The path towards inspiration is set in stone

Shipwrights Way
Shipwrights Way

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Brown trout, nightjars, elm trees and a shipwright’s tool bag will all soon have something in common.

They will all be stone sculptures on the Shipwright’s Way – a new 50-mile walking and cycling route cutting through the heart of Hampshire and finishing at Portsmouth’s historic dockyard.

Rarely do community projects cover such a wide area and embrace so many different people.

But, through the power of art and local history, the Shipwright’s Way offers a chance to link all the towns and villages of eastern Hampshire – and there’s not a car exhaust in sight.

Over the past six months, sculptor Richard Perry has been talking to communities along the path to inspire sculptures which tell the story of the landscape.

Richard, who has been commissioned to create the £50,000 sculpture trail, held seven brainstorming workshops for his inspiration – as well as cycling 90 per cent of the route.

Lots of ideas were put forward from local people, ranging from a pick-axe head, to the recreation of a statue of the goddess Venus found at a Roman villa, to oysters and Mulberry Harbours at Hayling Island.

The majority of the 20 sculptures have now been chosen and the 52-year-old, based in Nottinghamshire, will spend the next six months creating these intricate masterpieces.

Cath Hart, the project officer for the Shipwright’s Way, is excited.

‘The sculptures will be carved from creamy Portland stone and will stand approximately waist high,’ says Cath.

‘Richard’s sculptures are both beautiful and tactile and are expected to be in situ towards the end of the year, accompanied by QR code and text explaining their significance.’

The name of the path reflects the shipbuilding history of the county.

The route starts at Alice Holt Forest, north of Petersfield, where oak logs were produced and transported down to Portsmouth to build ships such as the Mary Rose and HMS Victory.

Starting from Alice Holt, it passes through Bordon, Liphook, Liss, Petersfield, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Staunton Country Park, Havant, and Hayling Island.

Then via the ferry into Portsmouth, the path along the seafront and finishes at the historic dockyard.

It forms part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network route 22 linking London to Portsmouth.

Nearly all of the route is now open and the authorities are working with the MoD to fill the last gap in the route, around Bordon, and hope to open this in 2014.

The project is a partnership between East Hampshire District Council, Hampshire County Council, South Downs National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission.

Damian Hinds, the MP for East Hampshire, officially opened the path in March with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Liss.

He says: ‘With the area’s network of bridleways and footpaths, beautiful countryside and welcoming pubs, we have the opportunity to really develop our tourism, and the Shipwright’s Way will play a key role in this.

‘In addition, it will give residents the chance to get out and explore the area, and will be of great use to commuters as they travel to work.’

As much as possible, the route is off-road, using rights of way and permissive paths.

The path has been welcomed by Hampshire’s large walking community.

Owen Plunkett, chairman of Hampshire Ramblers’ Association, who lives in Waterlooville, said the sculpture trail will attract the hardened rambler – as well as families who would not ordinarily go on long country walks.

He says: ‘It’s a good idea and we support it. We will certainly use it.

‘When you are walking, if there’s something of interest it adds to the pleasure of the walk.’

Local people said they felt honoured to have had an input into the sculptures.

Brownies and guides in Rowlands Castle have helped to inspire the sculptures for Finchdean and the village’s green.

Jane Beveridge, the guider for Rowlands Castle Brownie and Guides, says: ‘I am all for long-distance paths.

‘It’s great, particularly if it’s off-road.

‘I understand some of it is on roads, but they are quiet roads.

‘The more places we have to walk and cycle in safety the better and it’s great adding that little bit of history.

‘This is making history come to life and making it relevant to today.’