Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Bertram, Beeston and artists

Collection of the Artists
writing starts with walking, and experiencing

When I start a project like this, it usually begins in a babble of words. It often doesn’t matter what direction I am meant to be going in, my self just fills up with any old thing. Bits, phrases, odd rhymes, sudden weathers of feelings, images to try to gather into words. It’s interesting and rewarding and exciting as it starts to give me unexpected shapes. A commission might be asking for “a story about a tree” and my sensible head goes sensibly off on a path through the woods, skipping slightly, perhaps swinging Little Red’s basket while wearing Dorothy’s shiny red shoes. But the rest of me will have sidetracked completely and be sitting under the trollbridge sharing marshmallows* with a troll family and knitting socks for sheep. And that random departure is almost always the response that gives the best results
anything can set the fires of ideas

Beeston Tor
So now I’m in the random stage. My note book is filling with conversations with ravens about the warmth of Liff’s Low. I’m watching clouds turn over the emptiness of Fin Cop. A whole tribe of Boggarts arrived in the margin of notes about caves and stalactites. And St Bertram is simply being irritating.

“Collection of the Artists” is another project under the encompassing umbrella of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s Collection in theLandscapes project. While the wider project is supporting the redesign of the Wonders of the Peaks gallery, the digitising of the collection and my own work with events – taking the collection into the landscape, CotA is probably quieter. There are 6 of us, working with an Arts Council England grant to explore and respond to the dynamic of the Museum’s collection and the landscape it was largely drawn from as artists.

The team include
Potter: Caroline Chouler
Richard and Amanda from Kidology, bringing visual art and music to the work
Textile artist Seiko Kineshito
And metalworker Simon Watson will be shaping ideas into bronze
O, and me: storyteller and poet
(more links will follow!)

Richard and Amanda are CITL long term artists-in-residence and are already producing work related to the collection
we have already done events on curiosities

Over the next few weeks, ideas will develop: together and as individual artists and as things evolve, I’ll post them here – at least from my work

It’s exciting stuff. I know what I think may come out of this, but who knows…

1. O, Bertram,
Christian hero,
Or abandoned Pagan saint,
I will give you
The apple in my bag,
The chocolate in my pocket,
A poem from my wordstore,
If you will bring me safe from this place.

Up here.
It goes up here.
There’s a rope to hold onto.
Try coming down backwards.
It’s easier backwards.
You do need to let go

And then there is St B
Don’t’ misunderstand me, I like the chap – bit of a fool, maybe. He did, after all, leave his new wife in labour in a wolf-wood to go off hoping to find a helpful midwife? He really couldn’t have helped himself? Of course not. Then we wouldn’t have had the tragedy, the despair, the renunciation of worldly things, life in a cave, death, sanctification, pilgrims, hidden bones and a shrine that is one of the very few left in an Anglican Church in England. Or so I am told…..There are other St B’s but ours lived (eventually) at Beeston Tor and then his bones were enshrined at the little church at Ilam and that is his only shrine, anywhere. Other St Bertrams are apparently not him. He does have a statue at St Bartholomew’s in Longnor just a few miles up the dale.

2. Here?
Is this where your pilgrims came?
Did they hold a rope too?
Was this path easier then?
A thousand years less stone-cracking ice?

Hand over hand,
Take it slowly.
A long reach over nothing for a wary foot.
The river waits.
Don’t think,
Just reach.
It’s easier backwards.
You do need to let go

It all gets a bit confusing and he’s not really within my remit for CotA but this comes back to that random excitement. So, as ideas develop, so will something inspired by St Bertram and a wonderfully craggy cliff where people lived, worshipped, died and hid their treasures for thousands of years….

3. Pause here,
A tormentil lawn in morning warmth,
Warm enough to wake the ants who live in the stone,
Rest and be still and listen,
To the whispers
On the wind, in the stone, out of the shadows

He don’t heal.
He don’t cure.
He blesses babies.
Babbies is important since ‘e loss ‘is.
‘E telt me not to be so addlepated, such a fool ‘e call’d me.

Down there,
Not up here.
Down there,
A stroll down the lane,
An easy wade through cold water,
A splashing ford,
That side of the hill, not
This side of the tor,
Hand over hand,
It’s easier backwards.

