Grizedale Forest celebrates major transformation

PUBLISHED: 18:20 05 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:56 20 February 2013

Grizedale Forest celebrates major transformation

Grizedale Forest celebrates major transformation

Grizedale Forest near Hawkshead is celebrating a major transformation and some special new arrivals. Eileen Jones reports

Kites ready to fly

More than 30 magnificent red kites have arrived in Grizedale Forest in the next phase of a major reintroduction project.

The Forestry Commission successfully brought the birds into the heart of the Lake District in the summer last year and their numbers are set to double with new hatchlings from a flagship breeding site in Northamptonshire.

The latest group of juveniles spent a month gaining strength in Grizedale before being released carry radio transmitters and tags. There will be 90 red kites released over three years.

If you go down in the woods today, youre sure of a big surprise. Not any old woods, but the north wests flagship forest, Grizedale, regional HQ of the Forestry Commission and a major tourist destination.

This summer saw the fruition of a 6m development to surprise and delight visitors, whether they come to test the mountain bike trails, swing through the trees on the Go Ape high wires or admire some stunning works of art.

Grizedale was at the forefront of placing art in the environment in the 1970s and the forest is home to more than 60 sculptures including works by notable artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Harris and David Kemp. There are new works among the trees, an indoor exhibition in the bright new cafe, and an archive dedicated to the work of artists who knew that their pieces would eventually decay.

Happily, they have just secured another 175,000 to introduce further works of art. One of the most stunning sights was made by nature - the trunk of an ancient oak, which has pride of place at the entrance to the visitor centre. Some eight metres long, and with large chunks of bedrock entwined in its root system, the oak had been lying nearby since the 2005 storms.

After an slow and difficult journey involving some intricate heavy lifting by specialist engineers, Lancaster-based Woodhouse Plant, the 11-tonne oak has been lovingly ornamented by a team of artists led by Katherine Clarke. Native forest plants are now growing at its base and ceramic inserts have been placed in the sawn surfaces of the trunk. The name of the installation? The Wood for the Trees.

It was like an elegant piece of choreography, watching the tree being lifted from the forest into position in the courtyard, says Katherine. At the courtyard entrance there was only a couple of centimetres clearance on the gatepost it was fabulous to watch.

Overseeing the project with pride, and clearly delighted to see the harmony of art and nature taking shape, is the Forestry Commission curator of arts development, Hayley Skipper. She is a sculptor herself, and studied at art school under Keir Smith, one of the original Grizedale exhibitors who died in 2007. A retrospective exhibition of his work including paintings created with iron filings and vinegar filled the new archive space this summer.

An elegant new cafe and exhibition space allows visitors to dine and relax with a window onto the courtyard, bustling with cyclists.

Nearby is the entrance to the Go Ape adventure trail. Paintings on the walls currently an exhibition by print-maker Julia Manning and sculptures on the window ledges add to the organic nature of the whole experience.

It is run by Kendals Brewery Arts Centre, which also curates the exhibitions inside. This summers works are by Ambleside sculptor and ceramicist Roger Bell and Gordon Baddeley, a poet and writer who works in wood - usually beech, oak or juniper found near his home.

Its a lovely use of space in the cafe, said Hayley, as she explained the various partnerships which work alongside the Forestry Commission. Grizedale Arts, for example, are no longer responsible for the sculpture trail but run a programme of events, projects and residencies to develop the contemporary arts in new directions.

They are based at nearby Lawson Park, an historic hill farm with an organic kitchen garden, a wildflower meadow, and ornamental gardens, that are occasionally open to the public. It was opened two years ago by Tate gallery director Sir Nicholas Serota and has since won a major architectural award.

Hayley was appointed in 2008 when it was decided that the Forestry Commission would take on the art installation work in the forest, her role to re-invigorate the arts. She moved from London, unable to resist when the post was advertised, and is clearly now in her dream job.

Another refugee from London is the Forestry Commissions marketing manager, Sarah Bruce, who also works at Whinlatter Forest.

At Grizedale she works alongside the foresters, the wildlife conservationists, and the education team, having previously been a civil servant in the Ministry of Justice. Its great to see so many people coming back now, after all the building work of the redevelopment period, she said.

The education team are based nearby in a new centre called Yan, shortlisted by the RIBA awards team. Yan is the dialect word for one when counting sheep.

But theres no time for counting sheep at Grizedale. The exhibition by Roger Bell and Gordon Baddeley runs until the end of September and there will be a day of events at Grizedale and Whinlatter on September 11 to celebrate the Year of the Forest.

Latest from the Lancashire Life