The Edge. Part I

As any sensible grown-up knows, traffic on a Friday afternoon before a spring Bank Holiday weekend is likely to be bad – and unnecessary driving best avoided.

As any sensible adult would almost certainly agree, if there’s also a train strike on that Friday, it’d be doubly foolish to set out on a jaunt.

But then, I wasn’t being a sensible adult.

Our house looked like an adolescent had been left in charge for a week. I’d been all alone. The academic was researching in Ghana. I was just – um – reading. Weird things.

It began with The Stone Book, by Alan Garner.  A book which gives me strange feelings inside. Not fear. Not joy. Something in between.

Enough to make me wonder about the world.

About the connectedness of minds, of Nature, history and prehistory.

Of the presence and absence of time.

And timelessness.

Here’s what the blurb at the front says (bear with me, it’s long, but will be relevant):

‘Astride the golden weathercock at the top of the new church, Mary looked down on the Victorian village that her father had helped to build […].

Mary wished she could go to school and learn to read. She wanted a prayer book to carry to Chapel. Other girls in the village had books, although they could not read, and used them for pressing flowers.

Mary’s father was a stonemason, and he could read books and also the inside of stones. When Mary asked him if she could have a book, he took her under the hill where the stone came from. ‘Follow the malachite,’ said Father. And Mary walked, by herself, deep into the layers of the earth. When she returned she knew a wonderful secret, and she did not need to ask again for a book.’

Now, there are many, many things about this book that make it obviously written for me.  But not needing, or wanting, books, you may surmise, isn’t one of them – and you’d be right.

Yet, the more I watch and listen and learn from the world out there – and the world inside – the more I realise that book-learning’s only a thin dimension of all the learning-to-be-done about our planet and all that’s in it.

There are so many aspects of this book that make a butterfly unfold its wings in my insides, it would take forever to explain. So, here’s just one.

Some time ago I wrote an unfinished novel about a young woman. Eve and the Serpent, it was called. Eve met a man who played saxophone in an orchestra. He also played a period instrument. And the instrument was a serpent. Or, more accurately, an ophicleide.

Now, I don’t know about you, but despite being familiar with classical music, I didn’t grow up knowing about ophicleides. I only found out about them when I researched serpents (of the musical kind) for this book.

From an 1888 French catalogue (Public domain via Jean Luc Matte)

The Stone Book features an ophicleide.

Alan Garner is famous for his weird and magical children’s books. Some of you may have read  The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath.

A little while ago, I began to take an interest in Norse mythology and wrote about it in relation to trees. Which is when I discovered ‘brisingamen’ originates in Norse mythology as the necklace of the goddess Freya.

Alan Garner says he does not write for children, he writes for himself. I read the two ‘big’ books as a child and they are marketed as children’s books, but the final part of the trilogy, only a recent publication, Boneland, is very deep, much more adult in tone to my mind – bonkers but brilliant! It is only thanks to my lovely friend Ginni that I have this quartet featuring The Stone Book. One of the best presents ever.

I love connectdnesses – and so revisited the Garner books. Twice.

The second time this week.

I was so enthralled – in their thrall – that I had to go. I had to see The Edge for myself.

Alderley Edge (where I believe an elderly Alan Garner still lives) is in Cheshire.

Cheshire is regarded as the posh bit of northern England. Into which it barely scrapes, being more like northern midlands to my mind.

It’s a stockbroker belt. A place of high house prices and footballers.

‘Real Cheshire Housewives’ on TV.

On Friday I set out to drive there, selecting ‘avoid freeways’ on the sat nav since I was all alone.  Because between me and the Edge is the M6, a motorway I’ve mistrusted ever since I was 21 and the best friend a girl could wish for was killed on it in a car crash.

But … Bank holidays are also the time when roadworks appear at the least convenient times and places. And after two ‘detours’ I succumbed. Parked. Re-set the sat nav for ‘fast’ and joined the cantering hordes on the dreaded M6.

It was only then I realised I was heading for Manchester airport and felt a pang of guilt. If I was going to drive there for a jaunt, why not to pick up the homecoming traveller on Saturday?


So much guilt. Over so many things. Over so many years.

But on  I pressed. Past the constituency of our former Chancellor of the Exchequer (we’ll come back to George Osborne later) and finally, to Alderley Edge.

