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.

Travels through Farynshire: Ale and sausages

It’s called Mother Aloth, and I am going to generously call it a restaurant solely on the quality of its sausages.

The setting itself is quite modest: a room in one of the squat rock buildings in an alleyway just above the station. The windows are small and filled with thick, pearled glass. The many cream and melting candles cast flickering shadows on the rough grey walls. The small tables crowd together, each draped in a red and white checked cloth. We showed up without a booking and were seated by the cave-sized empty fireplace.

A red-faced young man who cheerfully introduced himself as Col handed us each a piece of card. On one side was a list of local beers and ales, and on the other was a list of local sausages.

“Were we supposed to bring our own veg?” I asked.

“I think you get thrown out if they see any plants,” said Felix. “On the plus side: not just pigs.”

“What do they have? Horse, chicken, deer?”

“You’re in luck: they do have sausages made from local venison.”

We decided to order beers first to help facilitate the more perplexing extensive sausage choice. To be honest, I wasn’t aware Farynshire has quite so many ales. Of course I had heard of Sylnmouth Sailor’s Froth, though I was surprised it was served in the mountains, the pubs in Rookpot usually have it on tap. The lager-like Canny Tongue is also popular amongst students. Dark Golden looked quite appealing: it is from a brewery in The Crundles, a hamlet just outside Rookpot. But I thought I should try something more exotic. The Jolly Jouster looked like a possibility; the Last Green less so – though Felix was tempted.

“You have to try a green one here at least.”

Green ales are a Farynshire speciality, and Felix was forever trying to get me to try one on our pub crawls around Rookpot. But not even at my most inebriated would I try something that looked and smelled like industrial-strength toilet cleaner. Most of them are produced in the many micro-breweries nearly every Farynshire town seems to have – usually a shed in someone’s back garden. Tropsog boasted that it had one brewery for every thirty people.

“Look,” Felix scrutinised the list of ales. “This one is called Skinny’s Own – it’s brewed right here! You have to try that one.”

I decided I might as well get it over and done with. But I was resolved not to finish it if I didn’t like it – I heard learned that lesson one fated night leading up to Christmas when one of our friends decided that brandy rum shots were the ideal way to keep warm. I had not liked the taste, but the idea had been appealing. According to other people, I was quite ill for quite a while. It’s probably best I have no recollection of the subsequent couple of days.

Once the ale had been chosen, we had to select the sausages – which was even more of a gamble, as I had not heard of any of them. Mother Aloth is not a friend to the vegetarian. Felix chose grilled blood sausages. I closed my eyes and stabbed at the menu with my fork: Selsig Hog it was, then.

The tables started to fill up as we waited for our ales. Most of the diners were locals who did not need a menu and just ordered their usual.

Skinny’s Own seemed to pulse with a dark emerald glow – though it may have been the candles backlighting it. I regarded the tankard suspiciously: I didn’t want to spend my few days in the mountain ill in bed.

“They wouldn’t serve it if it made people sick,” said Felix encouragingly.

It probably didn’t make the locals sick. Their stomachs had been hardened through a remorseless sausage and ale diet. But I had only been in Farynshire for just over a year, and had spent that time in cosmopolitan Rookpot. I regretted now not preparing more thoroughly for this trip by indulging in more local cuisine.

I sipped the ale, letting as little as possible pass my lips. It was surprisingly sweet, with a definite vegetable twang – parsnip, maybe, or a young carrot. My throat burned a little as it made its way down, but it wasn’t toxic, and I could see how it could be a pleasant winter warmer. I decided, on balance, that I quite liked it.

The sausages arrived. Two plates with seven bursting, sizzling snorkels on each, accompanied by a basketful of assorted local breads, and a brick of yellow butter. We were suddenly very hungry indeed, and were already wishing we had ordered two plates each or a medley of sausages.

The room was now full of chatter, drinking, and the rich smells of many varieties of sausage. And this was in summer. I could only imagine how overbooked this place must be in the cold winter months when the absolute best thing must be a plate piled high with sausages and a tankard of ale.

It was dusk when we emerged into the cooler, fresher mountain air. The Myttens were gilded in bright gold as the sun sank behind them, and the slopes of Skinny Peak were bathed in the draining light. A train pulled out of the station below, blowing its whistle in farewell, chugging back to Rookpot.

It wasn’t particularly late, but we were full of ale and sausages, and tired from travelling, so we both had an early night.

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Porthmey by Margot Grey

The gentle lapping of the waves on the shingle are hypnotic. The waves roll in before breaking softly on the stones, then the water draws back a foot or so before another wave forms and rolls up the beach, never the same as the preceding one.

The still bay of Porthmey is dotted with boats and dinghies, bobbing on the grey-blue water.  Closer to shore the breaking waves are brown as they roll over the shingle, whilst further out the deep water looks green. 

The Front runs just above the shoreline.  Here are a few gift shops, the old Ferry Hotel with its veranda restaurant, the even older church, seafood restaurants, and a few private houses.  Most of the inhabitants retreat to their scruffier houses in the steep hills during the summer months when tourists descend on Porthmey.  Many of the visitors stay in the Ferry Hotel or the guesthouses in the village, but most stay in Penmey Town, and come over on the regular ferry service.  The one coastal road that leads into Porthmey is often washed out, so the ferry is the most reliable and convenient way to visit the village.

The ferry docks at Porthmey’s small pier, jutting out into the sea in front of the Ferry Hotel.  The small information hut at the end of the pier handles all the ferry and boat tour bookings. 

The most popular tours are, of course, the seafolk sighters, in business for over a hundred years despite not a single seafolken encounter.  This abysmal record has not dampened the enthusiasm of the many optimistic tourists only too eager to pay for a local expert to show them the favourite caves, islands and beaches of the seafolk.  Or search for the (entirely fictitious) nesting shallows.  Or travel beyond the sheltered bay, and dive in the deeper waters hoping for a seafolk experience.

Fortunately there are things to do in Porthmey that do not involve seafolk.  In the summer months, children paddle kayaks around the pier.  Closer to shore are the swimmers, enjoying the summer sunshine.  Small yachts glide gracefully over the waves, skipping around the forested headland and out of sight. 

In the evening people sit out on The Front, under the blossom of trees whose branches have been twisted by fierce winter weather.  Then it is time to wander along the beach between the upturned rowing boats that sit above the highwater mark.  Some of these boats are for hire, and others belong to Porthmey residents who regularly cross the bay to Penmey Town to get any supplies that the local shops do not stock. 

