The best UK sculpture trails to keep the kids busy this summer

Penny Walker
Wallace joins long-suffering Gromit in Bristol this summer - ©Barbara Evripidou

When CowParade kicked off its first international event in Chicago in 1999, no one could have predicted the level of its success – the public art exhibit of fibreglass cows has raised more than $30 million (£22m) for worldwide charitable organisations, taking its show on the road since its inauguration.

Sculptures of animals decorated by artists have filled our streets and captured our imaginations ever since – like the summer of 2008 when Liverpool fell in love with the Superlambbanana. Providing a fun day out for families, they engage both children and adults alike – you’re effectively tricking your kids (or your friends) into exercise as they weave through the streets to tick each off their list – and make you see a city in a completely different way.

The original sculpture trail - the CowParade, in Warsaw Credit: Getty

In the UK, one of the most successful was Bristol’s 2013 Gromit Unleashed. Made by Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace & Gromit, 80 giant decorated sculptures of Gromit were dotted throughout the streets of Bristol from July 1 to September 8. At the close of the temporary street exhibition, the large sculptures were auctioned to raise money for Wallace & Gromit's Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children's Hospital Charity, and generated £3.5 million.

Last week, the trail returned to the streets of Bristol on another fundraising mission for the children’s hospital. Gromit Unleashed 2 will be on display throughout the summer, ending September 2.

While the original Gromit Unleashed only featured the loveable and long-suffering Gromit, the new trail sees him joined by friend Wallace and arch nemesis Feathers McGraw – the criminal mastermind penguin. Each has been decorated with designs by high-profile artists, designers, innovators and local talent.

Although it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford to participate in the auction of the giant sculptures at the end of the summer (in 2013 Gromit Lightyear, designed by Disney Pixar and based on the Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear sold for £65,000), this year you can enter a raffle for the chance to win Tropi-canis Gromit. Who wouldn't want an oversized Gromit ornament in their backyard?

Nick Park buddies up to Wallace in Bristol Credit: BARBARA EVRIPIDOU

A spokesperson for The Grand Appeal, behind the fundraising, said: “In a first for sculpture trails across the world, interactive sculptures feature throughout Gromit Unleashed 2 including three ‘trailblazing’ Gromit sculptures created by Renishaw, Rolls-Royce, and University of Bristol, alongside a talking Wallace sculpture designed by Nick Park in tribute to Peter Sallis; a thermochromatic Gromit that changes colour when touched; and a pair of ocean-going Gromit sculptures designed by the University of Bristol that communicate across the city via video link.”  

The Grand Appeal also announced that it has “collaborated with a host of iconic brands, famous film directors, pioneering movie producers and international film studios to put their own spin on the much-loved Aardman character sculptures including Lego, Pixar Animation Studios, Dreamworks, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Wes Anderson Swallows & Amazons and Star Trek”. The makers have hinted, too, that they have some surprises up their sleeves for the coming weeks.

How to see it: The Detect-O-Gromit 2 app is available to purchase from app stores while the map can be picked up from a variety of locations (see here for details).

Even big kids will love Disney Pixar's version of Gromit as James P. Sullivan from Monsters, Inc.

But it’s not just Bristol that’s playing host to decorated fibreglass sculptures this summer in the name of a good cause. Here are the best of the rest.

Minerva's Owls of Bath

Swooping into Bath this summer are more than 80 owl sculptures of all different shapes and sizes. On display until September 10, the trail has been created by the team that introduced the city to King Bladud’s Pigs – one of the first major sculpture trails of its kind in the UK – back in 2008.

Drawing inspiration from Minvera, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom to whom the temple at the Roman Baths was dedicated in the 1st century AD, many of the owls have been decorated by the South West’s best artists. They can be found at tourist hotspots across Bath and in the surrounding towns including Bradford-on-Avon and Corsham.

Minerva's Owls of Bath before they took off around the city

Minerva's Owls of Bath is raising money for four local charities – the Royal United Hospital Cancer Centre, the Bath Young Carers Centre, the Roman Baths Archway Project and the UK Little Owl Project.

How to see it: Owl trail maps will be available for a donation of £2 from outlets across the city, including the Visitor Information Centre, Waterstones and Bath Aqua Glass. A free app is also available to download via the QR code found on every owl’s plinth.

GoGoHares, Norwich

Norwich has seen gorillas and dragons come and go. This year, it’s the year of the hare. There are three trails in total for 2018 – a city trail, county trail and a learning programme trail called GoGoCreate.

