Tag Archives: Buxton Museum

Artefacts, stories and wonders

Artefacts, stories and wonders

One story began in a box of bones on a tabletop.

A second began under the table with a mantrap’s rust.

A third  began on a windswept hilltop where a grass-grown ridge hid an ancient story of pain and sorrow.

there are stories everywhere - Midwinter at Arbor Low
there are stories everywhere – Midwinter at Arbor Low

I have worked with Buxton Museum and Art Gallery on and off for some 17 years now. Activities have ranged from writing the poetic version of their audio trail to running events that have wandered from lantern making to crystal growing, puppet mammoths to the precise drawing of Victorian designs and random mermaids

Buxton hosts a Victorian mermaid...
Buxton hosts a Victorian mermaid…


In 2016, the museum was closed for a refit funded by the Heritage Lottery. As part of that Collections in the Landscape project, I was asked to coordinate a programme of events that took the collection out into the landscapes it came from. (Just Derbyshire, no thrilling field trips to Egypt or the fossil beds of the mid-west USA). We took fossils to limestone gorges, brought a handling collection to the local Victorian garden, unwrapped geological specimens in dripping caves. As the CITL project developed a second Collections project also grew.


Six artists working in different media were brought in to respond to themes within the collection. With museum being closed and galleries up for redesign, there was time to pause and reflect, a chance to look at different ideas. There was a potter, a visual artist, a sculptor, a textile worker, a musician composer and me as a storyteller and a poet. I can’t speak for the others but for myself “The Collection of the Artists” went abruptly from being enjoyable and entertaining to, like the skeleton from Liff’s Low*, being very personal, very telling. Still enjoyable. Still rewarding. But with bones enough to shake a soul.

making Cabinets of Curiosity is always an exciting workshop
making Cabinets of Curiosity is always an exciting workshop

My challenge within the project themes was to explore “home”, in particular the shift that must have – might have – presumably – came when Mesolithic wanderers became settled Neolithic growers. There was a question about a sense of belonging to a place, to a neighbourhood and not to a journey, not to a migration across landscapes. These were the people who went on to raise Arbor Low and draw lines and alignments across the Peaks mirroring the changing patterns of the skies.

tools fanned across ages
tools fanned across ages

So, I sat and turned over bones in my hands. I gazed into the eye sockets of the ancient dead. I worked with children from Biggin School below Liff’s Low’s hill and we talked about life here thousands of years ago. We could become his family. We could tell his story. Our story of him. Of course, it was our story of him! Of course, all the other pieces I wrote were my stories of them. I am a storyteller, not an archaeologist. I am also a zoologist so every so often my analytical, natural history head speaks up – and gets over excited at auroch’s bones or the proximity of a cave bear skull. But I am a storyteller. In this context, my job isn’t to tell the science story, it is to remember – and to remind other people – that these were people too, to wrap bones in warm flesh, to imagine lives and let them live again in words and the images those words create.


And pulling a skin curtain against the wind,

We are as hefted to the hills as our sheep.

(from: Becoming Home, G MacLellan)


Collection of the Artists was a Buxton Museum and Art Gallery project supported by Derbyshire County Council, Heritage Lottery and Arts Council, England. The finished pieces by the artists are on display (or can be heard) in the Wonders of the Peak gallery in the Museum.

More of my work from Collection of the Artists can be found in a booklet: Tales from the Wonders that is available from the museum shop or direct from me (£3.50 including P&P within UK)

The project as a whole can be explored on the Museum site, here

Your museum: if you would like that personal story touch in your collection – or are interested in an event or longer project, drop me an email and we can have a chat

elegance in old Buxton, public event
elegance in old Buxton, public event


*Liff’s Low: a tumulus excavated by Bateman in the 1860s. The skeleton taken from the tomb is a key part of the new Wonders of the Peak gallery


LIFF’S LOW NIGHT CHARM – a lullaby grown from the ideas of children in Biggin School


Do not fear the darkness,

As the firelight dies,

My little horse girl.

