Saturday, 6 June 2015

Sacred Land: inspiring communities

Exploring the sacred in the city
Tuesday July 7th, 2015
old walls hold older stories
I have an old friendship with Martin Palmer and the team at the Alliance for Religion and Conservation. Their work is inspiring and provoking (in the best of ways) all at the same time. We have slightly over-excited meetings full of inspiration and ideas that don't always get anywhere but were good to have had anyway.

 (*I haven't got any Bristol photos to light up this post, so I'm going to add some favourite ones from other places!)
from holy buildings...
Here, however, we've dug a chest of treasures out of the storied sands of Bristol. We have two events in July that set out to introduce visitors to the sacred landscape of Bristol. And it is there (so forget that cynical sneer!), lying in the street patterns of the medieval city, in the precise placing of its churches, in the stories behind street names. It is even there in the overlap with Feng Shui traditions of a culture that at the time must have seemed fabulously remote holy wells
St Anne's Well, Buxton
As well as exploring the city (the afternoon event), we want to work with participants (evening event) to think about ways of engaging people with that sense of the place: historical, spiritual, natural, built: an ecology of communities that should make somewhere special of a city. We'll talk, share ideas, consider themes that intrigue, activities that involve, traditions to cherish or to wake…join us for a rich and rewarding pair of sessions….You could book into either or both events.

For more on these events, take a look at the Sacred Land Project.

To book, please contact Pippa Moss on 01225 758004 or

singing the wells, Buxton
July 7, 4pm to 6pm Walking Sacred Bristol, a guided tour through the ancient landscape of Bristol from a Chinese, Christian and pagan perspective. Limited places available. The walk will be led by Gordon MacLellan and Martin Palmer. Cost £12 per person. Meet at St Stephen’s Church, Old City, Bristol.

July 7, 7.30 p.m. Sacred Land: inspiring communities workshop £5 per person. St Stephen’s Church Bristol. PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A ONE OFF AND WILL NOT BE REPEATED. From medieval churches to modern chapels, Chinese dragons and the flow of qi, ancient stones to local woods, this workshop will explore ways of involving communities in their landscapes. Using case studies and sheer imagination, Sacred Land: inspiring communities will offer themes, activities and events to inspire people to look at the world around them in new ways. Mixing Christian, Chinese, pre-Christian and secular perspectives, this workshop will give participants a chance to think, plan and hopefully find new and exciting ways of drawing people into those local special places. And also simply be inspired themselves.The workshop will be led by Gordon MacLellan and Martin Palmer.
sometimes there are boggarts
  • Gordon MacLellan is a storyteller (“Creeping Toad”), artist and creator of celebrations. With an international reputation, his work finds ways of helping communities explore the relationships between people, places and wildlife. His most recent book is Old Stones and Ancient Bones: Poems from the Hollow Hills. Gordon is an animist shaman following a path that draws him into relationships with landscapes – urban, wild and countryside alike – alive with the presence of spirit.
  • Martin Palmer, is a theologian, author, broadcaster and environmentalist.  He is Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation ( and author of more than 20 books on religious and environmental topics such as Faith and Conservation and The Atlas of Religions. His work on sacred sites worldwide has won. He has advised UNESCO on World Heritage sites and has helped the World Monuments Fund with protecting endangered sacred sites. His book, Sacred Land (which decodes Britain’s extraordinary past through its towns, villages and countryside), is published by Piatkus/LittleBrown.

In Lathkill Dale

In Lathkill Dale

Maybe it's the time of day - I hope it's the time of day - but here in bright sunshine,  under a bright sky, on the bright flowering edge of summer, butterflies are in woeful supply. Whites, brimstones, orange tips have all fluttered by but so occasionally that two tortoiseshells count as a triumph, and I cheer and wave and dance a quick "returning butterfly" dance. After two miles of walking and wandering, and failing to photograph trout in the cold clear limestone waters of Lathkill Dale, I've still only got a handful of bees, even with a bee-fly to boost the numbers a bit. From stream bank to wide sweeps of rough flower meadows to field edge and dappled woodland with the hawthorn out and the wayfaring trees, I hover in anticipation and am left feeling forlorn.

Eventually, on the way back to the car, a stand of pale blue comfrey almost saves the day and moves me from fingers to toes but even then, that's it. No more.

Maybe it's the season and I am still a bit early, but here. Here? Here! In the depths of a NNR, surrounded by flowers, warming into a rich day in the early afternoon. O, I hope it is the moment and not the whole a pattern because this should be a haven

A Spell For The Dale
By burdock and butterbur and the weir that holds the stream,
By flood-coppiced elder and fugitive elm,
By the red-bark of the wayfaring tree
And the rose who climbs the hawthorn,
By bladder campion and red, and forget-me-nots
Reflecting the sky without clouds.

By rabbit and hare and the returning otters,
By lime-cave and lime kiln and
the troll-home well of Bateman's House,
By fossils in the walls and moss on the ruined mill.

