If ever there was a well fit for a fairy tale, it is this crooked old spring. Surrounded by rippling roots, slick with luminous moss and held in the firm grasp of the oak above, this is a place for wishes. Bent pins and old coins were the currency for several hundred years, dropped into the carved basin to cure barrenness or ease a birth; fertility and woman’s stuff being the primary business of this sacred place. But I often wonder about the unsaid things wished for at places such as these. Wishing for a baby was an approved pursuit, but what other desperate things were uttered over this ancient spring? What other wishes were made as bent pins and bitter tears were dropped into the water?
On researching this numinous spring I ran across an interesting piece of information on The Modern Antiquarian:
…as we were there we saw a gentleman placing a leaf into a crack in the rock to allow the water to run off into the carved stone trough below. He explained he was the site guardian, who came every day to check on the place and put a leaf into the crevice so the water could flow. A friendly and interesting guy he explained that he had inherited the task from an old local woman who was now too elderly and infirm to continue doing it. He was also able to direct us to some of the other sites around the edge.
And sure enough, when I visited the well a fresh green leaf had been inserted into the crevice, ensuring the spring water trickled cleanly into the stone basin below.
The Holy Well has a wealth of traditions and legends, but is only one of a suspected nine wells on the edge. It appears in the books of Alan Garner, who grew up playing on the edge (and supposedly ‘found’ his pocket money at the Holy Well and Wishing Well) and still lives in the area. It even has its own body count – a woman and her cow killed and buried by a boulder falling from rocks above Holy Well. On viewing the site, it becomes clear that the woman and her cow must have been asleep, drunk or suicidal to have been caught by what must have been a slow moving boulder; I get a definite whiff of folk memory, of guardians, of animism, of veneration of the abundant milkiness of a good fertile cow.
The Edge is a forest full of stories. A sacred, special place where it is easy, despite the well tramped woodland paths, to get lost. I could write endlessly about the weirdness (or wyrdness?) that abounds, and the history that cloaks it, the superstitions, the modern fables, the archaeology of human belief, but I couldn’t do it justice. All I will say is go there, pack a picnic, put on your red cloak and enjoy the walk to grandma’s house…
There is a wealth of history and archaeology for the Edge, endless articles, decades of writing. Here is a start:
Bakewell, Robert, Alderley Edge and its Neighbourhood, J. Swinnerton: Macclesfield 1843.
Roeder, C. & Graves, F.S., ‘Recent Archaeological Discoveries at Alderley Edge,’ in Trans. Lancs & Cheshire Antiq. Soc., 1906
Alan Garner – By Sevenfirs and Goldenstone: An Account of the Legend of Alderley, Temenos Academy, 2010.
Doug Pickford – Myths and Legends of East Cheshire and the Moorlands, Sigma Press, 1992.