Creepy Houses and Limestone Monsters

Creepy Houses and Limestone Monsters


all quiet on the Creepy Houses front...

Wild, strange and dangerous days, these dog days of summer…As part of this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, I’ve been doing workshops for Nottinghamshire and City of Nottingham Libraries making creepy houses and spooky landscape pop-ups. These have set out to inspire young people to tell us stories and to use the ideas they find in the books they read and apply these in other situations

soon the tables filled with enthusiastic creepers!


So last Wednesday saw us creeping in Mansfield Library….


a creepy house?
Dunklosteus, an ancient predatory fish

Then Thursday, I was plunging again into our Carboniferous past and leading  workshops in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery as part of our Ancient Landscapes project. We were making puppets inspired by the animals of those prehistoric seas that gave us the limestone of the Peaks. A lot of creative license was exercised (not least over time periods and dates) and scientific presumptions challenged (how could anyone possibly know that trilobites were not rainbow patterned?)


Next Creeping Toad wildnesses

5th -16th August: summer residency at the Holly Lodge Centre in Richmond Park, Surrey: closed sessions not open for dropping in

20th August: more Spooky Towers and Creepy Houses: Aspley Library, 10 -12, Bilborough Library, 2- 4, Nottingham. Free, drop-in events – give yourself 45 minutes at least to make your pop-up spookiness

21st August: even creepier houses, this time in Mansfield Library: 10.30 – 12.30 and 1.30 – 3.30. Again, free, drop in activities but give yourself time to do the making

a small and rather dismal boggart

22nd August, Sherwood Pines Country Park: away with the fairies, goblins and trolls: lively storywalks! Details, booking and prices:

29th August: Ogden Water Country Park: more faeries, elves, goblins and trolls: telling stories, making up new ones, finding evidence of terrible enchantments and wild adventures and making tiny goblin puppets to take home and upset the neighbours….Details, bookings and prices:





Next Ancient Landscapes events:

Tuesday 6th August: Winnat’s Pass Walk: exploring the millstone grits of the Dark Peak. Meet: Castleton Visitor Centre Car Park, S33 8WP, at 2pm. Walk 2 – 4pm, some steep slopes and off paved footpaths


4. Wednesday 7th August: Life in Ancient Seas at Leek PlayDay

Brough Park, Leek, 11 – 3: meet the Ancient Landscape team and make your own finger-puppet fossils or ancient seascape


Come and join in…or we’ll send the trilobites round

Hathersage adventures

Today was the first of two days building stories in the wide and exciting grounds of St Michael’s Primary School in Hathersage


A few morsels…..

playing with presentation


Journey poems led us into stories and building characters

Under the roots,

And over the trees,

Across the forgotten field

Behind the mossy wall.

Through the holly bushes

And there beside a muddy stream, beneath an old grey willow,

A damp goblin lives


I use an activity “here, there, everywhere, and nowhere” just to get ideas moving. Today with Year 3s it gave two quick pieces that seemed to feed one into the other…

Group A

Here comes a black knight, marching out of the gloomy forest

There, in the mini-beasts’ home, curious ants creep up towards the surface

Everywhere, a strong wind blows from a ghost’s breath

There was nowhere we could escape from this terrifying school



Group B

Here are the children standing quietly by the window

(here are the children, climbing out of the window)

Everywhere the teachers are looking,

because there is something suspicious going on

There by the minibeasts’ hotel, the children suddenly disappear

The children were nowhere to be seen!

a lively mixing of characters....


I like these two sets… this final image (for now) is a bit grimmer, but I love the “dusty old graves”!

Once And Future Giants: book review

Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth’s Largest Animals

Sharon Levy

Oxford University Press, USA; 2011

ISBN; 978-0-19-993116-3



I have a deep and abiding affection for mammoths and an awful creeping suspicion about our ancestors’ role in their extinction. So I started reading  Sharon Levy’s book with a mixture of wariness and excitement.


Both were justified.

This is a fascinating read, exploring the changing landscapes of an Ice Age and post-Ice Age planet, mostly from the perspective of the megaherbivores. My mammoths were there – and so were herds of large grazers, mastodons, ground sloths, giant kangaroos in Australia, moa in new Zealand, Aepyornis in Madagascar – and giant tortoises just about anywhere else that didn’t have any of the others. Mixing sound observation with deduction and careful parallels with modern ecosystems, Levy dives into the ecology of those prehistoric landscapes. It makes fascinating reading: from the sheer physical impact of herds of mammoth (and all the other) to their role in maintaining biodiversity, their vulnerability to predation (yes, we were there, too, alongside sabretooths and giant eagles) and the decline of, especially northern, ecosystems in their absence. It’s not that long ago: 10,000 years – and less, hundreds in some cases – is not long in ecological terms and that absence is still felt


