|About this Recording
NA447012 - GARNER, A.: Moon of Gomrath (The) (Unabridged)
The Moon of Gomrath grew out of the landscape and people of my childhood, as did The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. In particular, I was influenced by Joshua Rowbotham Birtles, a farmer on the hill of Alderley Edge, where both our families have been long settled.
Every Friday, Joshua used to deliver eggs and vegetables in his cart, pulled by his horse, Prince. Some of my earliest memories are of Joshua’s britches, stockings and boots looming over me as I sat on the floor, and of hearing his voice, pitched to carry against gale and hill, jarring the windows. His hands were gigantic, spilling cauliflowers, cabbages and potatoes over the table, and seemed to be producing the great bounty without the need for soil. He was huge in frame and spirit, and almost not credible in appearance, as if he stood outside Time.
When I learned to walk, Joshua would let me ride next to him on the seat and hold Prince’s reins. And all the while, Joshua was telling me things: the reason why a particular boulder in a bank was called the Golden Stone; that the smooth, round hummock, known as the Beacon, on the highest point of the Edge was the grave of a king. Much later, I discovered that the Beacon was a Bronze Age burial mound, 4,000 years old. So, through Joshua, I began to see that story is also memory.
When I came to write, I knew that I had to record Joshua’s life, in some form. But, since he was not dead, I had to find a name for him, and the name had to be as genuine as he was. Invented names sound wrong.
One day, I was cleaning the grass from old tombstones in the churchyard at Alderley to record their inscriptions, and I uncovered the stone of Gowther Mossock, ‘Thirty-eight Yeares Rector of this Parish, Who was Interred ye twelfth Daye of April in ye Yeare of Oure Lord 1580’. I had my name.
There was something else the Edge gave, but that was beyond my reach. It was the Pennines, the line of bleak and desolate hills that lie nine miles to the east of Alderley, 2,000 feet high. They were clear to view, from Castle Rock, from the Devil’s Grave, from Stormy Point, from Seven Firs and from the Golden Stone. But they were too hard to get to by bicycle, too dangerous and steep. It was not until I became an athlete that I discovered the Pennines, by running there. And among those hills and valleys I found places as powerful as the Edge, but different. One of the strangest, and the most disturbing, was Errwood.
I had set off on a spring morning, and by midday had reached the peak of Shining Tor, the highest point in Cheshire. All around, the views were tremendous. To the west there was the Cheshire Plain, with the Edge now a dark sentinel, and beyond there were the Welsh mountains. In all other directions the Pennines lolled, treeless, bracken browns and marsh greens, with drystone walls lacing the lower slopes.
I thought that I would take a route I’d not investigated, from Shining Tor along the ridge towards Cats Tor. About half way along the ridge, in the valley to my right, I saw the tops of trees, a wood growing where no woodland should be. I made towards it.
The way became steeper and springs drained from the peat and joined to make rivulets that cut into the hillside, so that I was running on loose shale, which clattered down to the water. Inside the wood was no easier, and the trees were dead.
Something showed between the trunks. It was a small stone building, the shape of a beehive, with a doorway. I stooped inside. It was bare, except for a stone table. And on the table was a bunch of fresh primroses.
I had seen no one since I reached the hills. The farms were scattered, few, and poor. Here, any workable soil was used for the families’ vegetables. There was no place for the luxury of flowers. Yet the stems were moist.
A wood of dead trees; and beyond it were glimpses of high foliage. It was an impenetrable wall of rhododendron, acrid leathery, breathing, alive. I moved around the barrier and came to two formal gateposts. The wilderness growth had nearly blocked the way, but a thin line of path remained and I followed it, brushing through, spitting out the black and bitter dust of the shrub bark.
I came to a fork in the path, and took the left. It curved around a small hill. The way become a wide approach, and led to what had been a terraced lawn, below steps, clad in weed. And on the lawn was the ruin of a nineteenth century Italianate mansion. Everything above the ground floor had collapsed and was covered by grass, with architecture sticking out. The walls that remained were pierced by full-length windows, now glassless holes in stone; and where the main entrance had been there was the carved image of a griffin.
The whole thing, the whole edifice, should not be here in this ancient and wild land. What was it? What had it been? Whatever, it was no good place, and I had to leave.
I went back along the path and down the fork. The remnants of two bridges crossed what was now a brook.
After half a mile I came to padlocked and chained iron gates, rusted into a single block. I turned and ran back up the thousand feet to the clean air and the living wind. Though I didn’t know it, the seed of The Moon of Gomrath had been planted then and there.
It’s more than fifty years since that happened. But every time I go to Errwood, at any season, on the stone table there are always fresh flowers, to this day.
Notes by Alan Garner
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue
ARENSKY Suite No. 1 in G minor Op. 7
Variations sur un thème russe
FIBICH Symphony No. 1 Adagio non troppo
ARENSKY Suite No. 2 Op. 23 Le Savant
ALKAN Equisses Op. 63 No. 13 Ressouvenire
ALKAN Equisses Op. 63 No. 4 Les Cloches
GRIEG Sigurd Jorsalfar Op. 56 Borghild’s Dream
ARENSKY SUITE NO. 3 OP. 33 Marche funèbre
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