Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Gathering shadows

 Gathering shadows at dusk
impressions of the Southwest Peak

Over the cold, wet reach of last winter, I was working with friends from Telltale to prepare an interpretive plan for the Southwest Peak Landscape Partnership. The Partnership encompasses a sweep of land along the western edge of the Peak District from the Dale of Goyt, down to the hollows of Macclesfield Forest, up to the drags of the Roaches and out over the Warslow Moors. It is a wild, varied and rich landscape that often seems a little forgotten compared to the honeypots of Dovedale, Castleton and Kinder Scout and their hordes of visitors. Climbers clamber over the Roaches, walkers follow ancient footpaths, witches gather on hilltops and by deep still pools, and casual visitors picnic all over the place. The Roaches also hold Lud’s Church about which I ramble without any provocation at all. So I won’t here.

Part of my role in the project was to work with residents and users of the area to gather a more emotional map of the area rather than a sensible map of what and where and how. So we met and talked, told stories to each other, remembered and shared memories and gathered ideas into a series of poems

There are 4 poems. I will post two now and two more shortly. I hope you enjoy them

Ramshaw Rocks brood over the road,
Remembering ancient seas,
And a river runs cool under Three Shires Head,
On a hot summer day,
Music, laughter,
The voices of a village.

Open space on the moors,
Picking bilberries,
The ancient woods
Below the Roaches,
On the last day of summer,
The heather lies purple on Hen Cloud.

Crisp snow
Gathers shadows at dusk,
The aurora glows across the sky,
The Roaches slip into space and quiet,
Sometimes the mist fills the valleys and the hills look like islands.

Cotton grass blows on the moors,
Dandelions burn the fields yellow,
The last hay meadows fill with flowers,
With bees, with butterflies.
With the rain,
The fields slip into mud,
Water on shale soils puddles into,
A haven for rushes,
Always more to explore, here.

A picnic on the grass overlooking the valley,
Connects with other times, other picnics,
A pause in the cutting,
Hay banked up on Whitelow meadow.
Children have run down to the river,
For centuries,
Families, friends,
On the grass overlooking the valley,
Again, and again,
A picnic over centuries,
A long living in these dales,
Under the moors and the bogs and the ridges.

Hen Cloud, Windgather, Goyt
There is always more to explore,
Pilbsury Castle in the moonlight,
Always more to hold us here,
A barn owl flies in the dusk,      
Little owls, deer
The secret lives of the moorlands.
Always more to love here,
The warmth of a form where a hare was lying
And the voice of the curlew heralds the spring.

With thanks to our poets, to Telltale and to SWP Landscape Partnership!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Panoramas and digs

Bates Panorama - Pavilion gardens and Broad Walk

The streets of Buxton 
and the layers of Under Whitle
public events in June

Buxton is a town of mixed architectures: from the spectacular Georgian sweep of the Crescent to the Victorian elegance of the Pavilion and the golden opulence Opera House. Our “Up your street” event for Buxton Museum and Art Gallery *, started with those wonders, added the intriguing Bates Panoramic Views of the town and then, inevitably dived off in other directions. We were looking at “where do you live, where might you live, where would you like to live” and that was us….the residents of, and visitors to, the noble town of Buxton have strong views about what makes for a rewarding home:
            gardens with rabbits (Harpurhill and Fairfield)
            resident ghosts
            haunted furniture
            a school for ghosts and witches (in Burbage)
            wizards towers
            a cosy home

Then a couple of weeks later (June 25th), we joined the Peeling Back The Layers crew at their open day at the Dove Valley Centre at Under Whitle. Here a community archaeology project has identified promising shapes under the ground (we’re back to palaces and castles, adding dungeons on the way). Other teams have plundered the Staffordshire Archives to uncover all sorts of intriguing information about the Horobins, the Mellors and all the other occupants of the farm from its first record in 1407.
cataloguing finds
But now the shovels are out….

We were there to explore possibilities – “what might be here”, and what might we find with pictures of medieval and later pieces from the Museum’s collection. There were exciting teams of professional and amateur archaeologists – we offered a place to pause, and talk and think and speculate…. Out of all the chat and thoughts and rumours, came a poem.

Under Whitle, digging
Digging and hoping,
Scraping, trowels,
Brushes and dreams
            If only, a dinosaur, or a duck, fossilised and thrilling,
Pieces, so many broken bits  
            How about a whole pot, a bottle that once did,
            could still, maybe, hold water from the spring on the hill
Something whole, anything whole
            A sword, a sword! Crusted with rust,
            A dream sunk deep in centuries of dirt
Sherds and bones
And broken glass

Pottery, fragments,
A hinge,
A tooth.

