Moments of reflection: Gyosei Art Trail, Grand Union Canal – South East

Contemplate nature and history while exploring this sculpture trail on the Grand Union

Photo: Michael Brace


When a former Japanese boarding school on the banks of the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes was redeveloped as housing, it was felt that the Gyosei International School should be remembered in the form of an art trail, which now runs alongside the canal. The trail features eight installations and artworks celebrating the history of their location, and each offers something new for visitors to think about as they meander alongside the canal. Art often provokes unconscious thought, and coupled with the peaceful canalside location, this art trail offers an arena for the sort of contemplation that it can be difficult to find in our hectic modern world.

The artworks are themed to reflect nature, canal history or Japan. They include mosaics, sculptures and enamel prints. The canal’s history is represented by Andrew Kay’s metal sculpture that captures the outline of a shire horse as it pulls an imaginary barge along the canal. The horse is unmistakably physical but is seen only in outline, as if it were a ghost, allowing us to contemplate the past, and history’s place in shaping our present.

Other artists have focused on the canal’s wildlife. Jeremy Turner created a colourful carved wooden bench that depicts fish, waterfowl and insects, while Rob Griffiths carved an oak bench on which sits a gigantic frog. Both of these artworks allow the visitor to sit and think about life, nature, art and the canal.

Laura Boswell’s enamel panels also feature the birds and plants of the canal, but she presents them in a Japanese style. They are placed so they reflect in the water of the canal. Ptolemy Elrington’s sculpture is of a hovering dragonfly that soars over the canal and was made from discarded shopping trolleys, while Linda Johns has hung man-made spider webs in the trees using fine wire and natural material.

These artworks collectively bring a dash of colour to the towpath while also give us something to think about, and commemorating the Gyosei International School, which closed in 2002. The local parish council wishes to construct a second stage of the trail, which will feature a 20-metre Japanese gateway and a seat that looks like a canal barge.

You can find the Gyosei Art Trail on the Grand Union Canal between Monks Way and Portway.