Stories for a lonely Beast

Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been working with children from Whitefield Infant School at Wycoller Country Park.


Wycoller Hall is ruined now


Each of three Year 2 classes has had a day at the Park working with musician Steve Brown and myself, using the wonderful Wycoller environment to inspire stories, poems songs and music about the Lonely Beast. In the book by Chris Judge, the Lonely Beast goes all over the world looking for other beasts to befriend…we picked up on his arrival in Wycoller….here are a couple of the children’s poems


the beautiful arches of the Packhorse Bridge

Arriving at Wycoller

The Lonely Beast went to Wycoller and saw


1 ruin where there might be dangerous ghosts, and saw

2 dogs barking loudly behind the gates, and heard

3 birds singing in the trees, and saw

4 slippery, mossy rocks beside the river, and saw

5 parked cars with nobody in them, and saw

6 houses full of frightened people, and took

7 big steps to get up the steep hill, and heard

8 chattering children splashing through the river, and heard

9 quacking ducks racing across the pond and saw

10 leaves drifting beside the high trees

climb up the long stair....







How to find a Wycoller beast

Look under the bridge over the fast, stony river

For trolls in the shadows and slime,

Creep beside the river, with the tall trees dropping leaves,

Run up the long stairs where the goblins hide,

Then back down the path, sliding in the mud,

By the pond where the ducks play

And in the ruins, inside the fireplace,

Maybe Beasts hide there



Stories from the woods

our storytelling camp

Stories that grew out of a beautiful autumn day in Plas Power Woods for the Woodland Trust with some 40 people visiting us through the day, along with several friendly dogs, a possible bear and occasional breezes. We listened to tales of animals and children and monsters and learned that we need

long ago, Conker Trees were the Hundred-handed Giants

to be kind to Conker Trees as they remember when they could still run around the dance and play….


the Witch


down by the stream, an old witch lives

Deep in the woods, an old witch lives

If you are careful you might find her,

Putting on make-up down by the stream

Mud for lipstick,

Berry eyeshadow,

her hair is leaves and grass

Her eyelashes twigs

Stick eyebrows arch over

Eyes as dark as a forest pool

In skin as green and grey and rough as bark

You might see her there,

A shadow by the rapids

Sharpening stones on the riverbank

Fitting her mouth for teeth


The Lost Fairies

One bright autumn day, two woodland fairies, Stephanie and Jasmine, were out exploring the forest. They should have been busy flying the Royal Butterflies but were fed up up with the Butterflies because whenever the girls took them out, the insects all flew in different directions and the little fairies felt as if their arms were going to be pulled off!


So today, they had tied the butterflies to a bouncy tree branch and gone off looking for an adventure


Stephanie and Jasmine went deep into the woods. Here, they could hear the rushing of the river and the rustling of the leaves. They felt the roughness of bark and smelt the dampness of water and mud and moss

In the middle of the woods, in a pool of sunlight by the river, they met a beautiful blue dragonfly.

The dragonfly told the girls about a wonderful white deer that had been seen in the woods, a rare and magical animal

Through the woods,

Under the oak trees,

Over the logs,

Beside the stream,

Across the river on the stepping stones

The fairy girls went hunting


But somewhere

Between one tree and the next,

Between daytime and night-time,

Between sunset and moonrise,

In the mist and the woods,

Where the squirrels look down from the branches,

And the hedgehogs look up from the bushes,

The fairy girls disappeared and

No-one has seen them again. Yet…



Bob the Duck


One sunny and windy afternoon, a very hot duck was swimming in the river trying to cool down, when suddenly a huge holly leaf blew down on the wind and landed on his head! The leaf was very spiky and knocked some of his feathers out.

Bob the duck went swimming away down the river. At a very loud waterfall he stopped and listened to some birds singing. A girl came to look at the waterfall and the birds. Bob didn’t want the girls to see him so he swam further and further down to the very bottom of the waterfall.

But as swam down, he could smell delicious pie. The smell wasn’t coming from the bottom of the pond but from up where the girl was. Bob decided that he didn’t care if the girl stroked him – he just wanted pie!

Bob swam up to the top of the pool and the girl said, “What are you looking for?” and Bob said, “I’m looking for pie”. So the girl showed Bob the way to the pie. But as they walked through the woods, a giant spiky conker fell on the girl’s head. It hurt.

So Bob helped the girl through the wood and forgot that he was missing some feathers. When they found the pie, they both felt better and stayed together to have pie for tea

Big Draw: fossils, bones and exciting artefacts!


Revealing the world through drawing

Wednesday 31st October

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

10 am – 12 noon

1pm – 3pm


hold, stroke, enjoy the feel of old stone!


