Guest blog by Tony van Diesel
A trip to the Glenkiln sculpture walk in the Dumfriesshire countryside seemed like an inspired plan for a cultural walk. But it was to end in a big disappointment.
Tammy had been leafing through our favourite mini-walks guide book. When she suggested that we could see a Rodin, an Epstein and no less than four Henry Moores all on a four mile walk, it seemed the perfect choice.
We quickly polished off the brunch frankfurters and set off to Glenkiln reservoir, just a few miles to the east of Dumfries.
We parked the van at the head of the reservoir, and were a bit puzzled when the Rodin “Saint John the Baptist” wasn’t where we thought it would be, overlooking the car park.
But we put it down to bad navigation, or poor observational skills, both of which Tammy has been known to accuse me of.
So we set off up the road in search of the Henry Moore “Standing Figure”.
It had been placed there by local wealthy landowner Sir William Keswick, who had assembled the collection of world-class sculptures between 1951 and 1976.
He knew Henry Moore personally, and persuaded him to place his works in the wild Scottish countryside. Moore went to see the works himself and was said to have been thrilled with the beautiful landscape.
Now we were getting very puzzled. There was no sculpture. The only clue that it had been there was some rusty bolts in a slab of rock. This wasn’t looking good.
Tammy was all for giving up at this point, and retiring back to the van for a well-earned afternoon kip, but I wasn’t having that.
We walked south, and branched up a muddy track to where another Moore, the “King and Queen” should have been. William Keswick had bought this to mark his own marriage.
Again, no sculpture, just a jumble of rocks. What was going on?
Looming above on the hill top, we could see what was supposed to be Henry Moore’s ‘Glen Kiln Cross’ but it was hard to make out if this was the actual work or a replica.
Sadly, we were too lazy to scramble up the hill and check it out for ourselves. By now, an air of gloom and despondency had set in, but we carried on in hope rather than anticipation.
Mystery of the disappearing sculptures
Further along the route, and we found an engraved plinth – clearly this had once been where another sculpture had once been.
All that was left was the mossy stone with ‘Henry Moore’ chiselled onto the statue’s base. This must’ve been a stunning site for Moore’s statue when it was still on the plinth.
Sir Jacob Epstein’s monumental work ‘The Visitation’, a bronze cast of the Virgin Mary in a scene from the Bible, was also missing.
Someone had to solve the mystery of the disappearing sculptures. Where’s Jonathan Creek when you need him?
Then, as we were heading back, I spotted something.
Just to the side of the road, could that be an actual sculpture? Surely we weren’t imagining what looked like a couple of Henry Moore figures?
It turned out it was. Imposing and craggy, this was the real thing. A Henry Moore “Two Piece Reclining Figure”, out in the open on a grassy hillock.
Until I tapped it, and it rang hollow. A bit like the whole walk really. It was fibreglass, not the bronze that it appeared to be.
Back home, it was time to don the deerstalker and get Googling. It didn’t take long to find the sad truth.
Thieves had hacked down the “Standing Figure” in October 2013. Police had appealed for witnesses, and it seemed for a while that a Ford Transit could be the clue. But so far no trace has been found.
I guess the other statues have been removed for safe keeping, leaving the fibreglass Moore in place. But is it a replica?
At least being fibreglass it can’t be melted down and sold for scrap, the fate of previous stolen bronzes. Or is this one of the relatively few sculptures created in fibreglass by Moore?
It’s one of the international art world’s greatest mysteries. How did a group of important sculptures by the artists Henry Moore, Rodin and Jacob Epstein go missing from a British sculpture park?
Let’s hope the stolen figure is found, and replaced in the quiet glen where it belongs, together with the rest of the art works.
Looking for the sculptures
The Glenkiln ‘Sculpture Trail’ is located seven miles west of Dumfries off the A75, north of the village of Shawhead in West Scotland.
Follow the signs for the Glenkiln Reservoir and drive along its length.
There is a small car park at the northern head of the reservoir close to where the Rodin statue once looked down on the landscape.
Even though the sculptures have largely disappeared, the trail makes for a pleasant walk with panoramic views of the reservoir and the glen.
Park up and walk back along the main road before cutting across a field. Head up the hill and around a loop when you reach a large sheepfold.
Return by the road, where you’ll find the fibreglass Moore statue, and then loop back by a strange topiary bird. Follow the reservoir edge back to the car park.
Post Script – Tony van Diesel is still investigating what happened to the art works that survived. It’s a detective story which calls out for a final chapter…
Walking Route – Follow the route of Glenkiln Trail on Tony van Diesel’s Adventure Map with the full route and photos downloaded from our GPS.