The next stop was the village of Over Pippleford, nestled on one of the bends of the River Pipple as it meanders slowly to the sea.
Over Pippleford’s limestone cottages are white washed with roses and violets entwining up through trellises, their front gardens filled with summer flowers, their roofs thick with thatch. The green in the middle of the village has a small, well cared-for cenotaph surrounded by faded paper poppies and a couple of wooden benches. A post office, greengrocer’s and butcher’s face the green. Another street leads to a field with a cricket square neatly shaved in the middle and a white shed serving as the pavilion. Most importantly, there is a pub: the Forest River that sits right on the bend of the Pipple.
Score one for the Forest River: it serves no green ales. There are some refreshing lagers and cool mountain wines, but I went for the homemade lemonade, and Felix tried the local waterweed fizz. He sipped it cautiously and pronounced it “gritty but not unpleasant.”
Most of our fellow passengers from the coach were in the Forest River. We shared a table with an older couple who were making their way back to Sylnmouth from a trip to Tlws.
“We go every year, every year,” said Mr Bill Ness. “Spectacular, it is. Great for kayaking, and we tried jet skiing this year too.”
“Then in winter we go to Mytten Fawr,” said Mrs Sandy Ness. “For the skiing.”
“Have you ever seen a wolvern?” I asked.
“Wolvern won’t come near the resorts up there,” said Bill. “I doubt there’s any in the Bloon Peaks at all – too many people, far too many people. You need to go further into the mountains if you want to even catch a glimpse.”
Felix and I glanced at each other, thinking about the loping shadow in the mist during the crazy journey back down Gwyrddlas.
“’Course, there’s plenty what have seen ‘em,” continued Bill. “You hear stories from all the instructors up there. The mountains must be riddled with wolvern if you believe all the folk that say they’ve seen one!”
“How about seafolk?” I asked.
“Near Sylnmouth? Hardly likely, hardly likely. If there are any left these days – they’re rarer than wolvern, I reckon – they’ll be in the less populated parts of the coast, away from Sylnmouth and Riversouth. Are you headed that way?”
“In a roundabout way,” said Felix, before I could enthusiastically leap in and tell the Nesses that Felix was from Tor Calon. I wasn’t sure why he did not want people to know, but I kept quiet anyway.
Bill picked up on Felix’s evasiveness, though. “You’re not from Farynshire, right, Mabel?”
“No, Bristol. We’re studying in Rookpot.”
Bill looked expectantly at Felix. “My family lives on the coast.”
“Further up; nearer Tropsog.”
Bill looked like he wanted to ask more questions, but sipped on his beer instead.
“Was this your first visit to Gnivil Forest?” Sandy asked me, after an awkward pause.
“Yes. It’s beautiful.”
“I always think it’s like another world,” said Sandy. “So peaceful and still compared to anywhere out here.”
“That’s the foresteens,” said Bill.
“Are there some in there, then?” I asked, perhaps too eagerly.
“Of course. All over. You didn’t see any?”
I shook my head.
“Mabel’s very interested in the Peoples,” said Felix.
“Everyone is,” smiled Sandy.
“I’ll tell you something, though,” said Bill seriously, looking me straight in the eye. “You might yet see a foresteen. They don’t just live in the forests. Most folk don’t realise that it’s the foresteens what are the most widespread of all the Peoples. Most folk think it’s the wolvern, but they mostly keep to the mountains. Foresteens can be found all over, all over.” He might have winked at this point, but I was distracted by the arrival of our lunch.
As befits its name, the Forest River boasts a menu full of fish, freshly caught from the clear-flowing Pipple. I was quite excited at the prospect of such a fresh meal, much to the amusement of my three dinner companions from the coast. Felix and Sandy did not even choose a fish dish. Bill went for a deeply filled fish pie.
I had never had perch before, mainly because it wasn’t something my local chippy offered covered in batter. The fish melted in my mouth, along with new potatoes, green beans and garden peas glazed with thick yellow butter. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was, but we hadn’t eaten anything at the Lake of Doom, so my last meal had been Bea Proke’s hearty breakfast in Hen Ffydd.
Felix had ordered a duck salad, and made quick work of that too. I felt like I could just order another perch, or maybe carp this time, but there was a dessert menu, so we went for that instead.
There was a pleasant burbling of contented conversation in the pub of happy travellers enjoying their meals and surroundings. The Pipple babbled along outside, shallow and slow moving in the summer months, the mountain waters in no rush as they made their way to the sea.
“Where does the river come out on the coast?” I asked.
“It merges with a few others further down, and they join together to make the Maw Cauldron. You should check it out if you’re heading in that direction, though it looks most impressive in winter when the waves are up and it’s properly churning.”
“Does the Darkflint come out there?” I asked.
“It’s got its own mouth further up the coast, near Riversouth. I assume you’re going to Riversouth?”
“Have either of you been there before?”
I shook my head.
“A couple of times,” said Felix.
Bill nodded, and again did not press Felix any further. “It’s a beautiful city,” he said to me instead. “Very different, very different, from your Rookpot.”
“Is the Meyrick in residence?” asked Felix
“I believe so. It’s usually widely announced if she leaves the city, and I don’t recall hearing anything.”
“Will that make a difference?” I asked.
“There’s usually more going on if the Meyrick is in the Palace.”
But we weren’t heading to the coast yet. We left the Nesses and the rest of the coach party, all heading down to Tropsog, and we caught one of the twice daily buses from Over Pippleford north to join the County Road.
By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)