Travels through Farynshire: Aracely Cheth

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)

Travels through Farynshire: on the Coastal Path

Farynshire’s Coastal Path runs (as you might expect) alongside the county’s entire coastline. It is a great way to see all of Farynshire’s faces, because it runs from the wild Maw Cauldron, through the beautiful countryside, above Riversouth, and then passed the coastal villages on the wide sands, and right up to lonely Tropsog (Farynshire’s least appealing town, and not a place that will feature in these Travels). One day I will follow in the footsteps of those who have walked the entire route.

But I will have to save it for my retirement. 

We planned on walking the Path from Riversouth to the seaside resort of Tel Yarridge, via the village of Aracely Cheth.  Once at Tel-Yarridge, we could easily have strolled onwards to Tor Calon, where the rest of Felix’s ap Hullin clan live, but he insisted we swing inland up the River Spurtle and then make our way to Oes.  I’m not complaining – that will take us through some of Farynshire’s most stunning countryside, and we’ll get to Tor Calon eventually.

From Riversouth you can easily join the Path across a small bridge that sits at the base of the Zag.  There is no sign, but everyone knows that the shingle you step onto is part of the longest path in Farynshire.  The path is much more gentle than the Zag, meandering up the green sward and onto the clifftop meadows.

The cliffs are known as the Sussen Orchelflilin (rough translation: the Southern Cliffs that overlook the Ocean – but it sounds more melodic in Musril) and they rise up and away from the White Crag, a long white wall behind Riversouth, that continues beyond Meyshore Bay, and ends up sloping down to Tel-Yarridge. 

It is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Path, as it passes through the Bremey Meadows.  The Meadows are not officially a Natural Park, but they do not need to be because they fall under the protection of the Meyrick and the White Palace.  We can thank Aracely Tookley for this.  I do not think he is much known over the Daggerrock Mountains, but he is the county’s most famous poet.  You will see plaques and monuments to him in most towns and villages, because he did not call anywhere home until late in life, and he roamed Farynshire’s roads and highways, accepting hospitality where he was offered it.  The White Palace never refused him a bed, so he understandably spent quite a bit of time in Riversouth.  And he particularly enjoyed wandering in the Bremey Meadows.  His musings on the Meadows are considered some of his most exquisite verse, and his words were so powerful that they persuaded the Meyrick of the time to place the Sussen Orchelflilin under the White Palace’s protection.  Had this not happened they would no doubt now be known by the much less romantic Bremey Housing Estate. 

To be fair, anyone would want to live here, overlooking Riversouth and the wild sea beyond.  It would be glorious.  But it is even more glorious to walk through the wildflower meadows that shiver in the salty winds whipping up from the waves.  I wish we had bought a book that listed all the different kinds of flowers that grow there, but as we didn’t, all I can say is that most of them seemed to be yellow when we were there, and it was like walking through sunlight.  In the summer the meadows are full of people enjoying picnics or sunbathing or just wandering, lost in their thoughts.  There are also hikers, of course, walking determinedly along the Path, a destination in mind, map in hand, backpacks secure.  We were in no rush, so we slowed down and let the power walkers pass us by. 

There are no trees on the cliffs, not even any shrubs, and the only structures are the remains of seven round stone forts situated near the edge.  They are known as the Stones, and they have watched over Riversouth for hundreds of years.  Their true origins are lost in history, which many scholars have found strange considering the White Palace’s fastidious record-keeping.  The Lilac Beech has shelves rammed with books and pamphlets containing theories, arguments and discourse on the origins of the Stones and why they do not appear in any official records.  Some of these tomes are … fanciful, to say the least.  The one I am most convinced by (one of the core texts on the reading list for my Understanding Riversouth and its Places module) is that they were built sometime during the sixth century.  The stone the fort is made of has been dated back at least that far.  The theory also explains the lack of any records because there is a suspicion that the Meyricks in the fifth century were at war with the seafolk, and either the records were destroyed in a battle, or there was no opportunity to keep any.  The theory goes that the Stones were built as lookout stations, manned outposts that could warn the then small settlement of Kelsussen under the White Crag of an impending attack from armies from beneath the waves.

