Eden Benchmarks
Exploring the cultural landscape in East Cumbria
Eden Benchmarks - Sculptures along the River Eden

Eden Benchmarks is a series of ten contemporary stone sculptures located at intervals along the length of the river Eden between its source above the Mallerstang valley and Rockliffe, north of Carlisle, where it runs into the Solway Firth. Between 1992 and 2008 I worked as a Countryside Projects Officer with the East Cumbria Countryside Project (ECCP). From its inception in 1976, ECCP had quickly established a reputation for its creative approach in helping people enjoy the countryside and this allowed a remarkable degree of freedom that empowered its staff to try out new and unconventional ideas.

Mine was the idea of using the arts as a vehicle to explore peoples’ emotional interactions with the environment and in the process impart a conservation message.

I had long admired the organisation Common Ground and I was particularly inspired by their sculpture project New Milestones in Dorset.  The declaration of Visual Arts Year in 1996 provided me with the opportunity to do something similar and I put together the proposal for Eden Benchmarks, found the necessary funding and commissioned  ten different artists to carve the sculptures, all of which can be used as seats.

The sculptors worked in residence for six weeks and this enabled them to formulate their ideas by familiarising themselves with the locations and talking with local people, including schools, who were encouraged to visit their workshops to see the sculptures taking shape.  The artists’ brief allowed as much creative freedom as possible to produce site-specific sculpture, which harmonises with the landscape and captures the essence of each unique locality.

Collectively the sculptures give visual expression to our awareness of the river’s ecology and the need to look after it; individually they foster a profound sense of place, their capacity as seats accommodating an interactive focus for quiet reflection.

‘Water Cut’ by Mary Bourne in Mallerstang

Water Cut by Mary Bourne in MallerstangPhoto by Val Corbett

The first sculpture in the series is called ‘Water Cut’ and is located a few miles from the source of the river Eden, high up on the eastern side of the Mallerstang valley. Like a huge milestone, it stands alongside the ancient green road known as Lady Anne Clifford’s Way.  The space carved between the two vertical pillars creates the shape of a meandering river in the sky and provides a ‘window’ onto the real river in the valley below.  It also symbolises the power of the river Eden cutting through the rock on its journey through East Cumbria and our own human journeys through the rural landscape and through life.  Made from Salterwath Limestone, taken from a quarry near Shap, it also resembles the gate posts and stiles in drystone walls, which are so characteristic of the area, whilst it’s outer curve makes reference to the viaduct arches on the nearby Settle-Carlisle railway.

Mary Bourne studied fine art at Edinburgh College of Art and lives in the North East highlands of Scotland.  Her work regularly deals with the forms and formations of landscape and her own relationship with the natural environment.  An accomplished stone carver, her considerable experience has included a three year residency at Irvine New Town and numerous public and private commissions.

Park in a lay-by near The Thrang, in the Mallerstang valley and walk up the steep track signposted ‘Lady Anne’s Way’. Water Cut is visible on the horizon 2 km away.  (Map reference SD 786 985)
A longer circular walk is available, continuing along Lady Anne’s Way to Hell Gill Bridge, following a public path down to Hellgill force and then north, via Hanging Lund and Elmgill where a short section of road brings you back to the Thrang.

It should be noted that there is no direct access to the sculpture along any of the public paths between The Thrang and Aisgill Moor Cottages.

‘Passage’ by Laura White in Stenkrith Park near Kirkby Stephen

Passage by Laura White in Stenkrith Park Kirkby Stephen
Photo by Val Corbett

Evocative of the river’s passage through the gorge under Stenkrith Bridge, this sculpture is subtle and unobtrusive but exudes an inner strength that somehow gathers the special ambience of its location.  The shapes carved into the stone are clearly derived from the shapes in the river bed rocks but have been refined to activate and compliment the space and provide a focal point for contemplation.

Laura White graduated with a first class honours degree in sculpture from Loughborough College of Art and Design.  She was preoccupied in her early work with stone carving that explored elaborate and tactile organic themes but more recently has developed an interest in making sculpture which combines a range of materials with mixed media and projected video images.  She lives in London and teaches at Goldsmiths College in London and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Situated in Stenkrith Park, which is adjacent to the B6259, 1 km south from Kirkby Stephen toward Nateby.  Car parking is available on the right just beyond Stenkrith Bridge.  Walk down the track to the railway path and turn left over the metal footbridge.  Continue along the footpath bearing right away from the road down into Stenkrith Park past two of the Poetry Path stones and ‘Passage’ is over to the right by the river.  (Map reference NY 774 075)

'The Primrose Stone' by Joss Smith at Bongate near Appleby

The Primrose Stone by Joss Smith at Bongate near Appleby Shaped from a nine ton block of St Bees Sandstone, the Primrose Stone magnifies the ‘inscape’ of the much loved first rose of spring. 