Your father is a wolf,

And the night

Holds no fear

For the hunter.


Do not fear the cold,
As the firelight dies,

My little fox boy.

Your mother is a bear,

And the cold,

Is never cold,

Under fur.


….read the whole Night Charm in Tales from the Wonders


Training days in 2022

The Creativity Conference

I am one of the speakers at this year’s Creativity Conference,

“Expect to be brought to a deeper understanding of your own creative process. The Creativity Conference is an annual pilgrimage for creative minds of all kinds, whether you are a business leader, performance poet, or photographer. ” (from the CC website)

2022: training days: nothing is planned just yet – if you are interested in a toad session, get in touch for a chat: creepingtoad@btinternet.com

Courses are aimed at teachers, rangers, environmental education specialists and playworkers and, really, anyone who is looking for activities to deliver to a group of children (or families) along creative environmental themes

Workshops aim to offer participants the chance to experiment, to experience activities for themselves and to talk about resources, workshop patterns and the tricks that make for effective delivery

If you want to find out more about the content of a workshop, you are welcome to contact me, (creepingtoad@btinternet.com) if you want to book or make a booking enquiry, please contact the organisers

a story builds....
a story builds….

Story character detail

Autumn adventures

public events, 2022

Details for 2022 events will follow….it’s often easier to keep track of these:

Families: unless otherwise stated, these events are aimed at family groups – stray adults are welcome to come and join us, too: to listen laugh and make things as suits.

Appropriate ages: If you are 7 years old or less, can you please bring a grown-up with you and don’t lose them during the session.

Stern word: I try to keep things as relaxed and cheerful as possible during sessions but I do reserve the right to ask people to leave if their behaviour disrupts the rest of the group and I generally recommend getting to a drop-in event at least 40 minutes before the scheduled end of the event as I often have to pack up and move somewhere else quite quickly!

Last minute bookings: I still have odd days here and there (some are very strange!) if you would like a session for your site or your own group. Contact me at creepingtoad@btinternet.com or 07791 096857 to find out more


Storytelling, tallLight up the woods

Saturday 15th

Plas Power Woods, Wrexham

Mixing lanterns, with woodland storytelling, campfire warmth and the thrill of wandering through a wood at night. You will find me deep in the woods, on a log by a stream telling stories of enchanted owls, tree-magic and occasional bears. This event is becoming a hugely popular annual event. Tickets are limited and advance booking is needed!

Follow the link for more information


autumn-apples-1Sunday 16th

Apple Day

Dove Valley Centre

Another regular feature and another annual delight. Join us for an afternoon of delicious apples, orchards, stories, art, and baking apples and potatoes in the fire. Bring your own apples and you can scrunch them into the juice – bring your own chutneys and swap them or their recipes. I am here to tell stories and lead some Museum moments: we’re collecting apple thoughts and orchard stories.

12 – 4pm


Just come and enjoy an afternoon deep in the dale

Dove Valley Centre, Under Whitle, SK17 0PR (between Longnor and Sheen)

An event for Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project

Drawing Steam

Monday 24 October, 11am-3pm

The Gothic Warehouse, Cromford Wharf, DE4 3RP

Get inspired by the landscape of Cromford Mills and High Peak Junction and sketch, scribble or draw your favourite bits onto our big drawing. Using a variety of materials, we’ll work together to create an amazing picture, 20 metres or more long, that tells the story of this special place: the birthplace of the factory system in the valley that changed the world. Part of Derwent Valley Mills Discovery Days.

An event for the Big Draw

An event for Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project

Tuesday 25th

Calacas: make your own tiny Day of the Dead characters

In the final days before Hallowe’en, join me for an afternoon with tiny skeletal people. Inspired by Mexican Day of the Dead ideas, we’ll make little skeletal people doing everyday thigns…there may be skeleton footballers, musicians, ladies in ball gowns, gentlemen in tophats and tails – or ladies in tophats and gentlemen in ballgowns…who knows what way the bones will inspire us!

