Friday 15 March 2024

Spring stories 2024


Spring stories, 2024

Stories in school and just about anywhere 

celebrating the richness of the changing year, here are stories, shadow puppets, book building, story-making, pop-up landscapes and boxes of treasures. Outdoors or indoors, the natural world will give us stories and offer inspiration for child-led creativity!


With stories spinning from the first signs of spring through mountain giants and excited rabbits to pirates and mermaids, here are stories and activities to enchant and inspire.

Gordon MacLellan – Creeping Toad – is one of Britain’s leading environmental art and education workers. Take a look at the Toadblog: Creeping Toad


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. We might work outdoors and take ideas form the world around us and our discoveries there. Indoors, there may be shadow puppets and boxes of treasures to inspire children and encourage some fabulous stories”


A day’s 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)

finger puppets: we can make quick finger puppet animals or adventurers and create instant stories

shadow puppets: playing with light, translucence and animation to create stories and instant performance ….see here for more information

From across lands and times: I can select stories to suit times and places: so we have had days of Native American stories, or Egyptian or Greek or Roman, there have been Chinese tales and African animal stories….lots of exciting resources to draw on here, to make new writing vibrant and lively. Castles are popular, too, with boxes of treasures to inspire a new adventure and release a bold princess or courageous dragon

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 we’ll 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: on request 

Fee includes storyteller’s fee, travel and materials. Can be paid on the day or I can invoice you. 


Activities can be adapted to suit groups from P1/Yr 1 through to Secondary



For further information or to book:

contact Gordon directly at


Shadows and stories

Shadows and stories

shadow puppet workshops with Creeping Toad

From classroom stories

To library adventures,

Museum mysteries

To enchanted gardens,

Join Creeping Toad to create some shadow puppet stories

Shadow puppet sessions with Creeping Toad offer a chance to play with light and shade, experiment with design and animation, colour and translucence…a workshop might lead to the beauty of forests playing across a classroom ceiling, a parade of historical characters or the delightful chaos of a flight of dragons

We can 

  • Cut silhouettes adding coloured sections and textures
  • Create lumpy monsters or delicate birds
  • Fashion small characters with moving arms or legs or wings
  • Think about buildings and windows, staircases and dungeons
  • Make whole landscapes that fit onto rotating platforms and throw shapes across a wall or ceiling

In a school or public events, workshops need 90 mins – 2 hours (1 class at a time in schools) – ideal for 2 sessions in a day and a final performance

To find out more, contact Gordon (Creeping Toad) :


there was a very small mouse somewhere.....

Friday 8 March 2024

Beasts, keys and sketching

 Beasts, keys and sketching

World Book Day with Creeping Toad

World Book Day 2024  (Thursday 8th March)in the Creeping Toad ponds stretched into 3 days of lively stories, conversations about books, creating stories and unfolding adventures

In Russett School in Northwich, we picked up that wonderful book, The Lonely Beast by Chris Judge and retold the story with found objects, puppets and wild stories. We unrolled stories by class on long sheets of paper, drew on these, wrote on these, built journeys and homes, dens and parties on top of these and parties with multiple beasts!

In Springfield Primary School, Burnley, there were stories told, books discussed, but more than anything there were ideas poured onto paper. I unpacked boxes of “treasures” and we held them, talked about them, drew them and unravelled wonderful histories From Reception to Year 6, everyone was involved and we held an afterschool storytelling session for families. Running through several sessions were a big bunch of keys (thank you English Heritage!) and, for me, the poems that grew with the keys is a lovely reflection of these days

These are the keys

the wizard made,

the witch lost,

the King wants,

the pirates stole,

the child found,

that I’m holding.


These are the keys

that lock the door,

that open the chest,

that close the shackles, 

that clear the way,

that set us free.


Friday 16 February 2024

A Nameless King?



I love the British Museum. It's one of those places where I can wander and, hopefully when it's not too busy!, find somewhere to sit. More than "sit", I settle and find the passage of visitors fascinating.....

  • Ooo, good boots! Good trousers, too! ¾ khaki. Scan upwards, good outfit generally …confident stride
  • A beard neatly trimmed, a scarf neatly knotted, very polished boots. No mud here
  • White shoes. How can anyone keep shoes that clean on a city street? 
  • White trousers now! That’s even worse! I get grubby just standing still
  • Fast. Purposeful. Staff?


What stops people?



More shiny?


Bones, the promise of bodies?

Other people?


  • A friend, a hug, greetings
  • Take a call, slow down to speak, lose the sense of where you are, where everyone else is, become a wandering traffic hazard.

I love to walk these halls barefoot.

Cool stone, warm corners, the edge of a step

Bare, my feet measure their steps more carefully, feet folding, rolling onto the floor.

