I’m a sucker for quirky attractions and the Cotswold Sculpture Park fits the description perfectly. It’s a fabulous place to visit even if, like me, you’re not particularly into art.
Cotswold Sculpture Park
Upon arrival you’re given a leaflet detailing the sculptures and their prices. There are over 150 sculptures, created by more than 70 artists. The sculptures vary in size and sculpture medium; from Portland limestone to scrap metal. There really is a sculpture to please everyone, whether you prefer modern or traditional, abstract or figurative.
I’ve visited a couple of sculpture trails previously which have felt like outdoor high end art galleries. This trail was different, a fun wander around ten acres of woodland and garden. The grounds are a little rough and ready but that made it more enjoyable for me. Think wildlife friendly garden rather than manicured lawns and perfect borders!
The park is owned by David Hartland, who is also a sculptor. His pieces, mostly made from scrap metal, are instantly recognisable and include the Morris Minor on the tower at the entrance. The owner’s sculptures are the only permanent pieces and are not for sale. The other sculptures are either sold or returned to the artist at the end of the season.
I think we managed to spot all of the sculptures. Some blend in well into their surroundings. Others stick out like a sore thumb! It would have been good to learn more about the sculptures and artists as we visited them although I later discovered many of their profiles are on the website.
The sculpture park is Tardis like, there is so much to see. We reached as far as the toilet building (beware, it’s the opposite end from the entrance) and assumed we’d seen almost everything. How wrong we were! Leave yourself a good couple of hours to see everything.
We all had our favourites but I loved this sculpture. Not sure it would really fit my pocket sized back garden but I’d snap it up if I had a spare acre.
One other sculpture which garnered a lot of attention was a bronze statue of Icarus by Nicola Godden. It was superb, yours for just £33,000!
The sculpture prices ranged from £20 for a robin to an eye watering £60,000 for a bear made out of galvanised chicken wire. Most pieces were in the hundreds or low thousands range. Whilst I admired many of them I think they probably look at their best in a woodland setting, not a small town garden.
After you’ve finished head to the onsite cafe, The Poppin Tearoom, which serves hot and cold snacks and drinks. I highly recommend sitting outside and enjoying coffee and cake if the weather allows. It’s a great way to round off your visit.
The Cotswold Sculpture Park is in Somerford Keynes near Cirencester. It’s open from April to September, closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, entrance fee applicable. No dogs or picnics allowed onsite.
I’m a sucker for snowdrops and love spotting these first signs of spring. In previous years we’ve visited the snowdrops at Welford Park and Swyncombe Church. This year I was delighted to find a venue even closer to home, Kingston Bagpuize House, whose grounds are open for snowdrop Sundays during February.
We arrived early on the first open weekend. So early that we discovered we were the first visitors of the year! Encompassing manicured lawns, shrub borders and woodland we soon realised the grounds of Kingston Bagpuize House have plenty to see. But we were on a snowdrop mission.
Clutching our location map we wound our way through the gardens, initially wandering through the woodland garden and shrub border in our quest for snowdrops. Fortunately the owner provides a spotters guide to help locate and identify the sixteen different snowdrop species. I thought sixteen was impressive until I read later that there are 2000 cultivars.
The wooded area around Church Copse, beside the parish church, has been cleared over recent years to allow the snowdrops to naturalise. As we visited early not all of the snowdrops were flowering. Later in the season I’m sure the woodland floor will be carpeted in white.
From Church Copse we walked through the open parkland to reach Court Close Copse, another area of managed woodland. Everwhere I looked I could see the beginnings of new growth, from tree buds to the tiny leaves of stinging nettles just starting to emerge. And of course snowdrops. Spring is definitely on the way.
Now an admission. I enjoyed the snowdrops but surprisingly they weren’t my favourite feature. Nor were the sunny yellow aconites also peeping through the ground. In fact, my standout plant was a scented shrub, wintersweet. Just one sniff of its perfume and my son and I were immediately transported to warmer climes. If only my garden had space for one of these, I’d be out there all winter!
Returning back through the parkland we watched several red kites screeching overhead. In much of the country these birds are still a rarity but they’re a very common sight in Oxfordshire. I can even see two of them swooping over our garden as I write this blog.
