Category Archives: art projects

Longer spells of activity spanning several sessions, weeks or months

The Hatching

...nimbly swerving, dodging rocks, waves crushing boulders...

Over the last 3 months, I’ve been dipping into a longer project organised by the Ribble Rivers Trust. Specially cooled aquaria were installed in 6 schools in Burnley who went on to hatch 100 trout eggs each so that the school communities can watch these first few weeks of trout-life before releasing the fish into the rapidly improving River Ribble

My friend, musician Steve Brown and I visited those 6 schools to write poems and stories and make music inspired by this process. The resulting artwork reinforced the experience and has been helping us share the excitements and anticipations of The Hatching with a wider public



Ribble Rivers Trust


“In the past, industrial and agricultural pollution as well as water abstraction and inadequate sewage treatment have caused severe habitat damage to the Ribble and its tributaries, to such an extent that the wildlife supported by the river has been put under threat. The Trust was established in order to enhance the water environments of the catchment, by restoring and protecting the river to make certain that future generations can enjoy the beauty of its wildlife and fauna.” – introduction from the Trust’s website

Activities began back in January with a day with the Canalside Community Association


hatfulls of rivers....

Then, first sessions in schools, explored the early days of trout-life as the eggs hatched, golden pearls releasing tiny fry into the world and we wrote about rivers and made pop-up landscapes of riverbeds and redds (gravel bed nests where trout spawn)






life for young trout begins in the gravel of a cold, clean river bed


This is a silver stream, so cool and fresh as can be

Fish eggs like little beads

Eels as big as santa’s bag of treats

The robins sing in such harmony


Freezing through the splashing, popping,

Water rushing stones

Water bubbles

Huge strong rocks blocking the icy flow


Water smashing over rocks

Splashing people,

Water thrashing,

Water crashing,

Soaking the grass,

Running on into the pool.


Slowing down, running wider, 

The river slips into a pool, 

Dark ice-cold water

Deep water, calm water, ripples meandering, 

Slow carp in deep pools,

Grasping weeds to pull you down, 

Down to the stones where the eels live,

Small fish, silver fish, white fish darting, 

Fast as arrows, lightning flickers


Kingfishers dive, chasing fish 

Graceful swans glide across the pool, 

Carp sneak like ghosts through weeds and water


Trout blend in brown as sand, as stone as shadows

Moss everywhere, under water, on the bank, over the stones, up the trees, 

On the stepping stones where you wobble across the pool


Otters waiting

Big trout hunting

Deep dark, cold as ice


Yellow lightning flashes,

Thunder crashes!

Rain comes splashing down!

Every raindrop feeds the flood.


The river overloaded, bursting, flowing to the sea

A soggy disaster, dirty, nasty mess

Huge, wet, destroying, damaging
We are left disgusted, exhausted, vulnerable

But now the river escapes to the sea.



danger waits




Ancient Landscapes

Ancient Landscapes is a partner project to Exploring with Stories and we thought you might enjoy the delights of a project bringing limestone to life

we’ve had a busy few days as the second phase of this project begins, or maybe as the tide runs again toward the full. (PIctures from the first phase can be found on my own Creeping Toad blog – I am Gordon MacLellan, is one of the workshop artists and disorganiser of a lot of the Stone and Water projects)

first session at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery


With Ancient Landscapes, we are looking at the limestone of the Peak District where we live and the fossils that rock contains. Then mixing observation, deduction and wild imagination, we work to create the original environments that spawned our limestone as installations in crochet, knitting, clay, beads, felt and anything else that takes our artists fancy!



building coral takes concentration.....

Coral takes tea and time as well as concentration

Meanwhile, a new group has taken up the challenge of extending the ancient landscape and a session at Buxton Museum last week, led on to a workshop at Fairfield Community Centre today. Five more sessions will follow and then we’ll see just how our coral garden grows before it unfolds its glories again in the Buxton Art Trail in the summer


not just coral, and while this lovely creature isn't quite period, she was too magnificent to ignore!



