Saturday, 21 July 2018

Rippling ribbons of colour

Voices from the hay

 a BM125 event

gathers thoughts, feeling and wonders from an old meadow

An earlier blog described the new BM125 project and the following grows from the first public event there.

With BM125, we are encouraging people to reflect creatively on the connections between the Museum collections and the local landscapes they came from. Wherever we can, we will record those reflections. So here is our first collective poem, growing like a meadow itself from many seeds whispered on the wind or as word-pollen and thistledown blown on the breeze of people’s voices.
There will be a spoken version available soon as well


We sink
Into a field rustling and bustling with life,
Into a froth of grass,
Into a sea of grasshopper sound,
A dream where nothing changes.
The cows sleeping under a willow
Have been resting there for centuries.

Memories are rooted in these meadows,
In the fleeting lives of butterflies,
In nodding seedheads,
In thistledown drifting on a hot breeze.
Farms, families, paths, tools and stories,
All knitted to the earth as tightly as the turf.
Childhood holidays rooted here too,
New names, first meetings,
Stonechats, curlews, those grasshoppers again

The rhythm of a scythe echoes across centuries
They walked where we walk,
Those old farmers on a summer day,
The slice and hiss of a blade and
The whetstone that hones the edge,
Finding shade under these same trees,
Cutting the waving grass from the same sward.

Harebell and cranesbill
Selfheal and tormentil,
Scabious and burnet,

The names are an enchantment
A spell for a meadow,
Whispered on a dusty wind
Colour, scent, pollen and promise,
Foxtail, cocksfoot,
Fescue, vernal and bent,
The rooted and the free,
Meadow brown and large white,
Ringlet and tortoiseshell,

Prayers blown between earth and sky.

Futures are rooted in this rare and ancient place,
Still growing memories
Having fun in the river, catching insects,
A diving beetle!

Knapweed and burnet knod purple heads
Studding the rippling ribbons of colour
Black medick nods, yellow heads in the hot dry grass.
Seeds of the future in a rare and ancient place,
Lose the meadow and the memories wither too,
The cows across the field will sleep only in the present. 

And here is a set of small pieces that didn’t quite fit into the larger poem


1. Bumblebees embroider the meadow
Knotting threads with flight paths
Charting by pollen, by nectar, colour coding
Scent-coding, the maps of their lives.

2. Yellow rattle whispers,
Dry and sandy,
Small bones in a bag,
A snake’s angry warning.

3. Bony fingers in the tops of the ash trees
Point a warning to the future

4. Falling sky splinters
Into scabious and cornflower blue,
While tormentil nestles in the grass,
Droplets of sunshine on the green

5. The promise of memories to grow with the hay
The dread of fields empty of hope

With many thanks to all our poets and artists
There will be more BM125 events and posts here and in other blogs and on other platforms from our artists


Sunday, 15 July 2018

Rustling and bustling with life

a sea of grasshopper sound

One field of grass, 

rustling and bustling with life

National Meadows Day

July 6th 2018

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is 125 this year and to mark that anniversary, the BM125 project will bring together experienced with new and emerging artists with 12 months of artistic initiatives (we were hoping for a cake but the weight of the candles and their collective fieriness might prove inhibiting: a cake barbecued by its own candles?)
Over the next few weeks, these new artists will be introduced and the shapes of their work will unfold

Surrounded by a sea of grasshopper sound*

Meanwhile, there is an events programme running through the whole project, again exploring and celebrating the Museum collection and its relationship to the landscapes that collection came from. I am coordinating and delivering a lot of the events work and, as with the artists, the events will be looking for creative elements that can be recorded in some way and posted online. Impromptu puppet shows are planned, storytelling and poetry readings will be recorded, the collection, placing and possibly blowing away of land art photographed….

