Monday, 3 October 2022

The apples of autumn


celebrating orchard generosity

It's that time of year when thoughts turn to darkening days and the wonder of winter. But before that we step into the damp days of autumn - and into the richness of crisp autumn mornings and the promises of first frosts. And fruit. These are the days of orchard harvests, of baskets and buckets and juice, of apple racks in old storehouses.....This is also the season of Apple days so if you enjoy your fruit, look out for a local one!

Apple day was started by the wonderful organisation Common Ground in 1990 and has grown and evolved like those apples into different events for different places. This year, I'll be telling stories at the Bramley Apple Day in Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire

And apples and orchards and the sense of ancient history and modern wonder and the simple generosity of fruit trees that an apple contains is inspiring for me as a storyteller and poet...

This apple

I hold an apple here,

Not peeled, not sliced,

Not diced, not cored,

I hold an apple,

Round and whole.


Rolled between my palms,

A shape,

A smell sharp and sweet,

A taste to come,

A seed beyond that

And a promise beyond the seed.


My apple remembers white blossom on a twig,

A branch of opening leaves,

A tree well-anchored, 

Reaching root to root, twig to twig, apple to pear,

A brief detour into mistletoe,

Drooping, clustered and gold-dusted.


My apple speaks of joy and richness,

The Apple Tree Man guarding trees and treasures,

The orchard mysteries of Avalon,

The despair of Eden,

The glory of Asgard,

The wonder of a Hesperides dragon.


My apple speaks of sharp crabs and jams and jellies,

Of stewing, a slow simmer of memories,

Of ancient fruit ripening

In lost valleys in eastern mountains,

Quietly rolling out to conquer the world.

And me?
where do I fit into this apple’s story?

I am the teeth that bite,

The mouth that chews.

The knife that cuts,

The pastry that wraps.

I am apple pie and apple sauce,

I am crumble and Eve’s pudding,

I am chutney and cake and cider,

I am the wassail song on a cold night.


I am the voice that tells the story

I am the delight that shares the apple,

I am the heart that celebrates the fruit.


I am the one who says thank you.


  • All photos by G MacLellan
  • Apple racks are from the Apple Store at Great Chalfield where there are also magnificent mulberry trees!
  • The mistletoe is from the orchard at Lacock Abbey
  • The apples and apple trees are from the Orchard at the Dove Valley Centre in the Upper Dove Valley of Staffordshire

Sunday, 7 August 2022

City dreaming


New city dreamings:

a few days in Reykjavik


I have a few days here in the Land of Fire and Ice – neither of which have I seen much of. I’m in Reykjavik. I was due to be here for The Creativity Conference but when the 2022 conference went entirely digital and left Iceland behind, I thought I would come anyway (it's not too late to connect up with this year;'s Conference and see all our sessions recorded...and there will be mor next year! follow the link above))


And no, I haven’t done Golden Circles, or plunged into hot springs, or gone skinny-dipping in lava or wind-surfed a glacier or pursued whales on waterskies (go on, visualise it:  a whale on waterskies….seal yes, but whale….). And I have got very tired of people telling me where I should go, and what I should do but never asking what I want to do….


I can walk to the seafront with its piled-boulder defences in just a few minutes from my apartment. I can sit here in one of those late northern evening and watch the clouds gather, piling up and then resting on the mountains across the bay. Mountains! Mountains holding cloud and suddenly I am somewhere warmer watching Table Mountain and the cityscapes of Cape Town.




So what do I want to do? Did I want to do?  That made me reflect on how I visit new places and I realise that especially in cities I don’t know, I just wander. Museums, yes. Art Galleries, yes. Castles, dungeons, ruins, yes. Botanic Gardens, always. But more than anything, I love new cities for simply watching.


I want to know “what makes this place home” or maybe “how would I live here?”. So I watch people. Listen to people. Talk to strangers. Have conversations with the Hidden Folk (as Those Others are called here), watch birds, miss amphibians (here) and generally revel in the quiet things. I ask myself lots of questions. Sometimes I ask other people, but mostly I just wonder


I love places for themselves: not for the spectacles they offer but for the lives they reveal. So, here, yes, food is expensive (but how high are wages?). Here, I meet very few e-cigarettes compared to UK and see what feels like a lot of people smoking. Here, I don’t walk through the sudden sweet smell of pot. Good buses, quick buses. People who smile. Electric scooters whizzing about. Street art. Public art. Amazing statues. Statues of people who were doubtless worthy but did they have to be turned into such tedious statues (same goes for most municipal areas in the world it would seem)? Lots of languages and especially exciting when the dominant language is not English. Humbling at how good Icelanders’ English is. Here, my tatooed feet inspire wonder.