Green Man Gallery, Buxton (Hardwick Square south, , SK17 6PY


Booking needed.

Cost £6.00 (accompanying adult free – but adults could always book a place and make their own Calacas!)

Drop in in person, or call: 01298 937375 (card payment).


And if you survive that, you might like to call in for

Boggarts and Freetings: spooky stories for Hallowe’en week

Still at the Green Man Gallery, between 5 and 6pm (more or less), £3 a ticket and stories for laughter, shock, delight and dismay and a nice shiver or two for the arrival of winter!

Wednesday 26th October

Bone Detectives

Explore the secrets of the skulls, learn to read the clues hidden in eyesockets, teeth and the bony curves of zygomatic arches and sagittal crests. Meet some skulls, draw some bones, take your own bone-folder home. (Bring your own mystery bones with you, if you like to baffle us – only nothing too drippy and messy, thank you!)

Buxton Museum’s Pop-up Museum will be there to, so come and see some of the Treasures of the Peak and talk to museum experts…

I’ll be there at the bony end of things!

A free family day

National Trust, Ilam

11am – 3pm. Free event but car parking charges may apply

No booking needed – just turn up and join in

An event for Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project


Pavilion Pictures

Thursday 27 October, 11am-3pm

Pavilion Gardens, Buxton SK17 6BE

Draw, colour, collage, etch and sketch
your way around Pavilion Gardens as we
 celebrate the Big Draw in Buxton. Collect some materials from us by the Pavilion, then get exploring around the gardens and see what inspires your artwork. If it’s raining, there’s plenty to do and draw inside – from the wonderful winter garden to the bustle of the cafe and gallery.

An event for Buxton Museum’s Collections in the Landscape project



Creeping Toad activities are tailored to suit your individual needs rather than chosen from a set menu of options. But, here are some examples of recent (2013 – 2015) creative adventures that might whet your appetite and give you some suggestions to shout at the Toad about…

a desperate race across a tabletop...
a desperate race across a tabletop…

pirates: environmentally-inspired pirates, low-leaves autumn-apples-1 low-boggart-water citl-long-logofinding nature’s treasures, writing pirate books, making maps, giant lantern pirate ships, parrots, puppets and lots of wildness: the Tiny! Pirates have appeared several times (working with Buxton community group Stone and Water), a judging panel of mermaids supervised sailing in Mottram St Andrew, pirate treasures inspired new stories… More pirate workshops »

"just how piratical are you?"
“just how piratical are you?”

challenging assumptions: ethics in environmental education session at Losehill Hall, Peak National Park

a waterfall of words and colours
a waterfall of words and colours

some fishy moments: in 2014 and 2015, with musician Steve Brown, I worked on a whole series of lovely river sessions with schools involved in the Ribble Rivers Trust’s “River in the Classroom” project, hatching trout for release back into local rivers. In September 2015, I was busy making pop-up rivers and finger-puppet river creatures at Scotland’s Salmon Festival

river pop-ups cpautre moments and thoughts of river, movement and leaping fish
river pop-ups cpautre moments and thoughts of river, movement and leaping fish

Festival of Outdoor Learning, Hollowford, Castleton: and msot eyars I’ll be at this lively weekend doing workshops that might be anything from making tiny books to spinning stories out of weather and wood..

Cave drawing 2

a pop-up landscape of Stone Age life
a pop-up landscape of Stone Age life

homes: living in caves and castles: working with props, drama and sheer imagination: cave people in search of new homes, Stone Age lives, spooky houses and mysterious castles as part of the Summer Reading Challenge in 2013

adventures everywhere: using the school for inspiration to build a class adventure, finding stories everywhere, anywhere, out of anything

touring Scotland: I’m usually up in the Highlands twice a year, telling stories, making puppets, and enjoying the wild ideas and wonderful imaginations of children in schools and everyone on public events

Green Man