Shells, fossils, wonders and marvels: join artist and storyteller Gordon MacLellan (that’s me!) and make your own collection of drawings and prints using tiny treasures, wonderful artefacts and fabulous fabrics from around the world


This is a Big Draw event: part of the world’s biggest celebration of drawing. Buxton saw a colourful draw on Saturday 13th in Pavilion Gardens. For our next pencil-driven adventure, come to the Museum on 31st and enjoy the latest exhibitions as well as our event. Look, peer, handle and maybe even sniff objects to handle: from African masks to ancient fossils, Australian seed pods to deep sea shells: a chance to draw, sketch and scribble your own set of pictures of a fascinating world. 

be inspired!



Can you draw your way around the world in 10 pictures? 

Or span the history of the Earth in 20? 

Or why not just pause in a busy day, take up a pencil and relax for a few minutes!


No booking needed: just drop in (but give yourself 30 minutes to work in so don’t arrive right at the end of a session!

 Children under 8 years old need to bring a grown-up with them, please

Free: materials supplies

Where: Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Terrace Rd, Buxton, SK17 6DA

Woodland Tales

hoping for clear skies....

Tree Tellings!

Saturday 20th October 2012

Plas Power Woods near Wrexham

Meet Nant Mill Visitor Centre

11am – 3.30pm

arrive anytime – after 11, there will be a self-guided storytrail to take you down to our camp in the woods

What are we doing?

I’ll be telling woodland stories and tales of trees: of dancing birch trees and sad cedars, of the dramatic history of horse chestnuts and why we need to be very careful around oak and willow trees


The walk through the woods will give us new stories, as well, building new adventures for visitors to the woods out of the sounds we hear, the smells of autumn, fallen twigs and floating leaves: anything might feed into new tales!


To find out more and get directions, visit the Woodland Trust site 


the richness of autumn will feed our stories




A Wanton return!

Revised copies of The Wanton Green have just come in, so grab your cheque books, or contact me for paypal ideas and give yourself a treat (well, we think it is!)


From original blog posting:

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


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. (Visit the Wanton Green blog for tastes of the treats within…)

All the contributors have forgone their royalties, allowing any arising to go to Honouring the Ancient Dead 


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 – 51-d West, Rd, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 6HQ, UK

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


the walk to Lud's Church, can be marked by mud, sand...or icicles

Training courses coming up

Training has suffered a bit in our current distressed times so when there is a chance to do something exciting, we can only hope that people will  dive into the opportunity.

Why not seize the moment and find new inspiration, activities to use and renewed delight in the work we share.


stories can grow out of anything.....

‘From Apathy to Empathy – Reconnecting People and Place’


featuring leading international and national experts in place-based education

22nd-24th August 2012, The Burren, Ireland

This unique event will bring together leading local, national and international thinkers and practitioners who specialise in the theme of place-based learning (jncluding your very own Creeping Toad). Place-based learning encourages the use of the local environment as a learning resource. It immerses individuals in local heritage, culture and landscape, encouraging them to become more aware of and engaged with their place.

Follow this link to the Toadblog for more information


improvising mantids

Monday 15th October 2012

Leaves, grass and plastic bottles: creative ways of using natural, found and recycled materials

activities and inspiration using natural, found and recycled materials with groups to encourage a creative exploration of the world around us

Description: with resources that fit in a single bag, quick activities to use natural materials in sculpture, storymaking, puppetry and mess on a walk through the woods with a group. Later, we’ll add more recycled materials and make masks, bigger puppets, illuminated sculptures, hanging mobiles, drifting ghosts. A chance to experiment, improvise and inspire yourself and your groups with the resources around us

Cost: £135

Where: Bishops Wood Environment Centre, Worcestershire

For further details and information about Bishops Woods courses, please contact:

Bishops Wood Centre

Crossway Green, Stourport-on-Severn


DY13 9SE

Telephone: 01299 250513 Fax: 01299 250131


Visit our website at:


good training courses draw inspiration and concentration together (and hopefully some sunshine)


Creeping Toad on tour, Highlands September 2012

Creeping Toad in action, Apple Day at the Dove Valley Centre, October 2012

What else could happen?

Creeping Toad on tour,

3 – 14th September 2012

what else could go wrong?

what other trick could we play?

what will happen next?


With stories to inspire, enchant and engage, workshops to captivate, books to make and new adventures to find, Creeping Toad stories involve participants in worlds of marvel and wonder and leave people full of words and images and ready for action

“like dogs who need toys to have fun and be happy, children need fun and to play to be happy. Then we learn well. With Gordon we play and have fun and learn at the same time”

Year 5 pupil, Runcorn, 2011


Gordon MacLellan – Creeping Toad – is one of Britain’s foremost environmental art and education workers…and he tells stories too!


