Monday, 13 March 2017

Shaping Bronze



Don’t splash,

Don’t spill,
Contain the excitement as the crucible lifts,
A magma pool in a mug.
I understand Incandescence now.

Shaped in sand and oil,
Pressed and hammered,
Malleted into form
And bound,
A dungeon for a trickle of dragon blood,
Or maybe a chalice to receive the waters of the sun.

It’s over in a moment.
A long, slow pulsing burn,
Sighing bellows,
Well-worked muscles.
A long, slow melt,
A long, slow gathering of hope,
The fierce intention of ceremony in this.
Concentrated consideration.
Listen to the hot breathing of leather lungs.

Charcoal glows,
Building heat upon heat,
It must build, it must grow,
The heat must hold
To incubate an infant sun.
We know what we are doing,
Well taught.
The promise held and guided.
We are told, informed,
Sensible 21st century people, us,
And we can feel the wonder,
Sense the enchantment,
The sheer excitement of metal melting.

We pour our molten bronze
A brief libation to Vulcan, to Hephaestus
To the Dwarves who shaped the Brisingamen
To Goibniu in the Hollow Hills
To Wayland in his Smithy
No wonder blacksmiths became special people.

And in seconds,
We’ve poured.
Fire drawn into metal.
We’ve cracked the mould.
We’ve cooled the bronze,
And in seconds,
It lies.
Treasure and glory and wonder,
In our hands.

fresh from its mould

We made bronze axes!
A workshop at the Dove Valley Centre with James Dilley and Sally-Ann Spence (with detours into dung beetles, which is really another story for a different day)
I could have written up a sensible text but the experience was such an emotional one, I thought I’d just post the piece above!

Comments from participants follow
I was so excited to find out about this event and it has exceeded my expectations

I’m fascinated by prehistory and couldn’t miss the opportunity to create my own artefact and sounded like fun.

At the beginning:
Welcomed, Interested, Excited, Curious, Happy but also Cold and Wet.

By the end:

Ecstatic, Proud, Exhilarated, Thrilled, Fulfilled and Tired.

Great setting and food. Should do more of this sort of thing.

And a thousand thanks to:
James Dilley
Sally-Ann Spence
Dove Valley Centre who hosted us so hospitably
Karen Merifield for the participants' feedback
And Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project who got it all going in the first place! You can find out more Collections workshops either on their blog or follow the links below for this blog

Dove Valley Centre

Monday, 20 February 2017

a year of excitements in Northwich

Do It Together 
with Rudheath and Witton
A year of drawing and stories, of painting, lanterns, puppets, making and doing

we don't know where Rudheath creativity will take us - leaf roses?

will there be tiny bottle lanterns?
Over 2017, Creeping Toad will be organising creative events in Rudheath and Witton in Northwich, Cheshire. As part of the much bigger Rudheath and Witton Together  (RWT) programme (a Big Local project for the Lottery), my colleague and fellow-adventurer Sarah Males and I will coordinate a programme of creative public events. At the moment, we are busy meeting local groups and venues for activities and starting to plan some exciting activities. There will be events for families to join in, activities for adults, sessions for younger children and specific workshops designed to suit the interests of different groups. With a background in storytelling and puppets, lanterns, celebrations and relaxed sessions in Parks, the Toad team are offering Rudheath a year of creativity and company. We are keen to hear from local people – either groups or individuals – about activities people would like to try or from groups who would like to have a creative session but are not sure just what would suit their members

or story towers?
Plans at the moment include instant painting sessions in the Grozone Gardens, a day of tiny puppets in various Parks, storytelling and making with young children. Running through other events we hope to gather impressions, images and words to create a residents’ map of Rudheath capturing stories and the personal side of life in the area

For a project like this, we look at a place like Rudheath and start brewing plans inspired by buildings, people, places and wildlife. But our job here isn’t really to do what we want but to help people explore the streets where they live creatively in their own ways and we will try to build events that offer the challenges people are looking for by delivering sessions ourselves or by finding the right people for the occasion

So if you are interested and know someone who might be in coming to an event or hosting an event or introducing us to eventful people,  or you are an artist or other creative person we might be able to bring in for a session, get in touch!

we might sew the streets of RWT onto a fabric map

To get in touch, email:

we might collect seasonal recipes....

