Shedding light on the phoenix and the elephant

"IT'S about the view," said Scot Fletcher, looking down from Parkwood Springs as night fell over Sheffield. "At this time it's just lots of twinkly lights and dark spots where the forests are. It is a spectacular view of the north of the city but not many people know about it."

Last Saturday more than 100 people trekked up the hill to the viewpoint high above the River Don near Shirecliffe to see Scot and his colleagues from Handspring Design set fire to the hillside, as a response to fellow eco-artistry company Art in the Park who were doing something similar across the valley in Ruskin Park at Walkley.

While Art in the Park created ultra-violet sand pictures and beacons, Scot and colleague Graeme Ritchie made a giant flaming 'firebird' to tie in with fellow artist Shonaleigh's story of the demoniacal Jenny Greenteeth and the firebird egg, born out of the waters of the river below.

The two events were part of the 'Beacons' project set up by Sheffield council's parks and countryside department and Sheffield Wildlife Trust along with storyteller Shonaleigh and the artists of Art in the Park and Handspring Design.

The Beacons project, funded by TheArts Council, Sheffield Town Trust and Landfill Tax Credits, aims to become an annual event, possibly using other hilltops in the future, including Wincobank Hill.

This year Shonaleigh's story, Fire and Flood, was written with the help of local schoolchildren from Busk Meadows and Firs Hill primary schools.

"Their thoughts turned to the recent floods and this has been brought into the narrative so that it strikes a chord with the local people," said Shonaleigh during the preparation for the sunset event on Saturday.

As dusk fell Shonaleigh told her story of the firebird and its lost eggs while walking up the lantern-lit hillside. Then fire jugglers Calum and Bryony hurled flaming torches about and breathed fire, to the delight of the watching children. And as the story reached its conclusion the giant firebird was lit (along with candles and flaming torches around the hillside) to signal a fireworks display from both sides of the valley.

The event was intended to signal the regeneration of the Parkwood Springs site, said John Dallow of the council's parks and countryside department. "Parkwood Springs is as big as Hyde Park in London and it could be one of the most significant bits of Sheffield."

Plans include a mountain biking centre and another artwork by sculptor Jason Thomson. At the moment, however, there's the problem of a vast landfill site nestling under the hilltop.

"Having a big landfill site in the middle of the area is like having an elephant in the room," said John Dallow. That is, a huge grey often malodorous beast that's difficult to ignore while you try and redecorate around it. Nevertheless the landfill site will shut down, said John, at which point it's hoped that the Shirecliffe hilltop will blossom into a 'wild country park', as the ever poetic Scot Fletcher put it.

Fellow Handspring Designer Graeme Ritchie continued to wax lyrical as the lights twinkled beyond the elephantine rubbish dump. "Once the landfill has finished there will be a future for Parkwood Springs," he said. "It will be a phoenix rising from the ashes."