Abandoned homes
Discarded lives,
Thrown out,
So many broken pots,
So many leftover lives,
Quietly swamped by the grass tides
And the sea-sway and hiss of a meadow in the breeze.

Churning butter, and shaping and slapping and wrapping it cool into a butterbur leaf

*These events (or our attendance at the Under Whitle day)are part of a series supporting the Museum’s Collections in theLandscape project. This project is expanding public access to the Museum’s Collections both in the museum by redeveloping the Wonders of the Peak Gallery and through school and public activities and enabling access to the Collections through virtual resources

Summer events: there will be all sorts of activities at the Museum over the summer: events for families and children and a whole series of Meet the Expert talks at the Museum during the Buxton Festival - exploring all sorts of things from prehistoric Derbyshire to mermaids and Ashford Marble
Under Whitle in summer

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Foxhole Cave

Scrambling, slipping, sliding, slithering. The entrance to the cave dropped us past a last green of moss, of fern, and into mud and darkness. A crowded huddle of a living space, but this is where it seems people lived, here in these first few yards where daylight could still slide in, like us, through the cave’s narrow mouth. A packed-earth floor, clay filling the foot-trapping spaces between boulders, a campfire’s charcoal found here and only here in all the long twisted digestive system of the cave. Deeper in, and would that fire-warmth and fire-light become a quiet smothering death? So here, here they lived and died, or maybe here they slept? And living and working and being together happened out there, where the dale dropped in deep folds below High Wheeldon, where the sky stretched into wide horizons, where the world spread its life before the watchers on the hillside.

We slid further in, clambering, the caves lubricating us generously with a saliva of pale sandy-coloured clay that I still find in the treads of shoes and the folds of coats. Deeper, darker, swallowed. And thrilled. The clay floor reveals itself in handfuls of the finest bones. The accumulated residue of centuries of fox droppings. Mice, voles and water voles, their incisors like over-eager chisels, far too long for such small animals. Digestion pauses. Torches off. Crouch on a boulder and listen to the silence. Perch on a boulder and feel the darkness. Water seeping through the limestone to drip. Each drip only magnifies the absence of other sound. A candle breaks the darkness. This is the real cave, this cold world touched by a glimmering light, this enchantment. This is Foxhole Cave.

That alimentary canal splits, a side-stomach. A bear cave. A bear butchered here. It had to have been here first, who would have – could have – dragged it down here to dismember it? Hibernating? Was it caught and speared? These are bear caves, the homes of cave bears. Their skulls and our skulls resting together in the darkness. What bound us, bear to human? Anything beyond a pendulum swing of predator and prey? That cave enchantment? That’s what I want – the rumbling power of a bear totem in the depths of the cave. The song of Grandmother Bear in the clapping of hands, the stamping of feet, voices singing under the glittering night-sky, by the cave-fire, here in the deepest darkness.

But I don’t know. We don’t know. The story speaks to me, lures me into words and poems and the endless enchantment of skull and stone, but the evidence lies in bones in boxes, lies buried under the accumulated debris of a dark cave, lies in the tiny shard of chertz discarded on the cave floor.

The afternoon reclaims us with sunlight and grass and unconcerned sheep and the cave’s mouth closes quietly and firmly around its darkness and its secrets. We are covered with cheerful, triumphant clay and I am full of stories.

1. Useful reference: 
Edmunds & Seaborne, Prehistory in the Peak, Tempus, 2001, ISBN 0-7524-1483-6

2. A thousand thanks to Paul Mortimer of the National Trust for letting us muscle-in on his reconnoitre of the cave for later public visits.

3. This wasn’t really a Collections activity but the event will feed into the work of both Richard Johnson and myself in Buxton Museum's Collections in the Landscape project. This project is expanding public access to the Museum’s Collections both in the museum by redeveloping the Wonders of the Peak Gallery and through school and public activities and enabling access to the Collections through virtual resources

4. Cave Bear: no, the skull in that photo was not awaiting us in Foxhole Cave. You can go and visit it at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery 

Once again to Paul Mortimer for bearing with a group of over-excited artists and educators with grace and charm
To my fellow adventurers into the depths: Richard Johnson, Sarah Males, and John Roff.
John works at Hilton College in South Africa who supported his visit - helping us all inspire and reinvigorate each other!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Hopping into excitement: summer events

