Aracely Cheth is where Aracely Tookley the poet retired to, and it is said he watches over the village even to this day, nearly a hundred and fifty years after he died. It is unique and remarkable in many other ways as well, particularly with regards to its name: it is the only place in the Riversouth region to be named for someone who was never Meyrick, and it has no Musril in it, nor can it be translated into Musril.
The village nestles behind the Sussen Orchelflilin, and you get to it by walking down a winding earth path with steep banks on either side, which must be fun to sled down during winter. During summer it is like walking through a cool, green tunnel, as the delicate branches from the smooth-trunked trees (beeches, maybe?) on the banks meet overhead, and narrow beams of dust-filled sunlight filter through.
The path ends in a long wheatfield, and you can see the stubby church tower over the tall plants. At the other end of the field is the bridge that arches over the mill pond passed the slow-moving water wheel and leads into Aracely Cheth. The River Spurtle burbles happily amongst the bulrushes and the reeds.
This is the oldest part of the village, the part that Aracely Tookley himself helped designed, probably laid a brick or two for, and allegedly wholly paid for (according to the ledgers in the White Palace archives, anyway). History is not entirely clear on how a wandering poet, who relied on charity and the goodwill of others to feed and clothe himself, saved enough money to build an entire village, but most suspect that the fact it is in Riversouth is no coincidence. There are salacious rumours about the poet and the Meyrick that have been the subject of more than one novel. Historians believe that Aracely Tookley was sponsored in some way by the Meyrick of his time – he certainly enjoyed staying at the White Palace (who wouldn’t?). And the poet was obviously favoured so much that the strict naming conventions for places in Riversouth were cast aside for him. Whatever the true relationship between Aracely Tookley and the White Palace, it is likely that Aracely Cheth was paid for from the Meyrick’s bottomless purse.
And if quaint is your thing, it’s worth every penny.
The rough stone bridge lands in the dusty main street. Immediately opposite is the pub, The Poet, with a flattering, smiling portrait of Aracely Tookley welcoming everyone to his village. This is where we were staying the night, and we left our bags in the small guest rooms in the back garden before going for a drink.
In summer the lawn outside the pub is full of tables and people sitting on the grass. We took our glasses of Riversouth’s own sparkling blush (a pleasant fizzy cider from Aracely Cheth’s own orchards) and sat on a long wooden bench overlooking the River Spurtle.
The River Spurtle winds its slow, peaceful way through the village, long green weeds trailing downstream. The rising bank across from the pub is where the village’s orchards grow, and when the trees are full of leaves and apples you can just about see the thatched roofs of the cottages amongst the foliage. A jetty sticks out into the river at the bottom of the hill, and from this a flat-bottomed raft pushed off and drifted across the water. A large woman stood at one end and occasionally stuck a pole taller than herself into the weeds to guide the raft towards where we sat.
The raft deposited two elderly gentlemen onto the smooth lawn, the steerswoman made sure they were alright, and then she set back off across the Spurtle.
“Crowded today, Stan.”
“Sunshine always attracts outsiders, Ned. I’ll get them in; you grab that bench. These young ‘uns won’t mind shifting up a bit.”
And so we found ourselves sitting next to Ned, a very pleasant gentleman with a bald head and thousands of wrinkles.
He welcomed us to the village and asked where we had come from. When we said Riversouth he looked like he had a sour sweet stuck between his few remaining teeth.
“Never been there, myself. Hear it’s big.”
We confirmed that it was, and Ned then went on to boast that he had spent his whole life in Aracely Cheth.
“And just last year I moved across to the Retirement.” He indicated the orchard on the rising hill across the river.
The Retirement, explained Ned, was built at Aracely’s insistence; homes exclusively set aside for the elderly of the village, so that they never need fear homelessness, and could stay in the village for all of their life. Those born in the village get priority, but it also applies to elderly relatives of any inhabitants of the village. Nobody can buy the cottages, and the Village Council are responsible for allocating the homes, ensuring that the cottages are looked after and the residents cared for.
