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IHR collaborates on new app that brings the Legends of Alderley Edge to life

The Invisible Words app will enhance the visitor experience at the spot made famous by the fantasy novels of Alan Garner.

A new app that brings the Legend of Alderley Edge to life with wizards, knights and white horses launches next week as the result of a collaboration between the Institute of Historical Research at the School of Advanced Study and the Universities of Birmingham and Lincoln, alongside the National Trust.

Launched on 21st December, the Invisible Words app will enhance the visitor experience at the beauty spot – made famous through the fantasy novels of Alan Garner – as well as allowing people around the world to remotely explore the magic of the legend.

Through their smartphones or tablets, visitors and users will be able to explore Alderley Edge with augmented reality wizards, knights and horses appearing throughout the landscape, specially commissioned soundscapes providing an atmospheric background. Perhaps most excitingly, users of the app can also explore mines underneath Alderley Edge from their own homes.

The app has been produced for the Invisible Words research project, which is led by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research, University of Lincoln, and the National Trust.

Dr Victoria Flood, the principal investigator on the project, said:

“The Legend of Alderley Edge – of the wizard, in search of a single horse, who watches over an army of subterranean sleepers – is of great significance for our understanding of the legendary history of Cheshire. We are excited to bring this new experience of the Legend to life.”

But the app is not just about wizards and horses. Users will be prompted to share their responses to the Legend and the versions of it that they are familiar with. The research team will use this information to write a crowd-curated history of the Legend, tracing its contemporary life.

Alderley Edge was made famous by the author Alan Garner, who inherited the Legend of Alderley from his grandfather. It became central to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath and Boneland, with the result that the Edge is now best known to the public through his novels. The Edge continues to inspire the imaginations of those who live in the region today, but visitors to the site are often unaware of the Legend.

Professor Catherine Clarke, Project co-investigator, directs the IHR’s Centre for the History of People, Place and Community. Catherine said:

“It’s been hugely exciting to discover the layers of history and story which make up Alderley Edge – both as a real geographical site, and as a place of imagination and legend. The National Trust have been keen to deepen and enrich visitors’ experience of the Edge – a real challenge as so much of what makes it special is invisible and hidden.

“Our app will help people explore the magic of Alderley Edge, and to have adventures of their own. You can even use it if you’re not physically at the Edge yourself, by entering virtual ‘portals’ and exploring the place remotely. This is quite different from other heritage and place interpretation projects I’ve been involved in. In many ways, our immersive resources are a kind of ‘anti-interpretation’, helping to honour the strangeness and elusiveness of this unique place.”

Catherine’s own research and writing for the project will focus on how creative practice can help to deepen and enrich visitor experience of place, and whether a distinctive sense of place can ever be experienced remotely or virtually, without physical locatedness in a site. Catherine was closely involved in working with the creative teams who produced audio content for the app.

“A real highlight was recording deep under the surface of Alderley Edge, in the historic mines,” Catherine continued.

“It was challenging taking equipment down the tunnels and shafts, and spending time in almost pitch black! But I was struck by how the music made by the Lunatraktors, with artist Nayan Kulkarni, evoked something of a prehistoric, mythic soundscape.”

Rachel Thomas, National Trust general manager for the Cheshire Countryside, added: "The app is launching just in time for people to enjoy it when they are going out for their Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year walks at Alderley Edge. We hope that it will give people the chance to see the Edge in a new way and add some extra magic to their visits.

"We're also really excited that users of the app will be able to experience the stories of Alderley Edge digitally, even if they're unable to visit us in person."

The Invisible Words app will be available on iOS and Android from 21st December.