This Walding, Maxfield by name, told me that he had once seen the place where Merlin's face is carved on a cliff, and that he thought he might be able to find it again, but that I was driving in the wrong direction. He led me eastward, and we came at length to a red sandstone outcrop, in a wood of beech, oak, and holly trees. Maxfield told me that this place is known as Alderly Edge, and it is said that Arthur with his knights sleeps beneath it, though none has found his resting place. Merlin keeps guard over Arthur's sleep, and the story says also that he has procured a white horse from a local farmer, that Arthur may have a horse to ride when he awakens. We left our wagons outside the wood and wandered among the wet trees, for, of course, it was determinedly raining, though less hard than on some previous days.
The line of red cliffs ran through the wood, and Maxfield and I could see farmland spread out for miles below us. We explored the base of each of the rocks, searching for Arthur's resting place or at least for the carving, without success. Just as we were reaching the conclusion that Merlin had chosen not to be found, we stumbled upon a silent corner of the wood, where a sullen trickle of water ran down over the dark cliff.
A stern face was carved beneath the water, and beside it a poem had been cut into the rock.
Drink of this and take thy fill for the water falls by the wizard's willA traveller could have put a cup beneath and caught the water, but we did not. It seemed a dark and brooding place. Merlin would not have carved such words, and perhaps the poem is older than the face.
As I had a small camera, I took two pictures of the face, unsure if I would be permitted to keep them. Merlin is intolerant of interfering strangers. I had felt his wind at Tintagel and did not intend to anger him.
We left the wood, and near a place called Macclesfield found a towpath along the side of a canal. The path had once been used for horses drawing barges, and the bridges provided ways for the horses to get by without tangling their ropes. Maxfield told me that last time he had passed this way, perhaps ten years earlier, the towpath had been nothing but weed and bush, so narrow that it was almost impossible to walk. Since then, the people of the area had cleared the land and provided a pleasant walk. We passed some flat canal-boats where, Maxfield told me, people spent their holidays. He said he had once considered trading his wagon for a canal-boat, but it would have made it hard for him to visit other parts of the world.
It was raining hard as we arrived at the town of Bollington, and we stopped in at a pub called the Dog and Partridge, where we ate corn-beef sandwiches and sampled the local ale.
Later, when I developed the pictures I had taken that day, I found I had a fine remembrance of Maxfield, sitting on one of the ruined walls of Beeston Castle. But the two pictures I had taken at Alderley Edge were completely blank. Merlin's face, it seems, is not to be photographed.
Years later, I was told the full story of the Alderley Edge wizard.
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