Creeping Toad
Hopping into excitement
public events over the summer months

Events where you can find me over the summer months
Families: unless otherwise stated, these events are aimed at family groups – stray adults are welcome to come and join us, too: to listen laugh and make things as suits.
Appropriate ages: If you are 7 years old or less, can you please bring a grown-up with you and don’t lose them during the session.
Stern word: I try to keep things as relaxed and cheerful as possible during sessions but I do reserve the right to ask people to leave if their behaviour disrupts the rest of the group and I generally recommend getting to a drop-in event at least 40 minutes before the scheduled end of the event as I often have to pack up and move somewhere else quite quickly!
Last minute bookings: I still have odd days here and there (some are very strange!). If you would like a session for your site or your own group, contact me at creepingtoad@btinternet.com or 07791 096857 to find out more

Saturday 25th: Peeling Back the Layers at the Dove Valley Centre
March 2016! but we are expecting sunshine!
A community archaeology day on this exciting project,
When: 11 – 4, free
Where: DVC, on the road between Longnor and Sheen in the Staffordshire Moorlands, SK17 0PR
My role: I am here as the Collections in the Landscape events leader and we’ll be wondering about what is being found on the dig and making model houses to assemble “old Whitle”

I don't know if they have horse chestnuts...
Saturday 9th Langley Vale Woods, Surrey
a day of activities with the Woodland Trust. I’ll be there helping people make their own books about the day and telling some leafy tales about trees – lots of other things going on as well
When: 11am – 4pm, free
Where: Langley Vale Woods, near Epsom
Useful link:

Saturday 16th The Magical Storytelling Yurt
Buxton Festival: Tales from a tent: a rolling programme of storytelling through the day – no booking, just turn up and get those ears flapping. I tell stories as we find audiences: if you arrive in the middle of a session a new one will begin fairly soon – generally every 40 minutes or so. And the stories? Of giants and creepies, boggarts and beasts and boisterousness, frivolous, fearsome and fun….
When: 10am – 4pm Free
Where: Pavilion Gardens, Buxton
Part of Buxton Festival:
This event is organised by High Peak Community Arts


Another Tiny! event. Join us to fill the Gardens with dragons, medieval wyrms and wonderful serpents - none of them bigger than your hand (or maybe a wriggle as long as your arm). Our Stone and Water group has been doing Tiny! events for several years now as part of Buxton Festival Fringe. Join us under the trees to make your own Tiny! Creature: a cheerful, quiet, restful place within the wider activity of Pavilion Gardens. Step into a creative moment and find your own inner dragon – or outer Wyrm, or simply flappy monster….
When: 11am – 4pm, free
Where: Pavilion Gardens, Buxton: look for us under a tree near the younger children's playground

Tuesday 9th: Dragon Days
More dragons! Join me  on a journey to discover the last dragons of Derbyshire with stories and puppet-making. Make your own dragon as big as your hand with its own nest or cave and collection of treasure.
When: 11am – 1pm (if we fill up the morning slot, we might be able to run a scaly overspill in the afternoon)
Please book a place: 01298 937375
Fee: £6.00
Where: Green Man Gallery, Hardwick Hall,  Hardwick Square S, Buxton SK17 6PY
Part of the Buxton Family Festival, download a programme for the whole festival here:

Thursday 18th
Tiny Castles and Palaces
A morning of miniature making with glittering towers and crashing draw-bridges, dungeons, ballrooms and princesses out to cause trouble…join us to make your own miniature storyland
Where: Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Terrace Rd, Buxton, SK17 6DA
When: 10am – 12 noon, free
Useful link: Buxton Museum

Dovedale: cross the river...

Monday 22nd
Building beasts
using twigs and leaves, mud, pebbles and cones, we’ll make some of the unexpected inhabitants and secret places of the Gardens
Where: Ness Gardens, Neston, Wirral
Details to follow

Wednesday 24th August
Hoards and Secrets
where would you hide your most precious objects? And what would you hide? Celebrating hidden hoards from Reynards Cave and Beeston Tor, we’ll make treasure maps of Dovedale, decorate our own treasure boxes and find natural treasures to hoard inside them!
When: 11 – 1 and 2- 4
Where: Dovedale, (park in commercial carpark at mouth of dale) and find us either over stepping stones and on the grass or beside the National Trust mobile visitor unit
Event is free – just drop by and join in - but there is a charge for car parking

Saturday 27th August
Heroes and Villains of Sherwood: from merry men and Marion to the Sheriff and anyone else we can think of: woodsmen, forest girls, monks, lords and princesses: join us to make some wonderful puppet characters and then help us tell a story of Sherwood that no-one has ever heard before!

