Monday, 15 June 2020

Lost Castles - make your own!

Lost castles

Build a castle, build a tower, build a landscape

where adventures might happen….


Make your own medieval world: a castle, a cathedral, a palace, the lost houses of your town?  Mixing history with stories, invent a world of strange and wonderful places; with towers and drawbridges, secret passages and hidden treasures, moat, dungeon, dragon or despair. Let your medieval imagination get carried away and make a pop-up castle to take home.


This is an online event for the Festival of Archaeology. It is also a Celebration:Earth! event, reminding us that the world we live in now has grown out of centuries of stories and adventures. There is a short film of this activity on the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery page if you'd like to watch rather than read


Do some research first? Have a look at pictures of castles or palaces or whatever it is you would like to make! Find out about their features and use that information. Look at the shapes of windows and doors, craving son walls, statues. Could you show where an oubliette has been forgotten? Where a garderobe disgorges? Can you sneak in a sally-port


We’ll describe this activity as if we’re making a medieval castle. You could take the same idea and make a Roman fort or a beautiful church, a palace or a witch’s exciting house



Now, flex those imagination muscles, exercise your scissor fingers and your colouring thumbs and join us to build a castle, build a tower, build a landscape where adventures might happen….



You will need

·      A piece of cardboard: white A4 or A3 is best but this activity will work with cereal packet card as well or anything that you can cut and roll without it cracking

·      A piece of stiff card as a base

·      Scissors

·      Ruler

·      Felt pens or colouring pencils

·      Sharp scissors

·      Small ball of modelling clay

·      PVA glue

·      Masking tape

·      Craft knife and cutting mat

·      A magazine with pictures to cut out, or tissue paper or wrapping paper

·      Barbecue skewers (one for each puppet character you want)

Picture: Low storycastles 1



Step 1. Getting ready

Use the ruler to draw a line maybe 2cm in from one of the long sides of the card (line 1). Take the rule in another 3 or 4 cm and draw another line (Line 2)


Step 2. Drawing the castle

Above Line 2 draw your castle: think of it as a castle unfolded so work your way right across the card. There might be towers and battlements, and another tower, and a hole made by a cannonball. There might be arched windows, a door, arrow slits. Use Line 2 as a guide and don’t draw the top of your building further down than that line. If you do, you might weaken the whole castle. Don’t draw below line 1 – that will be used for something else


Step 3. Cutting out and colouring

Cut out the castle. Cutting out windows: you might recruit a grown up with a craft knife and a cutting mat, or if you sit your castle shape so the window you want to cut out is on top of that lump of modelling clay, you can safely push the pencil through the card and into the clay. Give the pencil a wiggle. This should give you a big enough hole to slide some small scissors in and then you can cut out the window yourself.

Colour the castle in: completely? Or just draw in stones and ivy and decoration? Up to you!

All done? No! add a little bit more! How about some glitter?


Step 4: all decorated and looking wonderful?

Now cut tabs along the lower edge of the castle, cutting up to Line 1. Do your cuts about 2 cm apart

Run some glue along one side of the castle, then roll the other side round so they just overlap. Carefully press into place. Maybe use a bit of masking tape to hold it together while the glue dries or staple it if you have a staple. Carefully, fold the tabs out so that your castle will stand on the table with its tabs spread out like little feet


Step 5. Stand that castle up!

Turn your castle upside down and put a small squidge of glue on each tab. Gently stand on the castle on the tough card. You might need to adjust things a bit so that it stands straight and proud. Then press the tabs down. More masking tape will hold them in place while the glue dries. Now, rather than having a castle standing in a muddy cardboard square, decorate the castle surround with scrap paper or torn up magazine pictures or whatever (we sometimes use green sponges for bushes, grey ones for stone). There might need to be a paper moat) draw your own crocodiles or piranha perhaps). Step back and admire! You have a castle!



Having a castle means you might need a story to tell. Use some of your left-over card (or find some more) to draw someone to send on an adventure. Stick them onto a barbecue skewer (if it is very sharp, you could snip the point off with a pair of scissors so it is less likely to stick in someone!)


Extra elements: if you started with a larger piece of card you could use that to make the outer wall of you castle while a smaller piece of card could be used to make a keep inside the courtyard of the larger piece. Experiment: can you add a drawbridge?



We made an adventurous explorer. We added a dragon. There might be treasure?


If you want some help with characters, there is a pdf attached that you should be able to print out of explorer children and some castle people. Castle characters sheet





Sunday, 14 June 2020

She woke as the ice melted

She woke as the ice melted

memories of the Goddess of the Waters of Buxton

For the first time in many years, Buxton's wells will not be Dressed this summer. In response to this, the group Two Left Hands is promoting an alternative, more distanced set of Garden and Window Dressings, while Stone and Water are adding an alternative Tiny Well Dressing for window ledges

Follow the links above to find out more about all these lovely things to be part of. Within the Tiny Well Dressing activity is a reference to this here is the whole piece. It was written for Buxton Museum and Art Gallery as part of the Collection of the Artists project.

