Wolfson on The Edge

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Castle Rock, Alderley Edge

In search of Alan Garner

My favourite book when I was a kid was The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a fantasy adventure about two children who befriend a wizard and help him fight forces of evil. It was sort of like the Harry Potter of its day (except it was good). Like J.K. Rowling, the author, Alan Garner, chose to set his fictional tale firmly within the real world; specifically Alderley Edge in Cheshire. The wizards, witches, goblins, elves, dwarfs and other magical beings etch out an existence alongside society, albeit a secret one.

For a children’s story, it’s surprisingly bleak. The most memorable sequence is a prolonged chase underground where the children are pursued by monsters through the network of mines and caves underneath Alderley Edge. It scared me when I was a kid and haunts me as an adult. I decided to revisit The Edge and some of the other places where Garner set his stories to find out if the magic still lingers.

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The Armada Beacon, Alderley Edge

Alderley Edge

The mystical old man who chaperones the heroic youngsters in Weirdstone is based on the legend of Alderley Edge which goes something like this: A farmer from Mobberley is on his way to sell a white horse at Macclesfield market when he meets the fabled wizard who offers to buy the magnificent beast. He doesn’t offer enough and the farmer refuses. The wizard tells him that he will not sell the horse at the market and lo and behold, the farmer gets a peculiar lack of interest. He encounters the wizard again on the way home and gives in. The wily old sorcerer then opens a pair of iron gates that appear in the rock, revealing an entrance into a cave with a pile of jewels, inviting the farmer to help himself. It turns out the wizard cares for 140 knights who slumber deep within The Edge, waiting for the day when England needs them, and they are a short of a horse.

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The Wizard’s Well

The legend is given more credibility by the existence of a carving of the wizard above an old well, just below Castle Rock; The Edge’s most notable landmark. Sadly, the carving has almost vanished, along with the rest of Garner’s Alderley Edge. Nowadays, the village is more famous for being the abode of millionaires although you can still find several commercial establishments named after The Wizard so the association is not completely lost. The Edge when I was young was a quiet and eerie place. Thirty years on, like most other well-known countryside walks, it is overcrowded and the elves and goblins have nowhere left to hide.

Mow Cop Castle

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Mow Cop Castle

I was brought up in the shadow of Mow Cop Castle on the border of Cheshire and Staffordshire. It now seems to be called Mow Cop Folly, which doesn’t sound quite as impressive. I remember its foreboding outline on the horizon and the frequent visits to play there with my friends. Garner utilised the structure as the central location for his novel Red Shift. Unlike Weirdstone, I struggled to read this one when I was a kid; its multi-faceted and ambiguous themes were too much of a challenge. I tackled it as an adult instead. The castle seems smaller and less imposing to me now but it still cuts an impressive silhouette. It is cared for by the National Trust, ensuring that future generations will enjoy it, and probably breathe new life into Garner’s story.

Errwood Hall

The equally awesome sequel to Weirdstone exploits a gloomy ruin called Errwood Hall in Derbyshire for its climactic scene. Once the heart of a flourishing community, Errwood Hall was demolished in 1934 By Stockport Water Corporation to make way for nearby Fernilee Reservoir, along with almost everything else in The Goyt Valley. Quite why the company felt the need to knock down an impressive Victorian mansion that was nowhere near the water is a matter of dispute. The most likely explanation is that they did not have the funds for its maintenance. Now little more than a ruin in a sea of rhododendron, the Hall still gets thousands of visitors every year, drawn to the mystique of the mansion in the woods.

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Errwood Hall

In Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath, Errwood Hall is returned to its former glory by sinister magic; a fanciful concept that becomes easier to believe in the presence of such a spooky place. Slowly but surely, the house is being reclaimed by the wilderness and may one day vanish completely. If I was a billionaire, I would buy it back and return it to its original splendour; probably using builders rather than sorcery.

Read my next post for some strange experiences in The Goyt Valley. You could like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter. Just a suggestion!

If you like Alan Garner’s stuff as much as I do and you have visited a place that he has written about, I would love to hear from you but feel free to get in touch about any weird and creepy bobbins.

D.W.

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Grinlow Woods update

It’s been just over a year since I wrote a blog about my strange encounters in Grinlow Woods in Buxton in the UK. During that time, a few people have contacted me with more information. It’s slightly more comforting to know that the procession of cloaked figures that I saw in the woods were witnessed by other people and not just a figment of my imagination. Infact, someone got in touch to say that their parents even knew the group. Apparently, witches’ covens and satanic cults were all the rage back in the 1990s. I guess folks had to invent their own entertainment, pre-internet.

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Just as one incident gets explained away, another one crops up that isn’t so easy to rationalise. My next post features another queer tale from the supernatural hotspot that is Grinlow Woods! I hope you can join me.

D.W.

 

 

Wolfson Investigates: Grin Low Woods

Although my collection of short stories Hidden Places on Earth is largely fictional, some of it is based on real-life. Some peculiar experiences of my own have inspired me and two of these happened in the same place: Grin Low Woods in Buxton, Derbyshire. It seems like a good place to commence a series of intrepid reports called Wolfson Investigates.

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To provide those unfamiliar with the area some context, Grin Low Woods fringe the town of Buxton in the county of Derbyshire in the UK. Home to a spectacular limestone show cave called Poole’s Cavern and a Victorian folly known as Solomon’s Temple, it is popular with tourists and locals alike. Nowadays, it is well cared for by the Buxton Civic Association. 25 years ago, when I was a young man, it was considerably wilder and untamed. Being that awkward age of 16/17 years old when you are somewhere between a child and an adult, the woods were a sanctuary for me and my friends. We could get drunk and mess around and if the local police turned up, as they often did, we could escape into the dark realm of the trees. It was there, one night, when we saw it.

Will o the Wisp

My pals and I were astonished to see a ghostly globe of light dancing among the tree tops. We watched it as it bounced around playfully for a few minutes before vanishing into the gloom. It left us scratching our heads in bemusement. Little did we know that we were witnessing a rare but notorious phenomenon. In the UK, it is commonly called a Will o’ the Wisp or a Jack o’ Lantern but different cultures have their own names for them. They are usually seen in swamps or marshland and, in some myths, are believed to have a malevolent intelligence; luring unwary travellers from the road into dangerous bogs. A more scientific theory suggests that globes of fire are formed by escaping gas. Our Will o’ the Wisp was out of place in the woods but, in hindsight, I wonder if the deep limestone caves beneath them create a similar geological process. I did not think too much of the incident until some years later when I mentioned it to a friend. He retold the tale to his dad, who lives in a house at the bottom of the woods. Apparently, he went pale. He had seen one too!

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My second experience was less of a mystery, but no less disturbing. During the same period of nocturnal, teenage rambles, my peers and I were surprised to find that we were not the only group in Grin Low Woods at night. Following the main path up to Solomon’s Temple, we saw a long procession of cloaked and hooded figures, carrying flaming torches. They must have seen us too but gave no indication. They merely continued walking in eerie silence. We followed them for a while, frightened yet fascinated. The hooded assembly mounted the Low, free of the treeline to conduct a pagan ceremony on the hills. We finally lost our nerve and fled back through the trees. We noted the solitary bus parked near Poole’s Cavern at the bottom. At least the witches had arrived by conventional method!

I often walk in those woods but it is a long time since I have seen anything strange there. However, those early experiences still linger in my mind and I would still think twice before going there at night alone. If you have a similar exploit or an interesting theory on mine, I would love to hear from you. You can message Darcus Wolfson via Twitter or Facebook using the links at the top of the page.

D.W.