O, Bertram,
I gave
The apple in my bag to the birds,
The chocolate in my pocket to my friends,
And a poem from my wordstore,
I whisper to the voices in the darkness of the caves
we should have crossed the river

(we still haven’t got to Bertram’s cave)
(* marshmallows? O, that is another story and watch for the book due out sometime this year for that one) 
Thanks to Sarah and Ronson for being photographed....the slightly agitated lines in the poem, however, are all mine!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

One bright, beady eye

Between Goldsitch and Eynhallow

Goldsitch Moss

I am not heathen but I respect and honour those wild northern gods and sometimes they feel very close…
One bright beady eye
Goldsitch Moss
Goldsitch Moss
Trembles with life,
A vibrant, simmering
Shimmer of sphagnum green.
Willow holds the edge
Of the frog-calling bog,
And birch climbs the crags,
Trailing a leaf-fall of
Delicate blades,                                 
While bilberry coyly flirts,
In purple,
Seducing visitors,
Into impromptu, lip-stained feasts.
Heather’s leaves and scented flowers
Belie the twisted determination,
Of rope-roots
Knotting rock to peat,
Tying the world together,

While Odin sits
On a grit-stone throne,
Watching the world go by
Through one bright, black, beady eye.
Midhowe Broch
Barely the beat of a raven’s wing,
To carry his will
From Memory to Thought,
From the Moss to the Sea.

Wet skins,
Take a breath,
Barely the draw of a longship’s oars
From Midhowe to Gurness,
The sail flaps,
Billows into blowing cheeks,
The prow yields to the wind,

The Sound swells, races
Lifts the longship, runs,
Drops, suddenly, into
The turquoise calm
Of a seal-wife bay
Behind the Holy Island.
Eynhallow Sound beyond the Broch of Gurness
Odin broods,
On his gritstone throne,
Watching the world,
Through one bright, black eye,
Pecking holes
In my heart.
But Freyr
Picks a path into my soul
And I am filled
By the hope of
A God made of wind and oak-leaves
And the Boar who bristles
In the thicket.

Orkney - raven - Huginn? Muninn?

Goldsitch Moss is a Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve near my home in Buxton
Eynhallow, and  Midhowe and Gurness Brochs (I haven't linked the brochs - start at Eynhallow and make the journey yourself) are in Orkney
Goldsitch Moss

Friday, 13 January 2017



I’ve been quiet for a few weeks on this blog as work, life and the festive season caught up with me. New entries are brewing, however, and will follow shortly

But this week winter has really hit here in the hills and after an eventful drive home last night, I have had a day of meetings at home while stepping out into a bright winter day with the hills white, roads closed and that sense of precious, dramatic stillness that comes with snow. It will probably not last – the roads are clear again, and footpaths are thawing – but for this day it has been glorious

And reminds me of a poem I wrote a few years ago now and the sense of impending witner and the stillness it can bring


Autumn waits,
Falling into gold, and yellow, and russet,
As mist gathers,
Wool unravelled through the trees.
In the hollow dales,
The lake anticipates winter,
And the rune-cracked ice.
But for now,
Its dark, cold reflective depth
Is divination enough

October 2007

Poem is in the book  Old stones and ancient bones

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Old stones and ancient bones

Planning for Wintry presents?

not all stones and bones
Looking for something a little bit different for a present – Christmas soon, and Yule and Mother’s Night and Saturnalia if you’re of a Classical inclination…why not indulge yourself and a friend with a copy of my book Old stones and ancient bones: poems from the hollow hills?

Don’t like poetry? Why not try again? With poems from the dark, peopled gloom of Neolithic tombs on Orkney to the windswept moors of Derbyshire, an excitement of skulls and the beauty of stillness before winter arrives….

£5.00 a copy (includes UK P&P) and while stocks last, with Old Stones, get a free copy of “River and Sea” a little book featuring two of my stories.
To order direct:
Email me Creeping Toad
Payment: by cheque, Bacs or Paypal (to

or from Amazon:

an appetiser

The Satyr’s stories:

“I was born out of the need of old stone and tree roots for a voice.