With rooks in the rafters and chipping titmice in the bushes,
With coots in the rushes and a kohl-lined teal looking for her drake,
With trout in the shadows and crayfish under rocks.

We call the dipper to the stone,
And the vole to the pool,
And the traveller to peace

Useful link for moments of bees:

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

By Rosegrove and Rockwood

By Rosegrove and Rockwood, 
stories grow over grass and over stone, 
by tree and leaf, 
under the watchful eyes of escaping chickens,

Rosegrove and Rockwood Nurseries, May 2015
Rosegrove: mapping adventures
In workshops at these two nurseries we've been using key questions to propel our storymaking forward

In Rosegrove, back in March, we started by asking
who would we send on an adventure? making little characters who then went out exploring, collecting useful items as we went. A simple collection of found objects on a plate was often enough to start spinning stories

Then we wondered
where does our adventure start (or end?) - who lives behind that door? - a  question about where would we go - and for this everyone made little houses for their characters inspiring questions about friendships and secrecy and the hidden doors and homes that might lurk in the school grounds

hidden homes in the Nursery garden

And finally we thought about
what would we (our characters) bring back from our adventure?: giving us a chance to map big stories, working together to devise landscapes where our house-boxes could be positioned, planning perils and problems and choosing trophies, treasures, mementoes to bring back - although those same finds sometimes sent our characters away to their next adventure - scallop shells make very good boats for small people and wide oceans….

Rockwood Day 3: first ideas
In Rockwood, questions also took other groups into houses but here, children worked together to make magnificent log-mansions where the planning and decoration of a shared house could take a whole session. This work drew out all sorts of wonders: poles to keep dragons away on one house were replaced by landing pads on another. Different doors led to different homes (monsters and fairies in one combination). The Tooth Fairy decorated the outside of her house with teeth. Feathers decorated another. A dragon devised a seaside house with shells and sandcastles

None of our workshops finished stories: our role as visiting artists here was to provoke conversation, to get stories moving and encourage staff and children to enjoy the stories that might grow out of their school grounds.

Rockwood: house building carefully

Rockwood: planning a ladder

Rosegrove: fireworks to keep us safe
Cooper's Magic Potion (Rosegrove)
A fish,
A shell,
a cup and a toadstool.

Some tea,
Some juice,
Soemthing squeezed from a boot

A dinosaur skull,
A helmet,
A bead and some sand.

Stir them up,
Mix them well,
And if it works,
I can't tell

Stories Alive! has placed 5 artists in 5 Nursery Schools (see below) in and around Burnley in East Lancashire with the challenge of developing 5 different sets of activities to help embed storytelling and storymaking in Nursery practice, in families and in the children we are working with

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Hatching 9: trying to write a river

The Last Hatching
21st and 22nd May 2015

"trying to write a river,
along the lines of the water"

ripple and flow
Fast water,

Crashing water


Over green rocks,

Into fierce, deep pools,

Strong trout leaping

With a twist of a tail.

Swimming up the fast flow,

River pushes,

Trout swims,

Swimming, swimming,

Keeps on swimming,

Through the rapids,

Through the pools,

Over the waterfalls

To lay golden eggs in a gravel redd.

(Holy Trinity School)

last view of a diving trout
The river ran for a final time in this sequence of workshops last week. The trout the classes had hatched as part of their Ribble Rivers Trust project had gone to meet their destinies in the rivers around Burnley but we had proposed these extra sessions to try taking our activities, like migrating trout, to leap the next waterfall or brave the last rapids

Steve and I worked with Heasandford Primary School( 3 Year 4 classes) to take the work they had already done and skills they had already developed further. Teams of musicians looked at ways of uniting their three songs, while the artists took the pop-up planning techniques we'd used before to go over the top and make a series of popups, each one being about 130cm long and combining to give us a folded river almost as long as the school hall

In Holy Trinity School, a comment in an earlier workshop had inspired a "the river as a beatbox" session. We looked at pictures, talked about their trout, drew pictures, experimented with voices and instruments and gradually built a score that mixed words, patterns and pictures and became the voice of the river…..(pictures of musicians pending)

Recordings of both final pieces will follow!

Songs from the earlier sessions with these schools

Heasandford Song 4.2
Heasandford song 4.1
Heasandford song 4.3

with many thanks to the artists and musicians of Heasandford and Holy Trinity Primaries and to the members of the Ribble Rivers Trust who committee who gave us such an appreciative audience!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ancestors in the wood

Te Papa, New Zealand

Myself as a tourist, wandering and revelling in carvings and carved spaces. There are living marae and vibrant wharenui out beyond the wall of the museum. There are people who still sing to the waking ancestors. Te Papa is the National Museum of New Zealand in Wellington. It is wonderful

I step down to enter the Wharenui, respectfully barefoot, slipping in to sit quiet under the glaring eyes and tattooed bodies of carved, wooden ancestors.