Our use of crochet in Ancient Landscapes was inspired by the global Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project ( whose influence we acknowledge even though we couldn’t afford to sign into their network as a community group.

The connection between those techniques, other artforms and our Peak District landscapes comes from Stone and Water, a Buxton-based community group dedicated to celebrating the creativity of the people and landscapes of the Peaks.


new book: The Wanton Green

Over the last year, I have been one of a team editing a book that has now been released. The Wanton Green is an exciting collection of essays from (mostly) British pagans exploring their relations to places


cover image by Damian Hughes

From the main Press Release:

From the lost magics and holy waters of London to bleak Staffordshire Moorlands; from childhood adventures in Rochdale to faeries in Devon and Cumbria, a new book, The Wanton Green, offers readers a different perspective on landscape


As our relationship with the world unravels and needs to take new form, or maybe to reconnect with an older pattern, The Wanton Green presents a collection of inspiring, provoking and engaging essays by modern pagans talking about their own deep and passionate relationships with the Earth. With contributions from 20 authors that range from Druids to Heathens, from Chaos Magicians to Witches, Shamans and Voudou Mambo, Wanton Green brings voices from the diverse and growing Pagan community of Britain to the environmental debate and promises food for thought and inspiration for the spirit


Contributors include Emma Restall Orr, Runic John, Robert Wallsi, Jenny Blain, Melissa Harrington, Graham Harvey, Maria van Daalen, Susan Greenwood and Susan Cross


Ordering copies

a) direct from me £ 11.99 a copy, + £2.00 P&P for first copy and £1 per copy after that (cheques to Creeping Toad, or I can invoice you – address: 51-d West Rd, Buxton, SK17 6HQ

b) from Mandrake, the publishers

c) through a local bookshop or on-line store



The Wanton Green:

contemporary pagan writings on place

editors: G MacLellan and S Cross


Mandrake Books, Oxford, 2011

ISBN: 978 1  906958 29 9



Chapters and sections include

Personal journeys, intimate connections

Fumbling in the landscape,             Runic John

Finding the space, finding the words, Rufus Harrington

Stone in my bones,                         Sarah Males

A Heathen in place: working with Mugwort, Robert Wallis


By river, well and sea

Wild, wild water,                                     Lou Hart

Facing the waves,                                     Gordon MacLellan

The dragon waters of place: a journey to the source, Susan Greenwood


Exploring – mud on your boots, mud on your hands

Catching the Rainbow Lizard,             Maria van Daalen

The rite to roam,                                     Julian Vayne

Places of Power                                     Jan Fries

Art is natural magic,                         Greg Humphries


Step back and consider

Pagan Ecology: on our perception of nature, ancestry and home, Emma Restall Orr

We have no imagination,             Susan Cross

Crossroads of perception,             Shani Oates


Where are the wild places

Devon, Faeries and Me,                         Woody Fox

Lud’s Church,                                     Gordon MacLellan

Places of spirit and spirits of place: of Fairy and other folk, and my Cumbrian bones.                                    Melissa Harrington

A life in the woods: protest site paganism, Adrian Harris

We first met in the north,             Barry Patterson

The king who sites upon the water, Barry Patterson

The Ballad of the Tyne Plover,             Barry Patterson


Urban wildness

Museum or Mausoleum – A Pagan at play in King Solomon’s House ,                                                             Mogg Morgan

Hills of the ancestors, townscapes of artisans, Jenny Blain

Smoke and mirrors,                         Stephen Grasso

America,                                                Maria van Daalen

Standing at the crossroads: A beginning at the end?

various authors



Excitements at Annesley

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

camels got priority in our desert tents!










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


the arctic encampment (including stray penguin)

            In Africa. another group saw lions, but were not afraid, although on 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….


On a tropical island, children made houses and met giant tortoises

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.


inside of a pop-up card - an animal friend


assembled stories


Training courses coming up….

