Sunday, 25 February 2018

A gleaming stone

A wyrm uncoils and Grendel's Mum sighs...

Adlington Primary School

Fallibroome Creativity Week

 We started with Grendel, a good place to start, unravelling the mystery of the dweller in the swamp, alliterating the patterns of his life and his mother, and weaving our own heroic adventures.

on the outskirts of Jotunheim, in a wild wood where dark shadows moved,
slimy samon surfaced in the shallow river where wombats wobble in the wicker weeds

In a deep, dark forest,
Tall trees tower in a wailing wind
While the wolf wove his path through the blackness

And through a cave where strange creatures crept in sinister shadows
Spiders spun stunning webs while waiting to snare slimy slugs
And have them for their terriic tea

A river rushing, racing, raging over round rocks dashing down, down, down into
the deepest darkest swamps where savage snakes are joyfully jogging and jumping

A crumbling castle on a crumbling crag where
Wandering werewolves wailed and terrorized the trembling townsfolk

We moved onto artefacts, choosing treasures from my hoard: shells, brass shoes, horns, a goblet, a chest, a tankard made of pewter, another of horn, the dark glass of a necklace salvaged from the windswept wreckage of a viking longship

It’s a masterpiece from a mermaid who paints. It was given to me by the mermaid herself on a journey through a mystical ocean. Gold fish with delicate tails are painted onto the blackness of the wondrous sea stone with grace, care and skill. The gleaming fish are a glittering gold and look lke queens in the blackness. And when I hold it the centre shines like the sun as it sinks below the horizon.

the beginning of a wonderful wolfskin story
With many thanks to the teachers and artists of Adlington, and to all the schools I visited in  Creativity Week. i took lot of photos which my camera seems to have  eaten them!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

How many mermaids

How many mermaids?

Unfinished Poems and

 a make your own mermaid event 


Doxey Pool (c/o Adrian Lambert)

From the beautiful but dangerous maid in deep, cold Blakemere on Morridge to the golden-haired temptress guarding her treasures in the Kinder Downfall, to the more recent and more sinister tales from Doxey Pool on the Roaches, we have a rich legacy of watery people here in the hills. Flowing out of the hills and onto the Cheshire plains and here are stories of a waterspirit in Redesmere and tales of the Asrai, a tribe of water people in the waters of Cheshire and Staffordshire.

At Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, we have a dramatically something mermaid. Beautiful say some, hideous say other, less tactful, visitors, fascinating say a few but always worth stopping and having a good stare at…

Our mermaid is a Victorian fancy: a construction of wood and wire, human hair, seashells, bone, leather and fish skin, the years have not treated her well but she still intrigues and provokes

Find out more:

Over the last few months, among other activities at the musuem, i was running an "Unfinished Poems" project which has unfinished itself for now - we hope to revive it again - and I am slowly working my way through the 50 poems that came in. (some have already been published on this blog, go questing....)

Visitors could pick up one (or more!) of 8 postcards with a drawing and two lines to start a poem about a particular aspect of the museum display. Their poem could use those two lines as a launching point, or they could ignore it completely...We wanted to over people a different challenge,  different way of looking at and thinking about the collection.

Here are a mermaid set…

1. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight

In fish and bone and monkey leather,

My path links the underground rivers and pools of the Peak,

I’m the mermaid of the heather

2. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight

In fish and bone and monkey leather,

This is a creature you must not miss,

Like modern mermaids, all artifice.
(Susan Crane)

3. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight

In fish and bone and monkey leather,

Her partner’s a merman but keeps out of sight

So pooling their resources whatever the weather
(John Goodwin, 1/11/17)
4. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight

In fish and bone and monkey leather,

It will be out tonight

But only if clear weather

And just to keep your mermaid appetites well-whetted, we are having a Make your own mermaid (or seamonster) activity 
at the Museum. 
Thursday 22nd February 2018

10am - 12 noon

Free, no booking needed, just dive in 
and make your own sea-person to swim away with

5. Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight
In fish and bone and monkey leather,
A bewildering sight