Levy weaves research from different disciplines to make a coherent and compelling argument for the vital role of giant herbivores in maintaining viable and diverse ecosystems and while work on extinct animals has to be speculative, she draws carefully on current research on extant equivalents to fuel her arguments and to lend weight to discussions. You only have to look at how wildlife “management” missed the long term impacts of elephants on East African landscapes to appreciate that those large animals have been deeply misunderstood, their impact seen in the short term and to realise how little we really know about even the largest of our terrestrial neighbours. Looking beyond its immediate subject matter, Once And Future Giants is a celebration of the intricacy and subtlety of natural systems, in constantly reminding us that modern science hasn’t been looking at these processes for long enough to grasp the depth of the processes and that, where the knowledge survives, traditional cultures can fill in a lot of the spaces – and equally that traditional knowledge is not infallible and in the end reflects upon practices that helped humans survive – sometimes at the expense of other species.

Elephants feature again in the final aspects of the book: the reintroduction of large herbivores. That could mean returning lost species to familiar landscapes – beavers or moose in Britain, perhaps. “Rewilding” inevitably gallops onto the pages.This is fascinating, exciting and provocative work: essentially, allowing animals to get on with it with minimal interference (and even less “management”). In western Europe there are notable examples in the Netherlands and an interim stage can be seen with the feral, or half-wild herds of ponies and aurochs-like cattle in used in some nature reserves. This then feeds into discussions about the presence or absence of predators and opens up old discussions for Britain about our native ponies, feral sheep and goats and soaring numbers of deer. But always we come back to what counts as a megaherbivore: big, hefty and doing a job that seems to have been lost. And we step straight into Australian controversy  with camels and water buffalo possibly replacing lost marsupial giant kangaroos and wombats (in tandem with Native Australian fire-setting regimes). We meet reintroductions advocated for reindeer, musk-ox, horse and bison in other northern climes and some ambitious plans for Siberia (at least they still have wolves and occasional tigers). One of the most charming campaigns is the spread of the Bolson tortoise in the deserts of the American south-west. Large, but not a giant, it still trundles in as the biggest herbivore in its small world and has enthusiastic champions among ranchers and environmentalists. And elephants – dreamers talking of replacing those lost Columbian mastodons with African elephants in continental America, letting them roam over the rangelands and start rebuilding older, richer ecosystems.


And my mammoths? Acknowledging they have gone (regardless of excited claims from gene-spliced scientists), the passing of those heavy-footed, hairy herds is marked with a sigh – at least by me


A book to be recommended. Fascinating, rich and readable it gives the reader a lot to think about, discussions to have and arguments to pursue – if only with oneself!

Models in photos, made by:

Mother and baby mammoths: Papo

Ground sloth: Schleich

Mammoth herd: Papo and Schleich

a long slow walk into extinction...

Hopping around in June!

Events where you just might find this Toad over the next month

telling tales and spinning stories...

 Sunday June 9th

The Big Bird, Beast, Bug and Botany Hunt

When: 11.00 – 16.00

Where: Dove Valley Centre

Under Whitle Farm

(between Sheen and Longnor)

SK17 0PR

setting up at last year's Big B day


Our Ancient Landscapes project will be there among the Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Botanicals. We’ll be there with fossils to look at and draw, models to handle, people to talk to, a wall to stare at (just in case we can find anything!) and our usual exciting, messy, colourful and engaging creative activities


I’ll be there helping on the Landscapes stall but mostly to tell stories of farms and fields and the plants and animals and stranger inhabitants of the Dales and Moorlands




Sunday June 16th

Father’s Day BBQ and Games

When: 11.00 – 15.30

Where: Ilam Park, Postcode: DE6 2AZ. Ordnance Survey grid reference SK132507.

 I’ll be on the Ancient Landscapes team will be at this National Trust event at Ilam Park


finger puppets for parents?

Tempting as it is, we won’t be “fossilizing fathers” but we may well invite you to look at some of the fossils we find in the limestone of the area, to make printed fossil cards for Dads, cast your own fossils (for anyone), make trilobite puppets and personal nautiloids….


Our activities are free but car parking charges apply. There are lots of other activities on at Ilam that day – but come and hunt us out!


Finding the event: Postcode: DE6 2AZ. Ordnance Survey grid reference SK132507.


Building networks: Burrenbeo, 2013

The official details of this year’s Burrenbeo conference are pasted in below. I was at last year’s event and it was rich and delightful. Good company, a wonderful setting and lots of thought-provoking sessions. so if you fancy a trip out to the west of ireland and the spectacular limestone landscapes of the Burren in July…sign up!

Place-based Learning – building a network?

Kinvara July 18th-20th 2013.

