Carving a new niche

24th September 2004 at 01:00
Jonathan Stamper has turned his disaster of foot and mouth on his farm into a golden opportunity, writes Jessie Anderson

During the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001, Cumbrian farmer Jonathan Stamper lost his entire stock of sheep and his dairy herd. Although he has since re-stocked, he saw the disaster primarily as an opportunity to assess the alternative possibilities of his 164-acre farm and to turn what had been a dream for some years into a reality - by converting a large part of the farm into a sculpture park.

High Head Sculpture Valley at Ivegill, halfway between Carlisle and Penrith in Cumbria, offers an unusual opportunity to combine art and environmental studies with a day out on a working farm.

Jonathan, 47, is a sculptor with an international reputation, and learned most of his craft under the tutelage of Merryll Evans, he teacher when he was at Keswick grammar school. After he left, he was greatly influenced by well-known Cumbrian artist Josefina de Vasconcellas in whose studio he worked for 18 months. But High Head features not only his own work but that of other Cumbrian and south-west Scotland sculptors, working in various media including wood, stone, clay, metal and resin.

As well as being a sculptor and farmer, Jonathan runs a successful landscape design business. So the sculptures are superbly sited in a landscape of wood and water, which offers a habitat for a great variety of wild life from badgers to butterflies, red squirrels to roe deer, with the occasional otter passing through via the River Ive, which borders the farm.

There's a pond where children can go pond dipping - and plenty of seats dotted about to enjoy the scenery. Everywhere there's evidence of a sensitive and informed management of the land for wildlife enhancement, including two acres of newly planted native woodland.

Jonathan's pre-occupation with wood - his favourite medium - is evident throughout the valley, from living trees to huge dead stumps, with the finished sculptures completing the cycle. The form of his abstract sculpture in burred elm, which has become the High Head logo, has been repeated, planted out in trees, on the hillside overlooking the valley.

Illustrated interpretative panels, placed at strategic spots along the trail, give information on such subjects as native trees, farming management, flowers, animals and birds to look out for, and what may be found in the newly created pond. The 70 acres of public access include woodland and riverside walks and a farm trail.

For the younger ones, there's a playground with a fairytale-like entrance provided by a door carved in a massive tree stump, over which a sculpted owl keeps watch. Particularly successful have been the primary school workshops in the Valley using "found" objects such as pieces of wood, stones, leaves and seed pods.

Jonathan gives the pupils initial guidance and then lets them "do their own thing", which they have done with enthusiasm and with results which Jonathan describes tactfully as "varied".

Redundant farm buildings have been converted into a tearoom, shop and gallery displaying paintings, pottery and photographic work as well as sculptures. There's also an education room and a workshop where pupils may watch sculptors' work in progress.

Admission to High Head Sculpture Valley, High Head Farm, Ivegill, Garlisle, Cumbria CA4 OJ, costs pound;2.50 for adults and pound;1.50 for children aged six to 16. Tel: 016974 73552; email:;


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