Back in 2011 Kingston Bagpuize House and gardens were the backdrop for the film, Tortoise in Love. First shown at the Cannes Film Festival, it made headlines as the 800 village residents were all involved in the financing and making of the film. The WI provided catering, villagers starred as extras and the local hairdresser provided make up. The reviews aren’t the greatest but I am tempted to watch it solely because of this back story.
Although the house wasn’t open on the day of our visit the cafe was. Located down a set of steps we rounded off our visit with drinks and sweet treats. Snowdrop walk complete, I’m looking forward to the daffodils next!
If you’re interested in other snowdrop events pop over to my post to find out the best places to see snowdrops in Oxfordshire and Berkshire.
The gardens at Kingston Bagpuize house are open from 2-5pm on Sundays during February. They’re also open during the summer, along with the house, on selected dates; check the website for up-to-date information.
Last weekend thousands of buildings opened their doors for free as part of the yearly Heritage Open Days event. We had an afternoon spare so after browsing the events website for inspiration I decided on a walk around Buscot Park gardens. The grounds around the house cover over 100 acres and encompass formal gardens, woodland and lakes
If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll probably realise I prefer ruined castles to stately homes. And mountains and wild beaches rather than manicured gardens. But I was pleasantly surprised by Buscot Park. It was quirky enough to hold my attention; or perhaps I’m just reaching the age of garden appreciation!
Four Seasons Walled Garden
We started with a walk around the Four Seasons walled garden, where each section represents a different season. Transformed from a redundant kitchen garden by Lord Faringdon it mixes flowers and shrubs with ornamental vegetables. We had probably missed it at its summery best but roses and dahlias provided plenty of late season colour.
There are a variety of sculptures and features around the grounds which add interest. The kids enjoyed posing alongside replica terracotta warriors. In the Swinging Garden we had a family swing on one of four large swings that surround a sycamore seed sculpture. Elsewhere there are urns and obelisks, a sundial and pyramid to discover.
The over-riding impression of the grounds was, for me, symmetry. From woodland avenues to clipped hedges I loved the straight lines, replication and long vistas.
Our walk took us up to the open parkland directly in front of Buscot House. The house was built between 1779 and 1783, and is today managed by Lord Faringdon on behalf of the National Trust. From the outside it looks rather austere and imposing. Inside there are many notable works of art, added to over the years by Lord Faringdon.
I decided it best not to visit. The kids were busy rolling down slopes and giving each other piggybacks. It wasn’t long before one of them took things too far and I could just imagine some delicate piece of art being damaged by a mistimed push!
By avoiding the house I belatedly realised I’d missed seeing the frescoes near the outside swimming pool. Painted in the 1930s, these depict friends of the family, including the intriguing Lord Berners who we learnt about when we visited nearby Faringdon Folly.
Peto Water Garden
My favourite part of the estate was the Italianete style water garden designed by the landscape architect Harold Peto. Water flows through a canal, under bridges, past statues and hedges to reach the Big Lake.
I loved this statue covered in moss. It blends in so well with its surroundings and is much more atmospheric than a sterile stone sculpture.
Wandering around the Big Lake we discovered a rolling bridge linked to a small island. Part of the bridge was missing, presumably locked away to stop inquisitive people getting on to the island. Although almost everyone we saw pulled the chain and tried to discover how it worked.
From the lake we headed back up to the house via Monkey Puzzle Avenue. I had been looking forward to walking between huge rows of monkey puzzle trees. Little did I know they were only a metre or so high! I’ve since read they only grow around 35 cm per year.
We rounded off our afternoon with a visit to the cafe. I’d read one Trip Advisor review bemoaning the lack of National Trust cafe. Personally I much preferred the small cafe. It wasn’t the slickest of operations but our cakes were yummy and half the cost of the usual NT fare. The perfect way to round off the afternoon!
Buscot Park is open periodically from April to September, check the website calendar for full details. Opening time is usually from 2pm. Entrance is free for National Trust members. Otherwise the adult price is £10 to visit the house and garden or £7 to visit just the garden. Children aged 5-15 years old are half-price.
Have you ever watched a court case? I’ve wanted to visit the Old Bailey ever since I realised the general public were allowed to observe trials. When a recent child free day came along I jumped at the opportunity to see the Old Bailey and other law related places in the city.
The Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court)
The Old Bailey deals with major criminal cases, mainly from the Greater London area. There are eighteen courts covering serious cases such as murder, terrorism and drug related crimes.
Despite being on the right side of the law I was a little nervous walking towards the public gallery entrance. I rang the doorbell, hidden down Warwick Passage, and waited to be called up for the security check. After passing through security I asked one of the guards about the best trial to visit.
The courts were relatively quiet on the day of my visit and the only option was a terrorism trial. The case related to four defendants, accused of supporting the funding of terrorism. The case had already been ongoing for several days; I entered the public gallery as the prosecutor was giving his closing speech to the jury.
The court room was smaller than I expected but familiar from TV court dramas. Visitors sit in a small balcony area, opposite the jurors. To my right sat the four defendants, to the left the judge. In the middle sat the Court Clerk and barristers. Their wigs intrigued me. Made from horsehair, evidently the older and grubbier they look the better!
It was really interesting to listen in and watch the workings of the court. I’m not going to write about the trial itself as it impacts real lives. Suffice to say the evidence was compelling and the subsequent outcome wasn’t a surprise.
Once in the courtroom there is a 30 minute minimum stay. However time passed quickly and I stayed for a couple of hours. Leaving as quietly as possible I crept out of the galleries and headed to my next destination, Temple Church.
The Temple Church
It’s hard to imagine that the serene Temple Church is just a couple of minutes walk from Fleet Street. Founded in the 12th Century by the Knights Templar it’s modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In 1608 the Temple was granted to two societies of lawyers, the Inner and Middle Temple, who look after it to this day.
The most distinguishing feature of the church is its round nave. Certainly impressive but I enjoyed the interior stonework just as much. On the floor of the nave lies the effigies of nine knights, whilst all around are grotesque gargoyles.
The nave contains a lot of display boards detailing the history which I really should have read. But I was more interested in climbing the winding staircase to the clerestory for views back across the church.
Inns of Court
The area around Temple Church is surrounded by two of the Inns of Court. These are the professional associations for barristers; every barrister needs to belong to one of them. There are four Inns in London; Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple; I explored the lanes and gardens of the latter two.
Wandering down the lanes it was hard to believe I was in central London. Lined with barristers’ chambers and intercepted by gardens and courtyards it feels more like a film set. I half expected Sherlock Holmes to walk down the street. There are maps dotted around the area but it’s more fun just to stroll around.
The buildings themselves are off limits to casual wanderers. Fortunately I didn’t need to be a barrister to enjoy the gardens. The borders were in full bloom, perfectly demonstrating the beauty of high summer. If I ignored the background sound of car horns, I could almost imagine I was enjoying a town garden.
As I reached the front of one garden, bordering Victoria Embankment, I realised the last time I’d been near here was whilst running the London Marathon. I’d struggled the last few miles and this section didn’t hold particularly good memories! It was good to reminisce in less painful times.
Royal Courts of Justice
Close by is one of the other major legal buildings, the Royal Courts of Justice, and my last stop of the day. The Law Courts house the High Court and Court of Appeal and preside over civil, not criminal, trials. It’s a huge Victorian Gothic style building on the Strand, just opposite Temple Inn.
Although there was an airport style scanner to pass through once in you appear to be free to wander. I picked up a self-guided tour leaflet from the entrance desk; it’s also possible to book guided tours. I walked around the Main Hall, past a small costume display to the Painted Room and then along past court rooms.
In a similar way to the Old Bailey it’s possible to watch trials. Although personally I think criminal trials sound much more interesting! I’d definitely like to visit another Old Bailey trial at some point, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the workings of our legal system.
The Old Bailey is for those aged 14+ years only; you may be asked for photo identification. Court generally sits on weekdays from 10am-1pm and from 2-4.30pm but do check before you visit. Security is strict. Cameras, mobile phones, large bags and refreshments are not permitted. You can leave mobiles at the nearby Capable Travel Agent at a cost of £1 per device. Details of the cases are posted on the boards outside.
The Temple Church website details its varied opening times. It’s generally open on weekdays from 10am-4pm. Entry charge is £5 for adults, free for under 16s.
Middle and Inner Temple Gardens are open to the public from 12-3pm on weekdays during the summer. There is no entrance charge.