With bucolic backdrops and architecture to rival the artworks, Britain's destination galleries, museums and sculpture parks make for a brilliant pilgrimage in the warmer months. Here are five worthy of a weekend away, with our choice of the best boutique hotels and B&Bs nearby.
Wilkieston, near Edinburgh
What’s the appeal?
It says something of the ambitions of Nicky and Robert Wilson that the first piece commissioned for the sculpture park they founded five miles west of Edinburgh was hardly a piece at all, but a series of grand swirling landforms by US landscape architect Charles Jencks.
Set in 100 acres of fields and woodlands surrounding the Jacobean Bonnington House, the park’s soothing pastoral setting acts as a brilliant foil for its cutting-edge collection, which includes site-specific works by Anish Kapoor (a caged vortex entitled Suck) and Cornelia Parker (whose huge shotgun forms Landscape with Gun and Tree, 2012).
It’s also home to the very first permanent outdoor piece by Brit experimenter Phyllida Barlow, commissioned to mark the park’s 10th anniversary in 2018.
Though the new commission and exhibition by Tracey Emin is delayed until next year, this season will see Scottish multimedia artist Rachel Maclean call on her discordant, candy-hued aesthetic for her first permanent outdoor installation in the woods, while the park’s gallery spaces will survey a decade of her daring work.
In August, intimate arts festival Jupiter Rising is hoping to return for its second outing, with a weekend of live music, performance and film, plus the opportunity for visitors to camp out in the grounds. jupiterrising.art
The sculpture park is a pocket of world-class creativity among rolling countryside, but it’s only a short drive from Edinburgh’s network of galleries. A highlight at Dovecot Studios this summer is ‘Archie Brennan: Tapestry Goes Pop!' (26 April–30 August 2021). This tribute to the trailblazing Scottish pop artist is the first major retrospective of his woven works. dovecotstudios.com
Where can I stay?
The Artist’s House
This newly launched on-site hideout is as brilliantly bohemian as the name suggests, with walls clad in wood and a characterful mix of art and furniture. French doors open onto the private garden, with its Swedish wood-fired tub and views across the Firth of Forth estuary. Sleeps six, from £425 per night, jupiterartland.org/the-artists-house
The Balerno Inn
The opening of this lively gastro pub was a boost to the pretty local village of Balerno, which offers swift access to the Pentland Hills. Rooms are a modern update on cosy Scottish style, with Harris Tweed textiles and wood panelling above the beds painted in a smart navy blue. From £50 per night, balernoinn.co.uk
If you’re staying in town, our Edinburgh escape of choice is this meditative studio minutes from the castle, with its natural clay plaster walls, low-slung furniture and Japanese-style wooden screen that sequesters the sleeping area. It was created by emerging design partnership Izat Arundell – remember the name. From £200 per night, porteous.studio
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
What’s the appeal?
You don’t have to pack up and move to Somerset with the latest wave of Bruton-bound creatives, but you’d be amiss to skip a pilgrimage to the arts hub that’s half the reason why they’re all going.
Following galleries in Zürich, London and New York, art world power couple Manuela Hauser and Iwan Wirth set their sights on this altogether more bucolic spot on the outskirts of the town, enlisting Argentinian architect Luis Laplace to coax a cultural destination from its barns, cowsheds and stables.
It’s been busy with world-class exhibitions and events ever since opening in 2014, though many head straight for the swaying grasses of the perennial meadow planted by lauded Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf.
The spring exhibition from US artist Henry Taylor (until 6 June) has already launched online (Hauser & Wirth dutifully digitise much of its programming), but these vibrant, humane portraits and sculptures should be seen in person once restrictions are lifted. His inaugural exhibition takes over all five galleries. hauserwirth.com
Also on site is Durslade Farm Shop, whose launch late last year was obscured by the pandemic. This expansive emporium stocks meat and vegetables from the farm, plus products made from foraged ingredients, and should come into its own this spring. dursladefarmshop.co.uk
Don’t expect grand galleries to rival Hauser & Wirth – Bruton is decidedly bijou, and it’s all part of the charm. Opened in 2018, the diminutive Make is the gallery’s outpost on the high street and is dedicated to contemporary craft, with all works available to buy.