For me, today, what stops me is faces. 

Greek, Roman, Cypriot, Assyrian faces.

A gathering of Caesars.

Monumental Egyptian pharaohs

And I haven’t even reached those elegant Mayan reliefs.

The carving of beards. 

Tight, sheep-fleece curls that would be the envy of that hipster trim from earlier.

Cauldrons stop me, too.

Cauldrons remembering the warmth of flame and halls full of smoke and laughter,

The slow, turning stew of their abundance,

A royal bellyful of largesse.


Saunter, pause, too cool to give anything away, any enthusiasm


Me, I’m matching profiles: flesh into stone


A baby stares, smiles, a small hand does that finger-wiggling wave at an ancient king to no response that I can see but the child still chuckles a gurgling laugh. Do you hear a private voice? Catch a twinkle in a stone eye?


Scan the room. Head down, keep moving

A long skirt drifting by.

Students talking, excited, watching phones, watching screens, each other.

O, you look bored.

Earnest. Read the guide, find the case, tick the mental checklist of treasures.

Earnest, animated conversation…but could you move? You’re stood standing there talking about someone who has no bearing on the case you are blocking. Please move! Hadrian is waiting!

White shoes and more white shoes.

A cluster of people, generations strung as beads on a family necklace, stop and talk, all talk, look, point, they know these towns, those landscapes. Larnaka


O, you’ve come round again.


He commands attention, my nameless stone friend.

A head, a torso (was there ever more?)

Dug from some temple to a forgotten god. 

Named Apollo or Reshef but probably not by this gentleman, here

Idalion was a city poised between Greek and Phoenician and Persian worlds.

But their story, their own story is not spoken.

No Greek archive here to help,

Nor Phoenician scroll to tell the story of Idalion’s temples.

He simply rests here on his plinth, watching the doorway, and

Few people ignore him,

This Idalion man, temple worshipper, a priest, perhaps, or even a king…


A dignified walk, a silken wrap trails, an involuntary train. Retrieved with a smile by a friend.

Elegant in black and lace, a goth glides past, silent, pale and painted in hefty boots

In a sudden surprise I match a profile: this visitor, this young man, looking up, and Idalion, gazing down? Do you know you share a face?


…and people pause, comment, gaze.

Would you leave an offering before those stone eyes?

Or touch a stone from his temple, polished smooth over the years, hand after hand, a tap, a stroke, a caress to connect now with then, to acknowledge the dignity in those cold eyes, the beauty of that stone face.

He calls for some homage, some acknowledgement, some connection

And my hand aches to fill my palm with that sweep of folded cloth

The precise edge of that laurel crown,

Still sharp and pointed after 2000 years


The moment that lasts is the pair of profiles: warm flesh and ancient stone. Face to face, not quite reflections and both so handsome…..

Sunday 10 December 2023

Grinning gargoyles


When a Gargoyle Grins.....

Stone faces watch, stone eyes stare and wide smiles leer as a gargoyle spouts rainwater onto unwary heads. Look around. Look up. There are carvings everywhere. Watching. We have been celebrating that watchfulness and the wonderful variety of characters that have been built into, onto and over our buildings


Part of the Heritage Action Zone’s Our Street Project, our Grotesques and Gargoyles project is a joint adventure between the Babbling Vagabonds Storytelling Theatre Company and Creeping Toad. And we’ve been having lots of fun…..


A gargoyle is a decorated waterspout that projects from a roof and carries rainwater away from the walls of a building, protecting it from damage, whilst a grotesque is a decorative carving that has no functional architectural purpose. 

Gloucestershire Archives


We have shaped small faces out of clay and folded card into gargoyles.

We worked through clay and plastercloth and wild inspiration to make collections of fabulous faces


We even slowed down, stepped aside from the messy bits and spent an informative evening with Terry Newholm and the Buxton Civic Association as Terry discussed the magic and mystery of our stone neighbours (you can buy Terry's book and explore the older grotesques of our town for yourself from The Pump Room, the Visitor Centre at Buxton Country Park and all good [and some bad and other just downright deplorable] booksellers in town)


Most recently there have been more faces large and small at the Green Man Gallery 


There is another round of Grotesque Making at the Gallery in January: details in the link below. Places are limited and we need people to commit to attend both evening sessions: one to make and t’other to decorate

Third Grotesques


Look out for the Grotesques, Gargoyles and Goodness-Knows-Whats appearing at the Our Street finale in later February!


For now, let’s celebrate our Gargoyles, Grotesques and the creativity of our participants!


With many thanks to our friends who have offered spaces, hospitality, warmth and brews for chilly gargoyles, lonely grotesques and even hard-working participants