Building on the success of the inaugural Learning Landscape Symposium Apathy to Empathyreconnecting people with place in 2012, the Burrenbeo Trust are hosting an intimate networking event this year for place-based educators, teachers, parents and anyone with an interest in place-based learning and/or learning in the Burren.


This event aims to:


  • provide a unique opportunity to network with other place-based educators from Ireland and beyond, exchange ideas and experiences
  • hear from some leading practitioners both nationally and internationally
  • continue the momentum from our biannual symposium in 2012 and build towards our planned 2014 event
  • explore Ireland ’s ultimate learning landscape, the Burren.




This event will feature interactive workshops in community venues in Kinvara village as well as field trips to the Burren, cultural events and much more.   It will start on the evening on the 18th, the workshops will be throughout the 19th, and there is an optional fieldtrip on the 20th.  




Workshop leaders include:

Anita Goodwin tbc (


Gordon MacLellan (


Sam Moore (


Chris Chapman (


Michael Ryan (


Gordon D’Arcy


Katy Egan


Sophie Nicol


Zena Hoctor


Shane Casey


….more workshop leaders to be confirmed shortly.




Cost: €70 (€60 for OAP/Students, €55 for Burrenbeo Trust members).


Bookings are now open by contacting and 091 638096 or downloading the attach form and sending it back.  Places are strictly limited and bookings will be on a first come first served basis.


The full programme will be released shortly; keep an eye on for more information.


The Burren, Ireland ’s Learning Landscape – An Bhoireann, Tírdhreach Saíochta na hÉireann



Supported by the Heritage Council





Storytelling tour: Wild Tales And Animals

Wild tales and animals

Stories in school with Creeping Toad September 2013

celebrating the Year of Natural Scotland here are old stories, new adventures and impossible fictions about the wildlife of Scotland


From heroic mice to wrens, eagles and mysterious trees we’ll meet stories that encourage us to look with new eyes on the world around us and remember that there are stories inside the humblest of creatures and the most ordinary of plants, and that we can all have adventures too


I am Gordon MacLellan – Creeping Toad – allegedly one of Britain’s foremost environmental art and education workers…and I tell stories as well! Take a look at the Toadblog:


Between 2nd and 13th September, 2013 (and probably again in November), I will be working in the Highland area (at least) and is available for bookings….


A day’s visit to your school might include


storytelling performances: lasting up to 60 minutes for up to 90 children at a time


just give them a chance and stories and children absorb each other

stories outside! using the school ground, we’ll take storymaking out of the classroom and use the immediate environment, the day’s weather and whatever we can find to inspire words, create poems and shape a set of stories never told before (allow 60 minutes for a class session)


story and book workshops: taking a bit longer (allow 90 minutes for a class) as well as discovering those stories no-one has ever heard before, now we will build those into the books that no-one has ever read before and leave the classroom with a library no-one has ever visited before!


pop-up storyscapes: allow an hour for a class: gathering ideas, images and words we’ll make quick 3-d landscapes holding the essence of a story in a setting, key characters and the words that set the adventure running

tales of old Scotland: a collection of stories of Highland folklore and Scottish histories, of heroes and sorrows, bravery and the magics of sea, mountain and moor


your own themes and ideas: or are you exploring a particular theme that you would like to involve some stories in? pirates….tropical islands….ancient cave people…..where in our school would bears live?…castle adventures,  have all featured in recent Creeping Toad projects


I rather hope this isn't one of the heroes of old Scotland

Charges: £250 a day: includes storyteller’s fee, travel and materials. Can be paid on the day or I can invoice you


For further information:

visit the Creeping Toad website at


To book: contact Gordon directly at

or by telephone:

landline: 01298 77964

mobile: 07791 096857

sometimes new stories need ancient characters

Skulls! a book review

Skulls, an exploration of Alan Dudley’s curious collection

Simon Winchester

Black Dog & Leventhal, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1-57912-912-5

A beautiful book. It celebrates bone, with photographs that revel in the curve and the line, the sharp edges and deep shadows that make skulls so captivating.


Skulls is as rich and as stark as the bones it holds. There is minimal text. For each skull, we get the basic zoological information and that’s it. But that’s all that’s needed. I find myself drawn in, turning pages, skeletal browsing and brooding a bit. The collection itself presented is intriguing. These are all from the collection of a single man. Alan Dudley has a collection of 2,000 skulls and a passion for collecting that eventually brought him into court with a handful of skulls that had slipped into his possession in breach of international and national law


A reminder not to lose one’s own perspective perhaps. But then, open the book and revere the animals brought to you here, through the temples of their bones and be inspired.

Natural History Book Shop – you could get a copy here


Black Dog and Leventhal – the publishers


my own bones tend to end up a bit more festive...