I began as an idea, shaped by water running through stone in deep caves, gathering a body for myself out of long lost bones, out of stranded horns and hooves and left-over memories. My flesh is earth, my skin grass and bark, my blood the mineral rich, crystal-growing streams of limestone darkness

Now I am here, playing the music of the wind, listening to bluebells ring, and the slow singing of carp in the cold pools. I am the watcher in the woods, the touch of the breeze, the rustle in the undergrowth. I am the shadow that slips away.
Always here. Never seen.”
Blackwater at Calke Abbey, source of the Satyr stories

Friday, 25 November 2016

Skulls, bones and stones

African wilds 
and ancient caves

hand axe

hyena tooth
Then there were bones and stones and teeth. Small hands carefully handling, turning over a flint axe, fresh flaked by James Dilley* in a wonder of precision, laying bone needles on a delicate palm, and wrapping a friend in reindeer hide**  and sitting him down with a wooden bowl and a stone knife and deciding that Stone Age school uniforms look more exciting than contemporary ones

Stone Age Days, Bone Detectives, an avalanche of ancient stories and excitable Reception children. “is it snowing rain or is it raining snow?” They posed the question (Colne-Primet Primary gets its pupils thinking!). None of us could answer it, but we mapped our adventure with snowflakes melting onto card, mud from the squelchy puddle, mud from the plant pots, mud from our boots, muddy wool from our gloves and the wind that whirled the rainy snow around the playground and the wind that threw the snowy rain full into our cold faces….This was a week that ended in snow but began in Africa - at least Africa in Chester with Overleigh St Mary’s Primary school and shaping stories, taking tales and retelling them, adding new detail and extra hyenas, or lions, or whales or sharks or crocodiles….

Buxton Junior School, slid into some stone age work with ease: telling us of their adventures with cave bears and wolves, unfolding Stone age Toolkits. With Bone Detetcives we became more analytical: asking questions, turning over mysterious skulls and trying to deduce their identities - or just lifestyles and challenging each other with our trickiest finds.
flint blade

Rewarding days and 450 children later at the weekend we found the Treasures of the peaks with the Knights of the Chapel. But that is another story.

a well-furnished cave with stone tools, fire platform and a cheerful family

* James Dilley: archaeologist and person of excitement! James will be back with Buxton Museum and Art Gallery in March for a weekend of Bronze Casting. if you would like more information on joining this workshop, drop me an email and i will send you information when details are finalised in the next few weeks:

** relax, it was fake

Friday, 11 November 2016

Ripples of earlier rains

Ripples of earlier rains
11th November 2016

Our workshops began on 1st November 2016, a year to the day after the rain began that fed the river that spilled into the floods that smashed into Elland Bridge "an elephant stampede”, hitting the bridge on 26th December 2015, a bridge which “crumbled like Weetabix”*

lively days before the flood
Working for the Canal and Rivers Trust with Year 5 and 6 children from Elland C of E Primary School, we set out to explore the impact of the flood by looking at the river before, during and after those eventful days.

It flows, calm as a sleeping sloth

The bridge is nearly repaired now and as work moves towards completion, the Trust were looking for words and phrases to fit onto the sides of the river tunnel by the towpath. We gave them more than words and phrases, we gave whole flowing, flooding river poems

As shy as the fish’s cry

I’m not going to steal everyone else’s thunder just now: I’ll just quote from bits of our poems and leave the full texts for the C&RT to reveal in time….but here are extracts along with some of the folded rivers we made to help shape our word-thoughts….

As calm as rain and as a coconut that fell from a tree

Before the flood,
Calm waters,
A deep river,
Quiet and still.

The river runs through rapids,
A vicious cat of a river
Raging round rocks,
A racing river,
Crazily curling over boulders
Blue, black and brown,
Crooked, old and damaged.

 Flooding playgrounds,
The river roars loud as a tiger,
A stampede of elephants.
A rumbling avalanche,
Fish swim between swings
Calm water reflects a slide,
No children play here now.

waterfall picture notes

A wild waterfall,
Throws the river over the edge,
Water wiggling in streams down,
Diving down, onto deep, dark rocks,
The broken teeth of dinosaurs, of dragons,
Of monsters.

The water bursts,
Waves crashing,
Smashing into rocks,
A crazy bear with stone teeth,
 A bull charging,
An elephant stampede,
Plunging down, plunging onwards
Towards the town, towards the bridge,
Toward the bridge that
Will crumble like Weetabix.

the flood!

Extracts are from the Year 6 and Year 5 poems
* quotes from pieces by individual children

Elland Bridge Open Day
Saturday 26th November,
Details here

There should be a blog post about our workshops but it hasn’t surfaced yet!

I suspect it is better not to know  what is happening to the lone swimmer....

Winter night, winter water,
Christmas night,
The river wakes.
The flood is coming.

With many thanks to Tom and Claire and the C&RT team 
 and to the artists and poets of Elland primary School