The most famous city in Farynshire, possibly the only place anyone over the mountains has heard of, is Rookpot.
It sprawls over a steep tor that is cut in two by a deep dark gorge, along the bottom of which flow the cold waters of the Darkflint River.
When people think of Rookpot it’s the gorge that they immediately picture. Then it’s the Squares surrounded by cobbled streets and Cuts. This medieval heart of the city is great to explore: there’s always a new boutique, gallery or bookstore to discover in the warren of narrow alleys that no car could ever get through. That’s the other thing everyone notices: all the bikes, scooters, and lately segues and blades – because these are the only modes of transport that can go everywhere in the city. Buses have to skirt the outside of the medieval centre and use the the wider, more modern roads. Trains come in at the city’s only station, at the base of the tor. We had decided that this is how we would leave Rookpot.
If students are lucky they will get accommodation on Wessentor – which is the half of the city with the Squares, history and night life. Felix and I had been in halls at the bottom of Wessentor in our first year, which is where we had met. In our second year we had had to move, and the only affordable place we could find was on Eassentor. Eassentor is not a bad place to live or anything, but it’s just so ordinary compared to what’s over the gorge. There are streets of terraced houses on Wessentor’s lower slopes, as well as some discreet luxury apartments near the centre, and the very expensive villas close to the summit of the tor. But most Rookpotians lived in the more ordinary suburbia on Eassentor, which was encroaching slowly and inevitably off the tor and into the countryside below.
Neither of us wanted to leave Rookpot from Eassentor. So, with our backpacks making us look like tourists in our own city, we made our way across one of the many bridges that span the gorge, and went to Dameg Square.
Dameg Square is the centre of Rookpot in every sense. It is halfway up the tor and the gorge cuts through its ancient cobbles and the neat rectangle of grass right in the middle.
I have spent a lot of time in this Square. The Museum and the Library stand next to each other, and face the ancient Cathedral (the foundations of which were laid in the thirteenth century) and the Council Chambers. The green in the centre of the Square is home to a solitary oak tree that seemed to be dead for all of the time I had been at university; it is bent almost double, long branches dangling down into the gorge.
The Square is always busy, night or day. We bought slushes from Rhewogydd. Rhewogydd has been providing ice slushes to the Council workers, families, tourists, and students hustling through Dameg Square for at least twenty five years, and his pink van near the edge of the gorge is a sure sign of summer. His ever-growing menu is bound in a novel-sized tome. I recommend the cherry and rum for pure velvet indulgence, but if you want refreshing coolness on a sweltering hot day – and you don’t fancy jumping into the fountain – you have to go with mint and cucumber.
We sat on the wide white Museum steps to drink our slushes and people-watched. It was a hot day in June so the bustle was a little fatigued, except in the fountain where children and students splashed. The office workers, shirt sleeves rolled up to their elbows, ties loose and untidy, made the most of their brief escape.
A story time event had just finished in the Library, and the parents with prams were milling about outside, the adults chattering loudly, their small children chasing each other around in the safety of the Square. When I had first arrived in Rookpot as a fresher I had been horrified at the sight of small children – or drunk students, or Council workers staring at their phones – shrieking and playing excitedly close to a chasm plunging hundreds of feet to a fierce river below. But I had gone completely native, and was now confident that no child would fall.
There was nothing – no barrier, fence, not even cones – to stop anyone from plummeting into the gorge, yet nobody ever seemed to. Only seven people had ever died this way in the whole history of the city. The gorge was narrow in Dameg Square, and brazen Rookpotians casually jumped across on their way to work, hardly breaking their stride.
The exhibition in the Museum was Coastal Treasures, advertised on the listless banners hanging over the steps. I had been a week before, and it was an interesting exploration of the expeditions and research focused on the coves and beaches along Farynshire’s coast between Tropsog and Sylnmouth, and the shipwrecks and treasures that had been discovered beneath the waves. Felix was inspired to go scuba diving when we reached the coast. I was less keen, and hoped he would forget this notion by the time we reached the sea. He was also inspired to buy a few guide books, which I was much more on board with.
Sipping on our slushes, we made our way along the edge of the gorge to the Cut that linked Dameg Square with EassenBren. Rookpot was riddled with these Cuts: long, winding, red-bricked alleys lit by old iron lanterns even on a sunny summer day. This was the most famous and well-used Cut as it linked the two most important Squares.
By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)