So, yes, the Sculpture Trail in the Forest of Dean, Glos, is definitely worth doing. Lots of sculptures hidden in dingly dells, on old railway lines, among the tumps of old mine workings, up trees.
But the thing that made it a must-do at the weekend was the story of the collapsing Mayan temple. Was it a myth? Was it a legend? Or was I mything something?
“Oh that one. Well, it’s a collapsing Mayan Temple crossed with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” is how the bloke in the shop where I bought the Sculpture Trail guide and map described it.
He’s a character. I suspect that if he doesn’t like you, if you seem a bit hoity-toity and don’t buy anything AND you have the temerity to ask him directions he doesn’t necessarily send you in the correct direction. He might, in fact, send you on a bit of a detour on the wrong side of Cinderford.
So when he marked on the map with a pencil the location of the Mayan temple, I wasn’t quite sure. Turns out he does like me (and I bought the map after all!) because we were strolling up a deserted fire road when to the north, through the bare trees, you could see the bulk of something rising into the air, something which was big and could possibly be made of stone.
“The Temple!” I cried out.
I’ve seen temples…er.. in pictures, usually, taken by my well-travelled sons. Angkor Wat and it’s smaller more tree-infested relative Just Wat Is This?
They are ancient and the stone has intricate, enigmatic carvings and words etched out in long-lost languages. So the edifice in the distance was full of rather exciting promise.
It was just like Indiana Jones, except Capt Sensible looks younger than Harrison Ford, hasn’t ever wrestled a snake and probably wouldn’t miraculously survive being dragged along beneath a moving truck.
We took a shortcut through the trees stumbling over tussocky grass, sloshing through streams to come out on a track right opposite the substantial pile, about eleven metres high.
It was reminiscent of a pile of packaged straw bales not unlike that which one might see on a farm. Where there might have been richly decorative carvings, there was a network of reinforcing wires.
Worse still, it was surrounded by a high fence which completely ruined the artistic impact it might have had.
“It’s obviously not safe,” intoned Capt Sensible with a note in his voice that suggested any bright ideas about shinning up and over the fence or a little light dismantling of fence, would not be countenanced.
It didn’t look in the least like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, although it was feasible it might, with the judicious planting of some nice nasturtiums and trailing lobelia.
So ok, it’s not made of hay bales. It’s actually made of containers, known as HESCOs, which the Army uses to build defences in places where local resources might be in short supply, like Afghanistan. The sculptor/artist, David Cotterrell who built it – proper name Hill33 (the sculpture, not him) – was a war artist in Afghanistan from whence sprung at least partial inspiration.
It might be filled with earth or coal-spoil, so maybe it will turn into the Leaning Gardens of Babylon, inhabited by grasses, bushes, trees. Perhaps in time it will collapse gently and melt away into the landscape. It’s certainly buckled and heading that way. Just a shame the Forestry Commission fenced it off. That would never happen in France.
That wasn’t the only surprise on the trail. I’ve seen most of the other sculptures before during mountainbike rides and walks but there were a few that have been missed – including “Hanging Fire” a ring of metallic flames, rusting nicely high up among a stand of Scots pines.
My favourites include the Cathedral window, which is traditional and lovely and remarkably little damaged considering it’s within a stone’s throw of where kids might throw stones. Place, which is actually a kind of giant’s chair overlooks the whole of the Cannop Valley is massively impressive. I like the way we visited as a family when the kids were little and the slope beneath it was cleared grassland. Now they are well grown and so at the silver birches which have since been planted there. The view marks the passing of time. The Forest beautifully illustrates that nothing remains the same. The stone pine cone, once bright new stone is now beautifully clothed by moss velvety moss and the original railway sleepers, carved with symbols representing all that’s special about the Forest of Dean have gone dark with age and exposure.
The trail’s supposed to be just over four miles but we probably did five including bits of “let’s just head over there” type cross-country.
Well, when you see an interesting looking little track, you need to follow it for a bit, don’t you?
That’s how we found the most perfect chill-out spot in the depths of the forest by a rushing stream pouring out of mossy stone-lined channel which probably runs from one of the old coal mines. It was crying out to be revisited on the bikes one warm day with comestibles and a bottle of wine. I should get Capt Sensible an Indiana Jones hat.
More images here – sorry, they take too long to do twice.