The Sylnmouth Sentinel by Moselle Gilbry

I always feel that Sylnmouth gets overlooked.  It is Farynshire’s third largest city, but it is not as celebrated as Rookpot (which you could be forgiven for thinking is the only city in the county, given all the attention it receives) or the Meyrick’s Riversouth.  Arguably, Sylnmouth is more important than either Rookpot or Riversouth.  OK, I am probably the only one who argues this, but hear me out.

Sylnmouth is Farynshire’s biggest harbour, only cruise ship terminal, and crucially, its only commercial port.  It keeps the county fed and supplied, because it is the only way to get large quantities of anything in, as no lorry is going to make it over the mountains’ narrow, slippery tracks.  I suspect this is why Sylnmouth is overlooked: it is too mundane and practical.  It does not have the turbulent history of Rookpot, so entwined with the history of the whole county, nor the mystery and aloofness of Riversouth.

Not that Sylnmouth is boring.  I wouldn’t want you to think that.

It has its own fascinating local history, packed with smuggling, pirates, and tales of extraordinary adventure on its wild seas.

I could pick out many areas of interest in Sylnmouth and write about them for the My Farynshire series – the quayside with the packed fish market; the marina with its new apartments, roof gardens, sailing ships and swans; the walks around the harbour walls; Freebooter’s Cave, the best seafood restaurant on the Farynshire coast, most of which is still housed in the two hundred and fifty year old pirates’ inn.  These are all places you should visit.  But I have been allocated a limited word count, and I have used quite a lot of them to get to this point!

So the rest of my words will be used on what I think is the most special place in Sylnmouth: its lighthouse, known as the Sylnmouth Sentinel.

It is said that the vessels safely moored behind the harbour walls have crossed a graveyard of the many (possibly hundreds) that did not make it.  These wrecks are old, and mostly pre-date the building of the Sentinel in 1820.

Outside the harbour walls is Craw Island: a pile of wind-beaten, salt-soaked rocks covered in slimy bladder wrack.  Atop its craggy rockpools sits the Sylnmouth Sentry.  A grey-bricked tower with a red domed roof and a red base. 

There are tours from the west docks at least once a day, but be prepared to wait until the experienced skipper has assessed that the conditions are benign enough so that “we can probably make it”.  Don’t be too discouraged by the size or condition of the small boat – apparently it really has never sunk.  The journey from the docks to Craw Island is a good way to experience first-hand the terror that many have felt when trying to navigate the perilous waters outside the harbour.

If you make it in one piece, you will be left alone to wander up the only path on Craw Island: from the tiny jetty up to the front door of the Sentinel.

The door to the Sentinel is a made of weathered black oak taken (rumour has it) from one of Nelson’s warships[1] and embedded with rusted iron studs.  When you push it open you are in the entrance room at the base of the tower.  Ropes hang from hooks on the wall.  Fresh water was once stored in the tanks under the floor.  At the opposite end from the door is the first of two hundred and twenty steps.  These wind up and around the winch mechanism, and by the time you get to the store room you are definitely dizzy, and probably nauseous.

The Sentinel’s keepers are volunteers from Sylnmouth, and their duties these days revolve around preserving the heritage of the site more than saving lives.[2]  There’s not much in the store room, but in the kitchen and living room above it, you get a good sense of what life was like for the keepers who resided here two hundred years ago.  It is, as you would expect, pretty basic.  Along one wall is a sink, under a tank for freshwater (pumped up from the basement), a dresser with chipped plates and cups, and a supply cupboard, that contains old tins of meat, flour and biscuits[3]. The skinny lockers stand against the wall, hardly beg enough to contain a coat and a pair of boots.  The rickety table and chairs are placed close to the kitchen range, a comfort in the cold winters.  It’s all very sparse and functional.

Proceeding up the final stairs, you come to the bedroom, which has three bunks and a bookcase.  On the bookcase are the things the keepers used to alleviate their boredom.  There are weather journals here, barometers and an old thermometer.  Old examples of the radios that lived here over the years are still working: an old crystal radio, and the more recent wireless versions.  There are also piles of ancient yellow newspapers and dog-eared novels.  On the bottom shelf are puzzles, playing cards, board games and painting materials.  These may have been donated by the local museum, but I like to think that they once belonged to the original keepers.  Around the walls of the bedroom is a permanent exhibition showing off the artwork of keepers over the decades.  There are a lot of spectacular sunsets and sunrises, tame gulls, sunbathing seals, and many many boats.  There are also a few watercolours and sketches of seafolk, which at least demonstrates a healthy imagination, no doubt a result of the long periods of isolation.   

Next to the bedroom is the service room where the equipment is kept.  Old cleaning gear, and spare parts for the lamps are kept here, all lovingly polished and pristine.  Next to the service room is a wrought iron spiral stair case leading up to the lantern room.

The magnificent lantern sits (obviously) on top of the Sentinel in a massive cage.  You can walk all the way around it on the gallery deck if a) you are brave enough, b) the wind is not too strong, and c) the seagulls are not too aggressive.  You can see over the whole harbour, and up the steep slopes of Sylnmouth, the terraces of pastel-coloured cottages, and the crooked streets and alleyways.  On the other side is the wild ocean.  It is unlikely you will see any seafolken, but there are plenty of boats swaying and bouncing on the rough seas, relying on the Sentinel to guide them into the safety of the harbour walls. 

[1] What Nelson was doing off the coast of Farynshire has been the subject of much academic debate in Rookpot University, and debate with slightly less academic rigour in the Freebooter’s Cave.

[2] The Farynshire Coastal Volunteers are based in Sylnmouth.  They have stations dotted along the coast from The Maw Cauldron up to Tropsog.  The brave volunteers carry out hundreds of rescues in the wild seas and forbidding shoreline.

[3] Which I assume are empty, otherwise two-hundred-year old meat is a serious biohazard.

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