YOU may have to pinch yourself as you emerge from the trees at historic Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds. There are elephants loose in the grounds and polar bears on an island in the lake.
And was that a rhino I just glimpsed through an archway?
No, this isn’t a zoo. Nor is it a stately home safari park – because these animals are like no other you will have seen. Look closer and you’ll discover something remarkable.
The life-sized creatures on the Sudeley Sculpture Safari are crafted from natural materials such as pampas grass, bark and flowers. Watch out, too, for wooden carvings along the route.
The attention to detail is remarkable, from the largest elephants which tower above you to the smallest kangaroos you can spot lurking in the bushes.
It’s the work of leading international florists All For Love London, who have worked for all the big fashion houses, and a range of organisations from the National Portrait Gallery to BAFTA.
First up on the trail are the polar bears, but you’ll soon chance upon a herd of elephants after first spotting a baby elephant playing amid the daffodils.
The safari special, which runs until the end of October 2022, is meant to celebrate creatures great and small, and highlight the importance of peaceful coexistence with nature.
Well worth a snap is the crocodile crawling out of the lake, its body made of plants and grasses, looking for all the world as if it has just evolved from the greenery by the water’s edge.
The flowers, grasses and plants used for the project come from all round the world to create everything from crocodiles to camels, and kangaroos to orangutans.
Most of the animals are easy to find; some of them are hidden among the trees. Grandson Miles found that the orang-utans were watching him as he filled in his trail sheet.
And when I visited at Easter, there was a giant hedgehog in the mix, too. Miles’ big brother Zachary says if you see one this big on the way to school, you might consider keeping it at a distance.
All the animals could be spotted on a trail, ready to be identified on the free route map from the shop, each with information about them on a plaque or display board nearby.
The Sculpture Safari is the latest chapter in a CoExistence campaign that began during the pandemic when a giant herd of elephant sculptures started a global migration from Sudeley.
This year, ten returning elephants have been joined by a two-by-two procession of iconic animals, Noah’s Ark style.
Hosted at the castle, and in partnership with charities Elephant Family, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and Winchcombe Green Town, the attraction marks the start of a long-term plan to enrich biodiversity across the Sudeley estate, create new habitats for nature, and serve as an outdoor space for creative learning about the natural world.
It’s one of many special events at Sudeley Castle, which can boast a rich history spanning more than 1,000 years, ten magnificent gardens and views aplenty in an officially designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Building of the castle began in 1443 on the site of a previous 12th century fortified manor house, and it has been owned, or visited by, a ‘who’s who’ of English royalty over the centuries.
I lost count but they include Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr, who is buried in the castle’s church, making Sudeley the only privately owned castle in the world to have a Queen of England interred in its grounds.
There’s Elizabeth I, Charles I and George III, whose life was famously saved when a housekeeper named Mrs Cox managed to catch the King after he stumbled down the Octagon Tower.
Recently, it was visited by rock royalty too, when Black Sabbath guitar hero Tony Iommi filmed his latest video in the house and grounds, as I previously posted in paulcoletravels here.
The Sudeley Sculpture Safari is included in the admission price, which you can find, along with details of many other attractions including a huge adventure playground for the kids, at sudeleycastle.co.uk.