In the winter months there are no tourists.  The calm seas of summer become grey and wild, waves rushing up the shingle onto the Front, storms battering shutters and whistling through empty streets.  The villagers can see the lights of Penmey Town across the channel, but in these months it is too dangerous to try and cross.  Porthmey is cut off and self-sufficient, relying on its resourceful people to get through the cold, dark winter.  Volunteers staff vital services like the local ambulance and lifeboats.  During the day residents gather for Book Club or Coffee and Crochet in the library, or maybe afternoon tea or soup in the church hall.  In the evening the local pub, the Lobster Trap, does good trade, and the ballroom in the Ferryman’s basement is opened up for a Buffet with contributions from anyone who attends.

As soon as the road and sea routes become safe to traverse again, Porthmey goes through a spring clean.  Boats, guest houses and signs are re-painted; flower pots are replanted, and lawns are mowed and tidied; shops are re-stocked; the pier is checked, repaired and re-opened; the gallery puts on a new exhibition.  Soon everything is ready for the new wave of vistors and tourists, and the everyday Porthmey residents retreat back into the hills to wait for next winter.

Market Square by Milford Glower

I feel hugely privileged to be the first to write for the My Farynshire section of this blog. 

I thought long and hard about the place in Farynshire that meant the most to me – there are so many!  Do I choose a natural wonder, a beautiful village, one of our most spiritual places?  In the end I chose Market Square in Rookpot, the place of protest, dissent and rebellion.

The most famous of Rookpot’s Squares is Dameg, surrounded by the Library, the Council Chambers, The Museum and the Cathedral – it is the heart of the city.  EassenBren is its soul, and I like to think of Market Square as the city’s conscience. In many ways it is the opposite of Dameg Square.  You can see immediately see the contrast between the two when you go through St Fulk’s Cut, the high-walled alleyway that connects them.    

The most immediately obvious difference is the graffiti.  Unlike its pristine neighbour, Market Square is covered in graffiti – some of which has been dated to before 1400, and some of which is still wet from last Tuesday.  Market Square is Rookpot’s public forum, the Square of Ideas, and a lot of them are scrawled on its steps and walls.

But most ideas are conveyed via well prepared speeches, or, more often, incoherent shouting. 

Every potential Councillor has to give a few speeches here.  Before live feeds, the Council Clerk stood on the steps and recited the minutes of every full Council Meeting.  I suppose if the wifi ever goes down some poor secretary will have to do this again.  All important announcements are made here. 

But it is not just a place for the Council or for important announcements; in fact, these take up but a fraction of the calendar.  Market Square is the place in the city where anybody can say or preach anything.  It is also the place where, no matter who the speaker is, anyone can argue back.

This sounds like a perfect set up for authorised street fights, I know.  But the authorities treat violence (including throwing anything) in Market Square very seriously.  The offence is Wilful Destruction of Trust of the People, and the minimum sentence is a week in Rookpot Gaol.

There is also a Code of Conduct that must be adhered to:

  • All speakers are prohibited from using loudspeakers, megaphones, or any other public address system
  • Anyone who uses the Speaker’s Square to make speeches does so at his or her own risk
  • Rookpot Council will not be responsible for any prosecution or legal action by the Constabulary or civil proceedings

The Code is engraved on the left gate post as you walk into the Square, so everyone knows the rules even if they rock up on the day.  If you plan your protest in advance, like we did, you receive a copy of the Code via email.

The debates grouped together by classes, and written up in chalk on the blackboard by the entrance.  Our student protest was in the Rookpot class, because it focused on the proposed removal of the portrait of the Digger, Meredith Roke, from the Museum Gallery.  The title of our protest was History Needs to Celebrate and Acknowledge its Thieves, Amateurs and Adventurers.  The idea was to bring the debate surrounding the controversial Digger (which I won’t expound on here; if you want to learn more there are plenty of books in The Lilac Beech and records in the Library about the Rokes and their contributions to the Museum) out of academic circles and to the public’s attention.

This is one of the Square’s main functions: to bring grievances out into the light, and rally support for petitions and causes.  Anyone in authority is always seen as a fair target, and there have been numerous protests against the Council or Peer Families – a servant once spent five days endlessly pontificating against one of the Peers.  Because of these acts of outspoken sedition and dissent, the Square has always been seen as a safe space.  Some have tried to use it as a place of sanctuary, but only those expressing an opinion are safe from arrest – you can’t just pitch a tent in the Square.

The main speakers take turns to make their case by standing on the Speaker’s Spot – a coloured circle in the centre of Market Square.  They address the crowds gathered on the surrounding stone steps that rise above them.  It is a bit intimidating to make your case in front of all those jeering and cheering faces, but maybe that is the point: your views must be robust enough to survive the mob.    

You cannot be arrested in the Square, but anyone breaking sedition or other laws can be arrested as soon as they step back across the threshold.  There have been incidents in the past where Rookpot Costabulary have blocked all exits from the Square, waiting to make arrests when people leave.  This has led to some calling Market Square a freedom cage. 

The authorities have also tried to stop people getting into the Square at all.  The Constabulary have formed a ring to stop people from entering, but this was deemed an illegal act.  One of Rookpot’s Peer Families erected concrete slabs across the entrance, but these were torn down, leaving two stunted remains left in place as testament to how important the Square is.

And then there are those who believe that having a designated area for free speech is offensive – arguing that all of the city should be free.  And whereas everyone might agree that ideally this should be the case, history has proven the value of Market Square.  Its special status has allowed everyone space and opportunity for their voice to be heard.  And this has meant that Market Square has righted wrongs, exposed corruption, held authority to account, and sparked the occasional revolution.

History is everywhere in the Square.  In the graffiti scrawled over every surface, on plaques on the walls commemorating some of the most important and memorable altercations and announcements in the Square, and simply in the knowledge of all that has come before.  You can feel the righteous anger of all the people who have stood on the Spot before you lift your voice so that everyone can hear.

So definitely make your way through St Fulk’s Cut from Dameg Square when you visit Rookpot.  And, whilst you are here, maybe check out the Gallery in the Museum, where the portrait of Meredith Roke, a rascal, a thief, an unscrupulous seller of precious artefacts, the first Digger, still hangs.

This Christmas in Dameg Square

This year the traditional blue spruce was not delivered to Dameg Square.  This meant no Christmas tree for the Square, and no tree for Rookpot.  The tree is the centre of the city’s Christmas festivities – what to do in its absence?

