"From Mobberley on a bright morning
On a snow-white pure bred mare
A farmer went to Macclesfield
For to sell her at the fair"
So begins the folk song that tells the tale. As with all folk tales it happened once upon a time. The farmer's route took him across Alderley Edge where he was accosted by a wizard who politely asked to buy the horse. The greedy farmer demurred, hoping to extract maximum price from his asset by auctioning her to the highest bidder at the fair, but the wizard put a spell on the horse that no bidding would be made for her and then said that he would await the farmer at Alderley Edge on his return. True to his word, no bids were made, and the chastened farmer returned to meet the wizard, who led the farmer through mighty iron gates, which appeared quite magically as he struck the rock with his staff, into a cave where there were lying a king and his knights, all asleep, all of whom but one had a white mare. The wizard explained that these men sleep until the country's hour of need, but must all have a white horse. He was their unsleeping guardian. But he was an honest wizard who paid well, and so he told the farmer to fill his pockets with some of the masses of gold that surrounded the sleepers and then leave the Edge, which the greedy farmer did. The farmer prospered afterwards and often searched the Edge to find the great gates of the cave where there was much gold, but the path was ever shut to him and none have since then seen them, for the gates were a portal to another world, inaccessible to people in this one except by permission.
The wizard is part of the culture of Alderley. The steep hill down towards the town is known as The Wizard, and as fourteen year old lads we used to free wheel down it on our bicycles and brake near the crossroads at the bottom, but we never dared tell our mothers about what we were doing. There is also the wizard's well, an ancient spring said to never dry out, that trickles from the rock somewhere down the steep wooded slopes.
There are several routes to the well, but the one that I took as a lad starts from where the road finally reaches the top. You stop in a lay-by and walk down a track, until you come to the Edge. This is a sandstone overhang dropping about twenty feet to the slopes below. Bare of trees, it overlooks the woods and gives views over the north of the Cheshire Plain. From there you follow a path besides a fence dividing the Edge from farmland, and descend to a small streamlet before rising uphill again. Eventually you reach the well. Wells fascinate us, and since the bronze age they have exerted a lurking sacred presence in the British psyche. It is not deep, as it is a trickle from the rock which collects in a stone basin, but the water is crystal clear and ice cold. There is a carved, bearded face on an engraving on the rock,
"Take of this and drink thy fill, for the water falls by the Wizard's will."
It is not ancient and is probably Victorian. But I think that even today some people come surreptitiously to drink the water and make wishes. The wizard has not really gone away in peoples' minds, has he?