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The Lost Cats of Buxton

What animals prowled our hills in the distant past? What might it look like if they returned today?


Once upon a time, big cats roamed the hills of Buxton. From scimitar-toothed cats to cave lions and lynx, our hills were home to some spectacular predators. Their fates were woven into ancient climate change and that conversation about the fortunes of the animals that lived here ran through the Lost Cats project.


In a partnership between the Buxton Our Street programme and Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Creeping Toad brought together local schools, residents and artists (mostly from babbling Vagabonds Storytelling Theatre and Stone and Water) in a series of events welcomed those “lost cats” (and other ancient animals) back to the town. Connecting with the Art Fund’s Wild Places initiative, the project used the museum collections to inspire people to reach out from those Museums and explore the world around us in new ways.


Events included:

  • Drawing Cats – sketching from models, bones and skulls

  • Big Cat puppets – on strings, cats that could walk beside you

  • Wild Cats in the woods – making cat masks and then finding lurking places for them in local woodland 

  • Cats and mice – designing our on prehistoric mice

  • Big Cats in the Museum – more cat masks and helping make a larger-than-lifesize (scimitar-tooth)


School sessions included:

  • making cats masks with the whole school at Earl Sterndale C of E Primary

  • creating ancient animal poems and pop-up landscapes with Year 5 at Burbage Primary School

  • making cat masks with Year 5 pupils at Buxton Junior School


All of these events then fed into a final Carnival of the Cats which saw a lively procession of small cats, cat people and over-excited mice following the large Homotherium and a local samba band along Spring Gardens, the main shopping street of Buxton. On the walk we growled, prowled, “ate” passers-by, peered in shop windows and generally caused a lot of laughter and photographs. The parade was wonderfully aided and abetted by Two Left Hands Samba Band.

beautiful beasties G Ball.jpg
cat puppet 4 G Ball.jpeg
cats on the loose G Ball.jpeg
Mice and cat low G MacLellan.jpg
Cat mask G MacLellan.jpg
Lost Cats in Grinlow Woods credit Gordon MacLellan.jpg
prehistoric meeces G Ball.jpg

Lost Cats poems
collective pieces assembled from notes gathered during workshops at Burbage Primary School



With huge teeth and evil smiles,

Fierce and strong and dangerous,

They only hunt,

They don’t get hunted.


Lynx and lion and scimitar-tooth.

What would we do if we saw them,

Running across the school field?

What would we do if we heard them?

Growling through Grinlow Woods.

What would we do if they saw us,

Those silent assassins?


Looking good,

They would bring action to Buxton

And excitement to all our lives.


Lying in the shade,

Cool and prehistoric,

If they came back to the streets of our town,

It would be an honour.




Playing in the river.


Catching fish in Pavilion Gardens.

Wild horses,

Drinking from the river.


Walking silently, swinging tusks and trunks,

Elephant giants with wide tusks

That wouldn’t fit through our garden gate.

Bison running past,

Thundering through Burbage

Wolves howling on Bishop’s Lane,

There are so many animals we have lost.



I have never seen them before.

I could never see them now,

In Spring Gardens,

In Pavilion Gardens

On the peak of Kinder Scout,

But when I walk past the shops,

When I look in the windows

I catch the reflection of a mammoth behind me

That is no longer there.

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