I suspect that the White Crag is the reason there are so many poets in Riversouth; it has been said that the sight of it stirs the soul. I’m not a poet, but even I can see that it is beautiful. It looks like a giant wave, rising up over Meyshore Bay, jutting out into the sea that crashes into the rocks at the bottom of the hundred foot chalk-face. The White Palace sits right at the top of this cliff, gleaming white but presumably not made out of chalk. Its gardens sweep back down the slopes of the Crag, and some of these are open to the public.
The Zag starts at the end of the Promenade, winding its steep way up the Crag. When you start off it’s not too bad: just a nice pleasant slope that’s quite wide and dusty, and there are a few benches on the grass verges where you can sit to watch the sea. But then the path becomes narrower and steeper as it cuts through head-high gorse bushes. We had a couple of unpleasant moments in the gorse as we stood aside to let people coming down the Zag passed. The gorse ends quite abruptly, and it’s best to be prepared when it does, because you are suddenly at the edge of the cliff.
I had not realised how far we had climbed through the gorse, but suddenly we were in a blustering sea breeze, and the open ocean stretched to the horizon in front of us. When we looked back toward Riversouth, I could not believe how small everything was; the Ferris wheel on the Promenade looked like a toy. That at least gave me something to focus on, a distraction from the unexpected drop that just opens up right in front of you. Well, that’s what it feels like anyway. You don’t actually fall, but I wonder how many did before the inadequate “fence” was put up – a fence that consisted of three parallel wires that would not bear the weight of a falling cushion.
The path twists sharply along the cliff edge, and although it feels precarious walking so close to the brink, you can cling to the wall of grass on your other side.
The path hugs the side of the cliff as it winds its way up the Crag. It widens out at certain points, and there are benches where you can rest and take in the view. My favourite part of the Zag is a wildflower rockery where delicate pink and purple flowers grow out of an old rockfall, carpeting the boulders in delicate blooms. It looks like someone’s garden, but apparently it is completely natural.
The Zag is a good place to birdwatch, and there are always a few brave souls stationed at various vantage points, usually right on the edge of the cliff, their cameras pointing at the sky. We heard the screeching of the gulls and kittiwakes from the colonies on the cliff walls, and saw birds hanging in the wind over the waves.
When the path starts to wind away from the cliff edge you know you’re reaching the top – well, as close to the top as the Meyrick will allow the public to get.
The path opens up, there are fewer rocks and wild flowers, and then the first cottages appear. There is a small village just outside the Palace gates that house whatever support staff the Meyrick needs that do not live in the Palace grounds. At least, that was their original purpose, but these days one of them is a pub, another a souvenir shop, and the tea shop used to be where the stablehands once lived.
The Ice Parlour is the first place anyone who has climbed the Zag goes too. Its tiny courtyard sits opposite the Tall Gates, the gold-tipped, white iron gates set in the wall that circumvents the Palace Grounds, protecting the Meyrick from their people. Every morning the blast of a horn wakes the entire city and signals the opening of the Tall Gates to let tourists wander into the public areas of the Grounds. We watched the comings and goings whilst sipping on our ice-cream, which is the only way to consume frothcream, Riversouth’s own ice-cream. It really is the lightest, frothiest ice-cream ever, with a hint of salt in every flavour. Felix used a straw to devour his pink froth, whereas I was able to drink my blue holly sparkle after it quickly melted under the summer sun.
There is a face in the Tall Gates’ intricately wrought white iron, the smiling face of the Meyrick who opened the gardens to the public, Meyrick the Goodly. There are debates as to whether she opened the gates due to her generosity and love for her people, or whether it was a more cynical move to silence the anti-Meyrick factions in Riversouth. It certainly achieved the latter (for a while), and earned her the epithet of Goodly.
The Palace Grounds are immaculate. There are no “Do Not Walk On The Grass” signs because nobody would dare tread upon the perfect lawns. The borders are a riot of colour, each divided into regimented solid blocks of one colour, and there is a small plaque beside each one explaining what kinds of flowers it contains. There is not a weed in sight nor a stone out of place. The borders lead to the Parade Lawn, a sunken field used for the many ceremonies and events. Surrounding the field are life-size statues of past Meyricks who supported the local arts in their lifetime. I think the sculptors were going for dramatic or contemplative for the poses they chose for their illustrious subjects, but Felix thought that Meyrick the Seventh Tall’s expression conveyed that he could permanently smell his own farts.
There are two permanent exhibitions in the Great Sussen Hall, a Gothic building with Meyrick-faced gargoyles looking down from every gutter.
The Scribe of Riversouth is a must-see for any student of Musril (Ammacaedda edit: more info on Musril here). The Scribe (there is actually one person who carries the title of Scribe, but The Scribe also refers to a whole department of scholars and academics) is seen as the guardian of Farynshire’s language, Musril. The exhibition contains documents from around the county that show off how widespread the language is, with exhibits ranging from legal documents from Rookpot, diaries from Riversouthern fishermen, elaborate scripture written at the command of Meyricks by past Scribes, to modern road signs. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time here in my final year, sifting through the documents in the Scribe’s archives. I haven’t quite decided on my dissertation topic yet, but I know it’s going to revolve around Musril.
The second exhibition is the more popular one because it focuses on the Meyrick. It is quite a good broad history of the Meyrick, an unbroken line that has lasted for over a thousand years in the White Palace, and who knows how many centuries before that. A portrait of the current Meyrick welcomes you in, and as you pass the information board the tour guide or pre-recording explains the current duties and expectations of the incumbent. But most people hurry passed this to the best bit of the exhibition: Nick-Namer’s Corner.
The Nick-Namer is an official and very serious role, for they bestow the epithet upon each Meyrick. Before the Nick-Namer role it was left to popular opinion to bestow an appellation upon a Meyrick, which is how we ended up with five Meyrick the Shorts, nine Talls, fifteen Goods and three Fleshy-Lips. But if the Meyrick thought that an official appointment might result in fewer embarrassing epithets they were sadly mistaken. I particularly enjoy the Nick-Namers who employed a theme, which have resulted in successive Meyricks being named after garden tools (the Spade, the Planter, and the Shears), the condition of their hair (the Balded, the Curly, Bush-head, and Silky-locks), and virtues (the Noble, the Fair, the Magnificent, and the True). The epithet rarely describes the attributes of the wearer, they are just a useful way of distinguishing between Meyricks.
Everything beyond the Great Sussen Hall is private land that only those who live in the White Palace can enjoy. You can glimpse the back of the White Palace through the always-closed, ivy-covered gate that blocks your way, but that is as close as you can get.
There is a lovely walk back to the Tall Gates along a low wall right on the edge of the cliff. The views over the ocean, the still and glittering waters of Meyshore Bay, and the pristine city of Riversouth, are breath-taking. If you wait long enough you will see dolphins leaping from the waves. And some believe that if you wait for a really long time you will see seafolk.
When we passed back through the Tall Gates, we got the bus back down the Crag to Riversouth.
By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)