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The mysteries of Fallibroome

Magic, mystery and wild imagination

Fallibroome Creativity Week

13 - 18th February 2017 

The Wizard of Alderley


What a week that was! I’ve arrived at Sunday after 5 days (Saturday was caught up in remarkably sensible discussions elsewhere)of giants and aliens, adventurous children, terrible dragons, a wizard, a horse and a set of sleeping knights, 100 painting, gluing artists, an eagle…

It begins to read like a shopping list for an adventure tale – but that would be another story

This week was Fallibroome Academy’s Creativity Week (this year’s theme was “Magic and Mystery”) where children from the partner primary schools all throw themselves (quite literally, there is a lots of dance and drama) into days that set imaginations free and running
Dragon 7
He arrives like curtains drawn across the sun
An exploding volcano of a dragon
His teeth are a saw,
Housed in the doom of his jaws
Eyes that glow as bright as lava,
Welcome you to the burning pools of his heart

first ideas for aliens
Trips to the Whitworth and Manchester Art Galleries, rub creative shoulders with adventurous science, dance workshops, Forest School and…I’m involved as one of the artists so tend to get swallowed by my sessions and don’t really build a sense of the whole thing other than the sheer scale of the organisation. But it is wild and wonderful and the Thursday evening sees a sharing event at Fallibroome where children and excited families fill the whole theatre. This year we saw dancing cats (well done, Mottram!), an almost abstract Wizard of Alderley (Nether Alderley – magnificent), the Wizard as a drama, Peter Pan in 5 minutes (well controlled, Tinkerbell). There were sound experiments on stage, a wonderful rescue of a stolen bride with fire breathers and jugglers and dancers (just what every rescue needs) and Fallibroome’s own dance club showed just what out of school clubs can offer determined young people. (Apologies for anyone I missed)

Dragon 5. 
Angry lightning,
A Lion’s roar,
A midnight evil,
Her heart a closed door

enchantment window in progress
But for my sessions….we went from charming – aliens from the book “The Loon in the Moon”, to mysterious – enchantment windows (you never know what you might see when you look through – we hoped for unicorns), to magnificent – a 3metre long frieze of Alderley Edge with contributions from 90 children, to captivating…images of the storytowers will follow. I did lots. The children I worked with did more. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and hope children did too!

a small but cheerful alien
Then we hit the Bollinbrook Dragons….I make no judgement, just post some of the reports below. The photos didn’t even get that far
Dragon 1. 
Diamond bright eyes in lizard scale skin
Dagger teeth are butcher’s knives
And his breath scorches in a shotgun blast
And his soul,
His frozen soul would freeze your heart

Dragon 2. 
She is a bright summer day until you open the wardrobe doors of her heart
Bedrock bones and dagger teeth,
With cheetah stealth she’ll stalk you,
Watching from eyes as cold as glaciers,
Welcoming you into the cauldron of her mouth
And the dark abyss of her winter soul

And we ended with the Friday afternoon giants of Mottram. At least we can end on some smiling faces. Don’t know what they are smiling about, of course...

Our giant is a stormy night in winter
With arms that cling as tight and wrap as strongly as a squid’s tentacles
His fingers prickles like cactus spines
He is an exercise machine of a giant,
Fast, strong, relentless,
Spring-loading his legs into trampolines,
He hammers people as nails into the ground,
But his hunger,
His hunger is a black hole that could swallow whole worlds.

at least some of our giants smiled!

With many thanks to all the staff and children (and apologies to the cleaners) of
Whirley Primary School
Bollinbrook Primary School
Upton Priory Primary School
Nether Alderley Primary School
Mottram St Andrew Primary School
And Fallibroome Academy!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Fin Cop, pausing

Fin Cop,

pausing on a hilltop

the day began in mist

The forgotten dead lie under grass this wide hilltop. Walls divide the space. There are gates and stiles, a steep slope sprouting trees, crowded. Older trees, broad-beamed and statuesque mark half-forgotten field boundaries. The clouds had descended that morning before we walked this way, wrapping distance in mist. It lifted as we climbed, the sun drawing shadows, flaring moss into jewels, revealing a wider horizon so that, at last, on the edge of the cliff we saw old neighbours – Burr Torr and Ball Cross, Castle Naze on Combs Moss, Chelmorton Low. Mam Tor was a distant suggestion,  a darker grey within a grey shadow. The River Wye far below curled round the foot of Monsall Head, glittering down towards Ashford-in-the-Water.

But the nameless dead lie here, lay here, discarded, for 2,000 years*. The same could be said of so many places in these crowded islands. There are plague villages, settlements, battlefields, burial fields, small camps, old barrows. Some lost, some known, a few excavated, most not. Just there.