When Buxton was at its "visit to take the waters"  height, there were people who attended the wells, dipping cups into the water for visitors. Memories of the priests who served visitors before even the Romans came and called our town Aquae Arnemetiae (Waters of the Goddess Arnemetia - or Arnemecta)? I always wondered if Arnemecta Herself quietly stayed on, stays on, here among Her Waters, changing shape, changing face, to suit the moment and the needs of the time.



Long skirts rustling on cobbles

A hat tipping, a cane tapping,

The bath-chair creaking,

A wheel squeaks.


Cross my palm with silver, lady,

Cross my palm with copper,

Cross my heart with happiness

And I’ll share this water with you.


The world sighed into warmth,

Old memories waking grass and flowers,

Remembering trees.

The hills relaxed long shoulders as the weight lifted.

And She woke as the ice melted,

As the water

Seeped, dripped, dribbled,

Nibbled itself a hollow,

A bedchamber for a fairytale,

In the darkness under the hills.


Born old, She sits on a limestone shore,

Watching waves that beat no more,

Watching rocks

Drip teeth,

Growing fangs in ancient gums.

Peacock ripples of Blue John

Shifting into the folds and pleats of her gown.


Cross my palm with silver, sir,

Cross my palm with copper,

I’ll dip a cup and offer you

Your good and growing health.


A haggard old woman

In a poke-bonnet cap,

Dipping water in a tin cup.

A chalice,

A Samian bowl,

A Bronze cauldron,

A birch bark beaker, curled, folded, pinned,

Cupped hands,

Will all receive the blessing.


Stone spirit,

Water spirit,

Goddess of the caves,

Healer to the Living,

Midwife to the Dead,

Receiving them back into the life-giving darkness.

Holy hills, and

A holy well.

A Celtic grove,

A Roman temple,

A saint’s bath for

The Mother of the Mother of God.


And then,

Old Martha offers water,

A penny a jug.

Cross my palm with silver, lady,

Cross my palm with copper,

Cross my path with happiness

And I’ll share this water with you.


And now,

Sitting on the Slopes

As the snowdrops ring in the spring

A life in bags around Her on the bench,

Gap-tooth smiling at strangers,

Welcoming anyone, everyone,

To the waters of Her well.


I take no money now, miss,

I take no alms nor offerings,

But waters flow as they have always flowed                      

And blessings run as the water runs

And the Wells bring hope from the dark of the hill.



Thursday, 4 June 2020

Coins, fossils, toys, shells? Make your own museum!

Make your own museum

from your own small treasures

Over these weeks, in conjunction with Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and Stone and Water, I have been working on a series of posts inviting people to “Make Your own Museum” at home.


  • Do you collect small treasures?
  • Do you find fossils or stones or shells on walks
  • Do you pick up feathers and snail shells in your garden
  • Do you find old coins, toys, cogwheels, ribbons and shoelaces?
  • People collect all sorts of things!
  • Perhaps you have a collection of treasures that you cherish. Why not turn them into your own museum: store them, display them, write about them?


Recognising that many of us collect things: from the small and delicate (cowries, groatie buckies), to the living (are you a cat man, a dog woman, a rabbit boy? A runaway hamster girl? All of the above? Or just into unicorns?) to the large, the bulky, the awkward and the exciting; for those smaller bits that fall off the back of the bookcase and are never seen again, we are inviting you to create your own sort-of organised displays


Sort-of, because this will be your museum, personal, idiosyncratic, distinctive and as organised or disorganised as you want it to be (look at PittRivers Museum in Oxford for “the only sort-of organised personal collection that grew”. If you are a young person, don’t show your parents. They might panic)


Rather than doing all the posts again, this blog will be a signpost to point you to the different elements of the Museum for you to go adventuring in


a) Part 1: making display trays from old greetings cards

Blog of activity:

Youtube link: make your own museum part 1


b) Cabinets of Curiosity: gathering trays together into exciting cases:

Activity description:

There will be a museum blog and a youtube film


c) Guiding people through your wonders: labels, guidebooks and maps

 an activity post to follow, links will be posted here


d) Looking at your whole house as a museum? Try looking at this lovely blog for ideas: A New Direction



Buxton Festival Fringe

This Make Your own Museum sequence is also part of Buxton Festival Fringe’s 2020 online activities. As we cannot deliver hands-on, face-to-face activities in the Museum during this year’s Festival, this set of activities become part of our distanced gift to you all.

