Close to the edge and no goblins in sight

Active Autumn: Fifty years ago today, Alan Garner's first novel for children was published. He showed Suzi Feay the places that inspired him

What do you associate with Cheshire? The grinning cat created by Lewis Carroll? Delicious cheese? Footballers' wives? The county can be hard to bring into focus. Except for young bookworms, for whom Cheshire, and one part in particular, can only ever mean the wild imagination of Alan Garner.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Garner's first novel for children, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, set around Alderley Edge, a dramatic, wooded ridge rising above the Cheshire plain. In Weirdstone and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath, two children, Colin and Susan, enter an underground kingdom, presided over by Cadellin, a wizard who watches over 140 knights, sleeping until the hour of England's greatest need. The novels are based on old legends that thickened around this beautiful, mysterious spot.

As someone with a lifelong love of Garner's work, I made my way north to tread the landscape of the books. My first port of call was Chester's Grosvenor Museum to see the new exhibition dedicated to him. The centrepiece is a new portrait of Garner by BP Portrait Award winner Andrew Tift. But you can also examine talismanic items belonging to Garner such as his Neolithic finds including stone hammers that became the deadly weapons of the Svarts, Cadellin's enemies. Also on display is a plate from the famous Owl Service, which inspired the book of the same name,

I caught up with Garner at the Alderley Edge Hotel, and asked what Cheshire meant to him. "Variety of landscape," he said immediately. "Cheshire is a 25-mile gap between the mountains of Wales and the Pennines. Wherever we are, there's variety. Where I live, I can look in one direction and see pastoral valley, woodland, Englishness. I turn around and I'm looking at terrifying bleak hills." But his especial focus is on Alderley Edge. "It's where I grew up and I didn't know there was anything odd about it until later.

"Everything moving from London to Ireland, everything moving up the west coast to Scotland – you've got to go through Cheshire. Cheshire is not spoilt because it's a place that people go through to get to somewhere else."

After tea, Garner took me and Sue Hughes, the curator of the Grosvenor Museum exhibition, for a tour around the Edge. We started out at the Wizard Inn and took the track to Thieves' Hole, a shallow depression where the farmer in the legend is accosted by the wizard, seeking to purchase his horse. Garner pointed out the shadow of an ancient track. It's hard to imagine the Edge as bare and stony, but Garner's mind moves through time easily.

From Thieves' Hole to Goldenstone, an ancient boundary marker. Turning left, we climbed the Elf Road, which would give us protection from any stray goblins. At the top, I didn't dare go widdershins three times around the Devil's Grave, but Garner amused us with the story of when he did just that as a lad, and his uncle, hidden within, groaned and hollered and kicked up soil.

We peered up at the Iron Gates – two huge rocks marking the entrance to Fundindelve, the underground realm – and I flung myself on the ground where Garner vowed that the gentle breathing of the sleeping knights could sometimes be heard.

"What did I tell you, no birdsong," said Garner, suddenly. The children are told so in Weirdstone, and indeed the woods seemed uncannily still.

After this scramble we had dinner in the Wizard Inn. Garner ordered "dead duck". I had delicious vegetable broth and gnocchi, but was defeated by the northern portions.

Our route can be traced with the help of a specially commissioned map, available at the museum. So if you go "By Seven Firs and Goldenstone to Stormy Point and Saddlebole", like the farmer in the legend, you might glimpse a silvery-haired figure with an aura of ancient wisdom. It might be Alan Garner ... or it might only be a wizard. You never know.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath are both published by HarperCollins, £5.99

Compact Facts

How to get there

Virgin Trains (0871 977 4222; virgin offers return fares from London Euston to Chester from £66. Hilltop Country House (01625 829940; hilltopcountry offers B&B in a double room from £75 per night. The Wizard Pub (01625 584000;

Further information

"10-10-10: 50 Years of the Weirdstone of Brisingamen" is at the Grosvenor Museum until 28 November. Visit Cheshire (

Suggested Topics
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'