Thursday, 17 September 2020

a pond, a pool, a frog, a tale

A pond, a pool, a frog, a tale

films and stories from a boggy world

I am a storyteller. I tell stories. Some I draw from old sources, some I sift from other storytellers’ words, some I grow from seeds the world gives me. Some I just make up. 

This blog is really to start posting my responses to the challenge of the B2W project. In an earlier post, I talked about the inspiration and opportunities the Between2Worlds project has brought myself and other artists. The challenge for me has been to look at the exhibition,  at this summer, at a changing world, as a storyteller. Which usually means nothing will run in straight lines.

In that earlier blog I said:

In story terms, we could be the person who hears a wolf in the distance and runs off shrieking through the forest and straight into the cooking pot of the hungry giant. Or we could be the children of Hamelin seduced by a Piper’s tune to go unquestioning into the unknown. Or we could be the questing heroes who set off not sure of direction or even goal but head out with their wits about them and hope in their hearts

old trees tell fabulous stories

In the best stories the answer is rarely just ‘yes” or “no”. There is often a “maybe” as well and one maybe can lead to another and another, can open a path of possibilities, often not right or wrong just maybe. These are the paths that call for courage and a readiness to step out into that uncertainty, the third brother, the youngest sister, Vasilisa in the deep woods, Perceval looking for the Grail. We, as individuals and as communities, don’t need to go alone into the adventure. We have friends with us, friends who will help, comment, criticise, reflect and, hopefully, just be there. Can we be our own Knights of the Round Table? Our own Famous Five?

So we begin…..

Have you got a pond in your garden? Is there a pond you know of? Visit? Would you like one? Haven’t got a huge space for a pool large enough for crocodiles, or a running water feature to hold giant salamanders? Never mind: a bowl in a back yard becomes a water hole for sparrows to bathe in, its mud might attract butterflies (sipping minerals from muddy clays). A deep bowl with a water plant or two will call in hover flies, will offer a refuge for a passing frog, a moment of relief for a wandering a water beetle (they fly you know),  sanctuary for a lesser water boatman.

Visit Froglife to find out more about your own personal ponds….

a first frog might do it or maybe a noble toad...

Here, I invite you to make a minute or two and drop in:

a) B2W – an introduction to the films that will post over the next few weeks

b) Pond Ripples: everything has consequences, any moment might offer opportunities, please don’t overlook the importance of small actions, of small offers to the world around you


  • A thousand thank yous to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and the Arts Council England Emergency Response Fund for the opportunities these have offered us
  • Thanks to the other voices in Pond Ripples: Sarah Males and Caroline Small 
  • And an especially BIG thank you to Aidan Rhode for recording, filming, thinking, advising and being immensely patient! if you follow the link iN Aidan's name you'll find another B2W film
Picture credit:
All photos c. G MacLellan

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Becoming Your Own Troll

Becoming Your Own Troll

The St Mark’s Flies hatched late in this hot spring. Usually they can be relied upon to be turn up on their saint’s day: a fluttering black follow-up to St George’s destructive tendencies, appearing on 24th April with their blundering, drunken flight. While heat should encourage an early hatching, maybe it was also too dry. Certainly, sitting here on gritstone rocks looking own on the moss, I had missed the squelch it usually took to get here. The sense of an imminent wallow if I strayed into the boggy bits was gone and my wellies felt clumping and redundant. Sitting here now, a month later, at last, the flies were out with their bulging eyes (the males) and hairy legs, their feathered antennae (males again) and thick egg-bloated bodies (females), landing awkwardly and wearily on the pages of my notebook before dropping off the edge of a page and wandering away again.


Sleeping under heather and heath.

Inviting grouse to nest in the rich thickets of her hair,

Once a year, eyes of cloud and sky open,

As she rises from dreaming

To dance with her cousins of the Tors.



A beetle takes off from the prow of that notebook, a straight-line, don’t stop me, buzzing flight leading my eyes down and over shades of sand and fawn and green and darker green, grass and rush and moss with the heather somewhere between grey and green and mauve with just the first few frecklings of flowers.