In years gone by, when dragging a giant spruce tree from the Daggerrock Mountains to Rookpot, and them up through the steep, narrow streets to Dameg Square, was impractical, the celebrations were focussed instead upon the tree that always lives in the Square: the bent oak that leans over the gorge.  The oak has bare branches in December, and so every household in the city creates three leaves, usually from paper or cloth: one red, one golden, and one green, to cover the tree in bright foliage.

This led to exploring other forgotten Christmas traditions, hidden in the Museum archives.  These traditions grew from the close relationship between the Peoples, and when the wolvern, foresteens and seafolk withdrew from human contact, the traditions were abandoned as well.  By reviving them once more, it is hoped that the other Peoples may be encouraged to return to Rookpot.

A giant wreath adorned the heavy, ancient Cathedral doors.  Originally young foresteens would have climbed Rookpot tor and hung it themselves.  This year it was wrought by volunteers from the Cathedral choir and Museum Assistants.  They entwined holm, mistletoe, and the feathered branches of blue and fire-tinged firs, but not ivy (out of respect for the foresteens), and garnished it with red and white holly berries amidst their dark, shiny leaves.

The Square is bathed in the shimmering light of the giant silver star that sits atop the Council Chambers, visible from the farmland that surrounds the tor.  Ropes of brightly coloured lights criss-cross the Square, and drape over the entrances to the Library and the Chambers.  Once these would have been ropes of jewels from wolvern mines, but now they are illuminated by slightly less mystic electric bulbs.

A red, blue, green or yellow (or sometimes all four) candle is placed in every window in the Square, kept alight until well into January.  This is one of the recent traditions.  As is using the leftover fat from Christmas dinners to create balls embedded with nuts and dried fruit that are hung up on trees, outside windows, and on the Library roof for the city birds.

There have been other visitors to the city, according to the archives, more mythical and legendary than the Peoples.  There is an entire section in The Lilac Beech devoted to Creatures from the Gorge, and two of these seem to be associated with Christmas, and they both seem to have paid a visit this Christmas.  How else to explain the light dusting of snow on rooves and window sills other than frost fairies?  And who else would have left a small gift or bauble on the porch of every house on Christmas morning but the Gorge Gnomes?  There are even rumours that the golden stag with the black antlers, Black Goron Carw, has been seen racing silently through the streets, spreading the Christmas spirit in his wake. 

To work up an appetite for Christmas lunch, it was decided to re-introduce the Kickabout.  The Kickabout had been indefinitely suspended because the last time it had been played somebody had fallen into the gorge.  But that had been many years ago, and everyone was confident that that would not happen again.  It is a game loosely based on football, in that there is a ball involved, and it is played between the Cathedral, the Library, the Museum and the Council Chambers, although really anyone can join in.  It starts in Dameg Square, but often spills out into surrounding streets and Squares.  Two players from each side carry the goals, and another carries a bucket of punch and a ladle.  Those that manage to avoid being dragged into the game sip on large mugs of steaming hot chocolate. Nobody is ever sure who the winner is – but as long as nobody falls into the gorge, it is considered a success.

Later in the evening, after the post-lunch snooze, the people take to the streets once more.  This is a lazy time.  A time for eating (if possible) the rich, rum, bourbon or whisky-soaked fruit cakes and mince pies.  When the Peoples used to join the festivities this would be a time for feasting.  This year the flattened sugar biscuits have been cut out into shapes that resemble wolvern, foresteens and seafolk.

At midnight, or soon after, fireworks fill the sky, and all of the bells in the city ring out.  This was the farewell to the Peoples as they returned to the mountains, the forests and the sea.  This year it is to remind the frost fairies, the Gorge Gnomes, and even Black Goron Carw, that they must now return from whence they came.

They will be welcome back next year, though.  As will the other Peoples, should they wish to celebrate Christmas with Rookpot once again.

Merry

Christmas!

Travels through Farynshire: The Wild Gift

The Wild Gift

The most famous and powerful of the Peer Families are the Meyricks of Riversouth.  The most eccentric (amongst some stiff competition) are the Bescoby-Angells of Sussengaard.

The Bescoby-Angells are known as the Gardening Peers.  Their main seat is Sussengaard, a sumptuous country house surrounded by glorious rose gardens, stuffed herb gardens, plum, apple and pear orchards, and acres of wildflower meadows.  If you have time, it is well worth taking a tour of the gardens – a lovely, civilised way to spend the day, maybe taking some afternoon tea in the beautiful Lawn Room as well.  But if you are feeling a little more adventurous, you should do what we did and visit the Wild Gift.

The Wild Gift is the Bescoby-Angells’ true legacy.  It stands as a testament to their commitment to and love for nature.  It was once called Bex Frith, and it was the largest town in Sussengaard.  In the 1840s, at the peak of Industrialism, the Bescoby-Angells deliberately abandoned Bex Frith, leaving it for nature to reclaim.  The inhabitants were relocated to new housing in the surrounding villages, and wardens were employed to patrol the ghost town and prevent anyone from moving back in.  Bex Frith became known as the Wild Gift.

These days there is a still a Warden, and it is their job to ensure that the Wild Gift remains for nature.  One of them wrote the code you must abide by if you visit:

This is not a place for humans, and your presence is not welcome here.  If you do persist in visiting, be mindful of the laws of this land:

You are responsible for your own safety

Your safety must not come at the expense of any living thing here 

Do not ride, drive or bring anything with wheels here

Do not linger, do not loiter

Take nothing you did not bring in with you

Leave only footprints (if you must)

Do not damage or mark anything

Do not get lost – nobody will come and find you

No noise

No heavy scents

No picnicking

No flash photography

No crowds

All life here must be respected

Anyone who contravenes any of these polite and reasonable laws will face fierce, full and prolonged retribution.

These laws are taken very seriously.  You would not be the first to wonder how fierce, full and prolonged the retribution can be, and fortunately early transgressors provide cautionary tales.  A family barbeque in the 1970s resulted in three months community service for the family involved.  The community service took place in Sussengaard, and the family were from Birmingham, so that ended up being quite an extended stay for them.  A couple of people were caught shooting rabbits in the late 1990s, and I think they are still in prison somewhere. 

All of this means that you tend to approach the Wild Gift apprehensively and very very quietly.  

If you’re as unfit as I am, you will also be quite out of breath because it’s quite a hike through the fields and country lanes to the misshapen moss-covered lumps that mark the edge of the old town.  There was once a bridge that ran over the canal that transported trade to and from the River Spurtle.  Now the canal is a dry ditch filled with sharp-edged grass and brambles, and the bridge is a rockery covered in lichen that you have to clamber over.    

