A walk in the wild woods?

Listen to any good traditional storyteller and, sooner or later, you will find yourself walking into the woods.  Woodlands are full of immediate life, colour, sound, scent, and danger, no matter what the season. They are worlds away from the barren, unforgiving desert, or farmland all tamed and neat; they don’t have hidden kingdoms like […]

Magical meadows

Every place holds its own stories: echoes of people, wildlife and the land itself. Widecombe-in-the-Moor looks like a rural idyll, a thriving small community tucked away in a Dartmoor valley surrounded by heath and moor and woodland. Any student of Devon folklore will know this place holds some great stories, of Dewer the devil, of […]

The art of wild plants

Before 2017, the last time I remember sitting down with a sketchpad and specifically drawing plants was on the Scilly Isles when I was about 11. We were on holiday on St Mary’s, marvelling at exotics like Datura, the strange new discovery of ‘Whistling Jacks’, the corn marigolds everywhere. I drew plant after plant, experimenting […]

Hats full, caps full

Old apple tree, we wassail thee, and hoping thou will bear For the Lady knows where we shall be when apples come next year   It’s been a really difficult January here on Dartmoor: biting cold, constant rain and high winds, short daylight, relentless work, and very little to warm the heart. So what do […]

Tree tragedy

Elm hateth man, and waiteth Till every gust be laid. Rudyard Kipling (1906) There’s a particular book on my bookshelf that’s been high in my mind recently.  Written by Gerald Wilkinson and published in 1978, it’s called Epitaph for the Elm. I found it in a little bookshop in Norwich in the 1990s, when the regenerating […]

Weeds and wonders

I spent all of yesterday in Great Torrington in north Devon. The good people of Torrington, and arts company Wolf and Water, are holding a festival to celebrate the Reverend Keble Martin, sometime vicar of the parish and author of The Concise British Flora in Colour. This groundbreaking book was published in 1965, and had […]

Rich connections

More of the Devon coast to coast walk today. In early summer, Devon is bursting with greenery and birdsong and life of all kinds. We are truly blessed to live in such an abundant part of the world. Everything out there has its own story. The baby bird, just fledged, a tiny scrap of belligerent life, vulnerable […]

Plant folklore, plant folk tales

What is a ‘folk tale?’ When does modern become traditional, and anecdote become received wisdom? For my book Botanical Tales, I’ve been researching the traditional folk tales recorded from many different parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, looking for stories where wild plants and trees play a central role, and relating these stories back to […]

Who left all those rocks lying around?

Welcome to my blog. The first post is all about … Giants. Ah, giants. Clumsy, not very bright, slightly thuggish, ham-handed, hairy brutes, with gruff voices and violent tendencies.  They’re slain by valiant knights in shining armour, to win castles and ladies and that kind of thing. Right? The old tales from the British Isles […]