Before anyone gets too excited (like my first year seminar group did) I will point out that there is no archaeological, record of any conflict whatsoever around Riversouth.  Plenty of ancient wrecks and archaeology have been found all along Farynshire’s coastline, and especially in Meyshore Bay, but there is so sign of any war from anything that has been recovered so far. 

Although their purpose may not be specifically seafolk-related, it is likely that the Stones were built as outlook stations, even if it was only to guide ships back into the Bay’s calm waters.  Three of the Stones are now just rockeries overgrown by weeds and flowers; one has only three of its walls standing, its roof has long since caved in; and the two furthest from the White Palace are the most intact.  We went up the one called Norssenhin just because there were fewer picnickers scattered around it.

Someone has thoughtfully wound some rope around the crumbling central column that supports the spiral staircase – I’m not convinced this really makes it safe, but it’s the thought that counts. 

Once you are standing on the weathered battlements you can see the incredible panorama of Meyshore Bay, the White Crag and Riversouth, the ocean beyond, and looking back, the vast shimmering expanse of wildflowers.  You don’t even think about how it came to be there, you’re standing on top of the world, seeing the best of the world.  Of course what you’re really looking for, what everyone looks for, is a glimpse of a seafolken in the waves.  Maybe just a head or two, bobbing above the white surf, or even the flash of a tail as a mermaid dives back into the depths, or maybe possibly even the rare sight of a seafolken leaping right out of the water and performing an acrobatic marvel before disappearing into the ocean with hardly a splash.

We didn’t see any of that.  We stayed for quite a while because I was sure a seafolken would appear at any moment.  If you believe the graffiti carved into the ancient stone the sea is alive with hundreds of seafolk.  There are doodles of mermaids, the names of those who have stood where we were, and dates of seafolk sightings.  The most recent one that I could find was 2014, which gave me hope.  In the end Felix had to insist that we leave if we wanted to make our reservations in Aracely Cheth.  If we had thought about it we would have booked overnight accommodation in Riversouth and stayed on Norssenhin to watch the stars come out, and the city below come alive with illuminations.  Something else I will need to come back to Riversouth for!

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: The White Crag

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)

Travels through Farynshire: The Silver Loop

I always feel like I have to be on my best behaviour in Riversouth.  It feels like the people really love their city, and put huge effort into caring for it.  The streets are scrubbed clean and free of rubbish, and baskets of bright flowers hang from every lamppost.  Each house is white-washed and has a different colour roof from its neighbours.  If we had had enough money, we would have taken one of the popular balloon rides over the city and look down on the colour and crowds.  It takes pride in being a welcoming place to visit, and this goes back to the Victorian era when the new railway brought the rest of Farynshire to the seaside for their summer holidays.

I should probably explain a bit about the Meyrick for those of you who don’t live in Farynshire, because there is no Riversouth without the Meyrick.

Riversouth is not a separate city state or anything, but the Meyrick exerts an authority unlike anyone else in Farynshire (even Rookpot Council has to share powers amongst the elected Councillors).  I suppose the Meyrick’s position could be likened to the mayors in some English cities and regions, except that the Meyrick is an unelected, hereditary, lifelong role, so it’s also reminiscent of royalty – especially with the palace.  The White Palace sits high above the city on the White Crag at the southern end of Meyshore Bay, looking out over the ocean.  Meyricks have epitaphs like royalty too, in order to make biographers’ live easier.  They started out with numbers, but got bored around the time of Meyrick CXXIII.  His daughter was known as the Unnumbered, and thereafter an official Nick-Namer was appointed to devise a more imaginative designation system, with decidedly mixed results.

Both Felix and I had been to Riversouth many times before, but as this was our Grand Tour where we had given ourselves licence to act like tourists, so we decided to follow the advice in Meyricks, Musril and Mermaids and ride the Silver Loop.  This is the tram route through and around the city, and it’s the best way to get a flavour of Riversouth in one day.  There are four silver trams that follow each other on a continuous circuit.  You can get on anywhere, but the circuit’s official starting point is the Meygrace Gate at the entrance to the city, and your day ticket allows to you to hop on and off as many times as you like.  Each tram is named for a past Meyrick, and has a plaque on the side with its name and a unique design; the Sea-Rider, the Goodly and the Sabre were already en route, so we jumped on the Curly.

