My social media followers obviously know me pretty well as it was thanks to the recommendation from someone on Instagram that I first became aware of The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail. They knew about my love of hidden gems and public art thanks to other blog posts I had written about the Andy Scott Sculpture Trail and the Caol Ruadh Sculpture Park.
After they sent me some images of intriguing carved figures from their own visit to this woodland walk at Feshiebridge, I knew I had to add it to my Scotland travel list.
I found the figures to be thought provoking and mysterious, like ancient woodland spirits passing on their wisdom. Being the only one in the forest, at times the walk even felt a little creepy, as some of the figures lurk in the shadows and can appear quite lifelike. In fact, it is their appearance of having some animation and a philosophical soul that makes these sculptures more than a work of art to be admired.
However, being made of reclaimed wood that is exposed to the elements means these striking pieces won't last forever. The trail has been opened since 2007 and unsurprisingly some are already starting to rot and some have had to be cut down and placed on the ground for safety reasons. Some people are disappointed by the lack of preservation but this was part of Frank Bruce's vision. That his work went through the natural cycle of birth, life and decay.
I've no doubt many of the sculptures will still be around for a few years yet but if you do plan to visit, you might want to add it to your list sooner rather than later. I've written a guide with all you need to know below.
Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail Walk Details
LOCATION - Feshiebridge in the Cairngorms National Park - about a 20 minute drive from Aviemore and Kingussie
DISTANCE - A 1 mile circular route from the designated car park
TERRAIN - A compact accessible path that is also suitable for wheelchairs and prams
DIFFICULTY - Easy
TIPS - There is a charge for the car park so make sure you have some change
ABOUT THE SCULPTURES
As with all art, the sculptures are designed to make you think and in this case there are strong themes of politics, Scottish culture and our relationship with others. The individual pieces are united under the title 'Patriotism & Poverty'.
Most of the sculptures are carved from reclaimed wood, some of them from ancient Caledonian Pines which actually came from the forest they now sit in. The wooden pieces emphasise the natural shape and features of tree, with knots and branches looking like arms and legs.
There are also three stone pieces on the trail which will remain as a legacy once the wooden ones have gone.
Some of the stops have information boards which explain the meaning of the piece, others are left for you to interpret. I've posted some of the sculptures below, with a bit about their background. However, I have also omitted a few so you are left with some surprises if you do visit.
The Thinker is one of the sculptures that stands a bit off the main path and looks like it might take a step forward at any moment. I think this one really demonstrates how talented Frank Bruce was as the natural features of the wood have been incorporated in such a way that they really add character and life to the figure.
It is actually looking down in to a pond, although as you can see it was a bit overgrown when I visited. It is said to have been inspired by Rodin's 'The Thinker' but rather than a godlike figure, it is a more humble character which reflects in the water.
The Man's the Gowd features a workman figure and a belted knight. The knight looks with disdain and both have symbols of mortality on their head indicating we all return to the same dust.
Frank Bruce was a fan of Robert Burns and this piece was inspired by the famous poem 'A Man's a Man for a'That'. The sculpture indicates that no matter our status in life, death is something that will happen to us all.
The Walker is 8m tall and I half expected it to stride off in to the surrounding trees and that is the point, the upturned pine tree trunk demonstrates man's dominance of the forest. The detail in the hand is incredible and my imagination was running wild with thoughts of all these figures coming to life when no-one is around.
Inner Man has an interpretation board stating 'You can see my outward physical appearance, My inner self is far more difficult to discern'.
One of the most personal works has to be The Sailor which is a small stone sculpture. This represents Frank Bruce's brother who was trapped within a sinking battleship in WWII, with no means of escape. This is how Frank imagined his last moments and knowing this gives this small boulder a whole new depth of meaning. Of course, it could just as easily represent any sailor who met their end this way.
Another headstone shaped sculpture has the words 'I WAS PRIVILEGED TO BE' which is Frank's own epitaph. This is a quote that I have pondered on since and it has changed the way I have thought about my own life which is a testament to how much of an impact art can have.
No doubt this is how all the sculptures will eventually end up. Cut down or fallen down, lying where they stood, gradually rotting back in to the earth from which they grew. The circle of life complete.
Which is why I recommend you visit sooner rather than later.
About Frank Bruce
Frank Bruce was born in St Combs, a small fishing village in Fraserburgh, in 1931. He died in Inverness in 2009.
He left school at 13 and despite having dyslexia, he taught himself how to read. Much of his life was spent doing manual jobs, with his sculpture being a self-taught hobby.
He stayed away from the commercial art world and always maintained his sculpture should remain free for people to enjoy. He didn't sell any of his work, instead he accepted donations which allowed him to carry on producing his art.
He settled with his family in Aviemore in the 1960s where he ran a bed and breakfast with his wife. His sculptures took over his house and eventually his garden so he looked for a bigger space to exhibit them.
Thus led to the creation of the Colleonard Sculpture Garden next to Banff. When an opportunity came to move the sculptures closer to his Aviemore home and the forests where the timber had come from, he took it.
Unfortunately he died a couple of years after the sculpture trail was opened, but thanks to Forestry and Land Scotland, his legacy lives on.
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