Friday, 30 September 2011

Roman Ribchester

A week of Roman stories - not the ancient, well-worn, seasoned stories of heroes, villains, Aeneas, Romulus, gods and monsters but brand new, wild and unexpected tales from the imaginations of pupils at Springhill Primary School in Accrington

Ribchester museum display

During, and after, a visit to Ribchester Roman Museum we've been teasing out our own take on life, perils and marvels in Roman Britain

First ideas are attached....more will follow


Bees are buzzing, birds are singing,
Wind rustles the leaves,
The last butterflies of summer are flying.

Slowly, the morning fills with noise,
Soldiers marching,
Training horses,
Neighing horses,
Trotting horses.

Masons chipping stones,
Teachers whacking children,
Children swim in the river,
Dive in the water,
Fishing for food not fun.

On the grassy riverbank,
Chidlren play ancient cricket

5W, Springhill Primary School at Ribchester Roman Museum, 27/09/11

Stories are gradually taking shape....collectively (above), individually (below) using palces and objects explored at the museum

Some of the results have been quite alarming....

Friday, 23 September 2011

Excitements at Annesley!

A few days working with Foundation Stage children at Annesley Primary School, Nottinghamshire.

With a theme "Children in other countries", we set off on expeditions to make new friends:

            We could fly in a 'plane
            We could drive in a car
            We could ride on a donkey
            Or hang onto a motorbike
            We could sail in a boat
            Or gallop in a horse
            We could squeeze all of us onto one elephant
            Or have an elephant each
            Or we could sit on a flying carpet

Children went off exploring, finding other adventures, other animals, other children

            One group went to cold places and made a tent and a campfire. They cuddled up with polar bears at night to keep warm. They met wolves and bears and many friendly animals

 (Arctic camp with a couple of vagrant penguins!)

            In Africa. another group saw lions, but were not afraid, although one person was scared of elephant noises

Working in the school garden, we made those tents, built those shelters, found homes for monkeys, frogs and crabs, assembled that picnic ( nuts, apples, leaf-ice-cream), photographing and drawing the results. Eventually we made friends with other children and recorded our adventures on pop-up cards with grown-ups doing the writing because when you are 4 years old it's useful to have minions to do those sort of things….

And Jack (3 years old) said:
            The eagle and the owl are friends,
            And beavers make dams,
            Whales swim in the sea,
            And squirrels climb trees,           
            But the eagle flies
            High in the sky.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

My Forgotten Forests

Picking up on the lovely "Forgotten Forests" project, I made a point of going back to some of my personal Forgotten Forests when I was visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago. They still live in the house where we all grew up, in the 'concrete jungle' that is Cumbernauld New Town. Out of that visit, came the following…. (picture 1: Red Fox Valley)

I spend a lot of my time "on the road", travelling around, visiting schools, telling stories, leading workshops. Emotionally, I'm very self-contained but once in a while, I find myself wishing I was travelling with someone else, someone to share experiences with. And this time, to share these woods with. For these are the woods that shaped me, gave me the chance to become who I am now. These trees, stones and pools offered solace and shelter and inspiration to my teenage self. These forgotten forests were my refuge as I grew into an awareness of myself as both gay and pagan.

Red Fox Valley. Blackwood. Here I watched my first roebuck, encountered the scarab-excitement of dor beetles for the first time, caught my first Great Diving Beetle, met wood anemones and the sharp, sour leaves of wood sorrel. There are pools at the heart of both places: ponds for exploring, offering palmate newts and common toads and a richness of delight.
 (picture 2: Blackwood)

Blackwood in spring sports bluebell clouds among the rubbish that is scattered through the trees. The bluebells suggest age and some of the trees hold a century or two, predating the quarry and somehow surviving the devastation of the rest of the hillside. Now the trees have claimed the quarry site as well, branches knitting over awkward hollows and sudden drops. The main quarry flooded at some point. A deep, dirty brown pool with fish that moved the water but that I never quite saw. The water gave no clues, reflective but with no clarity, it could have been bottomless or maybe just waistdeep. Mysterious. Kelpie waters, full of invitation, promise and threat. The oldest trees are on the edge of the woods. Their offspring crowded inwards, to the very banks of the pond. They are not big trees, but hefty, gnarled and twisted, holding their own mystery with their moss and lichen and those defiant, enchanted bluebells. The faerie trilogy of trees: Oak, Ash and Thorn.
(Blackwood's old trees)