To get over-excited about a single hill-top seems a bit unreasonable. Down there, peering over the edge of the scarp, just down there is a Roman-British settlement. It must have its own dead. And up in Taddington Dale, near the bypass, is Old Woman’s House Cave where Stone Age families lived and presumably died. Then there are the 19th century railway tunnels boring through the limestone hills to connect Buxton to Bakewell, opening the dales, offending Ruskin. How many deaths went unremarked then? No big tragedies, perhaps, but how many stray navvies fell, or died under that single rockfall, the slipped pickaxe, or breathed too much of that lung-rotting limestone dust. Turn again, and down there is Litton Mill, stylish now, nightmarish once for workhouse children. And there’s Taddington where they slept between sufferings. So many dead here. We live in a well-used land, a richly deceased landscape.

But the quiet, sad story of Fin Cop commands attention. It was a lost story. There seems to have been no tradition of what happened here or what lay, lies, under the grass. Names often hold clues but here, Fin Cop: the end of the hill? Or Finn Low – the mound of the fiddler Fin, or something to do a bit obviously with the Celtic hero Finn. Pennyunk Lane that brings us here from Ashford might have meant “the head (as in top of a hill) of the young man/young/youth”. But it might not. And for centuries nothing much happened here. There are earthworks, early Iron Age embankments. Traces, ripples now are all that remains in the fields of earlier burial mounds. Then there were later lead mining and limestone digging and firing in kilns. There are walls. And cows. And a forsaken hillfort commanding stunning views. But after that day, that night, it looks as if no-one lived here again. Still don’t.

I’m not feeling particularly reasonable just now. I’m standing here on the hilltop, on the cliff edge, turning slowly, counting deaths. There’s not much to see, tumbled embankments, a ditch and a dyke, doubled here, lost there. The stray pimples of those robbed out barrows. But trenches on a dig here found bodies and the site promises, threatens, more*. The scientist in me wants evidence, needs to know, needs the next trench. The storyteller feels the tale, looks at landscape, at bones and shapes a story of death and fear and scrabbled survivals on a rock scree slope. The shaman in me feels presences, the forgotten dead, the abandoned dead who no one honoured, no one named, the dead who were simply left.

“Tarans” we call them in Scottish stories – the unnamed souls of lost children. I find myself whispering. I pledge an evening with a single flame, a gathering fire to warm old bones, food offered, a libation to share, a space to sit, a listening ear, an attentive heart. I’ll hold a space, a stillness. That is the invitation though I know no-one may come.

* This was not intended as a report of the excavations. This is a report of a storyteller’s visit to the hilltop. You can find out more about the tragedy, horror, massacre ( what do we know?) of Fin Cop, here

When Buxton Museum and Art Gallery opens again in May 2017, you will see some of the finds from the recent digs, and ancient deaths

“Collection of the Artists” is another project under the encompassing umbrella of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s Collection in theLandscapes project. While the wider project is supporting the redesign of the Wonders of the Peaks gallery, the digitising of the collection and my own work with events – taking the collection out into the landscape, CotA is probably quieter. There are 6 artists, working with an Arts Council England grant to explore and respond to the dynamic of the Museum’s collection and the landscape it was largely drawn from as artists.I'm here as a storyteller and poet. My work for the museum is largely under embargo until project completion, so pieces like this one and the recent Bertram, Beeston and artists are sideshoots of the ongoing process

Richard and Amanda from Kidology have posted another Fin Cop blog, why not take a visit and have another view of the hill and its story

Sunday, 29 January 2017

A Bronze Day

Bronze Age Technology
Saturday 4th or Sunday 5th March 2017
Dove Valley Centre, Longnor

Bronze dagger in Buxton Museum
Upper Dove Valley (no snow for us, we hope!)

The ability to work bronze changed our world 3,000 years ago. It took an edge and held it, finer and sharper than flint that chipped or chert that cracked. Bronze offered a new blade, a different weight, a certain shining glamour. Working bronze set us on a path that led to iron and eventually, well, us!

As part of the Collections in the Landscape Project, Buxton Museum has been working with ancient technology specialist James Dilley to review Stone and Bronze Age collections. James has done various public events with the museum but now we are offering an intensive day exploring those Bronze Age technologies. Under James’ expert guidance, participants will work with moulds, a charcoal furnace, bronze and copper and bellows to make their own bronze artefact to take home
  • tools, materials and protective equipment will be provided
  • this is a 1 day workshop repeated on the Sunday 
  • participants must be 16 years of age or older
  • £50 per person includes lunch - advanced booking is essential
  • to book: call the museum on 01629 533540 during office hours
  • directions and further details sent nearer the time

Another March event:
Exploring Ancient Landscapes: a walk through time
Saturday 25th March 2017

(this event was published in the blog "Walking through time")

Have you ever wondered what the grassy lumps in the field are, why the field hedge is where it is or what that old building was used for? Archaeologist and heritage interpreter Bill Bevan will help you identify and understand the clues from our past that survive in the landscape. The Hope Valley between Castleton and Hope is an excellent place to find these remains of the past. The day will begin by looking at historic maps before walking and talking in the landscape itself on a circular walk between the two villages.