And how could I not love a city who turns out in such revelry and diversity and enthusiasm for Pride? And who even have a street painted with rainbows and include pink flamingoes in the march (I am pretty sure the Flamingo Animateurs with Brits…)


More street trees than I was expecting…rowan, hairy birch, sweet-scented poplars, leathery tea-leaved willow but it took several days before I saw blackbirds and fieldfares and starlings. There is a little auk in the bay – or maybe it’s a murrelet. I’m not sure but have enjoyed its disappearing acts: dives without effort and is gone. There are gulls and more gulls and terns lilting along the line of the seafront. And in the evening the moon jellies show as they hover in the waves below the great boulders that protect the shore


And there is the Sun Voyager monument and I wonder all over again how fascinating it is for people to know their history in this land so precisely. Yes, there are challenges about the Book of Settlement but when those Vikings arrived they were the first: for once no native people to displace (there were rumoured to be some Celtic monks but no-one knows for sure). The story of people in this land of fire and ice is remarkably charted and the sense of place and belonging this might offer – must offer? That is what I would like to talk to people about...



Friday, 15 July 2022

Mouse maps and free events


Mouse Maps and wandering creatures
free events in Buxton
Summer 2022

As the summer opens up around us, working with the Stronger Roots project and the Buxton Civic Association, Creeping Toad is organising a spire soft free public events through the rest of July and August….

You can follow updates on event plans through

Stronger Roots/BCA: events page:

Eventbrite: Buxton Civic Association Limited Events | Eventbrite

Facebook: @BCABuxtonCivicAssociation

Twitter: @BCA1967

Creeping Toad:

Facebook: @creepingtoad

Twitter: @creepingtoad

Sunday 24th July

A Mouse’s Journey

how do we understand the world – as mice, moles, birds and people

11:00 – 15:30

Venue: Buxton Country Park, Green Lane, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 9DH

Follow the flags from the steps into the wood


A mouse builds its own map of the world around it: places for food, for shelter, for safety, of danger. Every journey  – even the water running through the caves beneath Buxton’s hills – tells a story that can cross time as well as landscapes. We will be building our own maps of animal journeys through Grinlow Woods: mice in the undergrowth, moles underground, bees among the flowers, birds through the tree tops.  We’ll also look at the long-distance adventures of our swallows and curlews and pick up ancient human journeys through our hills: packhorse paths, Stone age tracks, Roman roads can all be found here. 

No bookings necessary - just drop by and join in!


This event is part of the Festival of Archaeology. You might like to visit their event programme and see what other explorations of the ancient and the not so old you might venture into!


Woodland Tuesdays

Last summer we had a great time doing something creative and often rather crazy (I’m thinking of pom-pom monsters in the pouring rain and discussions about the Gadley Pirates ailing boats over the woodland floor) every Tuesday through the school summer holidays. Our Woodland Tuesday sessions are back again this summer…


For all these events: 

·      when you reach the wood, follow the flags to find the activity

·      you can book a free place through Eventbrite – but you can also just turn up on the morning! (Eventbrite links are placed for each session)

·      allow 30 – 45 minutes to do the activity (but remember you can go exploring the woods afterwards!)


1. Tuesday 26
th July 

The Wild Beasts of Buxton

in Corbar Woods, Corbar Road, Buxton, SK17

What3words location: pill.friends.snooping 

10:30 – 13:00

Making crazy puppets inspired by the woods: foxes with furry paws and snapping jaws, long wriggling snakes and cute mice

Eventbrite link


2. Tuesday 2
nd August 

Pom-pom wonders

in Grinlow Woods, Buxton Country Park, Green Lane, Buxton, SK17 9DH

10:30 – 13:00

Pompom-flowers, woolly bumblebees, fluffy butterflies or unknown creatures that sit on your nose! Where will our pompoms take us today? Join us to invent some fabulous pompom creatures and the world they live in. bring your own pompom maker if you have one (we have lots but more are always helpful!)

Eventbrite link

3. Tuesday 9th August

Woodland Art

in Corbar Woods, Corbar Road, Buxton

What3words location: pill.friends.snooping 

10:30 – 13:00

Capture our woods, the animals, the trees, the stories, the monsters with pencils and paper, and pictures made from natural materials, or paint made from mud. A careful session or maybe a messy one! It’s up to you! 

Eventbrite link 

4. Tuesday 16th August 

The Gadley Pirates

in Gadley Woods, Gadley Lane, off A53 Leek Rd, Buxton

What3words: oatmeal.shelter.flickers

10:30 – 13:00

The Gadley Pirates are back! Join us to make tiny pirate puppets, devise treasure maps, find some nature treasures and go home with a box full of wonders – and a pirate to guard it!