NZ is full of ancestors
Watching people, it pulls us into silence, this place, into simply sitting. Children, laughing and babbling out there in the marae, leave their noisiness with their shoes by the door and, Maori, Pakeha and foreign tourist alike, all stand and look. No cameras. Just a moment of peace before they are called on and leave the strange hairy man alone again on the chairs.

For me, this place is full of presences and the shapes who have loitered on the edge of my senses since I arrived in New Zealand take form and I feel these short, green, tattooed bodies around me. I would like to dance a prayer here in a cloud of scented smoke but instead I find myself reciting poems and blessings out of my own far away lands*

Power of the raven,
Power of the rain on the hills,
Power of the wind over the moor,
Power of the hare in the grass
Be thine.

Grace of the clover,
Grace of the geese in the loch,
Grace of the gunmetal grey clouds,
Grace of the white clouds that catch the light
Be thine**

This wharenui is transplanted. A museum artefact, moved with blessing and permission and respectfully contained and even at this distance from its place of origin, I can sense the root that still links wharenui to marae and back to home. But what would it be like to stand in a living wharenui within a living marae while the voices of a strong and vibrant people echo round the walls and remind the carvings of their descendants and the families they gave life to?

*and later a Maori friend tells me that the spirits like to hear voices: that prayers (and poems) are gifts to them that help the ancestors stay here, with us.

** The lines come from a blessing prayer from my book “Old stones and ancient bones: poems from the hollow hills”. The final verse is an ending from a much older blessing

Slip into stillness
Beside a tall stone
Bristled and bearded with lichen.

Listen to the voices that 
Whisper along the wind,
Through the grass,
Out of the old stone itself,

Power of the raven,
Power of the rain on the hills,
Power of the wind over the moor,
Power of the hare in the grass
Be thine.

Grace of the clover,
Grace of the geese in the loch,
Grace of the gunmetal grey clouds,
Grace of the white clouds that catch the light
Be thine

Stillness of the wave on the shore,
Stillness of stone in the Ring,
Stillness of sunrise behind the ridges,
Stillness of long sleep in the hollow hills
Be thine

Strength of the gull’s freedom,
Strength of the bull’s endurance,
Strength of the rooks’ gathering,
Strength of the crab’s stealth
Be thine

May no day be grievous to thee,
May each day be joyous to thee,
May love of each face be thine
May death on pillow be thine,
Honour and compassion.

Moa in Kaimai

Deep green dreams

Moss-shaggy boulders,
Brood in tree-fern beds.
But at night,
Under moon-light or star-fire,
Old creepers uncoil into necks,
And heavy legs lift those boulder-backs,
And tough leaves relax into browsing.
These woods still dream of Moa

Kaimai Range, North Island, New Zealand November 2014

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Book reviews: Stone Age schooling

Stone Age books
more ave than Stone age but first ideas from a group looking at ancient life

Hands-on History: Stone Age, Charlotte Hurdman, Armadillo, 2014 978-1-84322-974-2
Stone Age, Bone Age! Mick Manning and Brita Granström, Franklin Watts, 978-1-4451-2892-4

O, if only! 
No, two books about the Stone Age - specifically about teaching "the Stone Ages" to children

Hands-on History is great: a rewarding mix of factual information and activities to try. The information is well presented and could be used by a teacher to get a bit of background or be given to confident KS2 readers for their own information. It is with the activities, however, where this book really scores. Most chapters have an activity associated with its content and while some are familiar - paint sprays to get hand prints - others are delightfully new and inventive. I really liked the mammoth bone house and the model canoe.
There is a bit of a dependance upon air-drying clay which might start pushing costs up if you were doing these activities with a class (substitute card?*). I like clay as a paper replacement: it offers a different texture and a sense of the issues of working on a different surface. Using clay to make model axes and fire-drills is fine but most children I work with would instantly want to try their new tool out and I don't think these would stand up to much heavy wood-cutting or fire-starting!

I love the generous confidence that assumes we all know what shape and size to make our model mammoth bones, and that we are all happy about instantly drawing cave pictures. A bit of guidance in these cases might have helped: maybe a quick column on looking at animals and finding simple shapes to build the main picture from?

The activity side of Hands-on is its greatest asset and is sadly lacking in Stone Age, Bone Age! Here a cheerful, almost rhyming, narrative bounces our young adventurers (KS1) through Stone Age life. Good bright pictures accompany a simple text where key points are supported by some background information. But I wanted some action: some definite suggestions for things to do….we could fill in the gaps ourselves but I think the book would have been more complete if it had had some sections on, perhaps,  "looking for tracks in mud, sand and snow", exploring colours in nature, maybe even lighting a fire and cooking…activities to take the reader beyond the book itself.

Two useful additions to the library shelf.

a moment of prehistoric domesticity

 * I have certainly used mounting board scraps from the local picture framers for good solid bases for "cave painting" and big sheets of black sugar paper for even quicker ones