As you approach the sculpture from behind it looks like a rough erratic boulder and the carved petals of the flower at the front come as a surprise.  It envelops the sitter in a bowl shape that is positively seductive and, like a primeval satellite dish, amplifies the sights, sounds and smells of the river.

Joss Smith is a graduate of Wimbledon College of Art and lives in London.  His work is mainly studio based and traditionally figurative but he has increasingly been commissioned to make sculpture for public places. 

A gregarious and affable man he makes accessible sculpture that is unpretentious yet discerning and robustly eloquent.

Photo by Val Corbett

From the B6542, near the Royal Oak pub, go down the lane by St Michaels Church to Bongate Mill where there is a small car park.  The Primrose Stone is just near the car park by the river.  (Map reference NY 687 199)

'Red River' by Victoria Brailsford at Temple Sowerby

Red River by Victoria Brailsford at Temple Sowerby Photo by Val Corbett

The stepped slabs of Lazonby Sandstone in this sculpture represent the contours of the landscape and its light, shade, pattern, shape and form.  The spheres, reminiscent of gigantic pebbles in a fast moving stream, are a powerful evocation of the river and its energy but also, like hugely enlarged grains of sand, recall the origins of sandstone in the shifting sand dunes of Triassic Cumbria.

Victoria Brailsford trained at colleges in Barnsley and Humberside.  Much of her work relates to ecological issues and ranges from powerfully introspective charcoal drawings to wood carving and large stone sculptures.  She has made public artworks in both urban and rural settings including street bollards in Sheffield and a monumental stone sculpture at the Earth Centre in North Yorkshire.

From the north end of Temple Sowerby village follow the public footpath alongside the cricket ground, bear right diagonally across to the far corner of the field and then sharp right, over the stile, where the sculpture overlooks the river Eden.  (Map reference NY 605 275)

'South Rising' by Vivien Mousdell on Ladies Walk at Edenhall

'South Rising' by Vivien Mousdell on Ladies Walk at Edenhall
Photo by Val Corbett

Made from Lazonby Sandstone, ‘South Rising’ pays tribute to a vigorous ecosystem, representing the river’s perpetual journey and the annually recurring movements of migrating fish and birds.  The horizontal stone alludes to the river itself, flowing north, and the tall vertical stone, with perhaps a passing resemblance to Long Meg, inclines south toward the rivers distant source.  Chiselled with a surface texture reminiscent of water reflected sunlight, both stones have been carved in sweeping curves like the surrounding landscape, creating a rhythmic energy passing from one to the other.

Vivien Mousdell trained originally in ceramics but early in her career switched to wood and stone carving and letter cutting. A skilled and versatile artist she has specialised in public commissions such as the stone boundary markers on the Cleveland Way and a variety of wood carvings on the Whitehaven to Ennerdale cycle path.  She is also a puppet maker and performer and video artist.

From the middle of Edenhall village walk down the lane which goes to the church.  Take the left turn along the public footpath from the stone cross signposted to Ladies Walk and the river.  Turn left by the river and follow Ladies Walk.  A path continues from the sculpture to provide a circular walk back to the village.  (Map reference NY 569 326)

'Cypher Piece' by Frances Pelly at Lazonby

'Cypher Piece' by Frances Pelly at Lazonby
Photo by Val Corbett

The sculptor presents us with a series of puzzles to be decoded.  The combined stones mimic the river landscape and contain various references to human history.  A sun and moon have been carved at one end of the sculpture representing the winter solstice and a variety of images are portrayed elsewhere, including a fish, a Roman 1996, a Celtic horses head’ a rams horn and decorations taken from a Norse tomb.

Frances Pelly lives in Orkney and divides her time making her own personal work, which is exhibited in galleries throughout Scotland and commissions for publicly sited sculpture and community residencies.  As well as carving stone she also works in bronze.

Cypher Piece is situated just north of Lazonby by the road to Kirkoswald in the picnic site by Eden Bridge.  (Map reference NY 549 402)

'Vista' by Graeme Mitcheson in Coombs Wood near Armathwaite

Vista by Graeme Mitcheson in Coombs Wood near Armathwaite A solitary walker reaches a plateau in Coombs Wood where beneath him, between the trees, he can see the winding river Eden.  Nine stones form an ellipse in clearing.  It is a hot day and he removes his clothes and goes for a swim.  This sculpture is about walking in the countryside and being at one with nature.  The largest of the stones is carved with representations of various items of clothing and a map, which also functions as a sundial.  A tiny face depicted on the cap is reference to a series of faces carved on the cliffs below in 1885 by William Mounsey who famously walked the length of the Eden.

