Many years ago, by the light of the forge, a blacksmith told his son the legends of The Edge. His stories and the surrounding magical landscape inspired that young boy, fuelling his imagination. He grew up to be Alan Garner, author of two of my favourite children’s books – The Weirdstone of the Brisingamen and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath. Both are children’s fantasy novels set on The Edge, incorporating elements of local folklore into their plots and characters.
Some time in the mid 19th century, Alan’s great-great grandfather Robert carved the face of a bearded wizard onto the rock of a cliff next to a well that was known in local folklore as the Wizard’s Well.
I grew up loving Garner’s tales and now I live close enough to The Edge to take my own children on walks through its beautiful woodlands. It is easy to see how this beautiful and mysterious setting inspired the books of my childhood. Sitting in the Druid’s Stones, I tell my girls stories of hidden treasure, secret caverns and powerful enchantments. We hunt out the little waterfalls and wells, one of them – the Wizard’s Well is supposed to cure infertility. Another is fabled to grant your wishes, we stop here, taking it in turns to drop in a leaf and whisper our wishes. There is something magical about this place. The legends add an air of mystery and excitement, turning our woodland walks into adventures and treasure hunts.
The Legend of the Iron Gates
A farmer was taking his white mare to market but as he walked through The Edge it stopped at Thieve’s Hole, refusing to move. An old man approached him offering to buy the mare but the farmer refused preferring to try his luck getting more money in the market at Macclesfield. The old man told the farmer that nobody would buy his mare.
The farmer hurried off to market but found the old man’s prediction to be true. People admired the mare but nobody would buy it. As he trudged back home, the old man approached him a second time asking to buy the horse. He led the farmer deep into the woods, down many paths to a rock face. He raised his staff and as he brought it down, the rock split in two, revealing a pair of old iron gates.
The old man reassured the farmer as the gates opened revealing a passageway down into the rock. The farmer followed the old man down to a hidden cavern where he saw many sleeping knights. Beside all but one was a white horse.
As the old man lay the farmer’s white horse down in an enchanted sleep beside the lone knight, he introduced himself as the wizard tasked with guarding the 140 sleeping knights. He explained that they slept there just waiting to be awakened at a time when England was in dire peril, then they would charge out onto the plain to defend the country in the last battle of the world. And now, with the final white mare, the army was complete.
The wizard then led the bemused farmer to a second cavern. It was filled with treasure, gold and jewels beyond his wildest dreams. The wizard told him to take what he could carry and led him back to the surface. When the farmer exited the cavern, he tried to memorise the layout of the area so he could go back and collect more of the treasure but as he looked back, the iron gates, the wizard and the cavern had all disappeared, leaving just a smooth rock face once more. No matter how many times he explored, he never never found the entrance to the secret caverns again.
There are various legends surrounding the network of caves and Bronze Age mines that run along The Edge but one thing that most of seem to agree on is that the wizard is the mighty Merlin and the sleeping knights are King Arthur and his men. Whatever you choose to believe, I know I’d much rather go on a quest to find the sleeping knights or hunt for the cavern of treasure, than just go for a walk. Whenever we find a cave there is a little thrill of excitement, what if this is the one?
It is not just the local children who go hunting for the lost treasure. Over the last fifty years six gold bars have been reported found around the Alderley Edge area. Did finding ancient gold bars spark the stories of hidden treasure? Or is there always a glimmer of truth at the root of all legends?