We pass an oak tree by the lakeside near to the car park and bowling club. Richard, the writer-in-residence for Middleton Park guides us on a nature walk followed by a creative writing workshop. Richard tells our small group of nature writers and walkers about the connections between the oak, mulch, fungi and microorganisms. He also invites us to see the links between the natural and industrial history of these woods noticing mine shafts, mulch, sediment, Armitage bricks, nuthatches and treecreepers.
We walk uphill across an open space which used to be a golf club. Richard smiles and says he likes the idea of a golf course turning back into a wilder terrain because this makes a change from tearing up green spaces to make golf courses. Jays cackle as we walk. Then Richard tells us a funny story about hearing a jay who sang and sounded like a snow shovel scrapped along the ground.
We stop at Nick’s View and survey the landscape. Just visible at the blue haze of the horizon is Drax power station near Selby and Goole. Richard talks about how Drax is powered by wood pellets which are shipped from Canada to Hull. He draws a line with his arm linking the trees around us to larger global systems of transport, timber and trade.
Walking down the carriageway, Jim from Friends of Middleton Park, tells us the history of this route which leads towards the Middleton Railway. Jim recalls an incident in which the former estate owner’s carriage overturned resulting in a fatality.
As we approach the north entrance to the woods, Richard delves into his rucksack and brings out a copy of Keith Waterhouse’s book City Lights. He reads out a passage that refers to the spot we are standing on.
Back at the visitor centre we order refreshments and whilst sipping hot drinks begin our creative writing workshop.
Richard hands out a collection of maps of the area as a writing prompt. Christine begins a short story about a detective sergeant investigating a murder in the woods. Sarah begins writing a ghost story that evokes Jim’s account of the carriageway accident. Lee reads out his story about a group of children rabbiting in the woods based on his childhood experiences.
Maria tells us she has never written a story before then reads out an imaginative science fiction tale about an astronaut. Her friend also shares a passionate story about maps and how they can limit our experience of the landscape. My story was a cringe-worthy and pretentious account of making links between art, dance and map-making. What was most enjoyable was seeing Middleton Park and the woods differently, through Richard’s keen observations, his stories and the stories written by the group.
The guided walk and creative writing workshop was part of the Northern Short Story Festival.
This post was written by Melanie Chan
Melanie writes about nature in South Leeds on her blog at natureinleeds.blogspot.com
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