Eventbrite link


5. Tuesday 23
rd August 

Fairies, goblins and dragons

in Grinlow Woods, Buxton Country Park, Green Lane, Buxton, SK17 9DH 

10:30 – 13:00

Twigs, leaves, mud and more will help, a twist, a tie and a face will give us some strange and wonderful creatures that might (or might not) live in our woods. Time to think and experiment and make a world of adventures

Eventbrite link






celebrate....a summer of creativity 

in the woods of Buxton!


Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Digging, shovelling, sowing and growing

Growing gardens, stories and wonder
Botany Bay project, summer 2022

We are

Diggers and shovellers,

Weeders and waterers.

We are strawberry-savers

And raspberry-tasters.

(Medlock Primary School, Manchester)


Hurst Drive, 1
We had started with plans. There were discussions, visits to museums, to gardens, visits from storytellers, gardeners, cultural experts. Our new gardeners sowed ideas, watered imaginations, got carried away. Eventually there was earth and digging and grubby hands and seeds in pots


There were successes. There have been disasters. There have been slow starts and reluctant germinations, but gradually our Botany Bay gardens are taking shape. 


We’re proud of our team

And all our hard work

We’re proud that we can deal with our problems.

We want to start eating the food that we grow,

And we want to grow to help each other,

To help our school, to help the animals that visit us.

(Oswald Road Primary School, Manchester)


“BOTANY BAY is a Participation and Learning project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  The project makes use of the migration histories of plants and crops, and their Indigenous cultural heritage in relation to ecology and reciprocity, as a way to stimulate young people to explore new ways of living.  The Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis have made a re-assessment and recalibration of human relationships to the non-human an urgent necessity, and young people have to be at the heart of this process, forging a future for humanity and the planet.” (Introduction from the ORIGINS website)


I was one of those early visitors and this summer returned to 4 of our gardening schools. I was shown round vegetable beds, introduced to sunflowers, had a club's organic principles explained to me, sampled raspberries and commiserated with one group who had seen all their work trampled by other children at their school – not maliciously, just people who did not realise that these were seed beds and not just bare patches of earth. 

Hurst Drive sunflower

We have a garden waiting

Like an idea in the dark of the earth,

Children waiting to dig,

Seeds waiting to grow,

Dreams waiting to flower

Into a garden of wonders. 


Our garden will be a bright garden,

And have a beautiful blossom tree

And there will be strawberries…

Juicy strawberries,

The juiciest strawberries in all of London!

And when our strawberries are ripe and ready 

We’ll pick them and wash them and eat them.

(Cavendish Primary School, London)


Part of my role within the wider Botany Bay project is to help the Gardening groups build the stories of their gardens. On this trip we were looking at words: harvesting, tasting, enjoying words like strawberries. In the autumn or winter, we are planning on creating Garden Ceremonies – or Sharings or Events (we’re not quite sure what!) and the collective poems that are growing out of these sessions will feed into those occasions….

Oswald Road gardeners are also poets and artists

For now, I’d like to share some of our words and some pictures of progress with a round of applause for all our gardeners (schools are listed below!) and with many thanks to the teachers, support staff, volunteers, and simply everyone who has been helping these gardens grow!


In our garden

Chamomile beams a sunny smile
And garden queens grow ivy-white crowns.

The massive hearts of squash leaves

Shade their sisters from the sun

While sunflowers grow as bright as the sun and stars

And the forget-me-nots never forget us.

Here rosemary grows with frosted leaves

And chives are spicy although garlic is best.


We are proud of this garden and

How quickly it grows, and

How richly it flowers, and

How friendly it becomes, and

How delicious it will be.

We are proud of our garden and all it holds,

We are proud of our gardeners and all their hard work.


In our garden,

Everyone deserves a crown

We are proud of our garden. 

It deserves to be treated with respect and love.

(Hurst Drive Primary School, Waltham Cross)

Woven into all this digging and sowing is an awareness that when we plant a garden we are also planting stories and connecting to cultures - both our own and cultures and communities in far away places. We hope  that if we listen to the stories that belong to those people and their plants it might help us appreciate our gardens more deeply and grow those gardens more effectively. So we know we are growing stories as we grow gardens: old stories, ancient stories and brand new ones of our own.

In our garden,

We have snail-rails

And parties for bees,

Logs for woodlice

And tree-stumps for beetles...

In our garden,

We are growing a team,

Who work together,

Who help each other,

Who support each other,

Who care for this garden.

