Blog by Amber Bicheno, Curlew Country Trainee
Between the 3rd and 5th of August I joined Sticks and Stuff’s pop up art gallery, up at the Blakemoorgate cottages on the Stiperstones. Sticks and Stuff is an arts group that celebrates nature and local landscapes, making beautiful creations out of reclaimed and natural materials. Kate Johnston is the organiser and main artist, and her creativity never ceases to amaze me.
It is a stunning landscape, and the walk up from Snailbeach village takes you through the old mine site, with its building remnants still hinting at this unassuming villages’ industrial past. Possibly the most impressive and obvious of these is the towering chimney part way up the hill, which you pass on the steep climb through the lovely woodland before emerging in a grazed field on top. With the hard bit of the journey over, you are left to enjoy the beautiful scenery with stunning views over to sharp pointed rocks of the Stiperstones. At this time of year the hills really do come alive, covered in a rich blanket of comforting purple, a mixture of heather and whinberries.
On my arrival at the cottages I was quickly reassured that the kettle was on, however these cottages are restored miners huts and thus very basically equipped, so this could take some time in the traditional kettle hanging over the fire. In the mean time I was told to go and take a look around, as there were art installations to find around the site.
Relieved of my backpack, I explored Davies Cottage. Lovely though these quaint cottages are, they are also quite dark, and it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust as you enter the tiny dwellings. As I do however, I spot some even tinier dwellings, the first of the arts installations is a replica of Rock Cottage with other smaller cottages around it. Kate tell me this is one of the activities they will be doing, so children can slowly add to the community and imagine how it may once have been up on this remote hill.
Out in the pantry of the cottage I notice delicately hanging swallows and house martins, replicating their playful flights seen throughout the spring and summer. Many an evening I have spent sitting and watching these graceful birds swooping and diving, and chasing of insects across the sky. It’s upstairs however that holds the star of the show for me.
As you enter the low ceilinged single upstairs room, the light filters in an orangey glow through the window, and casts shadows of intricate flowers across the wooden floor boards. These meadow flowers are made of wire and tissue paper, mimicking a summer hay meadow, with poppies, ox eye daisies, and buttercups amongst the blooms. Right in the middle is an amazing structure, a curlew nest! Just peeking out from inside I can see two delicate felted curlew chicks, before I notice another that has escaped the nest and walking off to the side. A much larger curlew stands guard, the long bill and mottled back makes me think it is a female. Cleverly hidden, the mournful call of the curlew plays, adding the final touch to this beautiful installation.
The idea is to raise awareness and to make sure that local families and children know what a curlew looks and sounds like. Curlew Country have been working hard to try and ensure that the enigmatic call is not lost from these hills, but there are still many people unfamiliar with the peril these birds face. I’ve joined to help with the activities, and hopefully I can offer some insight to those taking part or even just walkers passing through. Curlew were once a common sight on this hill, and I envy the views the original occupiers of those cottages may have had of this stunning bird.
One of the activities was to make replica curlew eggs, Kate had provided some carefully crafted plaster of paris egg shapes. However a curlew egg is far more pointed then a chicken egg. They required more work. We set about armed with potato peelers, foot files (unused you’ll be glad to know) and graters to get the perfect curlew egg shape. I had provided some photos of real curlew eggs, from our local curlew no less, as a reference from which the children got quite competitive in re-creating.
Once the desired shape was reached next came the painting. A messy affair, but worth it for the perfect egg! Aprons on, sleeves up and palettes at the ready we set about trying to mix the perfect colour. I’ll admit that some of the creative vision displayed was impressive, but I had yet to find any curlew eggs of the bright green variety personally. Whilst the painting went we passed the time with conversation,
“Have you ever seen a curlew?” I ask a few of the children…
“I have! We’ve seen them when we went for a walk up Callow Hill!”
This enthusiastic little girl is joined by her brother, “yes, we renamed it the Curlew Hill!”
Not all of the children knew of the curlew, but I found the fact that some did encouraging. Once I imagine you would be hard pressed to find someone that didn’t know the sound of the curlews call! And now we are battling against predation pressures and changes in farming practices in order to secure their place here.
The weekend saw families coming and going, having thoroughly enjoyed themselves by all accounts, laden down with miniature houses, wire creations and sculpted curlew eggs. I hope that each went away knowing a little more about curlew than when they arrived, and was most impressed by the enthusiasm some of this young generation had for their natural world.
You can find out more about Sticks and Stuff’s activities here.
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