The plaque on the tram depicted a face with a broad grin and red cheeks, framed with black, bushy curls, so I assume that Meyrick the Curly’s only notable achievement was his magnificent hair.

The Meygrace Gate is a formidable wrought-iron structure that looms over the pedestrinised area.  Once through the gate, the tram moves downhill through the Sussenparaw Park, the largest park in a city with many.  In early summer the extensive gardens are filled with roses.  From the moving tram we could see bright reds, delicate violets, rich yellows, bright and soft pinks, and blazing oranges.  The rich, sweet scent from the sculpted trees wafted in through the open windows, making everyone smile.

We left the park via the Old Market Bridge – a wide arched bridge that does not look like it was made for trams, but we rattled across with ease.  Riversouth has quite a few bridges, spanning the two rivers that run through it on their way to the sea.  The River Spurtle is the source of the the city’s fresh water, that you can collect from every fountain and water pipe; we had re-filled our water bottles at the pipe by the Meygrace Gate.  Rookpot’s own river, the Darkflint, also ends up here in Riversouth, though it is much slower down here by the coast than it is in the capital’s gorge (where those who enjoy such things go white water rafting, and often get out alive).

We emerged on to the Promenade via one of the streets between the Victorian terraces.  This is where the guest houses are situated.  We dumped our bags in the blue-washed Waves View and went to explore.

The tree-lined Promenade follows the long curve of Meyshore Bay, starting at the foot of the White Crag, and finishing up by the rocky point that stuck out into the sea at the lonely end of the Bay.  In-between the terraces and the beach there are well-tended gardens, amusement parks and a creaky Victorian fairground.  The shops and boutiques are full of every kind of souvenir, from tacky niknaks through to unique local artworks.  We hopped off opposite the fairground to buy some sticks of rock, before jumping back on the next tram, the Goodly, to take the short trip to the pier.

Riversouth is a very different place in the summer months compared to other times of the year.  This is the time when tourists descend upon the city, packing the streets, the beaches and the pier.  The fairground and the amusement rides are full of families, and the screams from the rollercoasters mingle with the cries from the resident gulls that have grown to monstrous sizes thanks to their addiction to chips, ice-cream and candyfloss.  If you want to see another side to the city, visit in autumn when the tourist attractions are closed and you can often be the only person on the Promenade and visit the lonely, windswept beaches outside of the city.

But you do have to come during the summer months if you want to step on the pier, as it is only open between May and September.  According to Meyricks, Musril and Mermaids Riversouth has two piers, but this is really only technically true.

The Long Pier is one and a half miles long and extends out into the sea at the end of the Promenade farthest from the White Palace.  It has two Victorian pavilions that host numerous shows, cabarets, and other entertainment morning, noon and night during the summer season.  The performances often spill out on to the pier with no prior warning, and audience participation is compulsory – you have been warned.  We got off the tram here, but just admired it from afar.

The Siren Pier sits under the White Crag, and is nothing more than a few rotten timbers that are barely visible above the water when the tide is in, and look like the skeleton of a long-dead creature from the depths when it is out.  There are persistent rumours that it is the remains of a seafolken, but researchers from Rookpot Museum have carried out extensive tests, and it is definitely made from wood (so maybe it’s the remains of a foresteen?  Don’t worry: it’s not).  There are many stories connecting the pier to seafolk: maybe it was a place where bygone Meyricks watched or even spoke with seafolk when they frequented Meyshore Bay, maybe mermaids sat on it to comb their long, blonde hair and sing seductively to sailors.  If they had ever indulged in such well-worn clichés, they don’t any more, as no seafolken has been seen in the Bay within living memory.

