author Jane Austen. The 5th Baronet and last owner of the hall was responsible for developing the landscape and introducing the trees. From the 1950’s the mansion house became Bretton Hall College and it was the staff at this arty institution that first introduced the idea of the sculpture park.

Bronze Riace Figures by Elizabeth Frink are amongst the people in the park.

All manner of people are present here in still life too. Elizabeth Frink’s bronze Riace figures stand across the road from Jonathan Borofsky’s Molecule Man 1+1+1, a triple sided human structure that looks like its full of bullet holes, while Anthony Gormley’s One and Other mirrors his human plinth installation in Trafalgar Square. He places one of his casts high on a stone structure, it’s shapeless form giving it a lonely presence in the clear blue sky.

Anthony Gormley: One and Other
See also our post on Another Place

Art, outdoors and exercise – a perfect combo

It’s impossible for children or adults to get bored in this park and I wonder out loud how many galleries that statement can be applied to? Our own children run themselves dizzy, and around every corner there’s a fresh visual or aural surprise.

At the end of our walk, Hannah’s stamping on the ground is rewarded with musical notes in the willow like structure called Playground, created by the Greyworld collective. This is one sculpture where throwing your weight around is a positive action.

“Stinky rabbit, stinky toilet,” shouts Cameron to his hearts content, while Hannah pounds her feet into the boards. Her last tantrum of the day plays out with a tinkling musical background as the park grows dark.

Art in the outdoors is a truly special thing. Bring on the toddlers.

Summer Fields by Helen Escobedo

Want to know more?

There’s more to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park than just great art outdoors. There’s galleries, gardens, cafes and shops too. If you’d like to know more about the Park, this video is a useful introduction. 

Is art just for galleries? We’d love to hear about your experience of art outdoors. Click comments below and tell us.

Practical Information

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is in West Bretton, Yorkshire, just one mile from Junction 38 of the M1 (between Leeds and Sheffield). For public transport options check the YSP website. It’s open every day (except 24 and 25 December) from 10am to 5pm (6pm in summer). As well as the park there are galleries, a restaurant, shop and other visitor facilities. Entrance to the park is free. For those travelling by car, there is on-site parking which is charged for.


About the author


The Family Adventure Project. Ideas and inspiration for an active and adventurous family lifestyle. From everyday adventures to once in a lifetime experiences. Stories, images and media produced and published by Stuart Wickes and Kirstie Pelling.


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