There’s a ‘village’ of that name below the actual Edge.

The high street was busy. Stuck behind a black, Porsche 4×4 which was waiting to turn into the car park of – where else – Waitrose [foreign friends – this is an upmarket supermarket] – I watched an unrelenting parade of white or black, shiny 4x4s heading in the other direction and began to regret my venture.

What if the Wizard café (my first goal) was secretly ‘stockbrokers only’?

Well, there was no turning back, now.

The Porsche turned. I ploughed on. Up the hill. Past men in ear protectors mowing other men’s lawns. Past gates and walls and rhododendrons. To the top of the hill and ‘you have reached your destination’ – a rough roadside car park. Not the Wizard’s place.

Two men in real workmen’s gear stood chatting. The Wizard’s Tea Room raised a smile and a wave of the arm. So, on I drove. Found it. Parked.

And heaved a sigh of relief.

It was small and dark inside, but then wizards are comfortable with darkness, I imagine.

The Wizard of local legend revealed an army of knights with milky white horses sleeping beneath these hills to a farmer whose white horse he needed and paid with treasure.They wait till they are needed to save the world – meanwhile large black birds keep watch …

I ate a toasted bacon sandwich – delicious, thick bacon, no fat, perfectly cooked – and drank Cheshire tea. The ‘loose leaf’ tea, oddly, came in a bag – albeit a large one.

The time had come to brave the hill.

Fearing disappointment, I reached a gate and hardly dared pass through. But then I saw a sign: ‘To the Beacon’.

I thought of the eve of Gomrath.  Of the fateful decision of Susan and Colin to light a fire.

And how close the world then came to ending.

It didn’t feel like the lonely place atop a hill where two scared, cold children had lit a fire which burned cold and raised a fearsome ancient force. But this was just the start…

Well, that’s enough for today.

Part 2’s about vistas, visions – and a rather angry me.

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A very few words, on tiny wings

Faeries are abroad.

While the sun shines they dance, a skittish double-helix dance. And blossom bursts forth, like foam upon a crashing sea.

There, that’s the limit of my poesy today!

I’ve surprised a butterfly at rest. Captured its image – but not its essence. That I leave to greater powers than mine.

What kind of butterfly you wonder?

A thing of rare enchantment. Or so my book would have it.

I’ll let you judge for yourselves.

The pirouetting pair performing in my garden are called Speckled Woods. They:

“feed mainly out of sight, drinking honeydew on treetops…

They are usually seen in ones or twos, especially the male which occupies a beam of light in which he perches, basks and indulges in dancing fluttery flights. He leaves only to ward off other males or to chase females, then returns to his original sunbeam…’

Jeremy Thomas, Guide to Butterflies of Britain & Ireland

Happy Sunbeam – or Sunday – everyone. Your choice – perhaps dependent on the weather.

That’s it for today. My inner angst can steam a little longer when there are butterflies outside fluttering. And blossom, a-blooming.

Perennial wallflower setting off the white broom, bursting with vigour in the spring sunshine


Posted in Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Not in any way a last resort

Easter Sunday. Cold. Grey. Windy.

The occasional teardrop falling. Not mine. They dripped, now and then, from the eyes of the Rain God, lurking in his lair in the dismal clouds above.

But I wasn’t surprised. Or disappointed. I’m used to Easter’s vagaries. And customs. And I don’t mean just the eggs. Or bonnets.

There was a tradition, in my family, of giving ‘Easter fairings’ – small gifts.  In the days when fairs came to town at Easter, as they did in my home town, the custom was to buy these small gifts at the fair – hence the name.

And I have happy memories of very-young-me riding the ‘little wheel’ at the annual fair in our marketplace. Clutching a cardboard ‘clock’ whose numbers were all tiny eggs. Ah, happy days!

But my abiding memory of long-gone Eastertides is not of the fairground, nor eggs, nor chocolate, but of shivering. Because Easter was also when my mother bought me a new outfit.

A new summer outfit.

Wearing my new summer clothes I would sit hunched on the bench, or fidget on aching knees for the long hour of Mass in our unheated (as of Easter) church.  Father Hickey waving his glasses as he spoke to us ‘dear brethren’ from the pulpit. The organ itself probably wincing each time the organist missed random keys as we plodded through

‘Christ the Lord is ris’n today-ay,


Apparently, it brings good luck, wearing an item of new clothing at Easter. So perhaps a fair bit of luck has been my lot, in compensation for the chills.