One field of grass, rustling and bustling with life
Seeds of the future in a rare and ancient place*

The first of these events drew Creeping Toad into a partnership with the DoveValley Centre, South West Peak’s Glorious Grasslands project and Stone and Water’s Summer Excitements events project. National Meadow Day (Saturday 6th July) found us loitering in the dry but beautiful meadows of the Upper Dove Valley, revelling in the sweep of grass, sudden flutters of butterflies and swallows flickering overhead. There were meadow walks and river dipping, insect drawing and book-building. Meadows are part of our agricultural heritage as much as any old farm tools or buildings or ancient farmers. Their use, management, decline and recognition reflect our own awareness of the importance of our agricultural landscapes. You may find old scythes and seed drills in a museum, you may even find a toothless ol’ farmhand, but a meadow needs the earth beneath its roots and the weather that ruffles the grasses. You won’t find a meadow in a museum and they cannot be collected. They can be protected, grown and valued as places where history, culture and wildlife coincide. So, we took the museum to the meadows, inviting visitors to think, reflect and record their thoughts about the importance of such places both to themselves as individuals and within the landscape.

bony fingers on the ash trees are pointing to a sad future

Memories of childhood holidays: learning about flowers and butterflies; seeing birds not seen at home and insects, stonechats and grasshoppers*

A collective, communal-meadow poem as created during the day and will be posted shortly. Then there will be a “make your own meadow-book” post. Keep an eye open for these next posts….

Bumblebees embroider the meadow
Knotting threads with flight paths
Charting by pollen, by nectar, colour-coding
Scent-coding, the maps of their lives*

* samples from words collected during the day
amd many thanks to our spontaneous poets and artists - 
more of your work will follow soon!
twilight slowly claims the fields



Saturday, 9 June 2018

Summer adventures

Over the summer months, my friends in  Stone and Water are hoping to arrange exciting events in different places as part of several projects

We cannot release definite dates and times yet as we are still waiting for funding to confirm but as the summer unfolds around us and flowers open and butterflies flutter, we wanted our friends out there to know that we haven’t forgotten you and to keep your eyes open for news!

All these activities will develop in conjunction with  Creeping Toad so events will be posted on Toadpages as well - so this is by way of a whetting of appetites - more details very soon!

Derwent Stories

Events across the Derwentwise area - more or less along valley of the River Derwent from Cromford to Derby

Events will range from art and storywalks to picnic days with time to make, think, draw and explore

These events will be free and open to everyone but their structure and activities will be aimed at young people with additional needs and their families

Partners: Umbrella and Derwentwise




Summer excitements

Events in the Southwest Peak area ranging from haymeadows in the Upper Dove Valley to picnics in Taxal and ghost stories and old buildings in the Moorlands

Partners: Southwest Peak, Dove Valley Centre

With the Derwent Stories and Summer excitements projects, we will post definite dates and details as soon as we can. These will be posted here and also on our facebook page


And in Buxton, we will be part of the Festival Fringe again
We are back as the Tiny! team for another day of making and laughter. Join us in creating a whole submarine world in our sea tent. Mermaids and monsters, sharks, dolphins and seahorses: who knows what will be wriggling in our seaweed? Join us in the Gardens near the young children’s playground.
11am to 3pm Free, Ages 2+

Thursday 19th July LOST STORIES OF BUXTON Buxton secrets: help us invent the lost stories of Buxton. Join storyteller Gordon MacLellan for a morning (or afternoon) of secret passages, treasures, ghosts and adventures. Hear old stories and make up new ones, turning stories into storycastles and wonderwoods. No tickets needed. Drop by and join in. All materials provided.
Buxton Library 10:30am to 12:30pm, 1:30pm to 3:30pm Free

Saturday 21st THE BUXTON PRIDE PICNIC Celebrate Queer Buxton (LGBT+ and friends!) with an afternoon of graceful silliness and frivolous strength. Bring your own exquisite nibbles, an umbrella or parasol if appropriate, and join us for a picnic as elegant as we can make it. Winner of last year's Spirit of the Fringe Award.
Pavilion Gardens – Swimming Pool Lawns 2pm to 5pm Free

With all these summer events, Stone and Water gratefully acknowledges support from The Bingham Trust

Monday, 7 May 2018

a well-ravelled workshop

 Ravelling a workshop


Even after all these years and so many workshops that I lost count several centuries ago*, I am still fascinated by the process of planning and delivering a session. Not so much the practicalities: time it, shape it, structure the process; or the preparation: sharpen the pencils, cut this many pieces of that card, that many pieces of this card. String. What intrigues me is the emotional process that I still put myself through, the knotted trail of ups and downs that goes with every workshop or series of workshops