Stan returned from The Poet holding a tray with three pints shining like gold in the warm summer sun. He handed one to Ned and raised the other to Aracely Tookley’s flaking portrait.
“To the poet!” he declared cheerfully.
“To the poet,” agreed Ned. He drank half of his pint in one glug and sighed appreciatively. “You have to buy a drink for ‘im,” he said.
“All he ever asked for,” said Stan.
We left Ned and Stan to their bench and wandered around the village.
It is clear that the community is at the centre of Aracely Cheth. The village folk welcome visitors well enough, though I suspect their warm friendly smiles and generous hospitality are motivated by the custom for the small high street. It is rare for outsiders to move into the idyllic village because properties hardly ever come on to the market, and it is likely that most of the families who live here can trace their lineage right back to the laying of the first stone of the village. The village itself has not expanded much beyond its original borders. I remember reading in an old newspaper in Rookpot Library about recurring rumours about a proposed housing development in the fields surrounding Aracely Cheth. But every time it looked as though planning permission might be approved, the land is bought up (usually by an anonymous benefactor) and becomes a re-wilding project, or a new or once-thought-extinct creature is suddenly discovered (the elusive Aracely Cheth newt is notorious for setting up home in any field visited by a curious property developer).
And so the village remains Olde Worlde, in a vintage Christmas card kind of way. Thatched cottages line the streets, their front gardens all neat lawns with beautiful rose borders, fragrant in the summer air. Some of the outside walls were covered in purple or white flowers, and bees work furiously in their depths.
The high street is also the village square, and it is where you will find the general store, the butcher’s, the bakery, the greengrocer’s, the gallery, and the shop known as The Treasure Trof. If the villagers need anything that these shops cannot provide they can go to Riversouth (or send someone on their behalf).
The Treasure Trof attracts visitors by itself. It is said that it is stocked full of items from The White Palace. These can range from gold trinkets, supposedly rare personal items from past Meyricks, to everyday items from the kitchen and gardens. Authenticity is never guaranteed, and you are not supposed to ask how the Trof acquires its stock. The shop has existed for over a hundred years, and most suspect there is some crossover between the family who established the Trof, and own it to this day, the Birchleys, and the Oakleys who have worked as maids, cooks and footmen at The White Palace since the nineteeth century.
We had a look around, and I bought a blue glass knife and fork set that, according to the label attached to them by string, had once been the only things Meyrick the Diviner would eat with. I was sceptical of the story, but kept the label anyway.
We spent some time in the gallery which exhibits local artists from the Riversouth area. Much like poets, artists find plenty of inspiration in this beautiful part of the county, and the walls of the gallery are full of depictions of the sea, Riversouth, cliffs and countryside. I bought a small print of a watercolour of The Poet and the water mill. Felix seemed less impressed and decided not to buy anything.
We wandered back to The Poet for a late dinner. It was early evening – time, like everything else, meanders at a leisurely pace in Aracely Cheth, where the word rushed is never uttered.
Ned and Stan were long gone, as were most of the other people, and the lawns were cooler and more peaceful.
The salads are the thing to try in The Poet. The local fields are rich with a wide variety of produce, and sometimes Aracely Cheth is known as Riversouth’s Kitchen Garden (I’m not sure how pleased the villagers are about this).
I had a bizarre but delicious bowl called Summer Delights that consisted of grated carrot, peeled and chopped apples, polished radishes, strips of some sort of root that tasted both fiery and earthy, strawberries, gooseberries, something bright green that I suspect came from the river, sweet cherry tomatoes, a selection of beans, and mint, all bathed in a slightly spicy dressing. Felix’s dish was called Hedgerow, and I thought he was very brave for even ordering it, but it did look unbelievably good in its earthen bowl. It was mostly green leaves, mixed with blue and delicate blue and purple flowers and a few nuts, and Felix said that there was a mild taste of garlic.
We watched the sun set behind the orchards on the Retirement, casting a pink glow of the river. As the first stars appeared we left a pint of cider on the table for the poet, and retired to our guest rooms at the back of the pub.
By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)