Once you have pulled yourself out of the ditch you can see the town.  A gentle sward leads up to a mound of thick ivy, which might still have a wall in it somewhere.  Beyond this are trees and ruins.  It feels a bit like entering a place of worship you have never been to before; you’re very aware that there are rules you need to obey, you try and step softly and be quiet and unobtrusive as possible, and a quiet awe suffuses everything.  But it also feels like you should not be here at all.  This is nature’s place now.

If you look closely you can find the unnatural, straight lines that are the only signs of where the streets used to be.  Some of them are just a wild mass of untamed vegetation, lined by ruins, but the more popular tracks are grass paths that lead through the bushes.  At first you think the town is silent, but then you realise that there is noise, it is just not human noise.  Birdsong is continuous, and soon you forget it is there. The rustlings from the bushes, skitterings on the rubble behind you, and scuttlings in the dark, empty doorways are more disconcerting.  It soon becomes clear that you are not alone.

The terraced houses that faced each other across narrow cobbled streets now have saplings rooted in the living rooms and rising through the first floor, reaching above where the roof once was.  Some of the buildings are wrapped in branches and wines that wind out of glassless windows and hang from splintered beams.  The vines had pulled down a few walls, and now covered the fallen masonry.  Flowers grow along the road, or from the cracks in the walls.  We walked between the houses and found that the alley is full of roots that have fallen from an oak growing on top of what is left of the wall.  We were careful not to damage any of the roots as we carefully picked our way through the tangle.

On the other side of the alley is a wide square meadow, fill of long grass, poppies, forget-me-nots, and other colourful flowers.  Two dappled deer looked up from their grazing, cheeks moving, and regarded us with frank curiosity.  When Felix slowly and carefully reached for his camera they trotted off.  He did take some pictures of the many rabbits running and jumping over the rubble.  A couple of squirrels watched us from the branches of wild pear trees.  A shadow passed overhead and we looked up and saw red kites wheeling above us.  The wildlife in the Gift knows that this place belongs to them, and it is unafraid of any human visitors.

The most recognisable building is the red-bricked factory and the Old Mill beside it.  This is where the canal ran from, but there is no running water here now.  The factory tower is still standing, but only because there is an oak tree growing in the centre of it, and its branches now hold the structure together in a weird fusion of brick and living wood.  I’m still not convinced that this is not a foresteen.  It seems almost alive as its branches entwine with the tower, and it feels like it is watching over the whole Gift.  Unlike Gnivil Forest, though, there have never been any rumours of foresteens in the Wild Gift.

The main door to the factory once stood over twelve feet high, and it is much higher and wider than that now, as the frame has been pulled down by an expanding thicket of gorse that has spread inside.  I was very aware that there is no phone or wifi signal in the Wild Gift as we entered the factory.  Nobody maintained these buildings, and if we had an accident, there would be no rescue. 

The roof of the factory had long since fallen in, and basking in the sunlight that poured in was a carpet of nettles.  We carefully picked our way through the waist-high nettles, getting stung quite a few times.  Towards the centre of the vast space the floor falls away completely.  Vines hang over the edge and tremble in the cool space below.  Here there is no birdsong, just a constant, echoing dripping.

Several floors must have fallen in because at first we could not see what was at the bottom.  A cloud passed overhead and the sunlight shone straight into the void.  Far below we saw a brief glint of light.  Felix suggested we try and go a bit further down.  This is not as impossible as it first looked because the collapsed floor had resulted in a rough slope of rubble that we could slip and slide down.  Soon we reached a point where we would have needed ropes to go any further.  But we had a good view of what was below.

The waterworks in the Old Mill next door had slowly been destroyed, and the water had ended up trickling out and forming the lake below.  It flooded the cellars of the factory, and now laps at the stone steps that disappear beneath the gloomy surface.  As we watched bats swooped and dived over the surface, and a shadow slunk back into the darkness before we could see what it was.  I know that some people go diving in the lake, but the dark green surface looked sinister and thoroughly unappealing to me: who knows what lurks in the fathomless gloom? As soon as Felix had taken his photos we climbed back up to the factory floor.

I’m glad we went to the Wild Gift, but I don’t think I will ever go back there.  The Bescoby-Angells gave it to nature, and humans are no longer welcome.

Mabel Govitt (by kind permission of Ammaceadda)

Reach of the Meyrick: Controversies

Controversies

Professor Efa Foster and the Museum curators who worked with the White Palace Scribe on the exhibition felt that they could not display certain items without a couple of notes attached to them.  The White Palace Scribe agreed with the wording of the notes, and checked this blog post before it was published.

There are numerous artefacts on display in Riversouth and Rookpot that come from Wild Wolvern Mey.  These include numerous pieces of wolvern jewellery, gems worn by Meyricks and their families, including the ruling ring, and bejewelled gifts of Musril-embossed skins from wolvern Clans. 

It should be noted that many wolvern artefacts were given as genuine gifts to the Meyricks from the Clans in Wild Wolvern Mey, and these are considered the rightful property of the White Palace.  However, several items discovered in the Palace Archives have a more dubious provenance.  These are items that were taken from wolvern Clans without permission, and in many cases the wolvern had requested that the items be returned to them.  The Museum is working closely with the Palace Archives to see if this is feasible.  At the time of the exhibition no wolvern artefacts have yet been returned to the Clans, but there are ongoing talks being held in the neutral territory of Rookpot Museum, which representatives from the White Palace and the Sperakeden Clan have attended.

The second note concerns the Musril language, particularly its origins.  We all know that Riversouth prides itself on protecting and promoting Farynshire’s native language.  Indeed, most academics acknowledge that without The White Palace’s devotion to the language it might very well have died out many years ago, amongst the human population anyway.  What has been increasingly challenged, particularly in recent years, is the long-held theory that Musril spread out to the rest of the county from Riversouth.  In fact, there is no evidence that Musril was created in Riversouth.  Despite this, many well-respected academic books, articles and theses make this claim; some of them from many years ago, but, perhaps surprisingly, some published in the twenty first century as well.  This is very much a live and current theory, as evidenced by recent podcasts and online videos that are popular around Riversouth.  Rookpot Museum distances itself from this theory.  If anything, recently discovered evidence suggests that Musril did not originate in Riversouth. 

It is important to acknowledge new discoveries and revise existing theories, however well established, accordingly.  Rookpot Museum is committed to pursuing the truth of history, rather than a version of it.

The 213th Rookpot History Conference

The Peoples of Farynshire: Challenging the Narrative

The Scribe of the White Palace, Aderyn Tooking and Professor Efra Foster from Rookpot Museum will chair the 213th conference of the Rookpot History Conference.  The theme of the conference is challenging the traditional theories concerning the Peoples of Farynshire.  The programme has been deliberately designed to be radical and provocative and many of the speakers could be considered controversial. 