Tussock, the Marsh Boggart

Hidden in the Moss

A clump of rush,

Of sedge and grass and stone,

Pebble eyes opening when you have squelched past,

A rustle and whisper and a slight drip,

Rising from the mud and the mools,

To follow you, to pause, to hide, to sink again,

To follow again.

Sparking marshfire from fingertips,

A lamp to light your way,

Homewards maybe.

Or swampbound.



It is good here in the edge of the ridge soaking in the cloud light and gleams of sunshine

Sit here long enough, quiet enough, casual enough and you become the stone as well and the bird on the next rock sings and a vole forages in the shadow of my stone self.


There are lots of small birds, keeping low, in the heather, among these tumbled tor-stones, in the willow scrub but this warmth of cloudy sky is empty. A single raven flew across earlier but there are no buzzards soaring now, no stray seagulls, no swifts. A summer sky empty of swallows


Gritstone skin on a stoneface troll, folded down, here, with grass in the creases of her joints and something scrabbling holes in a nostril. The ravens come and talk, a crow flies by on lazy wings, a curlew calls. Ever so rarely, a hen harrier will rest on a head-rock watching the moss for movement


I had been reading a chapter about old Norse mythology and a proposal that the beings we meet now as different types of creatures: Aesir, Vanir, Giants and Trolls originally were not seen as separate species but were more like tribes of the same basic lifeform and that was why Giants and Aesir (the gods) could so easily marry and why exchanges between them all were often so evenly matched. The piece went further, however, suggesting that even less than separate tribes, to be described as a Troll, in particular wasn’t because you were in some way troll-monstrous (and you were always very far from some vindictive 21st century digital grouch). To be a Troll was to be in a magical state, to be in a personal condition where you were either ready to, or were already, working enchantments. That quality of “trollness” could descend upon anyone and then they might be called entrolled and that possibly our “enthralled” comes from the same root where thrall was to be caught in that magical troll-state. It felt a bit tenuous, my memory probably changed the detail but I’m a storyteller, point me in a direction and let me go, or light my blue touchpaper and stand back….the thought of people becoming entrolled was enough…..


Stop talking and listen,

Stop listening and watch.

Stop watching and feel.

Stone is good.

The curve of a rock face,

The fern in the fold,

The lichen on the edge,

The moss,


Don’t think. Just look.

Don’t look, just feel.

Don’t feel, just be,

Touch it. Lean on it,

Lie down on it,

Be warmed by it,

Just be beside it until





I have been working on a project for Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. With funding the Arts Council England’s Emergency Fund, the Museum has commissioned work from a number of local artists*, inviting us to respond to both the current exhibition, Between Two Worlds, and to the current situation and offer ways in which the Museum could be a point around which the community turns, or be an agent standing as an organisation between two worlds, the world that was and the worlds that we might be becoming. My work is being turned into a series of story-poem films which we’ll start posting soon…but posts like this, my thinking, gathering, rambling posts, are appearing here…..


A wind blows round the edges of me,

Me, green as the grass,

Me, brown as the earth,

Bristling beech husks, that’s me

And the river runs through the hollow shape of me,

Here I stop.

Here I let go

Here I can be still.

Here I become my own troll.

* Wonderful people like

Martin Olsson

Sarah Males

Aidan Rhode

The Green Man Gallery

Caroline Chouler

and more....