If you would like to explore what other gems the Fringe has to offer and to explore the socially distanced activities and performances that we are managing to deliver, visit the Fringe programme


Buxton Museum in the Fringe

We have another Buxton Museum/Creeping Toad event online: Lost Castles will help you create your own strange, wonderful, marvellous, storyful palace, castle, landscape, miniature and you could follow the activity in a film here

And yourselves?

If you make something, devise something, shape something, laugh a lot, why not tell us: send us a photo of your collected Cabinet or of the horror/delight/disgust of visitors to your museum, make a 1 minute tour of your museum on a phone and send that in as well if you want to

We cannot promise to publish everything but we would love to see hear and delight in your own creativity


Send photos etc to

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Defiant dandelions

Defiant dandelions

ivy-leaved toadflax carries its own stories

But mark yon small green blade, your stones between,
The single spy
Of that uncounted host you have outcast;
For with their tiny pennons waving green
They shall storm your streets at last.

FL Lucas, Beleaguered Cities (1)

you never know who might be watching
Sometimes blog posts seem to expect you to live on the edge of wide, wild open spaces, or to have a garden that sprawls like a city park when a lot of us have a back yard perhaps, a scrap of lawn or a window and a view of next door’s curtains….

I posted this entry on the CelebrationEarth! blog last week but I felt wanted to add it here as well....A walk round the streets where I live shaped the entries and gave me the examples I used. These ideas belong in a Creeping Toad space as well as a CelebrationEarth! one!

To be outdoors is just that and if you live in a city or town, try giving yourself time to really look at the streets where you walk and look for the evidence of the wildlife that shares our cities and the histories that we often miss.

Some stories are well known, their characters often seen - or talked about: urban foxes,  returning peregrine celebrities (with attendant online webcam followings...), city park tawny owls, (no? just listen, they are more often there than we realise), everpresent rats. But there are more....

Look down: a weed is just a plant in a place where someone doesn’t want it….but plants can sneak in anywhere. So enjoy your weeds and maybe they’ll become heroes.They have determination and an ability to grow in the most unlikely places from gaps between bricks in chimney stacks to the smallest crumbs of dirt between paving slabs or cracks in old walls

Look it up: find, photograph and name if you can (ask on line, try talking to friends on social media, use a plant-app). Then find their stories: cities are warmer habitats than the surrounding lands and often harbour surprising escapes…..

Hogweed jungles in abandoned industrial estates in east London
Himalayan Balsam started popping seeds along urban canals. And spread.

Plants often carry surprising stories. Look for Sweet Cicely  (Myrrhis odorata) along roads, and tracks and canals and railway lines: a fragrant, aniseed-scented feather of green and froth of cream that arrived in this country with returning Crusaders – or might have been brought by the Romans, crush a leaf and sniff it …(2)

Look round the corner: keep walking, turn a corner; find a street you’ve never walked down, a snicket, a close*. Even small towns hold secret places: odd corners, tucked away alleys, hidden courtyards. No, don’t start marching up people’s drives and don’t put yourself in danger but do give yourself permission to be curious and to take the road not taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Take, Robert Frost (1)

Look down: watch when tarmac changes to flagstones to cobbles. Start questioning: look for the oldest road surfaces in your area…what does it tell you. There is a claim (argued about, disputed and dismissed and endorsed all at the same time) that the cobbles in the lane behind the houses on the other side of my road are actually Roman. I don’t know if they are but I like standing there and seeing some legionaries marching past,  two small children and a rangy dog sloping off to the market….no, I haven’t been arrested yet

Look up: take in chimneys: their shapes, their height, their state of repair, their decorations of jackdaw nests.
Look up: take in gargoyles and carvings and gate posts.
Look up: take in saints on churches or the spaces where they once were, stained glass, family crests, insignia

Look out: for patterned grates in walls, for wrought iron gates, for the textured wood of an old doors

Look down and think of the words the bears who wait for you to step on the cracks might be saying…..

I want to say, stop. Take photos. Sketch pictures. Do wax and paper rubbings. You might be able to do all or any of those things but they all assume a certain level of safety and access to relevant places and resources. It’s up to you: stay safe and be respectful of other people’s homes and personal space!

But do bring this home, bring home memories and thoughts and ponderings, take time to research – street names, house names, that odd plant. Learn their stories. Enjoy the streets where you live. Remember your walks as memory maps

Treat yourself (if you haven't already), buy a nice notebook to keep a record of your discoveries in, some tasty pens, coloured pencils. Write, note, sketch, scribble, stick...enjoy. Try the Papersmiths online shop for some options....even better if some kind friend will buy you these as a Distancing Present...

