Do you like visiting the circus? Do you recall fun memories from your childhood of making sandcastles on the beach? Ever wondered what it would look like all things circus-related were built out of sand? Yes! Then read on to experience the wonder of 5000 tonnes of sand shaped into over 30 circus themed sand sculptures at the Weston Sand Sculpture Festival!
Welcome to the Circus!
I visited the Weston Sand Sculpture Festival as part of my solo South West tour in September. I had wanted to visit the festival after following their Instagram page and seeing all the amazing sculptures the set-up of the festival. When I arrived in Weston Super Mare, Somerset, it was a relatively sunny afternoon and there were plenty of people down at the seafront enjoying all Weston has to offer. The sand sculpture festival is right on the seafront, not far from the Grand Pier and is easy to find. I arrived and was warmly welcomed by staff members Denise and Rob.
This year’s sand sculpture festival was themed around the ‘circus’ – and what a theme it was! It allowed for some incredible sand sculptures designed by sculptors from around the world to display all things circus-related including clowns, fortune tellers, trapeze artists and jugglers!
The theme of the circus was chosen this year for good reason. 2018 marks 250 years since Philip Astley thought up the idea of riding horses in a circular motion whilst performing tricks – something different to what other entertainers had been doing riding by their horses in straight lines. To enable Philip to display his horses in this way he created a ring and added in some other types of entertainers resulting in the creation of the modern circus. I’m sure we can all recognise the traditional big top circus shaped in a ring and remember visiting one as a child and finding delight in funny clowns and people dressed in leotards balancing on high wires or spinning round on hoops.
Sculptors from Around the World!
I was immediately impressed as I entered the festival and saw the remarkable and imposing sculptures. I was fascinated by their detail and size and couldn’t wait to look around. Some of the sculptures are up to 8 metres tall! There are 30 sculptures in the festival, made from an incredible 5000 tonnes of sand meaning there is plenty of sand to go round and look at!
Staff member Rob was able to show me around the festival, showing me all the sculptures and telling me about the artists. He was super friendly and enthusiastic which was nice. It’s always good to see someone proud of where they work and enjoying their job! I was amazed to read the display boards and see how far afield the sand sculptures came from. There were so many nationalities represented and such incredible talented displayed.
As you wander around the awesome sand sculptures, not only are there information boards for each sculpture detailing the name and nationality of the sculpture but information on the name of the sculpture and the idea behind its creation. I was impressed by how much thought had gone into their designs and some of the personal stories and the deep meanings behind the sculptures.
I enjoyed hearing about how the sand festival is set up and some of the stories that have occurred throughout this year’s season. It’s clear that a lot of work goes into designing the festival and putting it all together. Knowing this, I was particularly angered when Rob told me a story about some vandals who broke into the festival and damaged a few of the sculptures – I couldn’t get over why anyone would want to do that as they are so clever and have provided so much joy to many.
Rob went on to tell me all about how the artists make the sculptures and what is used to protect them from the seaside elements and seagulls! I was really interested in the creation of the festival, how it is set up every year and about the themes – Rob was very engaging and polite and answered all my queries. There’s an FAQ page on the festival’s website which may answer some of the questions you might have about the sculptures including how long do the sculptures last and do they ever collapse? In case you’re wondering how sturdy the sculptures are then I can tell you they are very strong. As part of the display, there’s a box of compacted sand which you can feel and try and break apart – all I’m saying is be careful – it’s solid!
One thing I was keen to ask Rob was what happened to the sculptures at the end of the festival. I was delighted and interested when he told me that on the last day of the festival there would be a special opening where people with visual impairments would be invited to experience the sculptures using their hands. Here, people with visual impairments would be able to touch the sculptures and experience their magic. I think this is a fantastic idea and very inclusive for those with visual difficulties, ensuring they haven’t missed out of the masterpieces presented in the festival. Apparently, after this, the sculptures are bulldozed and returned to the seafront ready to be enjoyed by visitors to Weston Super Mare for the rest of the year until the creation of the 2019 festival begins!
History, Harry and Have a Go!
As well as lots of sculptures to see there is information on the festival itself with boards displaying previous years themes dating back to 2006. Rob and I spent a while talking about the previous year’s themes, ones he had enjoyed and ideas we had for future festivals.
If you have any good ideas whilst walking around then don’t worry – there are cards ready for you to write your future festival ideas down and post them in a box for the organisers to deliberate over – I’m not telling you what theme I put down, but I reckon it would be a good one! We will have to see next year if they chose it!
