November 16th, 2005

Alderley Edge

Alderley Edge is one of those places- a great, wooded cliff rising abruptly out of the pleasant, undramatic landscape of rural  Cheshire . The rocks are full of copper- and people were mining it all the way through from the Bronze Age  to the close of the 19th century. There's a legend about a magical cavern where a great king sleeps with his army.  Occultists are drawn to the place and local author Alan Garner made it the setting for his classic children's novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. 

Here's a version of the Legend of Alderley Edge- as told by Snake Ardwick in my novel Mammary Hill

"A farmer is taking his white mare to market and he gets stopped by an old man at a place called Thieves Hole. The old guy wants to buy the mare. The Farmer says, No. The old man says, OK, but you won't sell the mare at market and I'll be waiting for you on your way back. Sure enough, the mare is much admired, but no-one will buy her. So the farmer is trudging home and he meets the old man again. This time he's willing to sell. The old man says follow me, takes him to the cliff face and strikes it with his staff. The rock splits wide and, lo and behold, there are a pair of iron gates. They go through the gates and down a long passage and come to a cavern where all these men in armour are lying asleep. And beside each warrior stands a white mare. Only they're a horse short. What's going on here? asks the farmer, and the Wizard- cause he is a wizard, see- pointy hat, long white beard, the works- the Wizard says, this is a great king and his knights. They're sleeping here until a time when Britain is in mortal peril. Then they will rise from their sleep and save the day.

Jonathon interrupts at this point and says, "so the Wizard's Merlin and the King must be Arthur."

I say, "Well probably, but the story doesn't actually say so. That's its subtlety."

"So what happened?"

"Well," I continue, "the farmer trips over something and makes a noise and one of the knights raises his head and asks, is it the time? And the wizard answers, No, not yet. Then the Wizard takes the farmer to a treasure chest and tells him to fill his pockets in payment for the mare. After that, he leads the farmer out of the cavern, strikes the iron gates with his staff and they disappear. Then he disappears himself. And no-one from that day to this has ever seen the iron gates again.

Alderley Edge


The lips of the cave are chapped with carving-
Names, mostly illegible.
Copper-water sweats from the rock-

They were mining here
In the bronze age. In the modern era
Fortunes got made.

I double up
And crab-walk into the rippling passage
Till daylight snuffs. It's dark as the womb here,
Dark as the grave, but I want to push deeper.

Bob the Wizard told cracking tales
About the Edge. In the 1940s
Night-time ramblers heard ghostly music
Wavering up from underground.
It wasn't boggarts but local witches
(Bob was one) with a gramophone
In a disused working. They'd scull initiates
Over an underground lake and leave 'em
Stuck on a beach.

In the dark, of course-
The dripping, echoing, absolute dark-
Where if they left you for long enough
Odd things might come and look at you,
Lit up from inside like deep-sea fishes.

Bob has died and if he walks
He'll be walking here, another spook
For the caves to comfort.

I'm here to scout
For a T.V. show that ain't gonna happen.
We talk of helicopter shots,
Of running a steadicam through the woods
Out onto the ledge where one looks at Cheshire,
Of taking lights down into the caverns
To hunt our Snark.

People have worked here,
Played here, done peculiar things here
Thousand of years. The cave's chapped lips
Are forming an "O".

(I don't know why it is, but whenever I try to post verse in rich text it ends up double-spaced- which looks really attentuated and silly- so I'm taking this poem out of the last post and giving it an entry to itself.)