The Programme

Four Peoples, One County”   Professor Roland Coombes

Our Common Language: Musril for All”   Professor Lana Evans and Doctor Peter Wallace

The Voices of our Forests”  Doctor Rhyll Jones

Following the Seafolk”   Sephus Moxley

The Meyrick, the wolvern, and Wild Wolvern Mey”   Aderyn Tooking and Professor Efra Foster

A wolvern in Rookpot”   Botolf ken Geirolf os okto

There are limited places available for the public – so book your place early!

The Reach of the Meyrick: Seafolk and Wovern

Seafolk and Wolvern

Recent research has challenged the longstanding narrative around Riversouth’s relationship with seafolk and wolvern.  This has been made possible by examining the other side of the story, and re-learning history through the memories and stories of the Peoples themselves.  We hope one day to run that exhibition.

The focus of this exhibition is the Meyrick and Riversouth, and all of the sources and exhibits used and displayed are human.  This exhibition has started to challenge the traditional historical narrative, and we will continue to explore wider historical perspectives in our work.   

The Impact of the Seafolk (begin in The White Palace, Riversouth)

These days even occasional and rare sightings of seafolk in our coastal waters are met with both extreme scepticism an obsessive theorising, so it is hard to imagine a time when seafolk were not only a common sight in Farynshire’s waters, but regularly interacted with humans.  They may be elusive, but it is important to remember that they are one of the four Peoples of Farynshire, and they created one quarter of the ancient seal that hangs on the wall in the Council Chambers in Rookpot.

Before the Seal that brought the Peoples together (for a time anyway) there was often conflict between the seafolk and the human coastal communities, including Riversouth.  There are numerous stories and tales about seafolk raids on Meyshore Bay.  One of the oldest and most fascinating records in the Palace Archive is an eleventh century book listing the loss of sea vessels to seafolk attacks.  Some boats disappeared, and the book claims that witnesses on shore observed boats being pulled underwater. 

Sephus Moxley, who has spent a lifetime researching, studying and searching for seafolk, has written a book about the history of seafolk in Riversouth for this exhibition, and you can buy How the Seafolk shaped Riversouth in the Rookpot Museum shop and The Lilac Beech.  In his hefty tome, Moxley explores the relationship between the seafolk and the growing Riversouth, postulating that the seafolk are the reason Meyshore Bay never became a bustling port like Sylnmouth, despite being a natural and safe harbour.  The seafolk raids usually targeted fishing vessels and it is believed that they were defending their foodstocks.  In response to these raids Meyrick the True through to Meyrick the Thrift-Purse oversaw the building of defences along the shoreline.  There is very little to be seen here now, although some ancient timbers have been excavated that were once part of what looked like extensive fortifications.  Stone forts were constructed on top of the Sussen Orchelflilin, and if a seafolken was spotted in the waters below a beacon was lit to warn any boats that were already out in the Bay, and to rally the defenders – though Moxley believes these had little to no effect on the seafolk, certainly none were ever captured or killed. 

But what eventually kept the Bay waters seafolk-free was the construction of the underwater defences.  Moxley spends a good portion of his book explaining the significant of this remarkable architecture.  Most of it was buried for centuries, before Diggers from Rookpot Museum re-discovered it in the 1970s.  Since then it has been carefully preserved in its underwater setting using techniques that involve coating the metal and timbers in specially created waterproof lacquer.  The defences cover the entire seabed of the Bay, and start below low tide, and so are invisible from shore.  Moxley believes that what has been discovered is but a remnant of the original structures.  He also suggests that the defences prevented the development of a port in Riversouth.  It was always assumed that the Meyrick discouraged the growth of a port because they did not want Riversouth to become like Sylnmouth, and possibly that was a secondary purpose of the underwater defences.

As part of the exhibition you can take a glass-bottomed boat trip out over some of the more stable defences.  Your guide and accompanying divers will ensure you get a good view of the marvels beneath the waves. 

Before you do that, first visit the art exhibition, Seafolk Encounters, in the magnificent Emerald Hall in the White Palace.  This beautiful exhibition has brought together art that features seafolk from around the county.  There are vast watercolours from the Vaults of Rookpot Museum, exquisite porcelain figurines from Cowley Maggs, mixed with the vast collections from the Palace Archives.  The exhibition is dominated by mermaids, of course, as they are the most frequently sighted of the seafolk, but some older, rarer works depict distant sightings of large males or family groups.  It seems like everyone who has ever encountered a seafolken has tried to capture its likeness in paint, pottery, glass, china or wood.

Wild Wolvern Mey (the White Palace, Riversouth, and Rookpot Museum, Rookpot)

Sephus Moxley argues that it was the pressure of the seafolk on Meyshore that led to the Meyricks pushing out beyond wider Riversouth area and eventually into the territories that would become known as Wild Wolvern Mey.  In truth, it is likely that this expansion would have happened with or without the seafolk.

There is evidence of Bronze Age trade between the pre-Meyrick communities in Riversouth and early wolvern Clans, such as wolvern jewels in Riversouth graves and human daggers, axes and swords in the mountains.  There are also very rare and prized finds of joint endeavours: metalwork created by wolvern and human, human pottery encrusted with wolvern stones. 

Sephus Moxley might not be right about why the Meyricks started to expand out beyond Riversouth, but he is right about when.  Rather than the pressure of the seafolk raids being the reason, it seems as though the new sea defences gave the Meyrick confidence to turn their attention away from the sea and focus their energy inland.  One of the first developments was re-building the route network, repairing and strengthening existing tracks, and building new roads.  There is archaeological evidence of old toll stations along these new roads, particularly at the new turnpikes and bridges.

Numerous settlements were built along the new roads, and the villages and towns that are descended from them bear the Mey names to this day.  The Meyricks learned from the success of Meyshore and all of the initial settlements were designed by a Riversouth architect, Ogilby Hooke, who created one streetplan that was then applied to every new community, which makes it easy for archaeologists to identify these original settlements, even if they have been subsequently demolished or altered.  Hooke’s streetplan is on display in Rookpot Museum.

Hooke also drew up plans for a canal to run through Riversouth, out into the hinterlands to Skrudfenrion Lake, crossing a tributary of the River Spurtle, before joining the Bychan Darkflint River that winds its way from the mountains into the Lake.  It was a hugely impressive project, and Hooke did not live to see it finished.  But there can be little doubt that the Riversouth Canal (Farynshire’s only canal) accelerated the Meyrick’s expansion projects. 