Between 3rd and 14th September, 2012  (and again in November), Gordon will be working in the Highland area (at least) and is available for a few bookings….


building stories out of found objects and occasional treasures

A day’s visit to your school might include


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


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 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 the stories that 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!


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


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


effective storymaking invites us to step out of busyness and appreciate the world about usFor further information:

visit the Creeping Toad website at

To book: contact Gordon directly at

or by telephone:

landline: 01298 77964

         mobile: 07791 096857






Word on paper and other places

I tend to operate at a gallop most of the time and don’t give myself the time I need – and want – to do more of my own writing and other personal creative pursuits. So, I recognise a degree of envy in recommending to people to go and enjoy these products of other people’s creativity! Never mind! Buy a book, read a poem, visit a blog, regardless of some ol’ toad muttering into his fishtanks!


Three places and ideas to recommend

The Beauty in the Beast

A new book by my lovely hedgehog fried Hugh Warwick. Following A Prickly Affair (his book about a lifetime interest in hedgehogs), he has gone out and talked to people as interested (or as obsessed?) in other animals as he is in urchins. It is a wonderfully unexpected selection of (British) wildlife from solitary bees to otters, dragon flies, and house sparrows to foxes. I’ve hopped in there, too, as an amphibian voice


Book details:

The Beauty in the Beast by Hugh Warwick, ISBN 978-0-85720-395-3

Hugh’s website:


Caroline Hawkridge

Ona quieter, and dare I say, more elegant note, why not visit Caroline’s site. Poet and delighter-in-wildlife, Caroline writes beautifully and has just launched this site about her work. The site includes “Peregrine” a poem inspired by the falcons nesting on Derby Cathedral and Highly Commended in the 2012 York Open Poetry Competition

caroline has also written about bilberries


And then I did manage to get some writing done! Hoorah! (well I enjoyed it) and then we had to edit the piece down, so I’m going to post the missing paragraphs below. These were the opening sections for a piece for the Summer edition of an on-line magazine, “Native British Spirituality”


“The purpose of this website is to provide a focus of re-connection with these islands – so that we make the land well, and the land makes us well. Our intention is to share our lived experiences of these islands, their cycles and seasons, the elements, sacred places, spirits of place, and native flora & fauna, defining ‘spirituality’ as ‘connection with Spirit’, or ‘alignment with Nature’.”

My piece is on the Air page and originally was due to start:


Bright are the willow tops,

Playful the fish in the lake

The wind whistles over the tops of the branches

Nature is superior to learning”


All of a sudden, “getting out there and connecting with nature” seems to be the thing to do. BBC Wildlife is advocating “52 wild things to do this year”, the National Trust has “50 things to do before you’re 11”. Even staid Natural England is trying to get 1 million children out into the countryside (but not all at once). There is also another strand which turns the need to make connections with nature into an intellectual discussion with debates on “nature deficiency disorders” and the problems of environmental disassociation.


Of course, none of this is new. A lot of us have never stopped “connecting” with the world around us. Simple test: are you still breathing? Connected! Have you stopped breathing? Still connected. Cynicism aside, of course it is good to encourage people to go out, to get out, to enjoy this beautiful world we live in


And it is so easy. Renewing connections doesn’t need trips to National  Trust houses or Natural England Nature Reserves. A garden would do it, or  park or even shut a walk along a street….


As “Creeping Toad” a lot of my work is about celebrating the relationships between people and places and encouraging individuals, groups and communities to explore their connections to  those places around them. We use activities like these, simple light-hearted adventures to invite people to step back into an awareness of the world


(Opening quote from the Red Book of Hergest)


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.




looking for trolls, a boy goes out into The Woods with his wooden sword and a cardboard shield

Working with young people, and very young children in particular, teachers, group leaders and other artists often shout about the value of working on large things. While I don’t dispute the excitement of big things and the value of changing scale and perspective, I find that little things have their own special delight and fascination


I think children (and adults, if I do a miniature books, tiny stories or very small treasures workshop) love the intimacy and secrecy of the small. Small activities can call just as much intensity and creativity as something huge and sprawling. It might be less cooperative and communal (but then there is still a sharing of ideas and helpful fingers to hold a fiddly box or fix the undergarments of an awkward pirate…..)

the adventure begins
a ship sets sail - but the open sea is a dangerous place


And Tiny! activities can give you Tiny! celebrations – so this year the Stone and Water team are back in Buxton Festival Fringe doing some Tiny! workshops with very small faeries, goblins and trolls. After Tiny! Pirates (2011) and Tiny! Lanterns (2010), who knows what delights, or horrors, some Tiny! Faerie Tales might bring!


two tiny pirates, armed and ready for anything!a small pirate with her flag in her treasure box


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