Yorkshire Sculpture Park – Museum of the Year 2014

Octopus and Night and Day by Marialuisa Tadei As I drive along the pathway, naked men stride from the shady glades and gnarled nudes scratch their heads absent-mindedly beneath trees.  The huge head of a hare peers out from the bushes watching me park.  A giant psychedelic octopus glistens in the sunshine as I make my way through the meadows where butterflies flutter between suspended toilets and wheelie bins, towards the lakes.  Magical! I have the whole day ahead to enjoy the wonderland that is Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Favoured by art lovers, naturalists, photographers, families, and dog walkers the magnificent 500 acres of parkland and galleries surrounding Bretton Hall in West Yorkshire offer hours of enjoyment.  Just a mile from Junction 38 of the M1, the clearly-signposted driveway to the Main Entrance and Car Park, takes you past a towering sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard and through sloping pastures where sheep graze amidst giant Henry Moore bronzes.  (There are two other entrances: the unmarked, nude-lined driveway to the YSP Learning Centre in the west and another marked “Country Park” that takes you deeper into parkland to the east.) 

Henry Moore bronze by the lake I recommend calling into the YSP Centre to pick up free maps and guides, and enjoy coffee and cake in the cafe whilst planning your visit.  You can easily spend a full day seeking out the 60 outdoor sculptures, visiting the indoor galleries, enjoying the wild life, and browsing for gifts at the award winning shop.  There are regular guided tours of art and wildlife (WILD) which can be booked in advance on-line.  Electric scooters can also be booked in advance to use on specialist pathways and all galleries are accessible by wheelchair users.  Amazingly, all this is free with buses from Wakefield and Barnsley stopping inside the Park. There is a fee for car parking.  Visit website for more information.

Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree If you have time for a circuit of the Park, I suggest you stroll towards the Lower Lake, making a short diversion to the newly-restored chapel to take in the latest exhibition by Ai Weiwei.  Walk around the Lake enjoying the David Nash exhibits and looking out for grey heron, coot, moorhen, mallard and Canada geese.  Over 30 pairs of herons nest on the island in the lake, their prehistoric-looking chicks emerging in spring, squawking and rattling their beaks as their parents busily fish for food.  Pass through the Menagerie Woods where shaggy highland cattle graze and squirrels play hide-and-seek.  Cross the river on stepping stones to arrive at Cascade Bridge where ducks and geese paddle in the waterfalls. 

The Upper Lake Here you can extend your walk around the shady Upper Lake.  This wilder part of the estate is a haven of peace: no dogs are allowed and the footpaths can be muddy, deterring visitors.  A bird hide enables close views of the resident little and great crested grebes, swans, cormorants and various other water fowl.  Grey wagtail bob along the bank whilst a flash of orange and turquoise heralds the arrival of a kingfisher.  In summer, hundreds of bright blue damsel fly skim across the water, occasionally joined by golden and bronze coloured dragonfly.  The air is heavy with the scent of Himalayan balsam and lime tree flowers.  Frogs, toads and water beetles thrive under the boathouse.  Fluffy black moorhen chicks paddle in the shallows.

Julian Opie’s LED horse captured mid-gallop (every photo is different) Following the path through the Bridge Royd Wood – a sea of bluebells and frothy white wild garlic in spring, and pink Himalayan Balsam and Rosebay Willow Herb in summer – you pass the Obelisk and Greek temple to emerge at the gate just above Cascade Bridge.  Look up at the Gormley statue perching high on a tree trunk, his shoulder splattered with bird lime.  Enjoy the mesmerising spectacle of Julian Opie’s LED horse galloping endlessly, going nowhere.  As you pass the Camellia house – especially beautiful in spring blossom time – you will spot my “secret” car park with its Sophie Ryder Hare bronzes and groups of Elizabeth Frink’s nudes lining the driveway.

A majestic cedar work by Ursula von Rydingsvard Head towards the YSP Centre via the sloping lawn adorned with sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Jean Miro.  A giant bronze owl by Thomas Houseago, guards the Garden Gallery, currently hosting an exhibition by illustrator Tom Frost, inspired by the YSP wildlife.  The Underground Gallery and grounds display extraordinary works by Ursula von Rydingsvard, sculpted from carved chunks of cedar and cows’ stomachs.  Do not fear: you would not recognise the offal and the cedar wood smells wonderful, especially after rain!

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where nature and art coexist in perfect harmony, has something to offer everyone.  It is well worth visiting to experience the 2014 winner of the Art Fund Award of Museum of the Year.

For more photographs and information about YSP visit https://caroletidball.exposure.co/yorkshire-sculpture-park
The YSP is part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle along with The Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute.  Visit www.ysculpture.co.uk for more information.

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