Where and when:

Eastwood Library 10 – 12 noon

Hucknall Library: 1.30 – 3.30pm

Booking: tbc, don’t think it is needed but get there for the start of a session
Part of the D H Lawrence Festival of Culture: link to follow

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Peeling Back the Layers

Dove Valley Centre - we are anticipating sunshine!
 Once upon a time 
in the Upper Dove Valley…
Peeling Back The Layers

Saturday June 25th

 Dove Valley Centre
11am – 4pm

 will we find a long house? a square?
As the shovels swing and the trowel dig and careful fingers lift on this exciting community archaeology project in the Upper Dove Valley, Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project will be at the Open Day in this beautiful dale

With the shapes of houses emerging in the field and (hopefully) artefacts being unearthed, our artist and event leader Gordon MacLellan from Creeping Toad will be there to help on speculation:
what are we finding?

what was here?

what could it have looked like…

…visitors will be encouraged to look at finds

to study those tempting shapes in the field

to consider the survey results
and to wonder at change: in 1000 years have the hills changed? how has the dale altered, would those older people still recognise the hills of their home

a changed landscape?
Mixing information with imagination, Gordon will help people build their own house and farm models to add to our imagined settlement – and then to take home afterwards

Over the afternoon we will gradually build the ancient (or not so ancient) settlement of Under Whitle

Peeling Back the Layers is a hands-on educational project, run by the Tudor Farming Interpretation Group (TFIG).  A wide range of people are investigating the history and archaeology of Whitle, Sheen and the surrounding landscape.  Groups and individuals are joining together with the primary and secondary schools, young archaeologists, local history enthusiasts and mental health groups in this fascinating exploration of our local heritage.

roundhouses? probably not

This event is free and materials or tools are provided.

No booking is needed, just come to the Centre, wonder at the view as you stroll down into the valley and join us for an afternoon enjoying uncertainty, discovery and speculation 

Finding us: the event is at the Dove Valley Centre, on the road between Longnor and Sheen, postcode, SK17 0PR

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Adders and bee orchids

This is an instant post to go with some pictures from Wednesday 8th June in the company of delightful Froglife people

adder in  the sunshine

celebratory bee orchid

a slow-worm goldens through

Monday, 6 June 2016

worksheets for stories with young children

Stories Alive! the worksheets

Ideas for creating adventurous stories, songs, poems, palaces and sacks!

a storyworld taking shape

Over 2015, Stories Alive! placed 5 artists in 5 Nursery Schools (see below) in and around Burnley in East Lancashire. Our teams have been challenged to develop sets of activities to help embed storytelling and storymaking in Nursery practice, in families and in the children we are all working with. There have been storyhouses built, storysacks made, stories mapped, little adventures, big adventures, whole storyworlds of adventure. 

a storyhouse
Out of all the Stories Alive! workshops and twilight sessions, we have grown a spreading collection of activities to use with young children. Some of our activities needed lots of bits (but rarely very specialised), others just needed people, some plastic plates and a few minutes. We have drawn activities together, distilling them into a set of worksheets which are now available (free of charge) for downloading (please go to this page on my website to find the download).

We offer these activities to anyone who is interested. Please feel free to use them – but if you want to post them somewhere else please acknowledge Stories Alive! as a source. This website could be included as an information point about the project and my email used as a first contact (I can always refer enquiries on to a more relevant person).

The activities are not final. In many ways these are our working notes. We have tried to avoid repetition but at times there are overlaps between activities. We kept them all in, knowing that different people suit different styles: so please sift, choose and experiment. We hope you will have as much fun as we did – or even more.

If you do download a set of worksheets, it would be good to hear from you – even just to say who you are and where you hope to be making up stories with young children…

a plastic plate adventure
Adventure booklet: we have also produced a little booklet designed for use by families to create their own adventure. This uses some of the worksheet activities but aims to keep everything very straightforward so a slightly harassed parent with some over-excited children in the local park could all work together to create their own adventures.

There will a few extra hard copies of this available (summer 2016) – if you would like a copy let me know and I’ll see what we can do. A downloadable version might go on here shortly

Nursery schools involved

Artists involved

Hannah Stringer
Kerris Casey St Pierre of Spiral Designs
Gordon MacLellan - Creeping Toad - me!