Creating Clearburn

Fantastic wild play space in the heart of New Lanark

Filed under News
Date posted: Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Clearburn Natural Play & Picnic Area at New Lanark has resulted in a fantastic wild play space in the heart of New Lanark World Heritage Site. The project took place during the spring and summer of 2014 and here, Jane Masters, New Lanark Trust’s Heritage Manager, explains how the area was created in collaboration with the local community and school pupils.

From the outset, we wanted our new play and picnic area to be something that the local community really wanted to see and would enjoy using, we decided to get them involved from the very start of the project, with a series of consultation events where they could vote for the features they wanted to see included, tell us about what playing meant to them and draw pictures of how they would like the area to look. 3 school groups from New Lanark Primary, Lanark Primary and Robert Owen Memorial Primary all took part, along with over 60 members of the local community and we got some fantastic ideas!

The next stage was to hand these ideas over to Agota, our Landscape Designer. Agota pulled the suggestions together to create a multi-purpose space for play and picnicking, which fits perfectly into the surrounding landscape. The features of Agota’s design included a giant living willow dome and tunnel, a bog garden, an amazing climbing frame and a treehouse, all linked by a meandering boardwalk and a nature trail. We then returned to the school groups and they named the different areas of the site. The names include Swirling Willow, The Squelch and Away in the Treetops - and we really think they fit perfectly!

Following on from the design, came the actual construction of the site, and we wanted the community to be involved in this too. Once the major landscaping works had taken place, the groups came down to the site and took part in a series of workshops led by the fantastic staff from Clydesdale Community Initiatives.

Our first set of workshops was to build the living willow dome. This required the preparation and planting of a huge amount of willow followed by the weaving which required some ingenious methods of bending, tucking and holding the willow in place to create the beautiful open sky weave. Our volunteers for this worked valiantly in the rain but fortunately better weather was on the way! Our willow tunnel volunteers enjoyed some sunshine whilst working in a snake formation to link the arches of the tunnel together and our hazel fence volunteers sweated in the sun to cut, stake and weave this sturdy material.

Our school groups got involved too, helping to create a living willow arbour for the ‘creator’s bench’, an amazing sensory path and a giant bug hotel! The living willow arbour required them to work closely as a group to weave and tie the willow and all of the material for the sensory path was collected, dug-up, chopped and fitted entirely by the pupils. They collected stones of different sizes from the river, sourced herbs, got handy with an axe to chop logs (supervised!) and fitted everything into the path.

The final workshops were for the design of the nature trail. These took place at the schools and were run by designers from OStreet Graphic Designers. During the workshops, the pupils got to select the format and material for the trail leaflet and also select the animals, questions and answers which would feature. Then it was time to get messy! Hand printing with water, mud and paint allowed the pupils to explore how animal prints are made and continuous line drawing proved a challenge! The pupil’s facts and drawings were then taken by OStreet and incorporated into the trail leaflet as well as being laser etched into the trail map and answer posts.


Having such community involvement in Clearburn has resulted in a space that people wanted, have a sense of ownership of and will enjoy using. It is a much more imaginative space than we could have anticipated and is a huge benefit to the site. In addition, it has also helped a wide range of people develop new skills and encouraged a sense of community. We hope that some of our volunteers will consider volunteering with us on a regular basis and we’d like to get the schools involved in regular focus groups.

The site has been extremely well used already, even into the winter! We’ll keep encouraging people to come down to Clearburn to play, picnic, relax, explore and enjoy the site and also hope to offer some imaginative new sessions in the New Year including storytelling in the willow dome. Clearburn is a fantastic resource for the whole community as well as thousands of visitors and if you haven’t been down to explore, what are you waiting for?!

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