It bridges the gap between a smattering of local galleries and a decidedly artisanal retail offering, which is soon to include a shop and studio from ceramicists People Will Always Need Plates, peoplewillalwaysneedplates.co.uk
Where can I stay?
There’s only one room on offer here, but you’re in good hands – owner Natalie Jones runs design shop and events space Caro down the road. Browse its collection of beautiful but useful homewares, then sleep among an edited selection. From £130 per night, carosomerset.com
Martin Creed’s neon signage writ large across its exterior is the first clue that the gallery’s on-site rental is not your typical country crash pad. Then there’s the eclectic, art- and antique-filled interior by Luis Laplace. Sleeps up to 12, from £350 per night, dursladefarmhouse.co.uk
At the Chapel
It might seem short-sighted to credit this elegant restaurant as the catalyst for the Bruton boom, but the opening in 2008 certainly marked a step change in its standing. The restful bedrooms followed a little while later and still retain their shine. From £125 per night, atthechapel.co.uk
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
What’s the appeal?
Nestled at the edge of the University of East Anglia’s campus is something like a shed on steroids. The Sainsbury Centre, upheld as the UK’s first – and finest – high-tech gallery, is a spectacular steel monolith that managed to put both Norwich and Norman Foster on the modern architecture map.
And yet the brilliance of the building has perhaps obscured the bounty inside, which includes pieces by Picasso and Degas alongside a vast collection of non-European art spanning 5,000 years.
Fewer still are familiar with its collection of outdoor sculptural works from Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick and Antony Gormley, which dot the 350 acres of parkland that slopes gently down to a lake, The Broad, and the River Yare beyond.
This spring sees the arrival of ‘Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years’, which brings together the very first works of the provocateur potter for those who missed its original stint at the Holburne Museum in Bath.
This is Perry before the Turner Prize, the CBE, and – in the case of the exhibition’s earliest sketchbooks – before he caught on to clay. But, arguably, the gallery’s biggest coup is the 29 new sculptural works and drawings by British artist Elisabeth Frink acquired last year. sainsburycentre.ac.uk
What’s in the area?
Don’t miss a closer look at the campus’ cascading Ziggurats. Masterminded by British architect Denys Lasdun (of National Theatre fame), the influential student accommodation concept is brutalism at its best.
Our pick of the city’s coolest galleries are artist-run Outpost (norwichoutpost.org) and The South Asia Collection, a museum and shop dedicated to textiles, objects and crafts from the region, housed in a restored Victorian skating rink. thesouthasiacollection.co.uk
Where can I stay?
The Water Cabin
Set on the banks of the River Thurne in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, this renovated 1930s cedar-clad cabin is well placed for the county’s crowd-pleasers – it’s a 30-minute drive to Norwich and half that to the beach. Fuss-free interiors prove that all-white everything is still a winner, while portholes in the bedrooms add personality. Sleeps four, from £360 for three nights, nor-folk.com
The Assembly House
Long host to exhibitions and concerts, the grand hall of this Norwich institution now forms the hub of a boutique hotel, which retains all the Georgian features promised by its stately red-brick façade. Rooms have a hint of Kit Kemp’s Firmdale flair – think richly patterned fabrics and walls peppered with contemporary art. From £170 per night, assemblyhousenorwich.co.uk
This waterside hideout has won awards for the bold architectural premise of its three pitched roof bays, modelled on local boat sheds, which maximise views of the private lake. Evenings spent otter-spotting on the deck will fool you into forgetting the city centre is a 15-minute drive away. Sleeps eight, from £795 for four nights, hostunusual.com
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Near Wakefield, West Yorkshire
What’s the appeal?
It’s hard to conceive that YSP was considered a blot on the landscape when it opened in 1977, with land, money and public support all in perilously short supply.
Almost 50 years later, the pairing of powerful works by the world’s top sculptors and 500 acres of rolling countryside has proved an irresistible premise – where else can you share a contemplative moment over a Henry Moore with wandering sheep?
Efforts to expand and evolve have brought renewed appreciation for the park. Don’t miss the meditative Skyspace by James Turrell, who added an aperture open to the heavens within the park’s Grade II-listed deer shelter, and 2019’s much-anticipated addition The Weston, which houses a gallery, restaurant and shop.
