national trust

Walk Wood sculpture trail at Sheffield Park Gardens

Project Manager Emma Chaplin was invited to attend the opening of the new Walk Wood sculpture trail at the National Trust-owned Sheffield Park Gardens near Haywards Heath. The sculpture trail has been created by Sussex artist and wood engraver Keith Pettit, who likes to work with natural materials.

Andy, the head gardener at Sheffield Park Gardens, has regularly worked with the Nature Corridors for All group from the St Nicholas Day Centre, some members of which also come to our Community Allotment. John Parry, founder of the Linklater Centre in Lewes, was in attendance. They have worked with the Nature Corridors group for a long while now. 

We were invited to walk around the new woodland area with one of a number of knowledgeable guides. 

We saw that Keith has created portals that lead into and out of the area, as well as other sculptures that you come across as you walk along the pathways. These are sympathetically built in or around trees, such as 'cycles' made of beech and yew, mostly using materials sourced from the area. Some you have to look hard to spot! Other sculptures include a striking woven spiral and two web-like sculptures. 

Our guide explained that a particular kind of hedging has been created around the new walk area as a barrier to protect the woodland. It has green waste between two lots of wire, which allows small mammals to move through it and also forms a habitat for insects. The pathway are made of chipped wood that's been cut down, and there is temporary 'dead hedging' made of twigs to keep visitors on the pathways.

Our walk guide, who has worked at Sheffield Park for a very long time, described what they learnt after the Great Storm of 1987 when many trees were lost. He told us about the history of the woodland walk area, how 'commercial' trees had been planted when it was private, which weren't particularly sympathetic to the history of the land. He said it will take a very long time (beyond his working life) to fully restore the woodland area with indigenous species of trees, and described the process of trying to restore it sympathetically and mindfully as 'historic gardening', rather than commercial gardening. 

All the different groups ended up back where we started. It's a lovely place to visit. We enjoyed some refreshments and a piece of a truly splendid 'woodland wildlife' themed cake.

Keith Pettit has had an interesting and varied journey, workwise, and Emma has invited him to come and talk to the Rural Pathways group next year about how he came to make a career working with his hands: as a wood engraver, sign-writer and sculptor, sometimes outdoors, often using materials he finds. Every year, he makes extraordinary, dramatic wooden sculptures that go up in flames at East Hoathly Bonfire!