Burntwater: A Creative Fenland Journey and Hundreds of Happy Faces

Written by Pippa Gardner, Transported Events Team Assistant.

As an Event Team Assistant for Transported, I get to see first-hand the public’s reactions to the different events, performances and workshops that we put on. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear the public’s comments and feedback as they leave an activity and I continue to hear so many positive reactions to ‘Burntwater: A Creative Fenland Journey’ which took place in Spalding earlier this month.

My weekend began assisting with the set-up during rehearsals on the Friday night. From that moment on I knew it was going to be an amazing weekend – even during a stop-start practice where the cast and crew sought to perfect the performance, it was an awe-inspiring combination of movement, light, fire and water.

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(Images of Tangled Feet’s performance of ‘Burntwater: A Creative Fenland Journey’)

Saturday saw an early trip out to Moulton to collect two beautiful flower baskets created by members of the community which would be taking centre stage later in the day. At Springfields a few lashings of rain delayed proceedings, but as the travellers from a far off land appeared in character for the first time, they brought out the sunshine that was to stay with us for the rest of the weekend. Having only a brief idea of the extent of the performance before it began; I got to see the marvellous spectacle unfold at the same time as the public who gathered to watch.

The travellers moved through the space searching for water and for a place to trade their wares. The crowds obligingly offered up their fruit smoothies, snacks and knick knacks from their pockets in exchange for a handful of seeds from the newcomers. They called on men, women and children to help navigate their way to the river culminating in a petal explosion before they stumbled across a suitable vessel to carry them into town. The travellers were welcomed to Spalding with the baskets of flowers presented by local residents and several of the creators of the arrangements.

Some intrepid audience members followed the performers’ boat and paddleboards on foot however, after a fast strike of our equipment at Springfields, I took the faster car option to catch up with the continuing performance in the town centre.

The travellers reached the marketplace, the ideal place to trade, before drawing the crowd down the river with them to the Chain Bridge Forge. Here they found something new: metal, fire and a charismatic wheeler dealer who promised a trade for what they sought – a wheel! Demonstrations took place inside the forge and at a mobile facility on the river bank, celebrating the historic craft after which the performance was named – “burntwater” is old English for a blacksmith.

With a few hours gap in proceedings to allow artists to recover the Transported team were hard at work preparing the site at Twin Bridges ready for the eager audience who took up their spots from 7.30pm. My expectations from watching the rehearsal were far exceeded as the performance started.

The travellers had been transported from prehistoric tribe searching for essential sources of water, to traders exchanging their wares, onwards to become industrious labourers shaping and changing the world around them with fire and metal and human strength. There is simply one word to describe the evening portion of the event: Spectacular!

Come Sunday morning, the work continued with the set up for a community picnic at Ayscoughfee Hall and Gardens. As noon approached it was a joy to see the families gathering around in the sunshine.

The travellers returned, summarising their story from the day before and presenting the artefacts from their journey (including the baskets of flowers) around the canal in the gardens. This section of the event symbolised the past and the future of Spalding, meeting together in one place. Generations of Spalding residents and visitors were invited to share their memories of the area by floating them on the canal to be collected by one of the travellers and displayed for others to read. The trees whispered with the recorded memories of members of the community as children gathered round to have their faces painted and to learn traditional dances around a may pole.

One of my lasting memories of Burntwater (one that perhaps I will be able to share in a future Spalding memories project) is the hundreds of happy faces I saw watching the performances, tucking into their picnics and joining in with the Maypole dances that Sunday afternoon. In two days, Burntwater celebrated thousands of years of fenland heritage and, I believe, left an impact that will last a generation into Spalding’s future.

Nathan Curry, co-creative director of Tangled Feet, the theatre company commissioned for the event, is leading a Narrative Workshop at the Craft Outlet Store in Springfield on Monday 18th August from 6pm – 8pm. You can find out more about this workshop and book your place here.

Image: Kamal Prashar