The South West of England is rich in arts and culture. From Barbara Hepworth and Damien Hirst to world-famous graffiti artists, locally crafted tipples and regionally sourced cuisine, there’s something for everyone to discover on this trail.
Choose to take a 5-day circle from Bristol, or extend for a further 4 days, deeper into the South West.
Bristol is the cultural hub of South West England, renowned for its unorthodox character and maritime history. Arrive into Bristol Airport, located just 20 minutes from the city centre or catch the train directly from London Paddington in less that 2 hours.
Spend the morning visiting the Royal West of England Academy. Bristol’s finest gallery, it hosts high profile exhibitions by established artists throughout the year. It is situated in the academic heart of Bristol where Queens Road meets Whiteladies Road. Nearby Goldbrick House on Park Street is a great place to stop for lunch in between galleries.
The Bristol Museum & Art Gallery has world-class collections of art, archaeology, geology and natural history. The Museum also has dynamic exhibitions and an events programme throughout the year. Spend the evening catching a show at Bristol Old Vic. One of the world’s most important theatres, it celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2016. If time permits, catch one of the backstage tours too.
Take a trip to Stokes Croft and Gloucester Rd to see some of Bristol’s finest independent art. You can take a street art tour, led by the artists themselves, it’s a fascinating insight into what has become an outdoor art gallery. Visit Stokes Croft pottery to see how traditional crafts are being kept alive. Stop off in one of the many independent cafes and restaurants such as #1 Harbourside, Old Market Assebly or The Canteen for some local and ethical food. This is also a great place to visit in the evening with live music and DJs.
Head further up to Gloucester Rd Central and discover small galleries and independent shops bursting with work from local artists, beautiful jewellery from local designers and some fabulous cafes. If the weather permits, take a dip at the Clifton Lido. Head back to the harbour to sample local cider at the Bristol Cider Shop, followed by pizza and cider at the Stable, or a west country steak at Steak of the Art - a real foodie’s heaven!
Discover the rich Cotswolds’ arts and crafts traditions in Chipping Campden and Broadway and be inspired to be a modern day William Morris. Immerse yourself in Chipping Campden’s historic buildings, shops and Guild of Handicrafts to find out more about the arts and crafts movement. Visit Court Barn Museum’s glittering display of silver, jewellery, pottery and furniture to discover what drew such talented designers and craftspeople to this area.
Nearby, explore the Cotswold village of Broadway with its two unique museums. The Gordon Russell Design Museum holds a collection of furniture spanning this rich period of design, whilst Ashmolean Broadway displays fine and decorative art including William Morris tiles. Climb Broadway Tower, country retreat of Morris himself, before ending your day at Russell’s of Broadway, an elegant contemporary restaurant with rooms, located in the former furniture showroom of Sir Gordon Russell.
For a luxury stay in a four poster bed, head to Ellenborough Park Hotel in Cheltenham and spoil yourself with a hot stone massage. Cheltenham offers a fine selection of restaurants and traditional pubs, along with retail shops to suit all budgets.
If you’re always promising you’ll learn a new skill, visit the New Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester which is full of inspirational ideas. Once a bustling brewery, the centre is in the heart of this Roman market town and now offers an arts hub – as well as a lovely environment in which to relax, dine and take part in workshops including glass blowing, sculpture and pottery. Stay at the newly refurbished King’s Head Hotel, enjoying its subterranean spa in the vaulted cellars.
Journey to the UNESCO city of Bath and visit the Holbourne Museum and the Victoria Gallery, both of which house collections of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts. Don’t miss an afternoon spent relaxing at Thermae Bath Spa. Enjoy dinner at Green Park Brasserie, sample a local tipple such as the Bath Ale and Abbey Ale or and perhaps spoil yourself with a stay at the Gainsborough Bath Spa.
Option 1: Conclude this itinerary by taking the train or a short drive back to Bristol. If time permits, head to Spike Island – a fascinating gallery and studio space with great exhibitions throughout the year. Walk along the Harbourside to one of the many new restaurants including the Michelin starred Casamia.
Option 2: Continue your Arts & Cultural Trail and venture further south west into Devon and Cornwall.
