Over the last few months, parts of the Beacon Hill Country Park have been filled with ‘tree-people’ and various other pieces of sculpture. The ‘Up To The Beacon Sculpture Trail’, created by ArtSpace Loughborough, and a successor to the award-winning ‘Into The Outwoods Sculpture Trail’ that has run in recent years, featured 34 sculptural installations, a ‘geo-timeline’, and over 80 ‘tree-people’. Sadly, the trail has now come to an end, but Nita Rao, who was lead artist for the project, was happy to see so many members of the public walking around the 2.2 km route at the Beacon Hill Country Park, and to read comments about nice days out on the project’s social media channels. “It has been great to talk to people around the trail and during workshops, with visitors finding the work thought provoking as well as enjoyable”.
The sculpture trail’s Facebook page is full of people tagging their friends and family members, and leaving comments about their experience of the trail. The reception has been really positive, Nita says. One facebook user commented: “We went last week and had a super time. The little [tree] people were great fun to find.”
Recurring themes of the sculpture trail included the climate crisis and the importance of biodiversity, addressed by numerous pieces of sculpture produced by various artists. Nita’s Don’t look up, an ostrich and ostrich chick, was one example. The adult Ostrich had its head buried in the sand, unwilling to look to the future, while the chick looked up in hope. Fans of the sculpture trail were tasked with suggesting names for the Ostrich chick – Nita chose Hope to reflect the need to boldly face the future and not bury our heads in the sand in light of the climate and ecological crises we face.
Other works highlighted the importance of biodiversity. Lisa Denham made a beautiful set of small ceramic birds, and, as well as the ostrichs there were albatross, dragonflies, ants, polar bears, bees, snails and slugs, a fox, an adder, a hedgehog, a bird of prey and two shoals of fish – Nita Rao’s Our gift to nature, willow fish filled with plastic from the river Soar, and Shoal by Sarah Green, hanging fish made from wire and cloth.
Nita Rao’s Polar Bears, symbolically filled with white plastic and perched on small platforms to represent shrinking ice sheets, also provide a warning for the ecological crisis.
The trail was nestled in the Upper Beacon at the Beacon Hill Country Park, near some of the oldest rock formations in England. The trail also celebrated these rocks, and the Charnwood Forest’s (encompassing the Beacon) attempts to gain UNESCO World Geopark status for the area, as a historically significant area based on its unique geological heritage including the discovery of the ‘Charnia’ fossil there in 1958, one of the oldest pieces of evidence of complex life.
This was represented by Nita Rao’s willow Charnia, as well as a ‘geotimeline’, A brief timeline for life on earth, produced by Tony Thory (with illustrations from Ingrid Klein-Daniels and Erica Middleton) which described the evolution of life on earth. It highlighted past mass extinctions, the coming and going of the dinosaurs and the emergence of humans, from 560million years ago to the present. The 17 markers around the 2.2 kilometre trail were placed in proportion with the time passed between events. In this vein, each metre walked represented 255,000 years of time, the emergence of homo sapiens appearing only 1.1m from the end of the trail!
There was also a ‘fascinating fossil day’ on 20 august, featuring workshops where visitors could create small willow ‘Charnia’, paperclay ammonites and fossil fern prints. The day also featured guided walks around the Beacon rocks with Charnwood Forest Geopark geologist Dr Jack Matthews.
Out of the 34 amazing installations on the trail, some were created in school outreach workshops locally. The Amazing Ants made by Nita Rao and Lisa Denham, using recycled materials, were made with pupils from Cobden Primary, Limehurst and Outwoods Edge Primary. The six giant Dragonflies were made from steel and willow by Nita Rao in workshops at the Rectory Wildlife Garden and Maplewell Hall School. The Wings installation was a collaboration between Lisa Denham and Glebe House Workskills clients.
The trail was generously supported by grants from Leicestershire County Council, Charnwood Forest Geopark, Intelligent Energy, Leicestershire and Rutland Community Foundation, Charnwood Arts, Shire Community Grants, the Heritage Fund, Charnwood Borough Council and The National Forest.
Loughborough ArtSpace, the trail organisers, are pleased to have been able to brighten peoples’ days and help get them out and active in the inspirational Beacon Hill Country Park area. They hope to stage another new trail in summer 2024 or 2025.
Up to the Beacon Sculpture Trail 2023 – Free and open to all. 10nd June – 17th Sept 2023.