With many thanks to all our poets, named or anonymous!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

stories the bones told me

Tales of the Wonders

a world of cave bears and shadows

booklet £5.00 (includes UK P&P)


During 2017, I was one of a team of artists working on an Arts Council England funded project at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. “Collection of the Artists” invited us to respond to the museum’s collection creatively, exploring different themes through the artefacts in the museum and the local landscapes they came from

COTA has drawn to a close now and the finished works can be seen in the museum or accessed through its digital platforms (see list below).  I joined the COTA team as a storyteller and poet and had cheerful times talking to visitors, working with schools and other groups and simply sitting with bits of the Collection or wandering across hills and hiding in holes to listen to the stories the bones were telling me….

The resulting work from me can be seen in the Museum, accessed through the digital platforms (see the Wonders of the Peak app) or you can get your own copy of the collection either direct from me or from the Museum
As a taster, here is one of the pomes from Tales, for the stories you need to get the whole booklet!

Time gently and untidily shelves
The memory of
Barrows and tunnels,
Treasures and tollroads,
Until all that is left
Are the bones and bits,
We sift from the debris of centuries
And the ghosts of facts,
And the stories we tell .

“Tales of the Wonders” is a 24 page A5 booklet including a selection of stories and poems inspired mostly by the prehistoric sections of the collection. My theme was “home”, wondering how people made new connections to places as wandering mesolithic peoples settled into our Peak District landscape as farmers and hunters, leaving marks on the landscape that we can still find and visit today. How did the Peaks become “home”?

Here is a story of the fox cubs who first found closed-in Fox Hole Cave as a sanctuary. Here is the last day of the people of Fin Cop and a Neolithic lullaby from Liff’s Low. There are poems from the waters of the Buxton and the old woman wandering the Gardens here who has been prehistoric healer, Roman goddess and Edwardian well-woman. Here are cave bears and compasses and walking away from the wandering herds….
Doxey Pool and storyteller, photo by Adrian Lambert

The COTA team

  • Potter Caroline Chouler bound bone from Fin Cop into bowls 
  • Richard and Amanda from Kidology, played the dreams of cave lions and landscapes and captured the precision of crystals
  • Textile artist Seiko Kineshito has hung the colours and textures of the peaks in a cabinet
  • Metalworker Simon Watson shaped ideas into bronze
  • I was there as a storyteller and poet
  • and photographer Adrian Lambert had the challenge of catching us doing all of the above!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Lanterns in a Cheshire twilight

Twilight Walk,

Rudheath and Witton,

2nd December 2017

There was willow, and glue and children wrapped in wet tissue (accidentally!). Stained glass glowing blue in tall windows inspired echoing shapes in spired lanterns. There were arches for imagination and carvings, and presents and snowmen. There were reindeer and there was more glue and permanent pens and the delicate flicker of a tiny light

We were making lanterns. Looking for the shapes and structures of Rudheath in winter, for the excitements of Witton, for the sense of “what makes the middle of winter special for you”. Starting with an open day in St helen’s Church in Witton, we went on to work with nearly 300 people in local schools (family sessions brought parents, grandparents and carers in to join the making) and at the garden project at Grozone.

Our lantern walk day began with rain and a waterlogged field. We lost a musician to illness (just for the day, nothing permanent!). We nearly lost our route to a locked gate. But the rain stopped, the wind settled and a glorious full moon burned the clouds silver and the shadows of church, cemetery and river-side willow trees took us and at least 100 visitors out into the night

We recited poems, wandered, told stories, wandered a bit more, made up new stories (the ghostly Lantern Parade of Rudheath, the stout iron fences that hold the bramble creatures off the paths) and we had a beautiful evening of lanterns and laughter in the twilight. And at the end, Grozone received us with a burning brazier and welcome hot chocolate

Thank you! Thank you to the schools who hosted us and to St Helens Church who offered space to work in and a meeting point to gather at. Thank you to Grozone for taking us into their moonlit garden. Thank you to our artists and volunteers who smiled their way through willow-bend and tissue slap. Most of all, thank you to our makers and walkers, to the people of Rudheath and Witton who came and made their lanterns and to those who braved an uncertain evening with such enthusiasm.