Enroute to North Devon, take a stop at the Thatchers Cider Shop at Myrtle Farm in Somerset for local produce and scrumptious cider. If you fancy a walk, take the Strawberry Line footpath through the world-famous orchards.
Many artists have been attracted to North Devon over the years, and currently it is the perfect location to view works by Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley. Sculptures by Antony Gormley have been installed at five Landmark sites across the UK, two of which are in the South West; Lundy Island and Clavell Tower, and are freely available to view until May 2016. Each work is conceived in direct response to each location.
Lundy Island lies off the coast of North Devon, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Bristol Channel with nothing between it and America, a granite outcrop, three miles long and half a mile wide. In the hubbub of the modern world it is a place apart, peaceful and unspoiled.
Damien Hirst has strong links with Ilfracombe, and has given the town Verity, a 20.25 m tall statue that stands guard over the entrance to Ilfracombe harbour. Hirst's gallery Other Criteria can be found on the quay, along with his bar / restaurant 11 The Quay where his work is displayed in beautiful surroundings.
St Ives is a picturesque harbour town full of cafes, restaurants and independent shops. Here you'll find one of the country's most mesmerising galleries. Perched on Porthmeor Beach, Tate St Ives is the original seaside art gallery and draws in around 200,000 visitors a year eager to pencil a bit of culture into their beach break. There aren't any permanent exhibitions, instead it holds three special exhibitions a year, so there is something different each time. Save a few pounds by buying joint admission tickets for Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, just a short walk away and well worth seeing for its extraordinary sculpture garden. For a traditional English pub meal and a great Bed & Breakfast experience, visit the harbourside Sloop Inn which dates back the the 14th Century.
Whilst exploring Cornwall, experience an open-air play at the Minack Theatre. Carved into a granite cliff face on the southern tip of Cornwall, the Minack Theatre is a wonderfully unique theatrical experience. Audiences soak up opera, classic dramas and musicals in the sunshine or under the stars with the sparkling Atlantic Ocean as an aptly dramatic backdrop. The theatre was the brainchild of local woman Rowena Cade, who conceived, helped build and even financed the theatre from 1931 up until her death in 1983. Opening with Shakespeare's The Tempest back in 1932, the theatre today draws audiences from far and wide with a packed programme filling spring and summer months. Being open air, the English weather always plays a big role, but in true English spirit performances are only cancelled in extreme conditions.
Plymouth is the arts and culture hub of Devon. Visit the City Museum and Art Gallery, an exciting regional museum with permanent galleries featuring objects from its world cultures, ancient Egypt, archaeology, maritime and local history, natural history, fine and decorative art collections. Displays are supported by an ambitious exhibition programme, plus a varied and large-scale event programme that includes lunchtime talks, Art Bites tours, family-friendly holiday workshops, contemporary craft and creative writing workshops for adults and a host of special events. The Museum will only be open until the end of August 2016 whilst work on the new multi-million pound History Centre project gets underway. Take time to head to the nearby Plymouth University’s Peninsular Arts Gallery, the city’s largest contemporary art gallery.
Whilst visiting Plymouth, visit the iconic Smeaton’s Tower Lighthouse which offers fantastic views of the region. Also spend time at the world famous Mayflower Steps, flanked by the British and American flags that mark the final English departure point of Sir Francis Drake and 102 Pilgrim passengers who set sail for North America on the Mayflower in 1620.
Plymouth offers celebrity dining options from top British chefs including James and Chris Tanner, Hugh Furnley-Whittingstall, Gary Rhodes and Mitch Tonks. Plymouth’s location between the sea, farmland and moorland provides its award-winning restaurants with a natural larder of fine fresh food. Don’t miss a distillery tour at Plymouth Gin.
Head to Dartmoor National park, a rugged area of moorland renowned for its dramatic skies and landscapes. Dartmoor's history, vistas, wildlife and majesty has inspired artists of every medium, and today there are studios in nearly every hamlet and village. Particular 'hotspots' include Moretonhampstead, Chagford, Ashburton and Bovey Tracey. Dartmoor plays a key role in award winning festivals such as the Contemporary Craft Fair in June or Devon Open Studios in September. For more information visit www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk
Continue onto Bristol or catch a train from Bristol temple Meads Station to London Paddington.