Spinney Wild Exchanges

This small tangled woodland, tucked into a residential area has offered us a perfect space to continue exploring ideas of Wild Exchange.  Our projects always encourage children to share ideas, to build connections between the woods and the classroom, and to explore how other artists and writers have responded to wild places. In recent years we have invited professionals in the fields of landscape, language, and exploration to respond to children’s ways of exploring and discovering.

In 2013 Robert Macfarlane wrote an intriguing Foreword to our Fantastical Guide to Hinchingbrooke Country Park based on CCI’s project there with Cromwell Park Primary School.  He joined us in our discussion event You are where? and the Foreword became a much longer chapter in his 2015 publication Landmarks.

In 2015 poet Jackie Kay explored alongside children in Year 1 and Year 3 in the Spinney Wild Woods and back in their classrooms. There were fascinating exchanges between the two groups of children, and a lively, rich exchange of ideas and composed work between the children and Jackie.  Detailed diary posts can be found below.

Now published alongside each other in A poem of a dream of the woods are six new poems by Jackie, and a small selection from the children’s prolific journals.  In a second Wild Exchange we invited illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville to draw on the project documentation to create our first Fantastical Map of a wild space.  Elements from the map along with Elena’s on-site sketches of the woods and the children’s drawings of trees and monsters now illustrate this collection of poetry.

You can read more about how we began exchanges in the Spinney woods, events we have hosted and opportunities for professional development

A Fantastical Map


A Fantastical Map of Spinney Wild Woods, created by illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville for CCI.

This intriguing map is our first commission of this sort. Inviting users to explore both the real and the imaginary, it beautifully combines over fifty layers of information drawn from creative work about the woods by the children, poet Jackie Kay and Elena herself.

A map in the making


We often work with ideas of mapping in our Footprints projects.  Children’s individual drawings of journeys in Hinchingbrooke Country Park grew into an enormous ‘Map of maps’.  And in the Spinney Wild Woods fantastical maps were one starting point for Year 1 and Year 3 in their recent project with Jackie Kay. 

From Tavi’s map (Year 3) of under the lake a whole new subterranean land has come to life in the Spinney woods; there are chambers and secret passageways, monsters and electric bats.  Above ground children have found amazing worlds too; head high nettles as green as green can be; a lightening-struck tree whose inside can be ground to gold; palaces, cafés, boats and rockets; desserts, lakes, kingdoms and swamps.

In a new Wild Exchange, following collaborations with writers Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Kay, CCI has invited illustrator Elena Arévalo Melville to develop a new kind of visual map of the Spinney Wild Woods.  It will carry elements of the children’s discoveries and inventions, and have points of actual orientation too.  It will be shaped by Elena’s own experiences in the woods as she spends time sketching and exploring, and it will be used to invite new visitors in.

We have no idea what this fantastical map will look like yet.  Elena described a feeling last week of working like an actual cartographer mapping the wild and unchartered.  Her work for other projects has the subtlety and drama we often find in children’s explorations, and a style which should carry well the many worlds we continue to find in the Spinney Wild Woods.

More of Elena’s work can be seen here www.elenaarevalomelville.com and below are two of her tantalizing on-site sketches from the woods.

The lost lake


(by Deb Wilenski) In the middle of the newly green woods, something is missing.  The lake with its crocodiles, monsters, battles and secret passageways, has disappeared.

The water level rises and falls in the Wild Woods right through the year, but it has never been this low.  Each week I go in early to check the woods before we all come in together, and it’s often a time of surprises; once a fox held my gaze, still, blatant, brave; often there is riotous birdsong that quietens when the children arrive.

But the lake has never been lost before.

I climb over the rope barrier to check the water has really gone, to see how muddy it is.  I walk in a new and weird world: white bones of wood, unreadable ground.  When was the lake last empty like this?  Why does walking on ground once covered by water, feel so uncanny? This word from Beowulf (the text Year 3 brought into the woods) comes back again.  It was perfect for describing the mere in the frost-stiffened woods, and is perfect now for the missing water.

This is our first week working with Jackie Kay.  With what turns out to be characteristic strength and sensitivity, Jackie asks the Year 3 children where the water has gone, and to think about lost things, and secrets.  They rush to enter this newly opened world of the dry lake, and some children spend most of the morning there.  The mud monster’s city expands.  There are bubble monsters in the mud that make it stink, and treasures that rise to the surface – an old bicycle, a bottle with potion inside, a white staff, a huge piece of bark.