The humans soon attracted the attention of the local wolvern Clans, including the infamous Sperakeden Clan.  At first, relations between human and wolvern seem to have been respectful.  The wolvern were particularly interested in trading the jewels and precious stones they mined for sheep, wool, and human textiles.  Some wolvern even exchanged tracts of land that they considered unusable, which the humans quickly settled in.  Living in close proximity it was inevitable that disagreements would occur.  Both wolvern and human are territorial, and boundaries were only respected when convenient.  Wolvern raided livestock, and humans continued to encroach and build upon wolvern land, constructing forts to deter wolvern attacks.  Most disputes were settled by jeldanas, an old method of settling scores whereby an agreed payment is given for a wrong, but resentment on both sides lingered. 

The arrival of the railways in the mid nineteenth century changed everything.  Meyrick the Third Tall paid for a line of track to run straight into Wild Wolvern Mey, at the same time as the Age of Industry enabled extensive mining in the region.  Meyrick the Third Tall’s successor is known as Meyrick the Scarrer, and is the only Meyrick to have an epitaph bestowed upon them by one of the Peoples.  Human miners were known as scarrers, and they changed the landscape in Wild Wolvern Mey forever with their dynamite and heavy machinery.

As the scarrers blasted their way further into wolvern territory, the wolvern were pushed deeper into the mountains.  The name Wild Wolvern Mey appeared at this time, attached to registered companies and materials that were mined from the area.  The industrialisation made the Meyrick and Riversouth very rich, but they did not have it all their own way.  The Sperakeden Clan constantly harassed, disrupted and attacked the railway and canal supply routes, and sometimes even the mines.

In the Palace Archives there is correspondence between the White Palace and the owners of the mining companies operating in Wild Wolvern Mey that reveal they all knew that their time in the area was not going to last long.  At this time the Peoples attended Council meetings in Rookpot, and the minutes from those meetings show that the wolvern representative petitioned the Council many times on behalf of the Sperakeden and other wolvern Clans. 

Because they knew that they had limited time to reap the rich rewards from their mines, the scarrers ruthlessly exploited as much of the area as they could.  There are early photographs of the devastation that was inflicted on the area.  Forests were burned to the ground, rivers and streams were polluted by the run-off and turned brown and toxic, slag heaps rose up in mockery of the surrounding mountains, the slopes of which were blasted, resulting in landslides and permanent damage.  Meyrick the Scarrer’s rule was short, rich, and ruinous for Wolvern Mey.

The Meyrick’s short and sudden advance beyond Riversouth shaped modern Farynshire, and you can follow in the footsteps of the scarrers via two routes.  The first is to step aboard a converted barge to make your leisurely way via the Riversouth Canal, or you can take the land train from Riversouth along the old roads to Wild Wolvern Mey.  Either route will stop to visit one of Ogilby Hooke’s villages, Norssenmey, a reconstructed settlement using Hooke’s streetmap.  From Norssenmey the tour continues over a wide stone bridge, and via a crumbling fort, and on to the modern town of Gorssenmey.  The mines still exist, though most are too dangerous to visit, but there is one that has been preserved, and this is where the tour ends. 

The Retreat of the Meyrick (Rookpot Museum)

The Meyricks left a lasting legacy on Wild Wolvern Mey, and many people assume they must have been there for centuries, but, in truth, everything that you can still see  – the mey names, the roads, infrastructure, railway, mines – all happened within the rule of two Meyricks, or less than fifty years.  For most of that time, protests were regularly raised during Rookpot Council meetings.

What expedited the Retreat of the Meyrick was the Leader of the Sperakeden Clan, Conri, who travelled to Rookpot to petition the Council to stop the mining and the occupation and expel the humans.  The Council minutes record his speech in full, both in the original Musril that Conri used, and translated into Welsh and English; you can see and read these minutes in the exhibition in Rookpot Museum.  Unfortunately nobody thought to make an audio recording, so we can only imagine the oratory power of a wolvern Leader speaking for his Clan, his home and his people.  But we know it must have been passionate and compelling because it provoked enough sympathy amongst the Councillors and the Peer Families that they put pressure on Riversouth to stop their activities in Wild Wolvern Mey. 

The mining was stopped immediately, and over the following year the Meyrick’s authority fell back to Riversouth.  The White Palace never publicly or formally renounced its claim on Wild Wolvern Mey, but from that moment on it essentially acted as though it had never heard of such a place, and paid no attention to anything that happened there.

These were big victories for Conri and the wolvern, but they did not get the full expulsion of humans that they wanted.  The villages and towns remain to this day, and the region is still known (amongst humans, at least) as Wild Wolvern Mey.  The wolvern, like the seafolk and the foresteens, would eventually break all contact with Rookpot, the Council and humans, but the concessions to Leader Conri delayed this for a few more years.

As well as selected excerpts from the Minutes of the Rookpot Council, this part of the exhibition is a wonderful collection of maps.  Ogilby Hooke’s original streetplan for the settlements can be viewed here, as well as modifications future planners made to his design.  The Scribe of the White Palace documented in detail the expansion and retreat of the Meyrick in and out of Wild Wolvern Mey, and you can see the growing and shrinking territories on intricate maps.  It is an extensive collection, and we are indebted to the Palace Archives for allowing us to make it public.

The Reach of the Meyrick: the Rise of Riversouth

Rookpot Museum is home to countless archives, stories and finds from all over Farynshire.  Since its conversion from a glassworks factory in 1762 to the magnificent building standing today, its mission has been to explore, explain and share the rich history of our county and its Peoples.  To this end, we thought we would highlight some of the splendid and fascinating exhibitions the Museum has held over the years.

The Reach of the Meyrick was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get close to the truth and myth of the family who has shaped Farynshire more than any other. 

This is an exhibition that allows you to get up and close and personal with history as it is unearthed and reclaimed by Diggers and academics.    

The Museum had been given unprecedented access to the archives in The White Palace.  We are indebted to Aderyn Tooking, the White Palace Scribe, who granted extensive access to the Palace Archives and curated this exhibition across both cities.  We also thank Professor Efra Foster from Rookpot Museum for devising, coordinating and overseeing this vast project.

The focus of the exhibition is how the Meyrick’s influence spread out from Riversouth throughout Farynshire, with a particular focus on Wild Wolvern Mey, and then receded back again, leaving plenty of evidence of their presence in their wake.

This is the largest exhibition ever put on by the Museum – you might need to spread your visit over a few days!