GoGoHares encourages visitors and locals to get out, get fit and explore areas of Norfolk they may never have seen before. Ending on September 8, there are 50 hares to be found in the city and 18 around the county as well as 164 leverets, all raising money for Break, a local children’s charity.  

GoGoHares Credit: MARK IVAN BENFIELD

How to see it: Maps can be found in public leaflet carousels or you can download a copy here. The GoGoHares app is also available on app stores.

Maggie’s Penguin Parade, Dundee

The centre of Dundee is being infiltrated by penguins this summer, with 69 giants sculptures dotting the city. There will also be an additional four penguins in Perth, three in Brechin, two in St Andrews and two in Kirriemuir.

Maggie’s Penguin Parade Credit: Revolve Film

They will all waddle away September 7 for a grand farewell event in Slessor Gardens September 22-23 before an auction on September 24. Maggie’s Penguin Parade is raising money for Maggie’s Centre, a charity offering support for people diagnosed with cancer, their families and friends.

How to see it: Maps can be downloaded here while an app is available on app stores.

Can the new V&A turn Dundee into an alternative city break destination?

Worcester Stands Tall

The residents of Worcester will have noticed some slightly taller additions to their city this week. On Monday, 57 giraffe sculptures (30 large and 27 small) were dotted around a one mile radius of the city centre.

Standing tall until September 16, the giraffes of Worcester Stands Tall have been created with local artists to support St Richard’s Hospice. The trail takes around four hours and an impressive 16,500 steps to complete.

Worcester Stands Tall Credit: Momentsbyadam

How to see it: Maps can be picked up at Worcester Tourist Information Centre, St Richard’s Hospice city centre shops and the Worcester Stands Tall shop in Crowngate Shopping Centre. A downloadable PDF is also available on the website and via the Worcester Stands Tall App.

Hoodwinked: A Twist on the Tale, Nottingham

What could be more fun for kids than racing around Nottingham finding robins inspired by local legend Robin Hood, master of disguise?

Raising money for the Nottinghamshire Hospice, the Hoodwinked art trail offers a modern-day twist on the legends of Robin Hood and the sculptures can be spotted around the city until September 30.

Hoodwinked: A Twist on the Tale Credit: Whitefoot Photography

How to see it: Maps can be picked up a from the Tourist Information Centre in Smithy Row, Boots stores, Nottingham City libraries and many other local outlets. A download printable copy is also available here.

Bee in the City, Manchester

On July 23, more than 100 bee sculptures will be winging their way through Manchester city centre where they will set up residence until September 23.

The Bee in the City public art trail is one of the country’s largest in terms of number and, as well as the 100 giant sculptures individually designed by regional professionals and emerging artists, there are also 130 Little Bees on display designed by local schools, nurseries and youth groups. All in aid of the We Love Manchester charity.

Bee in the City Credit: David Oates

How to see it: While details have yet to be announced on where you can pick up a trail map (keep an eye on the website for details), you can download the Little Bee map here.

Cotswold Hare Trail

This summer will see the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) speckled with more than 130 hares (as well as leverts and springers) to promote sustainable tourism in the area through this year’s theme of ‘living landscapes’.

In its fifth year, you can explore the Cotswolds Hare Trail by foot, bike or car, spotting giant hare sculptures in market towns, hidden valleys and quiet corners. The trail finishes on September 9 and an auction will be held in October. Funds raised will go towards Caring for the Cotswolds and Glorious Cotswold Grasslands – two projects run by the Cotswolds Conservation Board.

How to see it: Maps can be downloaded from the website here. A passport guide featuring all of the hares as well as an entry form for a competition to win a bronzed 18-inch levert is also available here.

Two autumn–winter trails

With all these adventurous trails winding up at the end of September, we thought you may find yourself in need of something to look forward to.

Snowdogs Discover Ashford

In autumn (September 12-November 18), the Snowdogs Discover Ashford will arrive. Inspired by The Snowman and The Snowdog, the sequel to Raymond Briggs’ classic animated story The Snowman, which is 40 this year, this trail of Snowdog sculptures lands in Ashford just in time for the lead up to Christmas to raise money for the Pilgrims Hospices.

Snowdogs Discover Ashford Credit: Ashford Snowdogs

How to see it: Keep an eye on the website for details on how to enjoy the Snowdog trail.

Snailspace Brighton & Hove

Slow and steady wins the race and as the leaves begin to turn, Snailspace Brighton & Hove will begin to appear on the streets. The ‘Snailway’ of giant snail sculptures promises to celebrate the work of the best local artists and community groups to raise money for Martlets Hospice and will be on display September 15-November 18.

How to see it: Keep an eye on the website for details on how to enjoy the Snailspace trail.

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