Graeme Mitcheson is a graduate of Loughborough College of Art and Design and lives in Derbyshire.  His work is based in traditional stone masonry and he turns his hand to everything from commissions for bird baths and garden ornaments to architectural restoration and memorials as well as private and public sculpture.

Photo by Val Corbett

Park on Armathwaite Bridge just east of Armathwaite village, walk along the front of the Fox and Pheasant pub and follow the footpath up into Coombs Wood.  Go over a step stile and the sculpture is situated overlooking the river just ahead.  (Map reference NY 507 451)

'Flight of Fancy' by Tim Shutter at Wetheral

'Flight of Fancy' by Tim Shutter at Wetheral

The steep scale of the wooded bank across the river and the soaring viaduct combine to give the feeling of an outdoor cathedral.  ‘Flight of Fancy’ plays with this ecclesiastical sense of lifting the spirit with angel’s wings, church style masonry and very convincingly carved prayer cushions.

Tim Shutter is a master stone mason in the classical tradition.  Graduating originally from Manchester University with a degree in Psychology and Zoology he later went back to study sculpture and stone masonry.  He is based in London and has site specific stone sculptures at numerous locations throughout Britain.

There is space for parking cars by Wetheral village green.  Walk down the road past the church to the river, bear right and the sculpture is on the river bank.  (Map reference NY 468 543)

'Toward the Sea' by Hideo Furuta in Bitts Park at Carlisle

'Toward the Sea' by Hideo Furuta in Bitts Park at Carlisle

The four components of this sculpture are manifestations of the sculptor’s intense and mathematical explorations of the stone itself and, almost incidentally, describe a sequence of water eroded stone running parallel with the flow of the river nearby.

Hideo Furuta sadly died in 2007 aged 57.  He was an artist of international standing and was based at a granite quarry near Creetown in Dumfries and Galloway where in 1997 he was the subject of a television documentary called ‘Moving Mountains’.  A gentle and charming man he is remembered with great affection by everyone who knew him.

‘Toward the sea’ is situated by the river Eden just north of Carlisle Castle.  The nearest car park is along Devonshire Walk immediately left of the castle off the dual carriageway.  From the car park, walk to the river along the tarmac path to the left of the Bitts Park depot.  Follow the path around to the right as the river comes into view between the trees and a little further on you will see the sculpture down near the river on your left. (Map reference NY 397 566)

'Global Warming' by Anthony Turner at Rockcliffe

Global Warming by Anthony Turner at Rockcliffe
Photo by Val Corbett

The title of this sculpture is indicative of its global perspective.  Situated where the river Eden flows out to sea there is an expanding awareness of the wider world.  It could simply be a huge sea creature washed onto the shore but it conveys the sense of an even bigger scale.  There is a mysterious pregnant silence about it and it resembles a planet earth held carefully in a hand.  The term global warming is now ominously synonymous with the world overheating yet we would like it to mean a nurturing, life enhancing glow!

Anthony Turner was born in Kenya, went to school in Wiltshire and did a Social Studies degree at Exeter University.  A self taught painter and draughtsman as well as a sculptor he worked as an assistant to the distinguished sculptor Peter Randal Page for a number of years.  Recalling his childhood in Africa his sculptures are organic, exotic and sensual.

There is a car park at the Rockcliffe Community Centre.  Turn left from the car park and walk along to the church.  Bear left down the lane over a footbridge and continue with the open grassy area on your left and the river beyond.  You will see ‘Global Warming’ at the far end of the grassy area just below a small red sandstone cliff.  (Map reference NY 357 617)

In 2009 East Cumbria Countryside Project was closed down by its three local authority funders. There is no longer a comparable service that can maintain the same high quality of public path management, which is surely a vital factor if Cumbria is serious about facilitating countryside recreation as a meaningful part of its tourism economy. ECCP is, everywhere, conspicuous by its absence. Very little is now being done by the local authorities, in sensitive conjunction with the farmers, to conserve and improve the natural environment and wildlife of the region or properly cater for the needs of those who want to use it for leisure activities. Neither do they provide the comprehensive levels of advice, guidance or interpretative information that are necessary to help and enhance the visitors experience in their explorations of a cultural landscape.

The Eden Benchmark sculpture collection is a permanent and tangible legacy of ECCP’s achievements; literally a series of touchstones to stimulate contemplative appraisal by the public of the beautiful Eden landscape and the huge conservation challenges that lie ahead.