The Rise of Riversouth

The Meyrick and the region of Riversouth have been part of each other since the dawn of history.

This part of the exhibition uses recent archaeological evidence and current projects to reveal new insights into this region, and how the first Meyricks established their dominance.

Explore the Dig (the White Palace, Riversouth)

By making use of the latest archaeological techniques and technology, Diggers from Rookpot Museum have begun exploring the early history of the White Crag upon which sits the White Palace of the Meyricks.  This is the first time the Meyrick has given permission for archaeological exploration in the grounds of the Palace, which has allowed us to trace the story of the Crag from its prehistoric settlements to its current splendour and influence.

The project is likely to take years to fully explore the secrets hidden within the White Crag, and these live and open excavations are part of the exhibition.  You can take a tour around the site, and speak to the Diggers as they work.  There are opportunities to take part in the dig itself, uncover a piece of history, and see some of the extraordinary fines that have already been unearthed.

The History of the White Crag (Rookpot Museum, Rookpot) 

The Diggers’ finds have been brought back to the Rookpot Museum so that they can be catalogued, preserved and studied.  The most impressive and revelatory of these have been put on display.

The earliest settlement on the White Crag dates from over 8,000 years ago.  Fragments of early seacraft, probably coracles, have been discovered, and it is thought that they were used on the calm waters of the gentle bay beneath the Crag.  From this time onwards, the White Crag’s natural resources gave early settlers the security and confidence to come together, build homes, raise families and develop their societies. 

It looked like these early people often clashed, as there is evidence of tribes fighting all over the Crag.  It is not uncommon for fossil hunters to find arrowheads, smooth missile stones, and even the occasional axe head around Meyshore Bay and Sussen Orchelflilin

At some point one of the tribes conquered the Crag’s summit and built a palisade around their community.  You can see artists’ reconstructions of the firstly timber, and later stone, walls in the exhibition.  Behind this stood what is known as the Hill Fort, which some historians claim is an early ancestor to the White Palace.  The community that lived here thrived behind their high walls. 

This was the site of the first Mint in Farynshire.  One of the most exciting finds during the excavations was a hoard of coins from this Mint, with the earliest dating from the eighth century.  Coins struck from the Riversouth Mint were used throughout the county for hundreds of years, and finds have been unearthed as far afield as the Daggerrock Mountains, Tropsog and Cwm Purne.  The Old Mint now stands on the original site, a wonderful little tea room in the public grounds of the Palace.  One of the coins in the hoard bore the name Myrreck in an old form of Musril, and is on display in the Museum. 

The success of the Mint enriched the Myrrecks (who soon after changed their name to Meyrick), who invested their wealth in developing the community on the White Crag.  The first permanent structure was a dark castle with a round tower, and the ruins can be seen within the grounds of the White Palace.  When the early Meyricks discovered how to dig the white rock out of the Crag itself the building did not stop for hundreds of years.  The founding stone of the White Palace has not yet been discovered, but experts think it was laid under the current Wessen Tower in the early eleventh century.  From then on each Meyrick used the Palace to show off their opulence and power by adding more and more magnificent architecture.  The building projects continued until the nineteenth century whereupon the attention of the Meyricks and their vast wealth turned to industrialism.  The Palace you see today, shining bright atop the Crag, has not changed much since that time.  Meyricks have modernised the interior, and there are always ongoing maintenance projects, but you can see in old paintings and then photographs and early film that the main structure remains the same.

The City (the Meyshore Tour, Riversouth)

Today both the region (boundary markers can be found on the Crag, over the cliffs of Sussen Orchelflilin in the village of Aracely Cheth, beyond the Crag on Hewmey, and in the fields that lead to Tel-Yarridge) and the city have the same name.  Those outside of the region are usually referring to the city when they speak of Riversouth, whereas those within the boundary marks refer to the large urban area around Meyshore Bay as the city.  But before it was a city it was simply known as Meyshore, and it was the beginning of the Meyrick’s influence over the wider region. 

In the written records in the Palace Archive and Rookpot Museum Meyshore is the first place name in Farynshire that includes the mey that is now so common throughout the county.  There are signs of early settlements around the Bay, and soil analysis has revealed that many of them were burned to the ground.  It is likely that these settlements were absorbed into one, large community.

Once Meyshore had been established it grew quickly.  It is the perfect place for a community to thrive.  It sits between the ocean and the Sussen Orchelflilin, with the White Crag to the south and the rocky cliffs to the north, and the Rivers Spurtle and Darkflint end their journeys through Farynshire here, providing a plentiful and reliable supply of fresh water. 

The first town of Meyshore was planned in advance before a single stone was laid.  What would shortly become the Promenade on the shoreline was the starting point, and from here straight streets were constructed up the slopes under the cliffs, until a network of narrow roads, avenues and thoroughfares spread parallel to the Bay.  Unfortunately the plans for this new town have not been found in The Palace Archives.  There are later schematics that map the streets and parks, and it is assumed that these were copied from the lost original.  These are fascinating in and of themselves as they very clearly show, stage by stage, how Meyshore grew into Riversouth, but it would have been a true insight into an early genius to see the idea and shape of the town before it had even been built.

There are two main theories for the creation of Meyshore.  Since the Bronze Age, traders wishing to sell their wares would trek up the Crag to The White Palace.  This was where the Meyrick’s people – fishers, blacksmiths, millers, tailors, carpenters etc. – lived and worked with their families.  The community grew to large for the Palace grounds, and were re-located to their town.  Meyshore attracted more trade than the Crag had done because it was easier to get to.  The Meyrick stayed in the White Palace, overlooking the ever-expanding town of loyal citizens.

We know the exact time that Meyshore became Riversouth.  In Volume 45 of the Year One thousand and Ninety Two of the Chronicle of the Scribe, it is written (in Musril):

The Meyrick has designated the city Riversouth.

That is all there is.  It is the first time that the area is known as a city, and as soon as it received that accolade Meyrick the Lonely changed the name.  The new Grand Hall had been completed in this year: a formidable grey and white square tower at the far end of the Bay, and it is possible the name change deliberately coincided with this.  Of course, the new city was not known as Riversouth but its Musril name, Kelsussen.  Much like today, the Meyrick encouraged the use of Kelsussen, but it was the English name that took hold and became widespread.

The best way to experience the history of Riversouth is to take the Meyshore Tour.  Specifically designed for this exhibition, you will start at The White Palace so you can see the early maps of the town, and then travel down the Crag to the Promenade.  Your expert guide will show you all the historical secrets hidden all over the city.  You will need a whole day for this one, but don’t worry – there are plenty of planned teashop stops along the way, and you will finish the day by attending an elegant meal in the Grand Hall.