Perfect Park Pizza

In the ongoing, delightful craziness that is my work with Whitefield Infant School, the Reception classes (4 year olds, just turning 5) had been working on senses and cookery. So when it came time to work with me and visit the lcoal park, we explored Victoria Park as chefs, designing pizzas for the animals (real, hoped for or monstrous) that live there

My brief is to encourage classes to use the local environment and to help inspire language….The poems are the children’s own words and images. My job is to shuffle them into an order….I love the language

Getting to the Park itself caused certain issues….


 Snow is slowly drifting down.

Falling in the water,


Snow pirates sailing on the river

In the cold, cold, freezing cold

Magic flowers are growing,

There are suns made of snow

And stars

And rainbows of snow and ice,

In the cold, cold, freezing cold

Snow butterflies,
And snow trees,

Snow spiders and

Snow birds

In the cold, cold, freezing cold

Icicles grow everywhere

On fingers and noses

And ears and eyes

And faces and eyebrows and chins,

In the cold, cold, freezing cold

Ducks with cold toes are swimming

Racing us round the pond

Hoping for bread

But our pockets are empty,

In the cold, cold, freezing cold

But polar bears are waiting to roar

And penguins are sitting in the penguin houses,

Dinosaurs have snowball fights

And the troll sits in the tunnel waiting for spring

In the cold, cold, freezing cold

Class 1, Whitefield Infant and Nursery School

Nut we were bold and resolute and a’pizzaing we did go…..

a tasty selection



Our pizza smells, of strong green leaves,

muddy brown leaves, red cherries

and blue jellies

fried egg and useful glue-spreader to help in eating!


Our pizza

Sounds like the wind in the trees, shouting children,

Feet trip trapping through the

Castle tunnel where the monster lives


Our pizza

Has tomato and cheese, mud and mushrooms.

Cheese and chicken and chips, pine cones and pepsi,

Cups and kites, leaves and lentils,

Ducks, pineapples and glass


a sliced-flower pizza for butterflies

Our pizza party has

Ladybirds and lions, elephants and owls,

Squirrels, dogs and gingerbread men

Our pizza will

Taste beautiful and wonderful and we

Will need a map to get past the troll

 Class 2 Whitefield Infant School


a pizza in the Park, ready for sharing

Perhaps the best bit of all this was eavesdropping on one girl who, after 2 hours of solid classroom work – everyone else had stopped and was relaxing or pottering about doing other things, but she was till going strong and having a careful conversation with the rabbit she was designing a pizza for and explaining to her just what delicious foods  she (the girl) was choosing for her (the rabbit)

A weekend of messy lantern making!


ready for action

Padfield Lanterns

photos and feedback from two excessively sticky days in Hadfield Hall this weekend. 70 people on Saturday and maybe 90 today (Sunday). Trying to work out a collective noun for lanterns: an adhesion of lanterns? a glue of lanterns? a spike? an accumulation?


accumulated lanterns

These were lovely days and I can only thank both the Hadfield Hall helpers, High Peak Community Arts and all those well-glued members of the public with their good humour and patience as more and more people arrived and we gradually ran out of willow

Other comments come from participants…

hard at work: sponging


Very helpful staff, as a Grandma I needed help which I got lots of. Alfie had a good time sticking! We will see you all on Friday



My children and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Gordon was very helpful and entertaining. Much fun was had by all of us. Would love to do it again

Brilliant! Very well organised and well run. Fab morning + can’t wait for Friday

Really brilliant

hard at work: covering

Nice workshop, not rigid, so children could chose own designs which we liked.


Lovely idea, Beau really enjoyed it, looking forward to the parade and hope its on again next year when we can try something more ambitious when they are older

almost finished
stars were popular, even with rather grisly greetings!
evidence of hard work!
lanterns stacked, stored and waiting for the final procession

A December Lantern Workshop

When: 1st and 2nd December 2012

When? 10am – 2pm

Where: Hadfield Hall, Hadfield, Glossop, SK13 2AA

What: a lantern making workshop, using willow and tissue to make simple processional lanterns with the opportunity to maybe be a bit more adventurous!

What? just come along and join in. Drop in during the session – give yourself at least 45 minutes to make your lantern (more for the more intricate ones). We’ll provide materials and give you the chance to end up peeling glue off your fingers

leaves, pictures, patterns can all be

fixed into our lanterns


Cost: it’s free! (I think)

Who: High Peak Community Arts have brought Creeping Toad (me!) in to lead lantern sessions with local schools and now with the public

lanterns might be fish, pirates ships…


What’s it for? We are making lanterns for a procession on Friday 7th, meeting at the Hall at 6pm and then processing through the streets of Hadfield before the switching on of the Christmas Lights



and even party girls

So come and join in, be creative, make a mess and then join the procession on Friday and add your light to lift the winter darkness!

a procession at Calke Abbey last December

Environmental storytelling, art and celebration – Education, Training & Workshops