“By Seven Firs and Goldenstone they went…”
Yesterday I decided to take the dogs up the Edge for their walk. All the pondering about the boulder in the park made me want to go and reconnect to one in nature and the nearest I could think of was the Golden Stone at Alderley Edge.
When I got my first dog I used to spend hours at the Edge. It is a great place for them because all the steep slopes mean that they run three times as far as you have to walk. In those days the Edge still had an abandoned wildness to it. When the new National Trust Warden took over, the place suddenly became sanitised. We had posters warning about the cliff edge, and large areas were fenced off, somehow the mystery was buried so I stayed away for a while.
The new fences have sort of weathered in now but you still can’t walk along the cliff edge like you used to. In the 18th Century the area was described as a ‘rather dreary heath’ and was an open sandstone escarpment. It was ‘improved’ by the local landowners the De Traffords and Stanleys who planted it with scots pine, beeches and birch in the mid 1700s. Over the centuries it has become covered in trees, which rather obscure the terrific view across north Cheshire – the banner at the top of the blog is a view from Castle Rock to Manchester.
There is so much to say about the Edge I could write a book about it, so we’ll move on to the Golden Stone and save the rest for later. But talking about books I have to mention that Alan Garner set his Weirdstone of Brisingamen series here, and latterly The Strandloper. I can’t recommend these books highly enough – you can imagine what a profound effect they had on me when I was small, to read about an area I knew well in such a magical way. You could probably blame the author for my pagan druid leanings.
The Golden Stone we know from surviving records, was used in the medieval period as a ‘merestone’ or boundary marker. A merestone is a large earthfast or glacial boulder that is too heavy for one or two men to move secretly. The Edge itself was split between two land owners and fell within three Parishes, and there are a series of banks and landmarks which show the boundaries. Archaeologists aren’t sure whether the stone was a menhir that was later moved to its current position – there are records of large stones on the Edge being moved for markers. Or whether it has always been where it lies now.
It is said that the stone got its name from the golden aura it emits. I can’t see auras so I can’t confirm this, but I think it more likely that before the tree cover on the Edge grew and encouraged the lichens, algae and moss, the stone, when hit by the sun would glow gold naturally. It is made up of the local pale orangey-pink sandstone conglomerate and the sun hitting all the silica crystals would certainly make the rock shimmer and gleam.
Maybe another reason for the name would be an association with unusual landscape features and treasure – Alderley Edge has it’s own ancient treasure story. There is also a very modern one that has grown up round the stone itself. A few years ago now ‘prehistoric’ gold bars were supposedly found underneath it. It was a hoax, but it is a rumour that seems to have been accepted by some visitors as a truth and I suppose it will join all the other legends about this magical, mystical place