Tucked away at the back of an industrial estate on the Isle of Portland, at the end of Chesil Beach in Dorset, is a wildlife haven and sculpture park with views to take your breath away – if you squint a bit you might spot our boat down there!
Tout Quarry is an abandoned Portland stone quarry which, in its working heyday, was the one of the sources of the stone which built many of London’s famous landmarks and was exported around the world. St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace and the UN building in New York are all made from stone quarried in Portland.
Since 1983 the Quarry has operated as a sculpture park and nature reserve and it is a tremendous place to visit as a family. I decided we needed a break from our watery adventures so we took our wobbly sea legs off for a wander. I love the freedom sculpture trails give to children to explore art hands on and to really experience it. Tout Quarry is one of the best we’ve had the pleasure to visit.
We climbed up through stacks and sat upon them.
We scrambled, climbed and jumped. Some of it was a bit hairy and we did need to keep a close eye on Bonus Boy, who thinks he’s invincible, but it was very refreshing to be somewhere where health and safety weren’t breathing down our necks and we could make decisions about what was and was not a good idea for ourselves. I did overhear one elderly gentleman with a walking stick remark to his wife that ‘I wouldn’t jump down from there if I were you’ as Bonus Boy leapt from one rock to the ground. I bit my tongue but really wanted to say ‘Well of course you wouldn’t, you’re 70 and he’s 8! I bet you would’ve when you were a boy!’ – I’m so tired of the restrictions placed on young people today by the same people who would then tut and say ‘It was different in my day, we were always playing outside.’
There were stone sculptures round every corner and hidden in nooks and crannies. While I was looking at the bear’s head carved into one side of this stone Bonus Boy was admiring the alligator on the other!
He found an owl to cuddle (he wanted to take this one home).
She reclined, Queen of the Quarry.
We climbed inside and peeped out.
We climbed up and walked along (I loved seeing the remains of the old workings and imagining the noise and busyness which must have once been a feature of this now quiet place).
I hoped there might be yodeling across this gap but they let me down! Climbing up inside the stack on the left through a narrow chasm to stand upon the top had a little extra frisson with its proximity to a sheer drop to the sea on the other side.
We stopped and admired the views across Lyme Bay – that is usually us leaving a wake behind as we cross to Brixham, Torquay or Dartmouth on the other side!
We found surprises wherever we ventured.
This was my favourite – Crouching Figure by Reiko Nireki.
Closely followed by this one.
The quarry had its own micro climates and while it was wild and windy up on top of the rocks, once you were walking through the gullies it was eerily silent and very warm.
Bonus Boy made us all stop so this little fella could walk on by.
I was keen to see Antony Gormley’s ‘Still Falling’ and foolishly promised an extra mini egg to the child who found it first. My daughter quickly located the carving but, in the meantime, Bonus Boy had wandered a long way off and we had to set up a quick search party to bring him back. My parenting skills were questioned by the 17-year-old and Bonus Boy was beside himself at the possibility of not having an extra egg and of not having found ‘ANYTHING MUM’. Not my finest moment but all was quickly calmed and sorted and we all went to admire Gormley’s work together.
We spent a long time exploring the quarry and enjoyed the scrambling about as much, if not more, than the sculptures themselves. There was lots we missed and, as the quarry is constantly changing as more sculptures are created, we will be visiting again soon. I will be wearing stouter footwear, canvas shoes were not the best plan for walking over worked stone, and we’ll take a picnic with us and work our way down to the deserted beach below!
Would you celebrate the freedom from guard rails and warning signs and allow your children to roam or would this give you the heebie jeebies?
Over on Netmums this week I noticed a discussion which had started as a result of a piece of news which came to light over the bank holiday weekend. A group of teenage girls who were building a den in the woods were reported by a dog walker to local police who then attended the scene and asked the girls to move on.
This case and others like it make me wonder how we are raising our children today as a society – it seems to me that we are confining children, discouraging them from socialising in groups, isolating them in ‘safe’, controlled environments and not allowing them to take risks and test themselves.
How will we raise the thinkers, experimenters, explorers, creators and doers of the future if we consent to their confinement, if we insist on their silence, if we squash their exuberance? Teenagers are not another species, they are young people – lumping them together and making assumptions about their behaviour and intentions serves to impoverish our society and culture. Treating them as if they are other than us once they pass the age of thirteen, making them feel unwelcome and outside is hugely damaging and it saddens and angers me.
I am surrounded by teenagers, mother to three of my own all of whom have friends who are also teenagers, they are funny, thoughtful and full of life. They are brimming with possibilities and full of that invincible energy which, if encouraged, can create the most amazing things. As a society we need to stop squashing and controlling that energy, we need to stop being afraid of our children and allow them the freedom to blossom.