Sunday, 19 October 2014

Return to Alderley Edge.

The View From Stormy Point

How Alderley Edge fired me up about photography.

I first read about Alderley Edge, not realising at the time that it is a real place, in the Alan Garner novel, "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen". This was while I was an inmate at school in Richmond, Yorkshire, sometime in the early 1970s. At about the same time, I read "Earthfasts" by William Mayne, a similarly fantastic story, set in the real location of Richmond, and weaving its narrative from elements of local legend, local landscape, and time travel. Both books were exactly the kind of story to appeal to my imagination, and when I finally realised that Alderley was a real place too, and that the Legend of the Wizard of Alderley Edge was similarly a "real" legend, the spell was complete.

Eventually my parents moved to Wilmslow, where they lived for several years, and I was then able to discover the actual Alderley Edge for myself. I became so fascinated by the story that I spent many hours along and around the Edge, trying to identify all the crucial locations referred to in "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen". And, in a 'weird' way, the book was instrumental in my becoming a photographer: so obsessed did I become with the real places described in the book, that I decided to produce a photographic guide book to "The Weirdstone ...". I had recently borrowed and begun using an SLR for the first time, and under the impetus of taking the photos for the guide book, made a real effort to learn more about photography.

The Entrance To The Devil's Grave on Stormy Point

Needless to say, the guide book never happened. However, I did discover that I was genuinely interested in photography, and eventually went on to study photographic technology at Manchester Polytechnic.

The obsession with "The Weirdstone ..." continued, and culminated in a re-creation of the journey, made by the main characters at the end of the book, between Alderley Edge and Shutlingsloe, a hill above Macclesfield Forest in the Peak District. In the story the children, in the company of warrior dwarves whose duty is to protect them, must travel from Fundindelve, the Wizard's home beneath Alderley Edge, to meet Cadellin the Wizard on the summit of Shutlingsloe. They are pursued by Witches and a variety of mythological monsters, so the route that they follow makes its way across country, taking advantage of all the landscape features that will give them cover from their pursuers. Our re-creation, though, was constrained by the modern necessity to follow rights of way, so much of the central part of the route was unable to follow the original.

The Wizard Of Alderley Edge

There is a short section in the book, as our heroes attempt to pass unseen by the pub in the village of Gawsworth. To our delight, the Harrington Arms is a real pub, and back then (late 70s - early 80s) was relatively untouched by modernity. Indeed, until 1984, when Robinson's Brewery gave the bar a bit of refurbishment, there was no bar - beer was dispensed by gravity from casks laid down behind the serving counter. The then-landlady, Marjory Bayley, was as likely to sell you potatoes as beer, and although she cultivated the outward appearance of being a curmudgeonly elderly lady, she was always very kind to me and my friends (one cold and wet New Year's Day, despite the fact that we turned-up late in the afternoon, she rescued us from starvation by producing a plate of sandwiches long after the lunchtime period was over).

So, despite the fact that we were forced by circumstance to make our way to Shutlingsloe via public rights of way, we were still able (indeed we made a point of it) to call into the Harrington Arms for lunch. Afterward, the summit of Shutlingsloe was achieved without much difficulty, but was not the end of our journey. We still had several miles farther to go (mainly downhill, of course) to get back to Macclesfield Railway Station, to catch the train back to Manchester.

Engine Vein Mine
I moved to Kendal in 1987, and it was to be many years before I would set foot on Alderley Edge again. We had occasional flying visits, when we might manage an hour to walk out to Stormy Point and Castle Rock. When we did, I was struck by just how small and urban the Edge seemed to be. Yet when we lived in Manchester, and Alderley was our regular 'Escape to the Country' it felt positively like wilderness. How perceptions change.

The Wizard's Well
I recently had an opportunity to return and have a proper look round again. The photographs here in this post are from that occasion, and the full set of pictures can be seen on my Picasa gallery. I intend (and it is worth remembering that the road to hell is paved with good intentions) to dig out some of my old photos from the 1980s, and display them here as a comparison with the new pictures. Anyway, the weather on the day of my excursion was excellent, and I managed to get a reasonable walk under my belt. I went to all the old familiar places on the Edge proper, but also had sufficient time to make my way across to the other side of the Macclesfield Road onto the South side of the slope. I was quite surprised to find that, although much was familiar, there was quite a lot that I did not recognise. Not that anything had necessarily changed, just that my memory is becoming increasingly unreliable.

Shutlingsloe, the Scene Of Armageddon in the Weirdstone
One disappointment was to find that many of the old quarry and mine workings have been 'made safe'. Entrances to tunnels have been walled-in or had doors fitted, and quite extensive areas have been fenced - presumably to reduce the risk of someone tumbling over an edge. And yet Castle Rock, which has a genuine long drop, is still unencumbered and allows the bold or the adventurous the opportunity to dangle their legs over the abyss. Political Correctness Gone Mad!

The View of Jodrell Bank from the South Side of the Edge

And so I say to all who may have read Harry Potter: forget that bloated, overwritten, exploitative claptrap! If you want to see how a tale of Wizards, magic and fantasy should be written - with economy, style and grace - read Alan Garner's "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen". And then visit Alderley Edge, to see how such a tale can inhabit the real world, without the need for Diagon Alleys, or Platforms of fractional numericality.