When we stop for a drink Jackie asks the children to write down three things that were lost in the woods, three things that were found.  They place their words in the cabinet. 

In the afternoon these words grow into whole poems.  Here are two of them.


The Lost Silver

Beneath the fallen tree struck

by lightening there lays something sliver,

It was lost by me and found by me,

then its power turn the woods into winter,

as the swallow calls its final call,

The silver returns to its place.


Once upon a time,

when the lake wasn’t dry,

fish filled it

reeds grew in it

swans swam in it

herrings fished in it

and those memories, now, today,

Keep the lake going, day, by day, by day.

And Jackie shares with us poems she has begun to write too - words caught from the language of the children’s play, words that lie waiting in the woods.  Words that sound, as Hannah said long ago like a poem of a dream of the woods.  A refrain from one of them stays in my mind all week:

Like the trees dream of saps and rings

And the nettles dream of nests

As green as green can be


(by Deb Wilenski) We are back in the Wild Woods with Year 1 and Year 3, and later this week Jackie Kay will join us too.  Last time we were there barely anything was in leaf, and mud was everywhere.  It was freezing and wet.  This time as Emily in Year 3 put it, it was as green as green can be

And how green is that?  As green as head high nettles.  As green as moss growing over every stone.  Kirsten, Lucie and Summer picked up a phrase from Jackie’s poem The world of trees and wrote:  The deep green heart of the wood is bubbling. 

In the afternoon with coloured chalks, pastels, and pencils, we made green in many shades and variations, naming some, leaving others unnamed.  Yellows, blues, greys, browns layered over each other made reptile green, scaly green, a dense forest of dark green, see-through green.

Children became fascinated with the leaves we had brought back to show some of the range of greens in the woods.  Intrigued at first by their shape and colour, they began to notice fine detailed structure – the branching veins of the leaves, their glossy, or rough, or leathery textures.  They held leaves against their faces to feel them more closely, and looked through magnifying glasses for a long time.  Katie named her green old green because: it’s nice and delicate and old people like delicate things.

In the woods Year 1 had found the embers of our fire from a meeting the night before.  They were still glowing.  Martin, Kelvin, and Avia added sticks, leaves, feathers to make more smoke.  They were fascinated announcing fire…real fire as each ember lit up with the air blowing over it.  The quick breath of the green woods.  Kelvin was amazed to see his feather burnt away.

In Year 1 fire writing appeared in the afternoon, made with charcoal from the fire, and fire colours – hot reds and oranges complementary to the greens we were making.  

Lucy’s anticipation of working with Jackie Kay was burning bright!

Time, animation and adventure


In Year 3’s forest of individually drawn trees, time is very evident.  It takes time to get to know a place so well, and time to draw line by line a single tree that makes your detailed knowledge visible.  Back in the woods time with this class seems literally to fly, the children are fast and their ideas prolific.  The woods of course invite all kinds of exploration – from slow, investigative observation to impulsive, energetic adventure.

As a creative language, animation holds contrasting experiences of time.  It is slow and meticulous, needing slight changes in drawings or 3d models for the animation to work smoothly; but it is also fast and furious, with disasters and dangers transformed almost instantly to escapes and counter-moves.   It seems a language well worth offering to this class to further their wild explorations.

With acetate, pens, black card and an overhead projector, Year 3 begin to make some of their narratives visible.  They work with clay too and natural materials from the woods, to build worlds and make the creatures or characters who inhabit them.

On our temporary screen – a white bed-sheet pinned to the ceiling – the mud monster appears with its two heads, there are trees to climb in and hide behind, giant serpents are coiled ready for battle.  With generous amounts of clay whole worlds are being made, a serpent is re-energising, a monster has fountains of fire…

At our half-way point in this project we share some of the children’s works-in-progress with their families.  Here is one story, animated on the overhead projector, for an appreciative audience of family, friends and Year 1 explorers of the Wild Woods:

The king and the prince are walking through the Forest.  Claw – a giant monkey - starts to climb down the tree to attack. The archer, called Tiny, climbs up the tree, shoots an arrow and kills Claw. 

The guard is walking the horse with the queen.  The mud monster is waiting deep underground.  The evil emperor arrives, and the queen runs quickly away.  The guard comes back and fights the evil emperor but she drops her sword.  The mud monster joins the battle against the evil emperor.  The guard slips away. 

Wolves come from the sky and start biting the evil emperor, but soon they get tired.  They fall asleep in the tops of the trees.

The mud monster breaks through the ground and kills the evil emperor in a single bite.


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