Hear Here at Kedleston Hall
PUBLISHED: 16:26 11 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:20 06 August 2013
as submitted; National Trust, Studio Weave
Pat Ashworth applauds the National Trust's new contemporary art commission and cross-country walk in Kedleston's elegant parkland... Photographs courtesy of Studio Weave
Seen from the edge of the car park at Kedleston Hall, something that looks like a giant kite is flying on top of Hare Pit Hill, a grassy slope rising into unseen parkland beyond. It gleams in the sunshine. I’m being propelled by the wind, and as I’m wafted uphill towards the object, in the company of James Lee, parks and gardens manager, it shows itself to be a massive trumpet on legs, a great and mighty horn.
It’s flaunting. It’s brazen. Put your ear to it, and the sound of the wind floats into your consciousness. This is Hear Here, an interactive trail that takes the visitor through some of the parts of beautiful Kedleston that other trails don’t reach. Squint through the hole in the turquoise, child-sized posts marking the way, and you will see the next waymarker in the distance, a line that is always drawing you on to sample more delights of the Adam landscape.
Playfulness is what it’s all about, something of which Robert Adam, who designed the neo-classical house and gardens in the 1760s, would certainly have approved. The sculptures by Studio Weave are designed to pick up and amplify particular sounds in their locations of hilltop, woodland and water. Up here on the hill, you can see for miles: towards Derby, where you can picture the Scarsdale family patronising the Assembly Rooms, and right across to Alport Heights in the Peak.
We cross to the sunken ditch that is the double ha-ha, and for a hundred yards or so, find ourselves joining the well-established Long Walk that takes visitors round the perimeter. But now we turn and go through a new gate into what must be one of the most stunning features of Kedleston. It’s green pasture grazed by sheep, a broad and sweeping dry valley where the parkland is punctuated by ancient oaks and ringed by a roundel of trees. ‘For me this encapsulates the Adam vision,’ James says with pleasure. Some of the oaks are thought to be 800 years old. They take 300 years to grow, he observes, 300 to mature and 300 to die.
Satellite archaeological surveys have revealed the medieval field system that underlies the pasture, and there’s a sense of timelessness about all that. Fallen oaks remain in place, a habitat teeming with wildlife. And trees do walk, James confirms as we regard an ancient horse chestnut. Its limbs have re-rooted and extended: it spreads and sprawls and flourishes. Maybe that’s what Tolkien had in mind when he created the Ents of Middle Earth, he suggests.
One of the oaks could be as old as 1,000 years. With a girth of 7.5 metres, you have no chance of hugging this one. Lambs cluster round the trees, the ewes unfazed by walkers passing through. Now we come to James’s favourite view of the Hall and neighbouring church, ‘the best view of all,’ he says. ‘The shadows move round here and it’s fabulous. To me, this is by far the better side of the hall, aesthetically much more pleasing. It’s unmistakably Robert Adam in all the Roman and Greek iconography and the statuary and the proportions.’ The original design had four wings, but two of those were never built.
The sculptures are part of a Playful Landscapes project and do make you smile. Up here where we are standing, the snaking giant horn is inverted: you listen to the rustling of the woodland at the cavernous big end. And there’s a new return from the Long Walk here, for those who want to take a short cut back to the Hall, an innovation which will also allow visitors to create their own walks. Simple benches invite a refreshment stop on this 2.5 mile, recommended one-and-a-half hour walk. The planking that forms the seats has come from the Hardwick estate, where James worked for 11 years before coming to Kedleston over two years ago.
A clump of giant Wellingtonia looks vastly out of place at first in this landscape of oaks, because the trees are not native. But they were part of the vision, James reflects, and no-one would ever want to fell them without good reason. ‘One can thump them hard and feel no pain, if one is in the habit of thumping trees’, says the information board at the copse. And to sit on a bench within the ring is enchanting, a magic circle where only the tops of the trees are swaying high above you.
Young saplings of oak are flourishing in the small plantation leading out towards the lake that is the Splashpool. I remember seeing a glory of dragonflies and damselflies here one hot summer, but today buzzards are swooping high above the surrounding trees. You stand on a small raised platform by the water’s edge to listen to the horn, its mouth inverted over the water. When I put my ear to the listening end, I hear a gentle splash of water, as though a bird has just paddled through.
The return to the car park takes you past the silver waters of a cascade, and past the imposing gates of the imposing Hall until you reach the Visitor Reception, where the smallest Hear Here (and really the first on the route) writhes in mystery and convolution around the trunk of a lime tree.
The pieces are like living creatures. Tap them, stroke them, make your own sounds, say the sculptors, whose design is intended to ‘give visitors new ways to enjoy the Robert Adam landscape and to show how art and nature can co-exist.’ They’ll be at Kedleston for around six months before they move to another National Trust location, so catch them while you can. n
For more information on Hear Here and visiting Kedleston see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kedleston