O, and graveyards? In many urban areas, these are the most significant green space after city parks and maybe abandoned railway lines…we’ll come back to graveyards in another post soon

*I’m Scottish: a “close” -  a narrow passageway between two buildings. The closes in Ednburgh are famous long flights of narrow stairs up ad down the hills of the old town.

1. The Poetry Foundation has a wonderful archive of poems to explore.

2. There are many books and websites that will give you the stories that plants carry, but as a starting point try the book Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey, published by Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996 - reprinted in various formats since

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Toads? Really? Why?

A fascination of toads
"Why? Toads? I mean, Toads!"

a small toad crept through a forest of grass....

People often ask “so what is it with you and toads, anyway?”. Or words to that effect. My answers tend to wander partly because there are too many of them.

I might offer the childhood answer that draws from early, early memories (4 years old perhaps) and determinedly Going To The Pond and the ongoing excitement of heading home with a jar full of tadpoles. A simple excitement of tadpoles. Of their wriggling enthusiasm for life, their shape, their transformation. Then there are seasons of successes and failures before being confident about raising froglets and toadlets to release size….

That is all true.

So is the more scientific response. I’m a zoologist, an ecologist, and toads are fascinating. Their role within ecosystems is much subtler than just being steadfast predators who sit there and eat anything they can fit in their mouths. Their evolution is a success story of the underdog…they have crept, hopped, and slithered their way past dinosaurs and extinctions and ice ages. They have worked with their biologies so that, yes, most are bound to water and the spilling of spawn, but others can thrive in deserts, others can give birth to live young. They have explored ways of raising offspring that makes mammalian systems look positively unimaginative. Incubate eggs in your stomach. Embed eggs in a parent’s back. Wrap them in strings round your back legs and carry them. Stuff them into a pouch on your back. Lay them in a foam nest above the water the tadpoles will drop into. Lay them in a deep tunnel. Withhold them and let young salamanders slip out later. Or just explore toxicity in ways full of intrigue, hallucination and death. What amazing animals!

Then there is the response from my storyteller, folklorist side of enchanted frogs, of disenchanted
princes, of the Vietnamese Toad who confronted the Emperor of Heaven, gained rain and a voice to sing to the sky. There are toad charms for warts and jealousy and anger. There is the Toadman, the holder of the Horseman’s Word. There is Shakespeare, and woodcuts of witches’ familiars. There is the magic of the toadstone that sits inside a toad’s head (the rest of us just say, “look! The jewels in a toad’s head are those golden eyes that watch the world”).

All of those are also true.

There is a simple aesthetic reply. To me (at least), toads are beautiful. I love their lumpy shapes, their smiling faces. Those golden eyes. I love the lines of a frog and the precision of amphibian toes. The flickering flutter of a courting newt’s tail. Beautiful

Then there are deeper answers that don’t always make sense to other people and so are really the ones that matter most to me.

I am an animist. For me, the quality I call spirit is found throughout the world. We all sing in different voices but all sing with the same wonder. We are all connected, all related, both ecologically and spiritually. I have a toad totem. There is a connection between myself and toads (and other amphibians but toad most of all). There is a (metaphorical) toad who sits inside of me, whose presence completes me. Not because he/she/it provides qualities I lack particularly. Nor is it a connection based on calculated astrological balances and elemental wotsits. It isn’t that I have a Toad Guide or Higher Guardian Angelic Toad or something. It is simpler. Like deep friendships, it doesn’t really make sense. It just is. With toads, I am reminded of patience, of the value of just waiting, and watching, and judging the moment to strike. I am reminded of hidden treasures. Of the long stillness of winter dreaming. Of passion. All of which are things I know as a human, anyway, but maybe the toad-view adds a slightly different perspective. Totemic relationships don’t need to make sense to anyone else. They simply need to be.

I am a pagan animist. For me there are spirits who still walk this world and gods who watch and wait. And comment. And there is Grandmother Toad who is one of the Ancient Ones, who was here, waking underground, shaping herself into life from mud and gold when the trees dreamed of the First Forest and Raven’s wings beat the winds into life and woke all the world. Now, with the trees still dreaming of the First Forest, and Raven sweeping the sky with thunderwings, Grandmother Toad is one of the voices who speaks in the dark of the caves of our practice. She is Contemplation and Laughter and Compassion and the rock upon which you can break yourself. She watches. She smiles. She waits.

So, when I pick up a toad stranded in a ditch with nowhere to go, with a slow exhausted death after long hibernation ahead of it and an urgency calling it pondwards, all these answers move within me. I could try to explain it to you, standing there on the bank above me and asking “why are you doing that?” or I can just smile and invite you to pause, to look and recognise wonder in the little cousins who never give up.
From the top:
Small toad: c Ian MacLellan
Toad's eye: c Kenny Taylor 
Newt: c Shaun Walters
all the others: c G MacLellan