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7 ways to get your culture fix in Northern England’s countryside

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Ever thought the countryside was lacking in culture? Think again! Whether you ramble past sculptures surrounded by sheep, have a surreal seaside experience or get carried away by classical music in castle ruins, Northern England is a wonderful place to escape the city for some countryside culture.

From mountainous film festivals to art collections of the aristocracy, there’s even more to these beautiful landscapes than dramatic moors, valleys and miles of sandy beaches. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised…

1. Open your mind in the open air at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Open-air displays of modern and contemporary art abound at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in the beautiful countryside near Wakefield, with famous artworks scattered among 500 acres of rural historic estate. The UK’s leading outdoor art gallery, the park has over 60 sculptures by major artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Andy Goldsworthy and more. Don’t be surprised to see a sculpture by Joan Miró surrounded by peacefully grazing sheep! There are also special events, workshops, courses, an excellent shop, a restaurant and five spacious indoor galleries with an exciting programme of changing exhibitions.

Find out more about Yorkshire Sculpture Park

2. Join the fresh air enthusiasts at Kendal Mountain Festival

For many, the Lake District is the birthplace of rock climbing, mountaineering and the Kendal Mint Cake so popular with outdoor enthusiasts. Each year, Kendal Mountain Festival brings together over 10,000 adventure seekers and lovers of the great outdoors, showcasing mountain film, literature, art, athletes and legends. Its aim is to inspire more people to explore and enjoy the area’s thrilling landscape. Over three days, the festival’s film competition screens movies about everything from high-octane, adventurous pursuits to environmental issues affecting mountain regions and their indigenous people.

Find out more about Kendal Mountain Festival

3. Encounter 100 iron men by the sea at Another Place

About 6 miles (9.5km) north of central Liverpool is Crosby Beach, where you’ll find Another Place, a striking public artwork by the world-famous British artist Antony Gormley. The work consists of 100 cast-iron, life-size figures spread over 2 miles (3km) of lovely coastline. They reach about 0.6 miles (1km) out to sea, being increasingly submerged and revealed as the tide comes in and goes out. It’s an impressive if rather surreal and haunting sight.

Find out more about Another Place

4. Enjoy classical music inside ancient castle ruins

Each July, Pontefract Castle’s atmospheric remains come alive during The Proms, featuring a fine selection of patriotic and stomping classical music performed by the West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. The historic castle's inner bailey becomes a theatre and picnic arena for the evening while the remains of the Keep act as a launch pad for a spectacular fireworks finale. Check out also the town’s Liquorice Festival, usually held the day after, with plenty of street entertainment and live music on offer, including art workshops and fun activities.

Find out more about Pontefract Castle

5. Scale Sunderland’s iconic Greek monument

The Penshaw Monument near Sunderland is a beloved landmark that’s visible for miles around. Built to honour a local Earl in 1844, it’s modelled on the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. In summer a secret staircase in one of the columns is opened and you can climb right up to the top for breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. From the monument it’s a short stroll down the hill to Herrington Country Park’s walking and cycle paths, scattered sculptures and boating lake. Continue a little further north to meet the mischievous otters and shocking pink Chilean flamingos of Washington Wetland Centre.

Find out more about Sunderland

6. Admire the fine art collections of England’s aristocracy

Head to the Peak District’s dramatic countryside for exclusive access to rarely seen historic artworks, part of private collections belonging to Dukes and Duchesses. Inside stately Chatsworth you’ll find one of Europe’s most prestigious private art collections: the Devonshire Collection spans 400 years and includes 16th century needlework, Old Masters’ sketches and contemporary pieces from modern luminaries such as Damien Hirst. For more exclusive art viewings pop over to the Harley Gallery in Welbeck, where you can take a peek at the Portland Collection’s artistic gems.

Find out more about art in the Peak District

7. Enjoy exquisite art at a hidden gem in Cumbria

Abbot Hall is small in size, but not in ambition. One of Britain’s finest small galleries, it hosts some of the most imaginative temporary exhibition programmes outside London. Occupying two light-filled rooms of a Grade I-listed Georgian building in Kendal, Abbot Hall’s important works range from a Turner watercolour of Windermere to portraits by Stanley Spencer and etchings by David Hockney and Lucian Freud. It’s further proved its cultural clout by securing some spectacular long-term loans, including works by Constable and LS Lowry. Not bad for a tiddler!

Find out more about Abbot Hall

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