And last Sunday, although it was pretty bleak outside, I wasn’t too downcast.

Yes, the weather was far from spring-like – but then, what is spring like?

March winds? April showers?

Hmmm. English weather, I’m not so foolish as to trust to a rhyme.

Anyway, we had our (rather large) hot cross buns to start the day. Admittedly one day late.

We’d bought them on our way home from a short break. From a real bakery in a real Lancashire village.

Here in old Lancashire, many proper local bakeries still make hot cross buns for Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). Indeed, in the bakery near our last house, we had to order them or be disappointed – and still join queues on Holy Saturday morning.

Supermarkets sell them most of the year, now. Packed in plastic. In various flavours.

But not for me the chocolate abominations of hot cross buns.

I love the tradition, the once-a-year-iness of them. The currants and raisins and cinnamon of them – and the ‘what is the cross made of’ of them.

They cost a bit more now than the ‘One a penny two a penny hot cross buns.’ But still cheap enough to ‘Give them to your daughters, give them to your sons.’

But even a large hot cross bun can’t cheer you all day. And the downside to grey weather is, of course, that a lowering sky can also cause the mood to darken.

A walk on the beach, the usual preferred antidote to gloom, wasn’t on. Too cold. Too windy. Too spitty (thank you, Rain God).

Nor the bird walk (as we call it). Too wet on the marshy mosses leading to the sea. Meaning wellies would be essential. And we didn’t feel wellington boot-y.

The pier? No, no, no! Gusty in the extreme. And the pier train would defeat the object of walking.

Then came the brainwave.

We live in a resort. A seaside resort with a marine (don’t mention Le Pen) lake.

It was a bad day for photography, sorry. But you get the idea. Pretty bridge, big top of the visiting circus, big wheel back for the summer at Pleasureland, cold water, grey skies – and seagulls

In all our three years here, we have never, ever, walked around the lake.

So, off we set.

Beautiful Victorian seaside occasional architecture – there are always windy days with a little rain at our seaside resorts!

The promenade train

The Royal Clifton Hotel seen from the King’s Gardens

Southport is famous for its potted shrimps – this big one got away…

The merry-go-round is a permanent fixture at the town end of ‘the longest iron pier in the country’

And along with the sights and sounds of Easter. Of families and fairgrounds and seagulls and motorbikes – and did I mention wind? – came a surprising reason to smile.

And not just the sun struggling through …

Yes, the sun trying hard – over the pitch and putt – probably one of the last arduous of the Golf Coast’s golf courses! Certainly not a rival to Royal Birkdale, a hop-skip-and-a-jump down the coast, which this year is host to the British Open

As you may have noticed, I like to look at the labels on benches. There’s usually some poignant, loving, remark about a dear departed relative, a passionate fan of the park, the view, or the nature reserve. A tribute to a generous volunteer.

Well, our local resort has its own, rather lovely benches and – yes – many of them are sad, heart-warming, caring little tributes. In silver. With teardrops, in the rain.

But. Hang on. Wait a minute.

This isn’t the post I wanted to write today. I still have some ranty, angsty, possibly gloomy, despondent-y things to post – from politics and the state of the world to – well, politics and the state of the world.

But since all around me bloggers and readers alike are tearing their hair out and fretting and worrying and despairing at the state of the world, I’ll wait a little while longer.

Instead, I’m going to let some images speak for themselves.

And here’s a message from me. Imagine it as an overlong message on this metaphorical-bench-of-a-post.

“Dear friends, relatives, fellow-bloggers and all readers who pass this way,

The last few weeks have shown me what a lovely community you can be. We can be. So, in an attempt to cheer your day, in return for consolations you have given me, please, have these little gems, on me.

With my very best wishes.”

This reads:
In loving memory of Nell and Gerry Dolan
“Up in the attic keeping the gravy warm”

One of King’s Gardens’ elegant benches

Tea and rather glamorous scones (however you care to pronounce them) in the King’s Gardens tea room. Ahhhh. Then home again to chicken and new potatoes. Later. 😉

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments