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NA539612 - GARNER, A.: Weirdstone of Brisingamen (The) (Unabridged)
About 150 years ago, my great-greatgrandfather, Robert Garner carved the face of an old man with long hair and beard in the rock of a cliff on a hill where my family has lived for at least 400 years, and still does. He carved the face above a well that is much older. How much older, no one knows, but it’s centuries older, or even more. And why did he carve it? He carved it to mark that here is the Wizard’s Well.
About 68 years ago, Robert’s grandson, Joseph, told his own grandson how, under the earth, inside the hill, there was, and still is, an army of knights sleeping an enchanted sleep from which they will wake one day to fight the last battle of the world. But until that day comes, they must not be woken.
I am Joseph’s grandson, and I grew up on that hill, Alderley Edge in Cheshire, aware of its magic and accepting it. I didn’t know that it wasn’t the same for everyone. I didn’t know that not all children played, by day and by night, the year long, on a wooded hill where heroes slept in the ground.
Yet there were strange things. Below another ancient well, the Holy Well, a rock lies in a bog. It fell from the cliff above in 1740 and made the Garners’ cottage shake. It landed on an old woman and her cow that, for some reason, were standing in the bog, and, as a result, are still there. When I was seven, the bog was dangerous for somebody of my size and I once got stuck in it and thought I was going to drown, even though I sank only to my hips; but I managed to reach the rock and to climb up it to where a fallen tree was lodged, which spanned the bog, and by sliding along the trunk I was able to reach firm land. Nearby, under the leaf mould, is a layer of white clay that we used as soap to wash ourselves before we went home after playing. But there wasn’t anything I could do about my clothes, and Grandad was not pleased.
That is how children grew up on the Edge. We knew it in every way: whether it was to find soap or to avoid the Devil in his Grave.
My father taught me about the Devil. One afternoon, when I was about 4, he asked me whether I should like to go up the Edge. I was amazed. My father normally would have been having his Sunday snooze. So off we went and climbed the hill, and we walked through the woods, past Thieves’ Hole and Seven Firs to Stormy Point, where the Edge is a barren plunge of sand and stone to the plain beneath. At the top there’s a trench cut into the rock, which goes to a small cavern. There’s a hole in the roof, partly closed by a hewn block. This cavern is the Devil’s Grave.
My father stood and looked at the enormous view that lay before us; and then he told me that the block in the hole was the Devil’s Gravestone and that if anybody ran round the stone three times widdershins the Devil would come out and get them. ‘Is it true?’ I said. ‘It’s what they say,’ said my father. ‘Can I have a go?’ I said. ‘If you like,’ said my father. So I set off widdershins running around the rock; once; twice. I looked at him. He was watching the sky. Three times.
From inside the cavern beneath us there came a screech and a scream. Twigs, pebbles and sand were thrown up out of the hole between the block and the rim. There was fiendish noise; and more screaming. This time the screams were from me as I fled. I tripped over a tree root, and lay waiting for the Devil to grab me. Instead, I heard two men laughing. I looked. It was my father and his brother, my uncle Syd. They had planned the whole thing the night before in the pub. Uncle Syd would be in place at three o’clock and my father would have me there at five past. They had decided that I was of an age to understand the Devil’s Grave. And I did.
In such ways the children of the Edge learn their place, in every sense. But one thing we never messed with. The mines. The copper mines, worked on and off for 4,000 years until nearly 100 years ago, killed people. But those people were always strangers, never local children. We had lost too many of our families as miners there. The mines were one place we did not go.
The Edge is a land of two worlds: above and below. It took me my childhood to learn about above; when I was 19, I went to learn the wonders of below: a world of darkness and silence, so dark that you can see the lights of brain cells discharging; so silent that blood in the veins can be heard. Yet, shine a lamp and the eye is washed with colour; the colour of minerals with marvellous names: malachite, azurite, galena. They glisten in caves bigger than a church and the size of a cathedral; and on the roof, in places, there are the marks of ripples in the sand, of a sea upside down and hung to dry.
No miner ever found the sleeping knights. But there is a place on the hill I know, where, if you put your ear to the ground and listen, and if the weather’s right and the air is still, you may hear the knights snoring and the clink of harness. And have I heard them? No. Not yet. But my cousin has.
Notes by Alan Garner
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue
BAX Symphonic Poems
Music programmed by Sarah Butcher
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