When I asked if I could bring my ‘making stories’ workshops to Hardcastle Crags National Trust this spring, I was delighted to find the staff there as enthusiastic as I was.
I’ve been visiting Hardcastle Crags since I was small. I’ve got hazy memories of golden summer days exploring those beautiful woods. So when I moved back to Hebden Bridge, it was one of the first places I took my girls, and now they love it too.
I visited a few times to plan the event and worked closely with the team at Hardcastle Crags. Grant Lowe, Interim Learning and Access Officer, suggested that we use Ladyroyd Field, a beautiful meadow just above Gibson Mill.
It had a circle of wooden benches in a grassy clearing. Rock-studded hillsides rose around it. There were silver birch trees and Scots pine, and the grass further down was dotted with ‘wild art’ from other activity days.
On Thursday 24th April, the weather was kind to outdoor story-making. We set up camp and waited for children to arrive.
There was a wide age-range across the two workshops. I was really pleased to see some children that I’d worked with on World Book Day at a local school coming back for another session!
I began by reading my book Cara and the Wizard. I picked it because some of the illustrations bore an uncanny resemblance to Ladyroyd Field! The storytelling helped bring the group together and focus attention.
Next I presented the two ‘treasure trails’ I had laid, made up of story fragments. I’d written two short stories set in Hardcastle Crags, featuring some of the animals and birds found here – I’d cut them into five pieces and laminated them, with a little ribbon attached to make them easier to find!
I divided the group into two and sent the youngest ones to find a very simple story hidden in an accessible little area near to the benches. The older children got to clamber around the rocks higher up the hillside and retrieve the longer story. When they returned, victorious, we pieced the stories together and the children put them in the right order.
Next we made a ‘magic box’ of ideas: the children called out ideas for story elements including animal characters, woodland settings, possible obstacles and solutions, and happy ending ideas. I wrote these ideas on a big piece of paper and invited the children to use these or other ideas they preferred.
I gave out simple six-page blank booklets (A4 paper folded twice and snipped to free the pages) and invited everyone to create their own books, using the idea of the five-part story, as we’d seen in the story fragments.
As ever, I was so impressed by the quality of work produced. Without exception, every child imagined a woodland story. Some drew beautiful cover art; others imagined memorable characters; some wrote superb dialogue; some wrote an entire story from beginning to end; others were keen to finish at home.
We finished by admiring each person’s work. There was a real sense of pride in what the children had managed to create in such a short space of time.
I’d like to thank Grant Lowe, Susi Leach and the volunteers at Hardcastle Crags. Special thanks also go to Sarah from Sarah Mason Photography for joining us, taking these beautiful photographs and letting me reproduce them here. See www.sarahmasonphotography.co.uk for more details of her work, and click here to read Sarah's blog about the day.