Saturday, 11 September 2021

The Moray Firth, sort of


A Sea Full Of Wonders

Nairn Book and Arts Festival

September 2021

jellyfish sketches, Rosebank

Our sea is filling up: with fish and dolphins and octopus, jellyfish whale sharks and squid. Over the last week I have been working in schools around Nairn, telling stories and listening to children telling me their sea-secrets: from the Moray Firth but also from holidays and occasionally from dreams or simple fantasy! I heard about the two seals who always come back to the shelter of the River Nairn and the seals who pull out on the Culbin Sands. There was the boy who swam with last year’s basking sharks, almost by mistake – and how exciting and peaceful and safe that felt.


Part of Nairn Books and Arts Festival these workshops have been a reflection of this year’s theme “close to nature’s heart”. We have been making those sea creatures as puppets for hands and arms and as crowns and head-pieces. Tomorrow, we’ll gather whoever the tide sweeps in and our sea creatures will become a sea, a dancing sea washing over the green grass and cricket pitch of Nairn’s Links to meet the spectacular puppet Storm (designed, built and managed by VisionMechanics, we suspect she also does Her Own Thing when no-one is watching…. )[Photo below is from Storm in action from the BBC website:]




Spaces to meet Storm are already full but after her appearance at the Links, she will wander up Nairn High Street and could be encountered there. Spirit of the Sea, she is appearing all over Scotland in the run-up to COP26 so you might catch another appearance if you check on her website – or you can tune in to her live feeds and see what Storm sees as she explores the coastal towns of Scotland!


Millbank Sharks

This is our Firth, the Moray Firth,

This water, these seas, hold

Basking sharks and bottlenose dolphins,

Cold-water corals and playful otters,

Seals on the sand, in the sea, watching everything,

The sea’s spies.

The Moray Firth holds all these.

There are Orca and seagulls and dragonflies, too.

There are warm rockpools with seaweed houses for crabs and shrimps.

We always look for octopus and hope for squid and turtles.

Once there was a walrus

Stories say there are mermaids but we haven’t seen them, but

There are jellyfish, always jellyfish.

And ice-cream from the cafes at the Beach







An Auldearn windowledge


With many thanks to the staff and pupils of the following schools for their hospitality, enthusiasm and magnificent art skills!

Auldearn Primary School

Cawdor Primary School

Millbank Primary School, Nairn

Rosebank primary School, Nairn 


a Rosebank Lobster

A Cawdor Seal

A Millbank crab

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Watery tales and seaweed trails


Tales and trails under the sea
Littleborough Arts Festival

7th August 2021

And the rain came down……

A wet day in Hare Hill Park, a very wet day, but people still gathered and splashed their way along paths and over grass and dropped in on a trail of submarine artwork. There was Mr Jellybelly and his ongoing misadventures. A mermaid coyly wrapped in carrier bags reclined in a shrubbery  while a sea serpent born from beads and plastic rubbish, twisted a sinuous path under a yew tree. A shoal of little fish sang their way round the conifers 

We are the little fish,

Swimming through the sea,

We are the little fish,

As brave as we can be

(this link will take you to the musical world of the little fish - sing along and splash....)

My role was to tell stories that grew out of our earlier event…and as we did that, linking pieces on the art-trail with tales of Littleborough Under Waves, our walkers (or perhaps splashers) added new stories, new character to the submarine world of Littleborough

Darting in

Zipping out

Turning all together

Staying close

Staying safe

Whenever there's danger

Who lives in the Littleborough Sea?

Slip in with me and step into

An underwater wildlife documentary...


Under the waves, 

  • Cheetahfish, fast as thoughts, flashes of golden yellow, underwater sunbeams,
  • Friendly Cowfish as big as whales who graze the seaweed fields,
  • Gentle Pandafish, all black and white, grow colourful scales as they get older,
  • While Catfish stroke their long whiskers then slide sneakily away to hunt the mouse-minnows.
  • The blue shimmer of Peacock Perch flaunting fin-fans like feathers, teasing the camera and taunting the film-maker with their beauty….
  • But everyone hides, or flickers away, as a Snakefish in rusty metal armour with teeth swims by.  A forked mermaid’s tail, it has. And every bit of it bites.
  • And there is the Unicorn Sealion, rare, so very rare, and just as well as it will eat anything, everything, it can fit into its wide, toothful mouth.

Sea serpent by Mary Naylor

Jellyfish banner by Maryann Royle

There are Chickenfish here with flippers instead of wings and scales instead of feathers but they still lay eggs, and strut and peck and run away from the pointy red Fox-fish with their caterpillar tails.

There, Nemo, the dogfish, striped brown and white chases a floating ball. He lives in a sunken boat, and has flippers and a waggy tail as strong as any ship’s propellor.