To walk through Glencryan Woods, along the edge of Red Fox Valley is to look down into a forested depth. A canopy view from the rim of the glen, peering down into the burn's cut, layers of sandstone quarried by water and tunnelled by men looking for fireclay. The old mine workings were always a temptation and a threat, unstable tunnels, dropping bricks. There were caves too, to scramble into and dream of wildlives, living rough, foraging Crusoes; the lost, unknown, mysterious wildmen of the woods. For me, greater and more lasting than adventure, Red Fox Valley woods brought stillness. The pool at the head of the glen was where "meditation" moved from exercise to experience with the reflections in that water and the trembling leaves of birch trees.  Back down in the glen, line of old, old beeches taught me patience, with branches to scramble onto and there to sit and simply stop. The beeches' presence kept clear the earth beneath green-filtered canopy, offering a space for my first dances of transformation, My first, adolescent, ceremonies were here, opening myself, giving myself to a green world.
 (Red Fox Valley: the path through the trees) 

These were the forests that shaped me, that held my heart safe in their wooden treasure-chests until I was ready to leave, a sapling myself, and go out into the world beyond the woods. My own Broceliande, a faerie land where I could disappear and be safe from that other world from a while. They are still there, these woods. Maybe not forgotten anymore. They look more cared for now. There is less rubbish, but more people. Blackwood is ringed by some new estate of smart houses but the old, twisted trees have survived; while the woods in Red Fox Valley have grown, are growing, swallowing the old sneaky tracks through the trees, offering sensible gravelled paths instead. But a wildness is still there, in both woods; a freedom of toads, adventure and stillness. A wildness at the heart of things.

Red Fox Valley

Friday, 16 September 2011

Camster Cairns, part two

And here are a couple of images to go with last week's Camster Cairns entry....only the outside of the cairns, taking image inside felt inappropriate

The day before I visited Camster, I spent some time at the Clooty Well at Munlochy on the Black Isle. That will call for a whole other set of words which can are some images to entertain you in the meantime....

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Camster Cairns, September 2011

O, a surpise. A glory sitting on ridges above a boggy field: a round cairn and a long cairn, low doors facing the road, facing the east, gated but inviting. How much has this scene changed in the 5,000 years these cairns have stood here? Distant trees. Those shaggy tough-looking ponies could step across the centuries easily and the dark, wind-rippled lochan over the ridge behind me, might have bathed weary cairn-builders.

The moss came later, I guess. The sphagnum that swallowed the grassy stamping ground plateau in front of the cairns – although the obvious ceremonial spaces are a terrace and steps on the ends of the long cairn and behind it too, where the slope is gentler. The eastern doors, open onto steep slopes that spill down to that dance floor. Well, it was a dance floor for me, capering along the musical xylophone of the wooden boardwalk…

Too much talk, too much thinking! The passageway gates are not locked and visitors are invited to crawl inside…..

            How well did we build for our Dead?
            These stones, so carefully chosen, carefully stacked,
            Hand by hand,
            Muscle, bone and determination.
            A passage, a chamber to face the sunrise
                        Here we rest,
                        Here we lie,
                        Bodies taken by fire and wind
                        Our bones charred to hold memories
                        Not just mine and ours but everyone’s
                        The tale of our people, soaked into our bones
                        Sunk into these stones
                        Stories not told for so many years

            How well do the Dead receive us?
            In these beautiful chambers,
            Rooms that ring with voices, with song, with chanted prayer
            A close tunnel, a crawl under watchful spaces
            Into this room that holds the voices of the Dead
            A cist opened out,
            Stone slabs that hold you, a thrill of contact, of connection
            A place to stop
            To be still in the darkness
            To listen for the sunrise

Thurso, Sunday 11th September 2011

After a day of adventures, Thurso is grey and rainy. Empty shops, boarded up, going to auction or just looking abandoned. The options for a tasy meal tonight are diminishing

Driving across an emptied landscape, warm with purple heather and golden green sphagnum in sprawling patches. Warm, maybe, but bleak with it, long shallow sweeps from one horizon to the next, ridges crested with plantations, and those peat-bog lochans that just lie there, caring nothing for burns in or rivers out, just drawing their water from these deep bog-soaks. What hope here for the crannog, sunk now beneath those dark waters? Trout? Eels? Or just the safety or life perched out on those kelpie-dark waves

A long history of human life and abandonment, from crannogs to the sad gable ends of long low houses standing in too many places across the wide mosses, legacies of shifting populations, or shifted moirĂ© forcibly. Are these tumbled remains old enough to have been clearance settlements or do they speak of a longer, more lasting drain of people from the hills. Given the vehicles I tend to drive, I am wondering about breakdowns here. No mobile reception. In 20 miles I’ve seen two other cars. A farmhouse ahead: a sharp modern shape, but the ever-present sheep are loitering in the garden. and through the windows, these rooms are empty too

and I've left my camera leads and card reader at piling up and no postings! Frustrating! Will add images later