This was the last major public event out the Creeping Toad Do It Together project for Rudheath and Witton Together. There might be other activities next year (we are still in discussions) but probably not in the same format as this year. Another Lantern Walk? O, yes please! We would nred to find some new funding for this but I would certainly be prepared to help organise a proejct and help the hunt for that funding, so any Rudheath or Witton people or community group who might like to be involved, let me know!  Contact Gordon on
ready for a Twilight wander

Thanks to our friends in the lantern walk:
Rudheath Primary Academy
St Helen’s Church, Witton
Victoria Rd Primary School
Witton Church Walk CE Primary School
and of course
Rudheath and Witton Together
who made it all happen!

All these photographs are c Simon Birdsey for Rudheath and Witton Together. People in individual shots are included in our photo permissions file but if you are one of those individuals and would like the images removed, please contact me directly:

the company assembled

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Times takes all but nothing keeps

Caves, stones and ancient lives

Unfinished Poems project at

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery 

We are reaching the end of this first run of the Unfinished Poems project and here are a few choice pieces from the final sets of postcards…

Stone Age Tools
A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,
A bow shoots,
Ochre colours random glazes


Victorian Archaeologists
Shovels and spades dig piles of earth
Burrowing into the ancient mound
Mud and mess and graft and toil
All that work - but nothing found

(by BW 14/11/17)

Rain falls and water drips,
Stone dissolves and water seeps
Bones remain but not the lips,
Times takes all but nothing keeps

Rain falls and water drips,
Stone dissolves and water seeps
Swells the trees in apple pips,
And roots delve further in the deep.

Rain falls and water drips,
Stone dissolves and water seeps
This process continues while we sleep,
Years and years pass by,
Then something bright catches our eye
A fossil so old,
A crystal bright and bold
If only we knew what stories these hold.

(by SM Dowle 1/11/17)

Over the last 4 months, a set of postcards of Unfinished Poems has lurked in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery inviting people to connect poem to exhibit to imagination and and find their own words to finish the poem, or to ignore the starting points completely and write a completely original piece. As these Finished Poems have reached me, I have been posting them on this blog (while exercising a degree of editorial control). Out of an original set of 160 postcards, we’ve had 50 back - a good return. The rest are hopefully whispering their finished poems out there in the wider world beyond the walls of the Museum.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll post the best of the rest of the poems and a fulls et of Unfinshed Poems so that if you feel so inclined you could complete them for yourself

With many thanks to these poets and everyone 
who has contributed to the Unfinished Poems collections. 
More poems will follow
Pictures: the drawing came with the Stone Age Tools poem
The waterfall and cave pictures are from Linn Caves near Milngavie - not Derbyshire at all but I liked the combination of water, stone and darkness 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

and some non-Newtonian spit

The Telling Toads project* continues to bring poems hopping in. I know there are stories growing as slowly as giant salamanders out there and hopefully by the end of the month there will be a hot, dry, dusty memory of a puddle for you all

Meanwhile, here are two pieces to get you hopping about. Like many poems, these are best spoken aloud, so try it and see how they sound. The first may charm, annoy or provoke - or maybe you will agree with Hilary’s sentiments completely - why not send us a reply! Mary’s villanelle is a beautifully constructed pattern of words that, yes, works wonderfully when spoken as long you don’t let your sticky amphibian tongue get caught up in its own non-Newtonian spit….
Both these works come from Keele at Silverdale in Staffordshire (best link for more information is through Caroline Hawkridge, the group's tutor). The Keele team also gave us an earlier set of poems: Ancient as the hills

feeling unloved?


… the toad, ugly and venomous,
Bears yet a precious jewel in his head.
As You Like It

Toad that under cold stone
….Sweltered venom sleeping got

I cannot like a toad –
he squats unbejewelled,
no venom sweltered, but ugly for sure:
a squashy, sludge-coloured purse,
baleful buddha,
squelchy, squalid,
blinking malevolently from under his cold stone,
tongue unfurling to flick in a fly,
his tentative akimbo tread
no match for a frolicking frog.
Try as I might, I cannot like a toad.