On the seabed, among rocks and sand and lost garden ornaments,

  • Hermit crabs like living in glittery welly boots,
  • Mer-rabbits dig burrows in the sand and use their head fins as ears to listen for danger.
  •  A Spiderfish, eight fins with shell shoes and a helmet made of bottletops, spins webs from the plastic wrapping hoops from packs of cans 
  • A sounder of ferocious pink-skinned Pigfish rummage across the silt, with scales that shimmer into rainbows. Their tusks will cut, their hoof-fins dig and their curly tails make no sense at all.


the first of Alison Cooper's Litte Fish

The underwater world is not always kind or helpful for its occupants. The Crocodile-fish thinks it is fierce and terrifying but is only as long as a pencil. He has good friends who care for him when all the big fish laugh.

There is a lionfish who lives on Florence St. He sleeps in Mummy’s bed and plays with Isaac’s football and has scared everyone away. He yawns and shows teeth as long as fingers and shakes a mane of seaweed and spikes. Then putting on his bottle-top goggles, he steps out into his kingdom and swims away.

Bob, the Merboy

Merboy Bob with his green and blue mohawk, watches a Mermaid friend as she sits on a rock, making a crown of conkers and shells woven together with seaweed and jellyfish slime. If she can complete this, she will become the next Princess of Littleborough.

Many thanks to the Littleborough Arts Festival team and 

to all the cheerfully damp people who joined us on 7th

Throughout this project, the exquisite printed artwork has been provided by Alice Smith,

My work with the stories of Littleborough under the Sea is now finished but the project continues through to a Lantern procession in October when that undersea world will fill with lights and shining fish and maybe even some lantern-ships and octopus-glows.


  • with thanks to Mary Naylor (maker of sea serpents) and Stephanie West (Littleborough Arts Festival)
  • Octopus diver: Alice Smith
  • drawings by our assorted visitors on the day

Monday, 19 July 2021

Woodland Tuesdays: holiday events for families

Woodland Tuesdays

free art events in Buxton woods in the summer holidays

From puppets to treasure chests, pompom monsters to creatures on your fingers, we’re bringing free creative sessions to the woods of Buxton. We will be running Woodland Tuesday art sessions in different woods on most Tuesdays through the school summer holidays

These sessions will be open for people to simply drop by and join in (but the situation might change so keep an eye on things at the links below and there are slots you can book on the Eventbrite pages). Sessions are free and aim to run from 10.30am to 1pm – the activity itself will probably take about 45 minutes. Activities will be aimed at families with children between maybe 3 and 12 years of age


Because we may be delivering these sessions in the middle of some of our woods we thought adding some What3Words locations might help. From a named entry point (eg Corbar Woods entry Corbar Rd), we will also mark the route to where the action is with flags and event arrows

Keep an eye on the links below for final details as they are confirmed:

Stronger Roots:

Stronger Roots events page:

Facebook: @Creeping Toad


July 27
th: Twig people and Stick Monsters 

at Buxton Country Park (Grinlow Woods). A handful of twigs, twist of cloth, a smiling face and we’ll make the hidden people of the woods

Finding us: follow flags into the woods from the Buxton Country Park car park, Green Lane, Buxton. SK17 9DH

Eventbrite link for this event:

August 3rd: Treasure Chests and pirate maps 

What is the lost treasure of the Gadley Pirates? Decorate your own treasure chest, create your own tiny pirate and send them away with a terrible treasure map

Finding us: we’ll be beside the pond in the middle of Gadley Woods (W3W: oatmeal.shelter.flickers): 

lots of routes in:

  • from Gadley Lane, 
  • over the golf course, 
  • Gadley Lane from Watford Rd
  • Gadley Lane then through the housing development and the footpath and gate into the woods: What3Words: shackles.fuss.racked

Eventbrite link:

August 17
th: Pompom monsters 

Unexpected fluffy creatures lurking in the undergrowth – help us make a forest full of pom-pom birds, beasts and bizarre creatures! (we’ll have pompom makers with us but bring your own if you want to)

Finding us: Corbar Woods: follow the flags into the woods from the Corbar Rd entrance

W3W: pill-friends.snooping

Eventbrite link: Pompom monsters

August 24th: Fingersful of creatures

Make animal puppets for your fingers: create your own adventures, rabbits, spiders, badgers and bumblebees 

Finding us: follow flags into the woods from the Buxton Country Park car park, Green Lane, Buxton. SK17 9DH

Eventbrite link:

Eventbrite: Fingersful It helps us a bit if you book places but plese do drop in anyway: we'll lways tr toa ccommodate anyone who turns up!