Images: the scan is from one of my troll drawings...sorry it is so poor! Photos are from the landscapes around Buxton where I live


Some of my best friends are Trolls, and Boggarts, 

and  Beasties and Bits

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Dreaming of lemmings

Dreaming of lemmings

challenge and change with Buxton Museum

In Buxton Museum and Art Gallery throughout these distanced months there has been a fascinating exhibition. Built from material from the slowly dismantling “Derbyshire Schools Library Service” collection, “Between Two Worlds” holds a wonderful array of material from beautiful prints to dresses to Inuit carvings from cold northern lands. Everything here holds stories. There are the graceful evocative prints of Clifford Webb and then there is a small, sliver of elegance, carved on a cold night or maybe in one those endless summer days of an Inuit shaman changing into a bird. And, no, we haven’t been able to go and visit the Museum for months but gradually we’re heading for a reopening and meanwhile you could visit the Museum Blog and Youtube channel, read an article or try an activity


More telling than the pieces, are the terms used to curate the collection – not terms chosen by the museum, but words originally used to describe the people involved


“As you are, in fact, abnormal, I think it would be a good idea if you took up art” said Kyffin Williams’ Doctor. Williams had epilepsy. Williams’ work is stunning - striking landscape painting (go on, look him up)


The Museum, however, presents this work not as examples of the work of degenerates, the disabled, the displaced, Old Uncle Tom Cobbley And All (see below) but as statements of power, of creative strength and honesty, ways of telling the stories of people and cultures that stood, or still stand between at points of change where past and future offer possibilities, threats, challenges, cultures standing between two worlds. Working with an Arts Council England Emergency Response Fund grant, the Museum has also invited a whole bundle of local artists to respond to a challenge from the Museum


“We want people to say “Do you remember in 2020? We learnt to do this from the museum website; the museum made us smile; they helped our business to win through… it was brilliant… the museum an influential supporter, a change maker”. “ Brief to artists, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery


I’m a storyteller and poet and a creator of events…for me the museum’s challenge is resolving into a fusion between the Between Two Worlds exhibition and the stories it holds and the world we have found ourselves living in now….this is by way of a starting point post/ Other artists have gone down different paths. We didn't have to use this exhibition but for me...there were carved bones, how could I not?


I like looking at things.

I like feeling into unexpected connections.  

I like carvings, things to hold, to handle, to speculate over…

For me, the museum is helping me ask questions of myself and of the people around me: might not make us smile but might help us ask challenging questions about ourselves and the opportunities that might comes out this disturbed summer


Displaced, we are,

Disabled ,they labelled us.

Imprisoned, depressed, degenerate

All of that, that’s us!

Tolerated sometimes.

Persecuted at others.

Revived by the strength of our hearts.

Challenged, that’s us too.

Challenging: insiders, outsiders

Strangers or friends,

We remember who we are.


We all need to remember who we are, not a superficial O, this is me, but where our inspiration and our identity lies. I feel it is important that we use these strange weeks to stand between these worlds of before and during looking ahead to an after, consciously, awake and questioning:  to look at who we have been in these months, who we could be, should be, haven't been, might yet be.... 

All of which for me strikes a chord with a wonderful Tibetan rap that is about personal, communal and national identity and is about change and determination and also joy. So, please, drop in on Shapaley singing “Made in Tibet”


“we haven’t forgotten where we came from” Shapaley


And after all that, sitting in a box among the Inuit work is a wonderful carving of a lemming. It’s a bit damaged so it’s not on display, but for me lemmings are a delight and a reminder of the value of the overlooked, the despised. Lunch. A small animal who has been the subject of a horrible human-made story for 70 years. No, they don’t throw themselves off cliffs, unless some film director chases them




Grey owl with golden eyes


For running feet,

Under the snow.

Hungry wolverine follows,

A scent trail under the snow.

Lynx and bobcat,

Hawk, fox and wolf,

All follow the whisper of hurried feet,

Under the snow.


Packed lunch.

Two-finger mitten,

Thumb glove,

Toe shoe,

A small slipper,

A hand full,

A cup full,

A whole family nests in an old hat,

A lemming casts a shadow

As round as itself.

The small one,

The quiet one,

Everyone’s lunch

Who holds the world together.

looking for summer lemmings


  • Clifford Webb prints: c. Buxton Museum and Art Gallery
  • Brown Bear in Finland: c Adam Nardell
  • carvings: G MacLellan


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.