Now approaching its second week, don’t you think it’s about time you pulled on your shoes and experienced some living art – ok, go for a stroll in the wood then? But if you do venture out to Haldon, you’ll be reliving an artistic vision of interaction and involvement – but don’t just take our words for it.
You might remember it as the Butterfly Walk, the Magic Walk or simply Jamie’s Walk, but if you lived in or near Devon in the early 1980s and visited Haldon Forest there is little doubt that some of your fondest memories will be connected to the mesmerising mile-and-a-quarter interactive walkway which creator Jamie McCullough referred to as The Beginner’s Way.
Purely through word of mouth promotion by people who happened upon it, The Beginner’s Way attracted more than half a million people to Haldon Forest Â which sometimes meant over 1,000 people per day Â in the few years of its existence, before it slowly disintegrated through lack of funding, and eventually dissappeared into the fabric of the forest for good.
Unlike the many pre-conceived scientific nature or sculpture trails one finds in many of today’s forests and parks, McCullough’s idea with The Beginner’s Way was to use art to create a completely new way of experiencing a forest and engage the public in exploring its multiple facets. As a result, his spellbinding maze of bridges, stepping stones, optical illusions, tree ladders and tunnels became a portal through which visitors of all ages were transported to what some said felt like an instinctive sense of wonderment, which adults claimed they had not previously experienced or only as very small children.
McCullough refused to have The Beginner’s Way advertised or promoted in any way, insisting that those who walked it for the first time did so by chance and then came back again with friends. The many offers from TV and magazines that caught wind of the phenomenon were simply refused.
Inspite of taking A-levels in Physics and Science, McCullough’s creative aspirations landed him a succesful career as a sculptor at a young age. Increasingly desillusioned with the incestuous nature of the 1960s artworld, he set out to find out how the world worked on his own terms in 1969 and spent several years trying his hand at a myriad of professions and crafts in different parts of the world. In 1976, McCullough created Meanwhile Gardens; a beautiful landscaped garden playtrail on a long stretch of waste ground near LondonÂ¹s Westbourne Park Underground Station. It was to become the first of many of McCullough’s trademark projects which not just created places of joy and reflection for everyday people in their everyday environment, but which also taught other creative practitioners a valuable lesson on how to negotiate city planning and legislation and how to manage the delicate process of gaining local community acceptance.
Jamie McCullough, who died at 53 in 1998, was an artist, a scientist, a philosopher and a visionary. In his own words, his Beginner’s Way was ‘not a way for beginners but a possible way to contemplate beginning again in a new direction’. To celebrate his life and work, the CCANW (Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World) in Haldon Forest is putting on a special exhibition until Sunday 29 April (admission free), giving the public the opportunity to commemorate the past but also to explore how Jamie McCullough’s vision can help tackle the future.
The CCANW is inviting the public to contribute to this exhibition, by sending or bringing in any photographic material they may have that documents parts of the Beginner’s Way. Send all your photographs (plus a SAE if you want your pictures to be returned to you after the exhibition) to Chris Lewis, CCANW, Haldon Forest Park, Devon EX6 7XR. For more info visit www.ccanw.co.uk or phone 01392 832 277.
Posted by Milica Lewis