I am even more elusive than usual just now for people looking for workshops for adults or professional training sessions. (You can always set up your own training course and book me for that!). Most of the following events are still being finalised so come back to this page to find out more or drop me an email and I can let you know details as they confirm


Workshops in the diary just now for the next few months include:


            Lights, Words and Inspiring Places, 4 – 6 November, near Dunkeld, Perthshire. Drawing ideas out of the November weather and from mountains, moors, stream, wood and stone to give us words, to shape poems, spin stories, making quick puppets and holding the essence of autumn in tiny  lanterns, printed tissue and leaf-lightcages.

For the SpeyGrian Trust (, booking and costs through:


            Wild Words: planned for early December, a one day workshop down in the West Country: playing with words, making stories, building books. Details to be confirmed – contact Gordon for more information


            Institute for Outdoor Learning, March 2012, Hollowford Centre: probable workshops on this exciting event


Southend Educational Trust, Essex, (tentative) April 2012, a day working  with school grounds and finding ways of inspiring literacy through playgrounds, playing fields, flowerbeds and vegetable plots. Details to be confirmed


a fish-lantern for a SpeyGrian weekend?


South African workshops, 2011

re-imaganing: exploring possible futures

2 weeks in South Africa, old friends, new friends, new workshops and an exciting new centre to work with


The Re-imagining festival in Grahamstown was part of the annual National Arts Festival exploring new perspectives on the environment and social change in South Africa. I always find when I visit this beautiful country that people are full of new ideas, new ways of looking at issues. Visiting RSA challenges me to look at what I bring to sessions and inspires me to find my own new perspectives and gives me new things to think about


Re-imagining addressed sustainability education by opening up spaces for discussion, space to listen think, talk and share.


My role: to work with local children on building stories, not with serious outcomes but to help children (and anyone who wanted to join in) to let their imaginations go, to find a degree of imaginative freedom and confidence in their own value as thinking creative people


So we used our immediate environment for inspiration and shaped new stories, made animals with our fingers, shaped characters out of leaves and scrap card and found adventures everywhere from the centre’s leaf-shaped pool to the caves of a rockery and a recess in a wall

books take shape after an afternoon of exploring stories


and in the quiet spaces between sessions, and between shows and exhibitons in the wider festival,  I let my own imagination wander


1. Head down a hole

Full of sand and hope

Dreaming of aardvarks


2. The aloe lifts fire

To a pale, cloudless sky.


Embrace a flower, ignite your spirit


A pop-up adventure!
Towneley Hall inspires in many directions!
In the grounds...
work in progress: flagstones, grass and the entrance to a secret tunnel!
The Family Dining Room
complete with table, flowers and a portrait on the wall....
Frances' Towneley's adventure
this young lady went hunting for gold!

Mary Towneley's adventure

A recipe:

draw inspiration from Townenely Hall in Burnley, add a sense of place from Geraldine Pilgrim’s Not Forgotten exhibition, stir in some exciting wintry weather and season with the unfettered imaginations of local schoolchildren.

Blend well and simmer backwards for some 440 years to uncover the adventures of the large Towneley family from the late 1500s…

From November 2010 through to March 2011, I am working in Burnley, Accrington and surrounding areas to distil stories from the experiences of children living in the wonderful Towneley Hall in Burnley in the late 1500s. Trying to describe what is going on feeds in almost too many explanations- the Prince’s Foundation, Mid-Pennine Arts, the Kicking Leaves Festival….. so I’ll link them in for visitors to pursue for themselves

Most important are the stories that are unfolding: madcap capers on snowy paths with Elizabethan sledges, naughty children swinging on chandeliers, naughty children being punished by polishing those same chandeliers, climbing out of windows on ropes made out of their sheets. The ghostly knight who was killed while on guard duty and who still stands guarding the Hall, atching the world from that little window there…..

Some examples of work arising are attached and hopefully more will follow!

a storymaking residency for Mid-Pennine Arts as part of the Kicking Leaves Festival, supported by the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts

a collective set of stories from Broadfield School