During the summer of 2018, a major, free, public art sculpture trail featuring over 80 individually decorated, super-sized owl sculptures were displayed across our World Heritage city and surrounding region. The owls were decorated by talented artists, designers, schools and celebrities in a wide range of styles from street art to mosaic, and interactive owls that lit up at night. At the end of the exhibition, the owls were auctioned, raising £139,200 for charity.
Our collaborator Hannah the Runner and her twin owlets had an absolute ‘hoot’ hunting every single owl in the trail. Here she is, ‘talon’ us all about it (sorry!)…
Like all the very best adventures our epic, summer-long owl hunt began with a minor disaster. It was a Saturday, the weekend before the summer holidays began. The sun was shining and we decided to have a bike ride into town for ice cream. We locked up our bikes at Bog Island and sauntered over to the Real Italian Ice Cream Co.
Tummies full of yummy ice cream we returned to our bikes and realised that we’d forgotten the key to unlock them. Oops. Faced with the choice between dashing home for the key and entertaining six-year old twin boys, dad selflessly volunteered to go home and disappeared towards the bus station before I could argue.
“What’s that gold thing?” Ben suddenly asked. I looked in the direction he was pointing, towards the Abbey Hotel.
“Shall we go and look?” I asked. It was a gold plaster owl, taller than either of the boys. They thought it was cool. “Shall we find the next one?” I downloaded the app and our quest began.
By the time dad got back we’d found our first six owls. On the bike ride home we spotted one more.
On Monday evenings between early May and mid August I lead trail runs around the hills of Bath. When I started planning that week’s run I realised that our starting point at Odd Down Sports Ground was well located for a few of the owls south of the city. The boys gave their permission for owls to be hunted in their absence. On a 13.6km run we found six owls. Only another 69 to go!
Wednesday was the first day of the school holidays. We caught a bus into town with two aims in mind. To try the newly refurbished swimming pool and to nab a few more owls. The pool was great fun and the owls were plentiful in the city centre. The app was great – it showed you the nearest owls and seemed to direct you around in quite a logical order. We tracked down loads of owls that day to take us to the halfway point of the challenge. 41 owls found.
Unfortunately we then had to take a break from owl finding due to the boys being away visiting grandparents for three whole weeks. I did accidentally stumble across a couple while out running. Eventually everyone was home again and the intrepid hunters were back on the trail.
With the easy pickings in the centre of town exhausted we switched to our scooters to cover more ground. Well, the boys used scooters, I laced up my trainers and jogged along behind them. I don’t know what distance we covered, but we found a dozen or so more, plus another six a few days later. This was beginning to look doable!
When Gran and Grandpa came to visit for a week we treated them to a mini tour of Wiltshire to visit owls in Freshford, Bradford on Avon, Cumberwell Park Golf Course and Whitehall Garden Centre near Lacock. By now we only had 14 more owls to find, but time was running out. On the final weekend of the summer holidays we set off on another bike ride with one aim in mind: to find 13 owls.
6 long hours and 10 gruelling miles later we finished outside Flamingo in Widcombe. We celebrated with ice lollies to give us the energy to pedal home.
The final owl stretched the “Owls of Bath” tag a bit being located in the town of Street, down in deepest, darkest Somerset. We were in need of new school shoes, or so I justified it as we drove along the A39 through places I’d never been before. Eventually we found both Street and Herbie the owl. The boys were delighted. I was exhausted. On the final day of the school holidays we’d done it – 82 owls found and photographed!
A month later all the owls assembled down at the Rec for a celebratory weekend. As one of the 132 families who had found all the owls we were entered into a prize draw, so I thought we’d better go. It was a lovely event. Seeing all 82 owls together was awesome. We dissected owl pellets, met some real owls, and had our photo taken with Olympic Gold Medalist, Amy Williams. We didn’t win the fabulous array of prizes. Obviously I’m not at all disappointed – who even wants exclusive use of the Cross Bath, or a luxury hotel break, or a Taste of Bath hamper anyway?!? The boys were really properly not bothered – for them the winning was completing the trail.
They loved the artistry in all the different owls. Neither of them can choose a favourite though there’s a shortlist of a dozen or so that they preferred. We explored some out of the way corners of our city, went on a couple of road trips, and had a great time doing it. One day they’ll probably tell me that chasing round looking for painted owls is deeply uncool, but for this year at least we’ve shared an adventure and we’ve all enjoyed it immensely!