An afternoon at Broomhill Sculpture Gardens
28th October 2018
I found Broomhill Sculpture Gardens completely by chance and only because a ferocious change in the weather meant I wasn’t able to go to Lundy Island as I’d originally intended. I’d planned my short break in north Devon around the ferry crossing – which only goes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in September – and I’d been looking forward to my day trip to Lundy Island for a very long time.
Unfortunately, overnight a real gale swept in to the coast, with 70-mile-an-hour winds and such rough seas that all transport to and from the Island was cancelled.
Travel is often about encountering and dealing with the unexpected. I’m a great planner, but I’m also seasoned enough to know that the unexpected happens all the time and there’s just so much over which we have no control: flights are delayed; your luggage doesn’t make it; you miss that train; you have a flat tyre; it rains; it pours; it snows (I once spent a week’s skiing holiday not skiing and locked into the chalet because of avalanches, but that’s another story!).
And sometimes it blows a gale.
The early morning was really quite dark and blustery. Since I wasn’t heading to Lundy Island as planned I took a brisk morning walk before breakfast up Capstone Hill to think about what I wanted to do.
Capstone Hill is a large outcropping of rock between the harbour and the Landmark Theatre along the Ilfracombe seafront. It’s an easy circular walk of ½ mile to the top and back along a paved path, though there is a short section of about 30m which is fairly steep.
Once on top I could clearly see why the ferry wasn’t going – the water was incredible choppy and the wind whipped around the headland, blowing the long grass completely flat. It was misty and damp, and it wasn’t the best weather for photography. Though it seemed fitting with the statue of Ekaterina – a Russian girl studying at the local language school who became disorientated in the fog and sadly fell to her death – at the cliff edge.
It was a short, but interesting walk up and back, with the rockface and thick grass stalks along the path dotted with snails.
There are some great views of the town, even in inclement weather.
And there are views towards Ilfracombe Torrs ,which I had climbed at the beginning of my walk to Woolacombe the previous day.
After this brisk and rather wild walk up Capstone Hill, I returned to my B&B for a late breakfast to decide what to do with my day. I had vaguely remembered seeing a small sign saying ‘sculpture garden’ when I was driving along that narrow B-road to Ilfracombe. When I asked Kevin (the owner of the Olive Branch, my B&B) about it, he knew the Broomhill Sculpture Gardens immediately and was so enthusiastic about it that I decided to go.
I dallied over breakfast and headed out around 11am. It was still very grey and windy, but the sky looked like it was lightening up a bit, and it was no longer raining.
Broomhill Sculpture Gardens – a quirky and exciting celebration of contemporary sculpture
Just 8 miles and a 20 minute drive back along the B3032 towards Barnstaple, there’s a very sharp right turn down a rural track that’s signposted Broomhill Art Hotel and Sculpture Gardens, and at every bend in the road there is a delightful hint of what lies in store. There are signs warning that there’s no parking except for hotel guests up the road, so turn into the car park just past the meadow on the left. You’ll be tempted to explore the sculptures that you can glimpse in the meadow below the car park, but save this for last.
Walk up the main road where you’ll be greeted by an enormous resin and bronze statue by Greta Berlin titled ‘The Embrace’ and a first peek of the hotel.
There’s also a huge red stiletto as you approach the entrance to the hotel, which I could just kick myself for not photographing! Twenty years ago, this was a derelict private house with overgrown gardens. Owners Rinus and Aniet van de Sande have transformed this hidden gem into one of the largest collections of contemporary sculpture in southwest England.
There are some weird and wonderful pieces, and there’s something to suit everyone, from abstract to figurative.
The sculpture gardens at Broomhill are much larger than I imagined, set in 12 acres of woodland with criss-crossing paths down to the river and pond, with an astonishing collection of over 300 sculptures by more than 60 artists.
Sculpture from the very small to the very large appear to grow out of the wild ferns, immense old trees and the water itself, bringing the works to magical life. This massive piece in the pond floats and turns with the breeze.
This statue – called ‘The Dancer’ – suddenly emerges from the greenery and was definitely one of my favourites.
There are surprises everywhere. I thought I’d only spend an hour or 2 here, but I spent the entire afternoon wandering through the woods and soaking up the natural landscape.
From gigantic leaves…
…to the lovely stream…
…everywhere I walked there was something wonderful to take in.
Broomhill Sculpture Gardens is also host to the National Sculpture Prize (NSP). Every year 10 short-listed sculptors receive £1,000 each to create their sculpture, which is then exhibited in the river meadow from June until October. There are 2 winners, one selected by the judging panel and one selected by visitor votes.
I visited the meadow at the end of the day, right as the sun was coming out and the meadow was filled with so many extraordinary works. This piece below is called ‘Anatomy of Colour’ by Sarah Emily Porter and it became my personal favourite of the competition, although I couldn’t exactly say why.
Entry to the hotel and indoor gallery is free, while entry to the sculpture gardens is only £5. I didn’t eat there, but there’s also restaurant in the hotel that looked and smelled wonderful, serving full meals as well as cream teas, in a dining area surrounded by artworks. You can also sit outside and have a coffee in the more formal gardens.
Next post: The final day of my short break in north Devon, Ilfracombe Harbour and ‘Verity’