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Silvas Capitalis


A giant head that watches and listens to the nuances of forest life.

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Silvas Capitalis (a play on the latin for 'forest head') is a giant timber head located along the Lakeside Way created by American artist's collective SIMPARCH. The head has been conceived as a watcher, an imagined presence who has observed the passing occupation of the landscape over past millennia and how the environment has dramatically changed during the last one hundred years with the coming of the forest and more recently the lake.

Visitors to the head who enter through the mouth and climb upstairs to look out of its eyes literally get inside its head.

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Silvas Capitalis is situated on the Lakeside Way on the north side of Kielder Water about 3 miles/5 km, approximately 1 hour walk time, from Kielder Castle Visitor Centre.

From the visitor centre pick up the Lakeside Way (north shore) at the Kielder Water end of the village and follow the track across Kielder Viaduct and past Gowanburn farm for 3 miles until a signed spur path to the right leads off to the sculpture.

While the route is accessible to all, please note that wheelchair users should take care on the short spur path that leads to the head.

Silvas Capitalis can also be accessed by following the Osprey mountainbike blue grade trail or by cycling Lakeside Way north shore.

For the comprehensive listing of cycle trails within Kielder Water & Forest Park, go to things-to-do/cycling and for the singletrack trails things-to-do/mountain-biking

OS Map Ref. NY 657905


SIMPARCH was originally commissioned to work on an artist's residency at Kielder Water & Forest Park in 2007 and subsequently selected to create a new sculpture as part of the Lakeside Way shelters project. The proposal for a giant wooden head developed out out of SIMPARCH member Steve Badgett's interest in the way history and heritage is portrayed in visitor centres and heritage sites across Northumberland and particularly along Hadrian's Wall, the World Heritage Site that runs across the country a few miles south of Kielder Water & Forest Park. He was also fascinated by the way the that the landscape and its occupancy has changed over many hundreds of years and for this new sculpture, speculated what it might be like to have been a constant witness to this continual change.

Silvas Capitalis is the result of these ideas, an unsettling object discovered in the forest that is 'outliving' the essentially ephemeral nature of the landscape and its inhabitants.

"The uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality"

Sigmund Freud    


A team of 6 skilled carpenters and joiners worked throughout February and May 2009 to fabricate the head at the art and architecture studio in Kielder Village and then construct it in the forest. Silvas Capitalis was assembled from 107 cross sections or layers, approximately 3000 individually shaped pieces that when stacked on top of one another, created the three-dimensional form of the head.

A foundation was formed from timber piles driven into the ground onto which the floor was fixed. Layers of the head were fabricated and dry assembled in the studio before being transported to site where they were added to the emerging sculpture in a temporary 'tent' that protected the working area and helped keep the temperature high enough for the glue to work effectively.

By the end of March the construction had reached above the eyes although the exterior and interior still showed the stepping of the individual layers.

In May a number of the team members returned to complete the sculpture, inserting the first floor, staircase, and the remaining layers that made up the top of the head.

Once all layers were in place grinding wheels and a chainsaw were used to shape and smooth the interior and exterior surfaces resulting in the head that now stands in the forest.

The reddish brown of the head's European Larch is now turning silvery grey and the surface is starting to accumulate the mosses and lichens that are found on the trees surrounding it. In the fullness of time visitors might reasonably imagine that this strange object had always been here.

SIMPARCH is an American artist's collective that was founded in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1996. Presently this group is organized and maintained by Matthew Lynch and Steve Badgett. Their practice involves large-scale, usually interactive installations and works that, as the group's name suggests, examine simple architecture, building practices, site specificity, and materials that may be salvaged, recycled or generally brought together with a kind of d.i.y. attitude.

Often collaborating with other artists, builders, art critics, graffiti artists, filmmakers, skate boarders, and musicians, SIMPARCH works at providing sites which allow for social interaction and experimentation with design and materials.

A short distance beyond Silvas Capitalis to the east towards Hawkhope car park, visitors will find the path down to the Viewpoints sculpture and after a further mile, Janus Chairs.

In the direction of Kielder Castle Visitor Centre to the west, the Lakeside Way first passes Gowanburn farm and Bakethin Weir before joining the route of the old Border Counties Railway and crossing Kielder viaduct, an unusual skew-arch bridge over the north Tyne river, completed in 1862.