Saturday, 27 November 2021

The Edge of Winter


When the snow comes

The first day the snow comes, the first night, the first day the roads close, is always special. Mid-week, it brings those “will I get out in the morning? When do I phone and say I can’t make it” questions. This year, the snow came on a Friday night and Saturday became a comfortable “O, well, not to worry” day. All plans dissolved. The Farmer’s Market in Bakewell. A big food shop. A drive out to walk on a hill. In busier days, weekend snow would still have woken anxiety – move the car at the first opportunity, be ready to get out for next week’s storying. But while my business is still here, the busy-ness isn’t: rebuilding is slow, so the snow comes without worries for once and offers a chance to simply pause and appreciate.


This first day of snow becomes a morning for small jobs, frittering things that can be interrupted in a moment by the call of the world beyond the window. It’s that transformation that enchants. A world gone monochrome. And the muffled silence the snow brings. And the emptied streets with an occasional car creeping along. A 4WD goes past boldly, too boldly, and slides round a corner. But pedestrians can stride along the road where those few car tracks make for easier progress.


I can’t resist that call. I have to stop and simply stand and watch. Watch nothing really. The tall larch letting the snow slide off its branches. The black snowflakes of jackdaws blowing across the sky. Next door’s garden, its edges blanketed smooth. I keep an eye on Corbar Edge rising beyond the town. Cloud gathers above the hills in a backdrop and I know that if the grey spills over, a wave breaking through the trees, swallowing that horizon, there will be more snow on the way.


Tidying the library. Rearranging books in their piles. Trying to trim and failing. How do I compare a 1940s guide to “Wayside and Woodland Trees” with a book about unicorns and Bob Trubshaw’s Sacred Landscapes? I don’t, of course, I just shuffle them and leave them to watch the cold gather.


I don’t resist for that long. The day isn’t that long. And by mid-afternoon the temperature is dropping again, the slush growing crusts, the air clearing, brittle. It is windy and the trees on the hill sway like kelp. The wind has combed them vigorously. Twigs and branches litter the ground. Deep in the woods, there have been bigger casualties. Beeches uprooted. I feel vulnerable here, watching a new fall. Just a branch but its fall is silent. No warning. There have been other people here: footprints everywhere. The parallel scores of a small sled. A single tread. Someone rode a bike through this?


Now, as the afternoon fades, I have the woods to myself. The woodland edge, where it opens onto a hillside field is a sledging run with attendant shouts, screams, laughter, over-excited dogs and tumbling people. But for now, the enchantment of the woods under snow is mine and I can walk into a silence that echoes through the woods and fills me with the edge of winter.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Rabbits, wolves and deer: Totem Latamat at The Crichton

Rabbits for quickness of thinking

Totem Latamat at the Crichton

Totem Latamat came the The Crichton to share a story, to offer an invitation and a challenge

The Totem’s story started in a wood on the eastern coast of Mexico with a prayer and a ceremony to a cedar tree. The story continued through a village carving its words as images, memories, hopes and fears into the wood and sailing the tall carved Totem, across the wide seas to the UK. Over the autumn, the Totem has travelled the UK, reaching Glasgow in time to stand in the Hidden Garden throughout COP26. Then, Totem Latamat arrived at The Crichton in Dumfries.


This isn’t the place to go into all the details of the Totem – you can explore the wonder of its travels on facebook or through its own page on the Border Crossings Origins Festival website.


The Totem carries figures: a rattlesnake, a skull, a person with her arms upraised, a cluster of hummingbirds. An eagle supports the whole edifice....Every figure, from plaited rope seedlings to that climbing snake, hold their own stories, their own messages to share. Here, I want to pick up the Totem’s invitation to become Hummingbirds – to become the messengers who speak, who share, who inspire; and the challenge to become Eagles. To be an Eagle is to act with strength and honour and to see the wider picture, to see the world as a whole, not as lots of individual people or towns or countries but as a wider connected world, where everything is connected to everything else, however distant.


Here, we will celebrate one day of the Totem’s journey: marking the responses of the children of Holywood Primary School in Dumfries. They spent the day with us on Friday at The Crichton, enjoying the grounds (best visitor shop ever, we were told. And it’s free! Triumphant pockets stuffed with pine cones, conkers and acorns), meeting the Totem: drawing it, touching it, talking about it…...…..what is the message? If they were telling this story what animals would children choose to best embody – not the action that is needed (reduce, reuse, recycle, etc) but the qualities we need to find and foster in ourselves to make those actions viable, embedded, enduring….


