I am not particularly known for my cultural expertise, you won’t find me puffing on a Gauloises wearing a black polo neck and ballet pumps. But I do like to look at things that make me happy, make me cross, make me start a discussion, make me wish I could do it myself. This is what brought me to Sculpture by the Lakes, a fantastic hidden gem in Pallington, near Dorchester in Dorset.
A visit has been on my wish list for a while but as they do not admit children under the age of fourteen, I had to wait for a suitable child free weekend. I had the perfect opportunity when my girls were temporarily replaced by a lovely friend from the Isle of Wight who came to stay leaving her own family on the other side of the Solent for a couple of days.
Sculpture by the Lakes is the creation of artist Simeon Gudgeon and his wife Monique. They purchased 26 acre plot 2007 when it was a working fishery and immediately wet to work transforming it into the oasis that stands there now. Simon is one of the country’s leading bronze sculptors and Monique turned her back on a career in PR to become a landscape gardener; together they have created a perfect showcase for both of their talents.
This is not a run of the mill attraction. There is no tea room or gift shop, young children and dogs are not allowed. Visitors are limited to ensure that everyone who attends is able to fully absorb and enjoy the experience in total peace and tranquillity. Having digested this information before we went I was unsure what to expect, was it going to be all rules and public library-like signs demanding silence?
I needn’t have worried as the caveats that have been issued are all valid and really did contribute to our enjoyment. Entrance is via intercommed electric gates on a lane of small cottages. On parking up we were met by a member of the team who gave us a brief intro and explained that a few of the sculptures were missing as they were on the way to the Chelsea Flower Show where the Gudgeons have a garden this year. There was only one other small group of visitors apart from us and we set off to explore.
It was utterly peaceful and tranquil, the only sound the faint hum from the tangle of electricity pylons that are strung over the acres like industrial bunting. The sculptures are set within the natural habitat of the grounds and whilst some stand out tall and majestic others creep up on you from behind trees or the banks of a lake. Words feature quite heavily, reflected on the water, made into a bench, sunk into a path beneath a tunnel of wisteria.
Unfortunately the weather was not on our side and so my photos do not do the pieces justice but they give you a flavour of what was on display. There were some that I loved, some that I didn’t and others that sat somewhere in the middle. The friend who came with me is not only an artist herself but also a gardener so I had a properly trained eye to help with my layman observations. I was worried that maybe it would be a bit ‘mainstream’ for her but there were things that appealed to us both for different reasons – it really was very accessible art without being dumbed down in any way.
The Gudgeons encourage you to stay for the day and there are many secluded sitting and eating areas if you choose to take a picnic. They also have a river keeper’s hut and island lake house available for hire for special events or extra nice picnics.
Weather and time did not allow us to linger as long as we would have liked and I definitely plan to return very soon, I think there is much to be gained from a second visit and of course the gardens and grounds will change with the seasons. If you are planing a trip to Dorset, or live nearby, I can definitely recommend a visit to this unique and inspiring attraction. Have you already been? What did you think?