The moments….
  •     being over prepared - almost aways, too much is better than too little
  •     forgetting to do things: I’ll have said it to myself, it will have been added to the main list, then to the last minute list, I’ll have recited it in the “packing the car reminders to self” list but get to the venue and the owl-whistle will still be sitting on the desk at home, brooding in that way that only owls can
  •     kicking myself: there are always other things that I’ll have decided against and then regret: “O, I won’t need the big bag of story rugs for this session, we’ll be indoors/outdoors/not sitting down for long/in a lovely space anyway,” and, come the moment, I’ll be looking at a bleak floor thinking “a bit of colour would just shift all this into the 'special occasion'” moment
  •     panicking a bit
  •     let out clauses: “if I get stuck in a traffic jam”, the school’s pipes have burst and we all get sent home (has happened), I get half way there and school closes ‘cause of snow ( that has happened too), the school has forgotten, key teacher is off sick, visitor centre forgot to advertise the event, someone else is off sick, general panic…..what are the excuses that run through my head - the let out clauses that say “I was all ready for this but it didn’t happen”…I want an excuse to run away
  •     what if, what if…what if….the doubts are good because I still care: a reflection that what i am doing still matters to me. There is confidence here. I know I can tell this story or that other one. I know that in a moment I can change tale or activity, that i can hold (most) groups and they will join in the adventure, but I still twitch before it all begins
  •     having the confidence to let go and trust the group I am with. That has come with time and experience
  •     breathe and breathe again, take a deep breath, feel the earth beneath my feet. I work barefoot whenever possible: the earth is a reassurance and helps me feel anchored….

Overall, however, I embrace the endless challenge of new people. They are always new people. I can tell the same story 10 times, 100 times, and responses are still surprising. There is a lovely grisly tale from North Uist (look it up on a map) of a heroic girl, a bold cow and a doomed romance where the group suggest endings and even within the parementers of the story (as opposed to suddenly bringing in aliens or, as this week, an anvil) people still come up with solutions that i have not heard in the hundred times I have told the story before. The people are always new. My activities, even my spoken lines, are based on experience but I try not to hold the past against the present: what  one group did may never be repeated, what this group now might offer could be completely new. The formulae used are there to set a process in motion, not to dictate the outcome

That is where the joy lies: in the unexpected creativity of people

A workshop is woven from worries and activities, themes, inspiration, hope and sticky tape. A well-ravelled workshop might unravel as it goes along but that would be part of its own adventure
*no, of course not, but I’m a storyteller. exaggeration goes with the territory

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Springful of toads

A springful of toads

Still pool mirrors sunlight,
Catches clouds, conceals passions,
Toads in mud and hearts.

In June Last year, Creeping Toad started a new project called Toadwords. It has hibernated with its namesakes over the last few months so as we all wake up into spring (I do hope, however, you’re not all sitting in ponds, spawning), I thought I would give it a shake and see if we can’t find a few more poems. There have already been soem wodnerful pieces of writing. If you "search" this blog for "Telling Toads" that should call up thee alrier entries - or that link might have worked as well

So, a challenge: we have just passed National Haiku Day (UK, yesterday). So why not get out there and enjoy some sunshine and write an amphibian Haiku? If you can’t see any of our damp friends, look at the places they love: your overgrown garden, your compost heap, or the places of peril and dread, places that are dessicating deserts for a delicate skin….

Conventionally, Haiku have 3 lines of counted syllables: 5, 7, 5. (traditional Japanese) or 10 - 14 syllables overall (English). But I was advised (by a Zen Buddhist monk) not to be trapped by structure and think of 3 lines that contain 2 observations, a pause and a reflection….take what you will and have a go!

Email them through, please!

 Or just feel amphibian and be inspired!

Walking a long road
Toad Whisperer.
Frayed boots on a hard road,
Fingerless gloves and a long coat,
Black hat shades darker eyes.
A measured step, 
An ageless amphibian patience,
And a bag of toadbones in his pocket,
The Toadman will tell
The secrets you hid,
The treasure you lost,
The love you hunger for.
He’ll tell, he’ll always tell,
Your tale to the toads.
But bribe him well,
Pay him with coin,
With food,
With favours,
Never to let the frogs know.