I loved finding out about the history of the sand sculpture festival – there’s information boards to read about where sand sculptures first came from and some incredible pictures from back in the early 1900’s . Who knew people would be so clever and talented enough to create such life and intricate sculptures – I remember struggling to build a simple sand castle when I was a kid!
With the sculptures being so fun to look at and the artists inspiring many visitors, there’s a ‘have a go’ area where visitors can try their hand at making their own sand sculptures, testing out tools to see what they can create. Again I wasn’t very good at this but saw lots of people, of all ages, having a go to see if they could become the next best sand sculptor!
This summer we saw the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The festival made sure they didn’t let the wedding of the year pass them by and included a sculpture of the loved-up couple. Visitors to the festival were able to write their good wishes to the newlyweds and share their celebrations – what a nice idea!
The festival has also run a kids colouring and design competition which asked them to design a sand sculpture which would be turned into a giant sculpture masterpiece. I think it was a shame I was too old to enter! Although my drawing skills are probably akin to those of a five-year-old!!
For those that are interested in the setting up of the festival then there’s a really cool time-lapse video showing how the festival is created and how all that sand is sourced and dug up ready for the artists to work their magic.
Which Sculpture Gets Your Vote?
As part of the festival, there is a competition area – this is where artists design a sand sculpture in the hopes of winning the competition and the £1000 prize! Visitors to the festival are each given a token upon entry and are asked to vote for their favourite sculpture in the competition.
Deciding which one deserved my vote was no mean feat I can tell you. All of the sculptures were so meticulously created and looked so impressive – I had about 5 favourites and actually agonised over which one I should choose which I think staff member Rob found quite funny! The standard was so high, and I noticed other visitors voting for a real variety of sculptures so I’m so intrigued to see which one was voted the best! I will definitely be watching out for the announcement of the winner on the festival’s Facebook page to see if my favourite won!
Time to Join the Circus!
Whilst the theme of the circus is one that brings many happy memories to visitors and images of magic and wonder, not all of the history of the circus is so positive. Many traditional circuses have included animals as part of their displays which has caused a lot of controversy in the past and is something that is definitely frowned upon and banned in most western countries now. The festival doesn’t shy away from these controversies and the past atrocities of using animals as entertainment by including some sculptures depicting animals used within the circus trade. I think these sculptures and the information that accompanied them really made visitors stop and think. I personally felt very pleased that animals like bears, monkeys and elephants are no longer used in this way today.
On a happier note, to add to the fun at the festival, there are various sculptures which offer great photo opportunities. For selected sculptures, visitors are invited to join in with the scene that’s been set and get involved with being onstage with the circus! This is great for kids to get involved with and for visitors to capture some funny photos. As I had been accompanied by staff member Rob for my tour around the festival he encouraged me to make the most of the photo opportunities and so I ended up joining the freak show (!!) and riding the circus car with some monkeys! Thanks Rob!! Luckily he didnt ask me to be fired out of the human cannonball!
The festival has a café and small shop too so if you fancy stopping for a drink after all your hard work sand sculpting then this is a good option. Postcards, magnets and simple souvenirs can be purchased from the shop and it was all really well priced too. I treated myself to a couple of magnets and postcards – it was quite hard to decide which ones were my favourite sculptures though!
Festival Information and Final Thoughts!
The Weston Sand Sculpture Festival was open this year from the end of March until 7th October – plenty of time for visitors to take a peek and marvel in their mastery of the sculptures. I like that the festival is open for a good amount of time outside of school holidays too, as I am sure it gets quite busy in the summer holiday months. I visited at the beginning of September and whilst there were lots of people visiting the festival there was space to wander around and capture some great photos of the sculptures.
Tickets to the festival cost £4 for adults and £3 for children, which I think are really reasonable prices given the uniqueness of the festival. There are discounts for students and family tickets available too. I spent quite a while wandering around the festival taking in all the sculptures and even went around a couple of times as each time I did I ended up noticing something different about the sculptures or seeing more details I hadn’t noticed at first look. The time lapse video, play area and café add to the festival and what they offer too; making it a really fun and family friendly attraction.
Whilst there isn’t long left for you to check out this year’s circus-themed sculptors you can always take a look at my Instagram page or the festival social media pages, including Twitter, to see amazing photos of the stunning sculptures. If you are visiting Weston Super Mare next year between March and October then I really recommend popping into the festival (keep checking the festival’s website for next years dates and themes!). I am already excited to find out what next year’s theme will be and will be sure to visit next summer!
***I received free entry to the festival in return for this honest review. All thoughts, pictures and opinions are entirely my own***