August 31st: Woodland Treasure Chests

The pirates are back! This time from the Good Ship Corbar, hiding their treasure in Sherbrook Woods: decorate your own treasure chest, make a pirate to find some natural treasures

Finding us: Corbar Woods: follow the flags into the woods from the Corbar Rd entrance

W3W: pill-friends.snooping

Eventbrite: Eventbrite: treasure chests

For all sessions: 

Times: 10.30am – 1pmThese are free events and materials are provided 

Tickets: no booking needed just drop by and join in, allow 45 minutes for the activity. You can book a slot through the relevant Eventbrite link if you want to but you can also just drop in

Covid-19 guidance: at the moment we can run these as open events but if restrictions change we might need to limit numbers in any session. Please check on the Stronger Roots Eventbrite page or Creeping Toad facebook pages before the event you want to come along to

Monday, 12 July 2021

Pencils, papers and tree shadows

A tall shape, a bushiness of leaves, 

a broomfull of twigs

the Sketching Trees workshop

Buxton Country Park, July 10th 2021

The elegance of beech trees, the strength of ash, the grace of birch and the richness of hazel: our woods are full of wonders and in this event, we invited visitors to take a bit more time to really look, to get to know our trees. We joined Geoff Chilton, a resident artist from the Green Man Gallery in Buxton who took us through a systematic approach to simplifying the drawing of a tree

The world around us is often inspiring and people often say “O, I wish I could draw/paint/write/whatever, but...”. This workshop, part of the BCA’s Stronger Roots Project, gave people some tools to challenge those “I’m not very good at…” statements.

Geoff encouraged people to look, to look more carefully, not to be swamped by the sheer mass of details in a woodland, but to turn to an individual tree. He introduced us to a language of mark-making, our own language: looking for shapes, shadows, creating suggestions of detail, and that nothing you try is wrong...

(This workshop took place at Buxton Country Park with the trees featured growing in Grin Low Woods that you can walk into from the car park at the Park, while you could also plunge into the subterranean cold of the spectacular Poole's Cavern there)

We wandered into the woods….. and the rest of this post is comments from participants:

Very grounding and enjoyable

Loving the time I spent in the woods

A delightful – all the more so because impromptu and spontaneous activity - providing a rest from physical and mental exertion and an opportunity to sit, observe and enjoy the beauty of trees

I’ve enjoyed very much the idea/the guidance/doing the sketching 

I’m taking away “permission” to sketch for myself

feel peaceful, connected, happy, relaxed, aware

I now feel more confident to sit and sketch in the woods anytime

I’ve discovered a new area I’d return to visit

Thanks to all our Sketching Trees participants and to Geoff for leading the event so gently

Our next “yes, you can do this!” workshop is on Sunday 18th, finding inspiration for stories among the trees with award winning playwriter Rob Young: A Blockbuster with Trees

A full list of upcoming Stronger Roots events cna be found on the project's eventbrite page

For families, look out for Woodland Tuesdays that will be running through the summer holidays

Beech glade in Grin Low Woods

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

The town beneath the sea


Stories under the Sea

Littleborough Arts Festival

Sunday 27th June


100 years from now, or 200, or 500. The Ice Caps have melted and the rising seas swallowed Liverpool, and Manchester, and Preston, Blackburn and Rochdale. People fled from the remorseless sea, finding crowded refuge in the hills of Lancashire and Derbyshire and the mountains of North Wales. But when the waves came to Littleborough, the people there found that they loved their homes, their towns, their families and their friends too much to leave. They stayed. They adapted. They changed…



This was where we started. Encouraging people to think about how the world changes, about climate change and consequences, we’ve been collecting the Stories Under The Sea as part of this year’s Littleborough Arts Festival. More events will follow but last Sunday saw the first stories from beside the waves take shape. We heard of shoppingtrolley submarines and mermaids on motorbikes. There were starfish and crabs and lobsters. In these distant days, seagulls nest in the spires of the churches and seaweed replaces grass in underwater gardens. There are new pets: dogfish, catfish and rabbitfish. There were seal-pigs and cow-sharks. People built double-decker-bus boats and dining-table rafts. As the generations move on, we find mermaids and fin-boys. At last, the Monster of Hollingworth Lake can wake and stretch and swim free again. Littleborough changes but its people remain and its story continues




Over the next few weeks those stories will be worked over and shaken about a bit so that when we all meet again in august – where there will be a trail of watery art-pieces through Hare Hill Park, the stories that I tell will include stories washed in by the tides of June


Make your own undersea book

On Sunday, we were making concertina books: these are very easy to make and just need a sheet of A4 paper, a piece of card for a cover and bits and pieces you’ve probably got at home. You can find instructions for making one here: Concertina book


You can download the book cover and useful pictures we were using here. These lovely pictures are by Alice Smith

Next events: follow the Festival on facebook: @littleboroughartsfestival