It was a day for ice-cream, so we each bought one to eat as we strolled close to the beach, where there were plenty of people sunbathing or playing on the warm sands.  Swimmers, paddlers and inflated toys bobbed close to shore, and further out there were dinghies and small boats on the calm Bay waters.  Beyond the White Crag, in the rougher waters outside of the protected Bay, we caught an occasional glimpse of a larger ship on its way to Sylnmouth further down the coast.  My favourite Meyrick has a statue overlooking the water.  There are numerous statues of past Meyricks striking various dramatic poses on top of plinths or in the middle of gardens throughout the city.  Meyrick the Old became Meyrick at the age of seventy-five, and during her three years on the job, the most important thing she did was to introduce a decree which stated that all dolphins, seals, sharks and whales have right of way in Meyshore Bay.  The decree lasts to this day, and it is not uncommon to see a queue of luxury yachts waiting outside the marinas under the White Crag as a seal passes by.  Her statue sits just above the beach, a permanent smile on her bronze face.

There is something about sea air that makes me hungry, so once we had finished the ice cream, we bought fish and chips from a small stall called Poss and Bucket (poss being Musril for fish; bucket being … a bucket) and made our way to the foot of the White Crag.  There is a bus service to the top, but Felix decided that we should walk up the Zag – the road that winds its way up the vertical cliff, to really appreciate … something – presumably how unfit we were.  At least the chips would keep me going.

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: The County Road

The Romans came to Farynshire, built one road, and then left.

The County Road – or Farynshire Way, or the Highway, or the Route – link up the three cities of Farynshire: Rookpot in the centre of the county, and Sylnmouth and Riversouth on the coast.  Newer towns have been built alongside it over the years, and the Rookpot to Sylnmouth railway line runs alongside it.

Because it is the only evidence that the Romans crossed the Daggerrock Mountains, the Road is under constant study and scrutiny by archaeologists and historians.  It is an annual field trip for all first year undergraduates studying Archaeology or History at Rookpot University to take part in the dig along the Road.  I think it was this trip that made me commit to the study of manuscripts and historical documentation for the rest of my time at university (I signed up to the second year module, Musril in Context, as soon as I got back).  Nevertheless, I have fond memories of my obligatory summer trip. 

I’m not sure what the Hangman’d Turnpike is – it consists of a tiny train stop (an earth-banked platform and no actual station), a youth hostel for the Archaeology students, a pub for their lecturers and the veteran archaeologists, a post office, and a car park.  Is that enough to make it a village?  A hamlet? 

The dig itself is two miles away (inching ever closer to the pretty village of Newmey).  I recall very clearly getting up at six thirty every morning in order to trudge along the pleasant, quiet country lanes that are bordered by fields of green crops.  We would then spend all day crouched in a ditch carefully brushing layers of dirt off mud, just like hundreds of first years before us. 

Back then I stayed in the hostel, but one year later I awoke at a respectable hour in one of the small, comfortable back rooms on the top floor of the pub. We had called ahead, but we were the only guests anyway.

The trek from the Turnpike to the dig was much more pleasant than I remembered.  I suspect this is because it was late morning, and it was less of a trek and more of a pleasant stroll.  Also, I was not going to spend eight hours digging under the hot summer sun.

The dig is the oldest in Farynshire.  It was Meredith Roke himself (pioneering Digger from the early twentieth century) who claimed the site for Rookpot Museum and the University, back in 1923.  There is little sign of this longevity at the site itself, which is usually restricted to a maximum of four ditches at any one time.  A section of the original Road itself has been left exposed so that successive classes of students can be compelled to study it.  If any artefacts are discovered they are taken back to Rookpot University for the professionals to study.

The lead archaeologist that we met was Professor Roland Coombes, a Digger from Rookpot Museum.  He was a large exuberant character with a wild mop of white-streaked grey hair, and a red and green checked flannelled shirt flapping over khaki shorts, dirty tools sticking out of the pockets.  His mouth hid behind a rough approximation of a handle-bar moustache.

“A reader of Musril, eh?” he said, almost pulling my arm off when he shook my hand.  “A disappearing skill.  Not much use for it over the mountains, I guess.  Not that many folk from Farynshire choose to learn it either.  Not even all Diggers.”

I doubt I would even have heard of Musril had I not chosen to study History at Rookpot University.  My choices of degree had been limited anyway due to what my Dad called stage fright during my A’levels which had resulted in disappointing grades.  Rookpot University is many things: beautiful, mysterious, the only university in Farynshire, but held in good regard within the wider academic community it is not.  Which means it is quite flexible as to the quality of students they let in.  The horror of exams was one of the reasons I was so keen to have this trip to look forward to after our second year: I needed something beyond the exams to focus on to try and control the panic.   