Featuring more than 50 female sculptors, from Barbara Hepworth to Rachel Whiteread, ‘Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945’ (29 May–5 September 2021) will go some way in elevating post-war works by women to their rightful status.
The schedule will follow this thematic thread through the season, with exhibitions of porcelain figures piled high by Rachel Kneebone, objects by multidisciplinary artist Alison Milner and colourful tapestries and totemic pieces by Annie Morris. Towering outdoor works by Damien Hirst and Joana Vasconcelos are on display until next year. ysp.org.uk
As the birthplace of both Hepworth and Moore, it seems only right that this corner of the country has flourished into a world-leading destination for sculpture.
The nearby Hepworth Wakefield will mark its 10th anniversary in May with ‘Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life’, which is set to be her most comprehensive retrospective yet (21 May 2021–27 Feb 2022, hepworthwakefield.org). Over in buzzy Leeds, the Henry Moore Institute will showcase works that ‘fold up, pack down, or dismantle’ in ‘Portable Sculpture’ (18 May–29 August 2021, henry-moore.org).
Where can I stay?
The Pickled Pheasant
Skirting the easterly edge of the Peak District, this appealingly named pub added four spacious rooms following a renovation two years ago. All boast king-size Hypnos beds, and some have exposed beams and fireplaces. From £90 per night, thepickledpheasant.com
If you’re using Leeds as your hub, Dakota makes a handy base for the cultural quarter. The fifth outpost of this boutique chain does a convincing impression of an independent hotel, and there’s a luxurious, cocooning feel to its grey-on-grey rooms. From £140 per night, dakotahotels.co.uk
Manor House Lindley
This Georgian mansion offers 11 individually designed rooms. All are plush yet characterful, though the formula works best in the restaurant, with its bare brick walls, green velvet banquettes and opaline chandelier. From £129 per night, manorhouselindley.co.uk
What’s the appeal?
London’s Victoria and Albert Museum had been around for some 166 years before this offshoot arrived, to the surprise of some, in the coastal Scottish city of Dundee.
The doubters were out of date – by its opening in 2018, Dundee had already certified its status as the UK’s only UNESCO City of Design, thanks largely to its contribution to comics and a booming video games industry.
Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to echo the craggy forms of a cliff, its twin concrete inverted pyramids sit resplendent beside the River Tay as the shining stars of a pacy waterside regeneration project. Inside, the Scottish Design Galleries permanent collection is a tribute to home-grown talent.
This season, exhibition ‘Night Fever: Designing Club Culture’ (from 1 May 2021) explores the influence of design on the inimitable experience of dancing at Studio 54 or the Haçienda in Manchester, where Ben Kelly famously borrowed the industrial language of hazard stripes and bollards.
Developed by the Vitra Design Museum and the ADAM in Brussels, the heady tour also takes in today’s cult clubs, like Berlin’s techno sanctum Berghain. vam.ac.uk
Before the seismic arrival of the V&A, there was Dundee Contemporary Arts, with its two contemporary exhibition spaces, cinema, print studio, shop and well-loved café (dca.org.uk), as well as grand gothic revival gallery and museum The McManus, where the emphasis is on fine art and social history (mcmanus.co.uk).
The Open/Close street art project offers two city trails taking in large-scale murals and more than 40 painted doors. Tours run on the first Saturday of each month. openclosedundee.co.uk
Where can I stay?
Set in landscaped grounds with views across the River Tay, this baronial mansion is hidden among the smart Edwardian homes of the city’s West End. Interiors are restful and elegant, and there’s an outdoor gin bar waiting for good weather. From £100 per night, tayparkhouse.co.uk
The Hideaway Experience
The owners of Balkello Farm renovated a traditional bothy on their land just outside Dundee, before adding three luxury eco lodges. Aimed at couples, all have saunas, hot tubs and log burners, plus countryside views. From £540 for two nights, thehideawayexperience.co.uk
This sleek renovation of a former linen mill opened in 2018 to scoop up design-conscious visitors to the new V&A. Stylish industrial details reflect its former life – think vaulted bare-brick ceilings and bathrooms clad in gridded tiles. From £42 per night, ihg.com/hotelindigo
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