The original project outline is here, but below is part of it…

In this, the Froglife Year of the Toad, here at Creeping Toad, I am inviting people to add their own creative ideas to a collection of Toad (and frog and tree frog,) stories and poems.  Initially, we will aim to encourage people to share these beyond the blog where they will appear, to read them aloud, to tell stories, declaim poems by ponds and generally celebrate Toads and their cousins.

Amphibians are in danger. Of all the vertebrate groups, amphibians seem to be in the most perilous of situations as populations across the world dwindle before pollution and habitat loss and the ravages of infections they have no defence against. Froglife is a UK based charity that sets out to promote amphibian conservation through active habitat management and wider education. While, Froglife is UK-based, the issues facing amphibians are global and I hope that by sharing our stories and poems we might add a little more momentum to a wider awareness of the wonders of the amphibian worlds. The decision to launch a Year of the Toad campaign grew out of the research presented in a Froglife paper: while the wonderful (and not always sad) book In Search of Lost Frogs by Robin Moore is a great way of connecting to the issues confronting individual species across the Earth. Robin’s book is reviewed on this blog, here

Monday, 16 April 2018

Stories everywhere and other adventures

optimistic toad

Stories, masks, monsters and puppets

Creeping Toad training courses this summer

This blog has been quiet for a while but now with spring on the horizon and toads in the ponds, it’s is time to start posting events for y’all to join in with - maybe

There are two training courses are growing on the Toad horizon just now
Courses like this are aimed at teachers, rangers, environmental education specialists, playworkers and, really, anyone who is looking for activities to deliver to a group of children (or families) along creative environmental themes
Workshops aim to offer participants the chance to experiment, to experience activities for themselves and to talk about resources, workshop patterns and the tricks that make for effective delivery
If you want to find out more about the content of a workshop, you are welcome to contact me, ( if you want to book or make a booking enquiry, please contact the organisers.

If you are interested in hosting something similar in your own area, 
contact me at the creepingtoad address

collecting a knight's tale

Stories Everywhere
4th July 2018, Dartington Estate, Totnes
Organiser: Wildwise:
This workshop will include activities that can be used to help groups of all ages use language to explore, enjoy and celebrate their environment.   We will play with words: creating stories, poems, instant adventures and terrible tales.
found objects and treasures map an adventure

A day to enjoy words, this workshop encourages participants to find “adventures everywhere”…anywhere. It will offer activities designed to draw inspiration from simple observation, fostering confidence in participants own skills and encouraging innovation within supportive activity structures. The activities used will also allow ideas to merge as a number of short activities flow together to give longer more intricate adventures
The activities used here have been tried and tested with family groups, on adult events and with school children – often in situations where Literacy is an issue and activities are needed that remove worry and fear and encourage simple enjoyment of words
£80 | £95 | £120 *
* rates for individuals / voluntary-charitable organisations / businesses

finger creatures and head animals

Puppets, masks and monsters
5th July 2018, Dartington Estate, Totnes
Organiser: Wildwise:
a day finding characters, making characters, turning ourselves into wild and wonderful things: a mixture of working with found and natural materials with alternatives using more traditional materials.

boggarts will keep an eye on our making
Our activities today will start with some first principles in puppetry, those little tricks that can turn just about anything into a character to send off adventuring, before moving on to improvising with piles of twigs, leaves and mud. As the workshop progresses we will add more intricate ideas, looking at shadow puppet landscapes and movements, at mask forms that lend themselves to a whole ecology of characters and  wonderfully strange creatures who can wake up a wall of rocks laughing
The programme will include
  • first puppets: ideas for instant animation
  • improvising with natural materials: add string and a lump of clay and we’re off!
  • straightforward activities to incorporate into other sessions needing few materials
  • essential shapes and techniques to apply in other situations
  • more intricate forms of masks, puppets and shadow puppets for more determined workshops or public events
  • building giants: processes for making both big puppets and mosntrous masks
£80 | £95 | £120 *
* rates for individuals / voluntary-charitable organisations / businesses

toads adrift in a village pond

Sunday, 25 February 2018

A gleaming stone

A wyrm uncoils and Grendel's Mum sighs...

