When is a Trail not a Trail?
When it is the Heathlands Sculpture Trail!
More a Project than a Trail, the Heathlands Sculpture Trail aims is to link seven heathland sites in the South Downs National Park though the use of unique sculptures telling the story of the history, wildlife, and people of each site.
The heathlands of West Sussex and Hampshire is a landscape that is very close to my heart. My Father was a Lepidopterist and a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. My recollections, as a young 10-year-old, were journeys to the heaths from Somerset to study the butterflies unique to this environment. My Father died over 30 years ago but his passion for the heathlands of the South Downs still lives on as strongly in me as it ever did.
Less than 1 per cent of the original heathland remains in the National Park and what’s left is very fragmented. As a result, this has reduced the diversity of plants and animals that make heaths both interesting and scientifically important.
The sculptures have been inspired by stories from communities and drawing upon sources as diverse as the poet Tennyson and a 394-year-old local map. Each one is beautifully carved and, as well as looking good, they also serve as a seat for the weary. There locations are detailed in an excellent leaflet produced by the South Down NPA and available to download as a pdf.
One side shows a stylized map of the area and highlights where each of the heaths are and their related sculpture. The other side of the leaflet details each sculpture in turn with background information and an Ordnance Survey grid reference.
However, the grid references are 6-figure, so their accuracy is 100m (the sculpture is somewhere in a 100m by 100m square to the north and east of the grid reference). The aim is the get the visitor to explore the whole of the heath whilst looking for the sculpture. Having said that, I found the Lavington Lizard very easy to find but the Wiggonholt Cricket frustratingly difficult!
Five of the seven sculptures are located on, or very close to, the Serpent Trail. A 64-mile footpath running from Haslemere to Petersfield though some of the best heaths and commons in the National Park. It is planned to revamp the literature related to the Serpent Trail to reflect the sculptures.
Whilst this may not be a long-distance footpath style trail, it is a fantastic project. It is important the heathlands are preserved and fully understood by the generations to come. The use of technology with the sculptures (NFC Tags and QR codes) allows everyone to access further information on their mobile devices.
Even if you cannot visit all the sculptures and heaths; select one close to where you live or are staying and learn more about this magnificent landscape and natural environment. You will also walk through some of the most beautiful scenery in the South of England.
Images – All images are the copyright of Glyn Dodwell with the exception of the Heathland Sculpture Trail, South Downs National Park & Heathlands Reunited which are copyright of the South Downs National Park Authority