(Medlock Primary School)

With many thanks to the Botany Bay team and to our schools and their gardening teams

Cavendish Primary School, Chiswick, London

Chiswick High School, London

Hurst Drive Primary School, Waltham Cross, Herts

Medlock Primary School, Manchester

Thursday, 16 June 2022

The river in pictures, words and stories

 Watching the river 

frogs sit, newts swim, water voles nibble...

a river of art and wildlife at Kelvingrove Museum

A story poem built out of ideas, pictures, words and sudden thoughts collected during workshops run by the Open University in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum during Glasgow Science Festival 2022. 

Words, ideas, comments and troubles 

collated by Gordon MacLellan

The River Kelvin

From Kelvinhead to Kilsyth,

Auchinstarry to Kirkintilloch;

Past Torrance and Balmore and Netherton,

Kelvindale to Kelvinside and 

The lost wet fields of Kelvinhaugh,

Under arches and aqueducts,

Running clear over gravel redd where the trout spawn,

This river waits for a cool morning and

The promise of visitors.


Stand here, 

On a bridge over the river.

Early morning,

The stillness before sunrise, and

A beautiful pink bird wakes the chorus,

While small birds crowd the branches, 

Adding their voices to the opening day.

The day’s first bumblebees, first butterflies charm.

The first flies irritate.

Long-legged, a heron stands beside a puddle and watches the water, while

Ripples on the river make circles of colour.


We might walk to the river, or run,

Or take a bus, a train, a bike, a car.

A taxi might bring us to the riverbank,

But after that it is up to us.

And wellies are best for a river-bank walk.


A fish flashes past, a flicker of rainbow light,

Fast as an arrow, fast as a cheetah, 

As fast as Sonic the Hedgehog.

Swans swim, watching us

While we watch for salmon.

There is no grass here, no helpful path,

Our feet sink in mud,

Pulling out, squelching, with a gush and a plop.


There is a bridge there, and another, graceful curves with guardian statues.

There are roads and museums and shops and schools and factories.

Up there.

But down here,

A curlew picks her way carefully across the mud.

Swimming in cold water, fish dart in excited shoals.

Wrapped round stones, long weeds reach up from the deep.

Tiny fish, stripy fish, hide in those weeds from fast otters and prowling pike.

Frogs sit, newts swim, water voles nibble,

A riverbank city without any people.


And down here,

On the edge of the water,

We can remember what the river remembers:

Smoke and noise and pollution,

(if we see nymphs we know the river is growing clean),

Shouting and fishing and too many people.

Machines, factories, trains and ships.

But the river sings of older memories,

And a wolf runs through the trees, howling at the moon, 

Checking on his handful of curious cubs,

Causing trouble, wandering off, investigating,

Splashing in the river,

Licking the rainbow snails like sweeties.

And older still, the Earth tells us stories.

Not the mud or the water, but the stone beneath our feet, 

Remembers dinosaurs, and heavier feet stamping,

The stone holding footprints like ponds for frogs,

Or fingerprints to fossilise,

To remember who walked here once.


The Kelvin runs and keeps running,

For days and weeks and months,

For years and centuries and ages,

Down to the Clyde, out to the sea,

Past tall ships and modern wonders,

And where the water tastes of salt, 

The starfish gather in parties, prickly-skinned and smiling.

There are crabs here too, 

Red, round crabs and square crabs, green crabs, spiky crabs. 


And if we get there, 

We should watch for the sharks,

One with gills and one without, 

Fast sharks hunting fish.

Barracuda thin and deadly,

Long, lean sharks with sharp teeth and no manners.

There is one fish,

A small fish, a brown fish, a brave fish, 

A fierce fish who chases the sharks away,

(Apart from the cool ones who play music on headphone and practice their Jaws moves).

Safe from the sharks, 

Fish dance in huge swirling patterns:

Midnight blue and pink, orange and golden fish,

Black fish and spotted fish and bumblebee-striped fish.


If you stand here on the edge of the sea with us,

There are jellyfish now.

The summer jellyfish who will sting your toes,

Wavering past in fluttering shoals, guarding 

Mammi Long-legs who sits in a cold pool, 

Playing the rivers’ currents like the strings of a harp with her tentacles.

She cradles an axolotl, holding it safe from the fierce world 

That would take its smile and end its life.


And when you salute Mammi Long-legs and go further,

Into the wide Firth where Kelvin and Clyde meet the open sea,

You just might see Nate’s huge whale,

Tasting the stories on the city’s rivers.

And taking those stories to the deep sea, 

The wide sea, 

The wild sea.


Stand here on a bridge and look down at the river

And know that there are stories running down there,

Over the water,

Beside the water,

Under the water,

Lives, adventures,

Mysteries and wonders,

Waiting for someone to listen.

With many thanks to the hundred of people who joined us at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on 11th and 12th June for this OU contribution to the Glasgow Science Festival