Hilary Adams


Toad’s tongue’s a crafty piece of kit
to catch the flitty or the maggoty
and works with non-Newtonian spit.

He shoots it out for a titbit,
whipped from his buccal cavity,
toad’s tongue’s a crafty piece of kit.

Spit thins at speed, and then the hit,
sticky when still, that is the strategy
and nature of non-Newtonian spit.

The prey might struggle, then she’ll quit,
we all must eat, it’s not depravity,
toad’s tongue’s a crafty piece of kit.

Back in his throat the bug will sit
(could be the cause of toad’s fatality)
packaged in viscous non-Newtonian spit.

But toad, to swallow, blinks a bit,
eyeballs press down and cause liquidity.
Toad’s tongue’s a crafty piece of kit
and works with non-Newtonian spit.

Mary King

*In this the Froglife Year of the Toad, here at Creeping Toad, I am inviting people to add their own creative ideas to a collection of Toad (and frog and tree frog,) stories and poems.  We hope people will share these beyond the blog where they will appear, to read them aloud, to tell the stories, declaim poems by ponds and generally celebrate Toads and their cousins.(But please do not publish them without getting formal permission through me first!)

More information about the whole project here: Telling Toads

Photo credits: from the top:
small toad edit: Ian MacLellan
toad in hollow: Gordon MacLellan
Ryvoan Toad: Kenny Taylor
small toad: Ian MacLellan

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Leaving memories

artwork by Victoria Brown

Unfinished poems, 3
more poems from 
the Buxton Museum postcard project

as part of the Collection of the Artists project at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, I have a set of postcards at different places round the exhibiton.  Each postcard has 2 lines as starting points for poems about aparticular aspects of the exhibiton and visitors are invited to complete the poem - and hand it in, or keep it for themselves - or send it to a friend.

Over the last few months, several sets of Unfinished Poems have been posted here....enjoy this latest set!

17. Limestone
artwork by Victoria Brown
Ancient waves on forgotten seas,
Left seaweed and shells on prehistoric sand,
St George’s mushrooms grow by rowan trees
And years have drawn their patterns on 

23. Limestone
Ancient waves on forgotten seas

Left seaweed and shells on prehistoric sand.

So too our lives ebb and flow

Leaving memories within our minds.

Will it be our thoughts survive

As fossils in a future heartland?
by Florian Barker

18. Stone Age tools
A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,
And as I walk alone
Through woods, grass and stone,
Memories keep flooding back
Of when I was lying in the sack

19. Stone Age Tools
A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,
A bear roars for his grub
A hunter looks desperately for a stone

and this is a vcave bear skull
20. Cave Lions
A bear in the darkness growls,
A lion watches from the cave,
A wolf in the distance howls,
A couple of owls having a rave

21. Cave Lions
A bear in the darkness growls,
A lion watches from the cave,
The wolf howls
The deer listens but is he brave
To wander in the forest alone?

22. Cave Lions
A bear in the darkness growls,
A lion watches from the cave,
And as the lion is on the prowl
He grabs a child which screams and howls

24. Coal measures

Giant dragonfly wings flutter,

Over the swamp of a tree-fern wood,

The newts and the frogs moan and mutter

In the space where the trees once stood.

25. Coal measures

Giant dragonfly wings flutter,

Over the swamp of a tree-fern wood,

The newts and the frogs moan and mutter

Where the amphibian stood.

26. The Buxton Mermaid
Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight
In fish and bone and monkey leather,
My path links the underground rivers and pools of the Peak,
I’m the mermaid of the heather

27. The Buxton Mermaid
Travelling wonder, a sideshow delight
In fish and bone and monkey leather,
This is a creature you must not miss,
Like modern mermaids, all artifice.
by Susan Crane

29 Caves.

I am a droplet

Hurtling down

The sun beams my rainbow

I hoop to the ground,

In a pocket of limestone

I shiver, freeze and thaw

And seep through the rock

Through the caves

To the core.

with many thanks to all our poets 
- more (un)finished poems will follow soon

artwork by Victoria Brown