The other day I was in Cheshire for my cousin’s wedding (it was a wonderful day by the way, and the reception was held at a Tudor manor-house which, disappointingly, turned out not to be haunted), and rolling through that county on the train, I got to thinking about Alderley Edge.
The Edge is an escarpment that rises high above the Cheshire Plain; it is honeycombed with old copper mines, and these days is owned and maintained by the National Trust.
It first came to my attention through the work of Alan Garner, especially his book The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which is set in and around the Edge, and was inspired by a local legend about a farmer who, taking a white horse to market, met a strange old man on the road.
The old man asked to buy the horse, but the farmer refused. So the old man told him:
“You will find no one willing to buy her today.”
And indeed, when the farmer arrived at the market, many admired the white mare, but no one would buy.
Returning home disappointed, the farmer found the old man where he had left him, by the woods near the Edge.
He led the farmer to a rock face, where great iron gates suddenly appeared and swung open, and within there lay caverns where a large company of warriors slept, and all but one had their own white horse, sleeping beside him.
The stranger then told of how they awaited the day of a terrible battle, when England would be threatened, and they would ride out to her defence.
The farmer now gladly took the offered money, and beat a hasty retreat, the gates shutting behind him; and to this day, no one has been able to locate them again…
Though the original account does not name the characters, successive versions have identified the old man as Merlin, and the leader of the sleeping warriors as King Arthur, the Once and Future King…
The Death of King Arthur, James Archer