This is certainly not the end of the Meyrick and Riversouth’s history.  We have not even mentioned the Peoples yet …

Travels through Farynshire: Soup by the Sea

The title is not misleading, – this is a very soup-focussed entry.  If you do not care for soups, broths, pottages, bisques or chowders, feel free to skip this one!

When planning our trip we made sure that we would be in Tel-Yarridge on the second Thursday of the month so that we could take part in a tradition that can be traced back to the fifteenth century, now known as The Soup. 

Tel Yarridge is best described as pile of very large rocks that overlook a beach of dark orange sand.  Embedded in the rocks is a village.  If you were on a boat on the sea and looked toward shore it would appear as though the houses were squeezed into the nooks and crannies between the boulders, or perhaps that they were survivors of a terrible rockslide, but once you are in the rocks themselves, you can explore the hidden network of narrow streets that winds throughout the village. 

Tel-Yarridge now sits outside the Riversouth area, but it was the historical connection between the places that gave us The Soup.  The festivities are said to originate from an idea a philanthropic Meyrick who enjoyed the broths and pottages the fisherfolk of Tel-Yarridge survived on throughout the winter months while their boats remained tethered in the harbours, sheltering from the wild storms.  This Meyrick often left the White Palace to travel around Riversouth to speak to their people, and they realised how hard winter was for anyone who did not live in a palace.  These people had to pray for good harvests, and then store any surplus to see them through the cold months.  The Meyrick became fascinated by the winter dishes the people made, each area producing unique food depending on what they grew or reared in their fields and farms.  The Meyrick decided to hold an event where everybody could show off and share their winter dishes, and it would be held on the beach at Tel-Yarridge because … well, why not, I suppose?  The dishes people brought were simple so that they could be easily transported, and this usually meant they were broths, soups and pottages.

For a few years this was known as the Winter Feast, and usually took place at the end of January.  And then they became more frequent, starting in early autumn and occurring regularly until Easter. 

There is no need for such a Feast these days, of course, but rather than dying out, the event has become very popular and has been re-purposed as a celebration of the original simple food: soup.  It is now a monthly event, attracting visitors from around the world. 

You can just show up empty handed, and you can be confident that there will be many soups that you can sample, but to really enter into the spirit of the occasion you should really bring your own soup.  Or, at least, ingredients you can use to make a soup, which is what we did.

I already had numerous soup recipes on my phone, but you do not even need to be this prepared.  Tel-Yarridge is Soup Central, and they take it very seriously.

The stalls start on the outskirts of the village; lines of tables groaning under the weight of every conceivable ingredient, as well as recipes, ladles, spoons, bowls – everything you would need to make, cook and eat a soup!  We counted at least seven stalls that just sold bread: rolls, crusty cast-offs, flatbreads, baguettes.  One bakery just sold bags of croutons made from their day-old bread.  Another offered only dumplings in various sizes.

You have to have a purpose, we decided.  If you just wander in with an open mind and a curious nature you will very quickly succumb and become confused and lost.  We encountered several such poor souls, aimlessly meandering through the crowded streets, carrying bags of vegetables, bones for the stock they were convinced by some enterprising stallholder that they needed to make from scratch, four separate cooking pots, and a small bag of fish-heads.  The most tragic are those that inadvertently find their way into the Eat Streets.  They are drawn there by the delicious smells coming some the many-sized pots bubbling away on the tables of the official stalls, as well as kitchen tables outside open front doors, and on the windowsills of the terraced houses.  If you are not strong-willed (and this alone will often not save you) you can be here for hours, sampling concoctions from all over the world.  It is not uncommon to see people lying in doorways, their lips stained with tomato, too stuffed with dumplings to move.

Felix and I had already agreed on our plan: we were heading straight for the beach with our ingredients.  Nevertheless, and despite our resolute determination, the Eat Streets did delay us for an hour or so.   

Progress through the Eat Streets is hampered by people thrusting spoons full of varied coloured and interesting smelling at you as you try to walk briskly past, or trying to stuff bread into your mouth.    

I saw a lot of varieties from Farynshire Broth by Irayna Gromer (an ongoing effort to bring together all of the county’s soup-related recipes into one tome, currently on its forty-second edition), including:

  • Tiny crab brew, from up the coast in Prydferth,
  • Tropsog sludge (a thick grey gloop made from mushrooms)
  • Thorn pottages (these can be made from any thorns, and they are often sweet because they include thorns from roses and brambles)
  • You can also get root soups, which are lovely and earthy, and can be made from the roots of any vegetable though parsley roots and celeriac are big favourites.
  • Honey veg, from Over Pippleford
  • Green soup, which can be made of any combination of green vegetables or fruit.  We saw  – broccoli, carrot tops, and cabbage; cauliflower leaves, peas and kale; green pepper, green apple and rocket; and gooseberries, watercress and celery

The Eat Streets also boast soups from around the world.  Some like scotch broth, cawl cennin, and cock-a-leekie are from quite close to home, whereas others such as gumbo and kimchi have come from thousands of miles away.  Basically, you can find every kind of soup here, no matter if you prefer them sour, sweet, spicy, hot, cold or bitter.  Just don’t try all of them at once.

The Eat Streets are just above the beach, and that is where everywhere makes for, even if some get side-tracked and don’t make it.

The narrow streets end in a pile of rocks, and here the smell of the sea, open fires and cooking hit you.  There is another stall once you have clambered down the rocks, and we did make purchases at this one: two small iron cooking pots, a tripod and some firewood and kindling.

The whole beach is filled with groups of people crowded round fires, and over the fires hang the cauldrons.  We were escorted through the throng to our piece of sand, in the centre of which was a shallow ditch with a ring of stones around it. 

We made our fire and set up one of our small pots.  We were making different soups, and I helped Felix with his first.  He had chosen a thick cream soup made from scallops, haddock, milk and parsley, and he was going to garnish it with some fried onions, which he made a good attempt at in my unused pot.  I washed it out to make my soup which was a simple apple and parsnip, and I was hoping it would be thick and sweet.

It is a fantastic atmosphere on the sands.  Everyone is so closed together that you are soon chatting with your neighbours and swapping ingredients (I added a couple of chestnuts to mine at the insistence of the man at the next pot).

The best part of the whole thing is the evening as the sun sets.  We all sit on the sand and watch the sun sink below the sea, slurping on the soups we have just made ourselves (or bought in the Eat Streets), and eating warm, stale bread.

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)