Adlington Primary School

Fallibroome Creativity Week

 We started with Grendel, a good place to start, unravelling the mystery of the dweller in the swamp, alliterating the patterns of his life and his mother, and weaving our own heroic adventures.

on the outskirts of Jotunheim, in a wild wood where dark shadows moved,
slimy samon surfaced in the shallow river where wombats wobble in the wicker weeds

In a deep, dark forest,
Tall trees tower in a wailing wind
While the wolf wove his path through the blackness

And through a cave where strange creatures crept in sinister shadows
Spiders spun stunning webs while waiting to snare slimy slugs
And have them for their terriic tea

A river rushing, racing, raging over round rocks dashing down, down, down into
the deepest darkest swamps where savage snakes are joyfully jogging and jumping

A crumbling castle on a crumbling crag where
Wandering werewolves wailed and terrorized the trembling townsfolk

We moved onto artefacts, choosing treasures from my hoard: shells, brass shoes, horns, a goblet, a chest, a tankard made of pewter, another of horn, the dark glass of a necklace salvaged from the windswept wreckage of a viking longship

It’s a masterpiece from a mermaid who paints. It was given to me by the mermaid herself on a journey through a mystical ocean. Gold fish with delicate tails are painted onto the blackness of the wondrous sea stone with grace, care and skill. The gleaming fish are a glittering gold and look lke queens in the blackness. And when I hold it the centre shines like the sun as it sinks below the horizon.

the beginning of a wonderful wolfskin story
With many thanks to the teachers and artists of Adlington, and to all the schools I visited in  Creativity Week. i took lot of photos which my camera seems to have  eaten them!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

How many mermaids

How many mermaids?

Unfinished Poems and

 a make your own mermaid event 


Doxey Pool (c/o Adrian Lambert)

From the beautiful but dangerous maid in deep, cold Blakemere on Morridge to the golden-haired temptress guarding her treasures in the Kinder Downfall, to the more recent and more sinister tales from Doxey Pool on the Roaches, we have a rich legacy of watery people here in the hills. Flowing out of the hills and onto the Cheshire plains and here are stories of a waterspirit in Redesmere and tales of the Asrai, a tribe of water people in the waters of Cheshire and Staffordshire.

At Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, we have a dramatically something mermaid. Beautiful say some, hideous say other, less tactful, visitors, fascinating say a few but always worth stopping and having a good stare at…

Our mermaid is a Victorian fancy: a construction of wood and wire, human hair, seashells, bone, leather and fish skin, the years have not treated her well but she still intrigues and provokes

Find out more:

Over the last few months, among other activities at the musuem, i was running an "Unfinished Poems" project which has unfinished itself for now - we hope to revive it again - and I am slowly working my way through the 50 poems that came in. (some have already been published on this blog, go questing....)

Visitors could pick up one (or more!) of 8 postcards with a drawing and two lines to start a poem about a particular aspect of the museum display. Their poem could use those two lines as a launching point, or they could ignore it completely...We wanted to over people a different challenge,  different way of looking at and thinking about the collection.

Here are a mermaid set…

1. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight

In fish and bone and monkey leather,

My path links the underground rivers and pools of the Peak,

I’m the mermaid of the heather

2. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight

In fish and bone and monkey leather,

This is a creature you must not miss,

Like modern mermaids, all artifice.
(Susan Crane)

3. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight

In fish and bone and monkey leather,

Her partner’s a merman but keeps out of sight

So pooling their resources whatever the weather
(John Goodwin, 1/11/17)
4. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight

In fish and bone and monkey leather,

It will be out tonight

But only if clear weather

And just to keep your mermaid appetites well-whetted, we are having a Make your own mermaid (or seamonster) activity 
at the Museum. 
Thursday 22nd February 2018

10am - 12 noon

Free, no booking needed, just dive in 
and make your own sea-person to swim away with

5. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight
In fish and bone and monkey leather,
A bewildering sight

With many thanks to all our poets, named or anonymous!