Please note, the Museum is closed for redevelopment until May 2017

Dove Valley Centre

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Walking through history

Exploring Ancient Landscapes 
a walk through time
Saturday 25th March 2017
looking out at a wider world

Have you ever wondered what the grassy lumps in the field are, why the field hedge is where it is or what that old building was used for? From ancient beginnings, Castleton in the Hope Valley has grown and changed. Those changes can still be traced in the patterns of fields and footpaths, in long views of landscapesand the routes of paths and roads

Archaeologist and heritage interpreter Bill Bevan will help you identify and understand the clues from our past that survive in the landscape. The Hope Valley between Castleton and Hope is an excellent place to trace these changing fortunes of a village. The day will begin by looking at historic maps before walking and talking in the landscape itself on a circular walk between the two villages.

still changing: Castleton in 1951
“Exploring Ancient Landscapes” is one of a series of Knowledge Seeker workshops being organised as part of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s Collections in the Landscape (CITL) project. With a grant from the Heritage Lottery, the Museum is changing the way people can access the Collections. As well as physical changes to the Museum itself, collections are going on-line and a series of apps will encourage people to connect places with Museum treasures even when they are out walking in the Peaks

Times: 10 – 4 (please bring your own packed lunch)
Venue: YHA Losehill Hall, Castleton
This is a free event but places are limited so advanced booking is essential
Book: through eventbrite:
Or go to and search “Buxton Musuem, Derbyshire”
Further details will be sent nearer the time

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Trees, tales and turmoils: storytelling in schools

Summer stories

Stories in school

and other excitements

with Creeping Toad

celebrating the richness of the changing year, here are stories, sculptures, prehistoric adventures, occasional Vikings,  books and  boggarts

With stories spinning from the first signs of spring right through to earth giants, summer flowers and thunder-tigers, here are stories and activities to enchant and inspire.

Drawing on 30 years of professional experience, Gordon’s work blends environmental experience with creativity. “Much of my work uses storytelling and story making but I also make small masks, giant masks, flags, lanterns, pop-up landscapes and create wild and wonderful occasions”

Scottish tours:
This year, I will be up in northern Scotland:
8 – 19th May 2017 SOLD OUT!
4 – 15th September 2017
For other possible dates, drop me an email. For dates in England and wales, just get in touch and we'll see what we can do!  Only Irish dates at the moment are  late April and the Environmental Education Ireland gathering then

A days visit to your school might include:

storytelling performances: lasting up to 60 minutes for up to 90 children at a time

stories out of anything! outdoors or in, we'll use leaves and pine cones, twigs and stones and shells to inspire words, create poems and shape a set of stories never told before

(allow 60 minutes for a class session)

New workshop!

puppets and headfuls of animals: like the illustration, we can make quick finger puppet animals or magnificent animal crowns. Allow an hour and a half for a class

New workshop!

Heroes for stories: building characters - as quick puppets and as written pieces: capturing the qualities of our characters for stories: their ambitions, triumphs, disasters and secrets - skills for a richer tale

Stone Age Days: with stories to set the scene, we’ll look at the worlds of our ancestors with flint tools, bone needles, wooden bowls, fur and feathers.  Usually half a day for a class. Ask for more details

story and book workshops: taking a bit longer (allow 90 minutes for a class) as well as discovering those stories no-one has ever heard before, now we will build those into the books that no-one has ever read before and leave the classroom with a library no-one has ever visited before!

pop-up storyscapes: allow an hour for a class: gathering ideas, images and words well make quick 3-d landscapes holding the essence of a story in a setting, key characters and the words that set the adventure running

tales of old Scotland: a collection of stories of Highland folklore and Scottish histories, of heroes and sorrows, bravery and the magics of sea, mountain and moor. These can be steered in various directions and we might listen to stories from Viking days or medieval and Stuart stories and even add some Scottish explorers and their adventures and disasters…

your own themes and ideas: or are you exploring a particular theme that you would like to involve some stories in? In recent projects we have also made talking stone puppets, a giant eagle to hang from a classroom ceiling, prehistoric rockpools, a swarm of shadow dragons, pop-up castles

Charges: £250 a day: includes storytellers fee, travel and materials. Can be paid on the day or I can invoice you.  
Activities can be adapted to suit groups from P1 through to Secondary

For further information: visit the Creeping Toad website at

To book: contact Gordon directly at