  • Rabbit brings thinking quickly, acting fast, solving problems (well, you try keep in them out of your vegetables!)
  • Wolves remind us that we are strongest when we work together
  • Lions, likewise, need the family, need the support of their friends
  • Godzilla tells us that sometimes we need to be fierce
  • Mice remind us that we can always find a way into a situation
  • Deer help us be strong and know when to watch, when to run
  • Hedgehogs will bring cleverness, bravery and being ready to be loud
  • And the Octopus will help us be intelligent, solve problems, be strong, and as an octopus you can help protect the world

There will be more Totem posts shortly, but for now, I would like to thanks:
  • the artists and storytellers of Holywood Primary School, Dumfries
  • To the Open University for being there, supporting, encouraging, joining in
  • To The Crichton team for their hospitality, warmth and imagination
  • To the Border Crossings Origins team for drawing all this together
  • And to Jun Tiburcio, the artists, and the people of Cuhumatlan in Vera Cruz, Mexico who gave us the travelling wonder that is the Totem Latamat

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Autumn woodland


Autumn woods after rain

Borderland Voices visit Buxton Country Park

Autumn sunshine after days of rain and that October light caught the changing colours of the leaves, burning through them like stained glass…a day for wandering in woods and wondering

That’s what we did. When Borderland Voices visited the Stronger Roots project at Buxton Country Park, we wandered. And talked. And listened. And drew; building our own ways of remembering different trees and their stories. From woodland management and the signs of ash dieback to the fine differences between elm and wych elm, our day took a relaxed path through the woods and brought….

leaf print in progress


Off on an outing today,

A nice little jaunt,
Although not so far away

We’re off to Buxton to look at the trees.

Maybe there will be fine weather;

Sunny with a bit of breeze.

Maybe the trees will be pleased to see us too.

After all, they are living things.

I think it’s the least we can do

To give them respect.

To nurture, replenish, recognise

Their worth

For indeed they are the lungs of the Earth.
Silently they emerge from their evergreen rug.

Let us love them.

Let us bless them.

"just" drawing
Let us give them a hug.


photo c/o A Collins

photo c/o A Collins

  • Thanks to Frag from the Stronger Roots project for guiding us through the woods and their management
  • Thanks to the artists and poets of Borderland Voices: it was a delight to see you all again and to work with you!
    leaf print
block print

printing a woodland floor
mixed composition

leaf rubbing

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Autumn richness and worrying woodlands

Autumn Richness and Fierce Forest Faces
October events with Creeping Toad

As the season changes, if we still had bears they'd be heading for their deep cold caves for a winter of reaming. As it is, our hedgehogs are looking for good places for along sleep, the amphibians are settling into pond mud and tucking into hollows under old walls and fallen logs...the wild world prepares for winter.

As part of the Buxton Civic Association's Stronger Roots project, Creeping Toad have been coordinating creative events through 2021, inviting people to explore the woods of Buxton in new ways and remind themselves of the wonder and value that lives on our doorsteps

find a cosy corner....

Autumn Richness weekend

The leaves are turning golden, the berries are ripening and we’ll celebrate the changing season with a weekend of autumn activities. Join us at Buxton Country Park and make your own autumn wildlife book (then go exploring in the woods to see what wildlife you can find). You could also weave a panel of grass, leaves, wools and feathers. We’ll celebrate REC Theatre’s performance of Mr Fox (#fantasticmrfox) on Sunday 10th with our own woodland animal wall-panels decorated with leaves grass, and drawings sharp fox faces, rabbit smiles or clever crows...or you might prefer a colourful toadstool panel, a treasury of berries

Mr Fox performances: find out more on facebook:

Fierce Forest Faces

  • 26th October (Tuesday)
  • Buxton Country Park, Green Lane, Buxton, SK17 9DH
  • 10:30 - 13:00
  • The event is free and materials are provided
  • Here is a link for booking spaces but drop-ins are welcomed too!
  • facebook: @creepingtoad
  • twitter: @creepingtoad

Take a story from the woods home for Hallowe’en…inspired by our local trees, we will create some tree-people or animal masks. There will be faces that could fit in a window and glare at passers-by or you might make a mask to turn you into someone else... Will a fox face to keep your house safe? or a staring tree? A owl with wings outspread to chase dangerous mice away?

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