Nature is painting for us: a weekend with the Wray Castle Weekender

Susie Stubbs

We discover a weekend of sound and kinetic art to the shores of Lake Windermere.

John Ruskin knew a thing or two about art and nature. His exhortation to “go first to nature” was taken up with gusto by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, while his home on the shores of Lake Coniston was reconfigured specifically to allow him to better study the local flora and fauna. So we think that Ruskin may have approved of the art and nature event that’s come to our attention of late: the Wray Weekender.

This cultural happening in August is being led by Lakes Alive (the folk behind Kendal’s Mintfest) and contains sound and kinetic art, a Victorian Gothic castle, wind-driven instruments and roving musicians. Intriguingly, this particular weekend has been developed as a game of two halves. On one side of Lake Windermere, set within the beautiful grounds of the Brockhole house and gardens and curated by Lakes Alive, is a sound art installation created by a group of internationally acclaimed artists. On the other side, this time led by Barrow’s Octopus Collective, is an “audio adventure” tucked inside the neo-Gothic splendor of Wray Castle – with the two connected by boat.

Let’s start with Wray Castle. Built in 1840, it is slowly being revived by the National Trust. Very much a work in progress – the Trust only made the building watertight this winter after shelling out £750,000 on repairing its roof – it is fascinating nonetheless. Children are encouraged to dress up and run through the rooms, a wooden portcullis has just been restored to working order, and the newly opened café opens out onto views of Lake Windemere. The gardens, meanwhile, include a tree planted by William Wordsworth, a cycle trail and lakeshore path. Over this particular weekend, the castle is transformed into something altogether more musical via events that include a smartphone-enabled sound garden and a series of roving musicians. There are music and art workshops, too, and the chance to create a cardboard castle ruin in the grounds.

One of the loveliest ways to reach Wray Castle is by boat; ferries run by Windermere Lake Cruises land here (if you’re coming up from Ambleside we’d recommend the ferry rather than car). Close by is the National Trust-owned lakeside campsite at Low Wray, with its picnic and play area, shop stocked with locally sourced meat and fresh bread, and bikes for hire. If camping isn’t your thing (even with Low Wray’s glamping options), we rate the Drunken Duck above Wray (it’s not far from the idyllic Tarn Hows), an award-winning pub, B&B and restaurant with an on-site brewery – try its Red Bull Terrier or pale amber Tag Lag beers. The restaurant gets booked up well ahead, but the less formal bar menu is worth pitching up on spec for. If it is fully booked, however, Ambleside is only ten minutes away and is full of eateries and places to stay; for food and booze try Lucy’s of Ambleside or Zeffirellis, a vegan-friendly arthouse cinema (yes, you did read that right; its pizzeria has been named by PETA as one of the UK’s top five vegan restaurants).

Lakes Alive bring a weekend of sound and art to Lake Windermere

Windermere Lake Cruises connects the events at Wray Castle with those at Brockhole opposite. Sitting high up on the lakeside and tumbling rather beautifully down to the shore, Brockhole is a visitor centre that includes a 30-acre arts and crafts garden, café (with lake-facing terrace), adventure playground (complete with dizzyingly high zip wire), shop and an indoor soft play area should the weather take a turn for the worse. During the Wray Weekender, Brockhole’s grounds are transformed by Audible Forces, a touring sound art installation brought here by Lakes Alive. Here, a series of wind-driven musical instruments play – created by artists such as Jony Easterby and Dan Fox – with the audio and visual results entirely dependent on what sun, wind or rain the weather brings.

Jony Easterby’s work can also be found at Grizedale Forest, a sculpture parks close by (Easterby’s Wind Thrust is on the Bogle Crag Trail, a 2.5 mile trail that begins at Bogle Crag car park). The forest is in turn the location for a Picnic Cinema screening on 10 August – we’d recommend you pitch your tent here on the Saturday night, partake of a Bloody Mary or three (Picnic Cinema very handily wheels in its own bar for the night) and watch Danny Boyle’s horror flick, 28 Days Later. Other unusual places to stay during the weekend – though a little further out – are Brantwood and Lawson Park Farm. The latter is run by Grizedale Arts, while the former was once John Ruskin’s home, which neatly brings us back to our beginning. Like we said, Ruskin knew a thing or two about art and nature. “Nature is painting for us, if only we have the eyes to see,” he once said. The joy of this weekend is that you can get to grips with art and nature – except it’s not only your eyes you should keep open. There’s plenty to keep your ears occupied at Wray Castle and Brockhole this August too.

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