Professor Coombes was right: it was unusual for anyone outside of Farynshire to study the county’s history, Peoples and language.  Technically that wasn’t what I was studying.  I would leave Rookpot (exam results permitting) with a degree in History Studies.  It was only when you looked closer that you would see that my modules were overwhelmingly Farynshire biased.  I was glad I was learning about Farynshire and its Peoples, and the only place to do that is Rookpot University.  So it all worked out well for me.

All this, I have noticed, has earned me cautious respect from my lecturers and other academics at the University.  I’m not exactly regarded as a native, but my interest in Farynshire and her Peoples has elevated me above the status of “someone from over the mountains”, which is a rare accolade.

Professor Coombes was keen to tell us about his work and the history of the area we were strolling through.  He was a natural lecturer.

“It seems, on the surface of things, that there’s not much going on, Roman-wise, in Farynshire.  They haven’t left much behind for us to go on.”

“Just the one road.”

“So the textbooks would have you believe, yes.”

I had learned throughout my studies that, unless they had written them, most academics thought the textbooks on their area of expertise are wrong.  I waited for Professor Coombes’ correct version of history.

“It is true that they only built one road, but that wasn’t all they left here.  There are quite a few settlements along the Road, and nearer the coast too.  The interesting thing I think is that they were here for such a short, such a finite, period of time.  From what we have discovered so far, it looks like they only stayed until the early 420s.”

“And then what happened?” asked Felix.

Professor Coombes’ moustache stretches across his face when he smiles.  “Exactly!”  He punched Felix in the shoulder, nearly knocking him over.

Investigating why the Romans suddenly packed up and fled back over the mountains will keep the Diggers and academics in Rookpot employed for many years to come.  I am not the only one to suspect it probably had something to do with the other Peoples.  I have spent many an Industrialism and Politics lecture (a subject devised a particularly fiendish sadist – death by dullness) daydreaming about battles between Roman centurions and wolvern warriors.  There is no archaeological evidence for any skirmishes – well, none that have been discovered yet – but that has not hindered the hopeful speculation, written up in many books, on many conspiracy websites, and even featuring in a few prestigious journals.  Any new artefact or theory is immediately subjected to intense academic scrutiny, because everyone hopes it is the missing link that will prove one of the theories correct.  I’m holding out for a buried battlefield somewhere near Wild Wolvern Mey.

We managed to extract ourselves from Professor Coombes’ enthusiastic lectures after a couple of hours.  We walked along the County Road to Newmey, a beautiful little village surrounded by apple and pear orchards.  The pub, The Travellers’ Rest, has a wide and impressive range of perry and cider from the many local breweries.  We had one of each as we shared a giant Root Pie (carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, celeriac, flavoured with garlic and ginger, topped with mash potato, all encased within a thick, buttery crust). 

We were very close to Riversouth – too close to not visit.  But there was one monument I wanted to visit along the way, and it is within walking distance of Newmey.

Many people think, due to its Celtic connections, Farynshire must have numerous ancient Standing Stones.  In fact, it only has one ring of them: Giddweon, just off the County Road, and they were put up in 1962 by the Meyrick of the time, because he thought Farynshire should have standing stones.  It’s worth a visit.  He brought stones from each range of Peaks in the mountains, there is one stone made of Rookpot’s gorgerock, a couple of white stones from the seas around Riversouth (the same stones from which The White Palace is constructed), and pillars of standstone and limestone to represent the diverse landscapes that make up Farynshire.

It is in the middle of a large field of wildflowers and while I would not describe it as magical exactly, it is surprisingly peaceful.  When we arrived the only other living things were some rabbits chasing each other between the stones, and a group of jackdaws hopping amongst the rough, overgrown grass. 

We made our way back to the County Road and walked toward Riversouth until a bus finally passed us, so we hopped on that. 

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: Hen Ffydd

Hen Ffydd is the last station on the line, and the only station in the mountains. It sits at the base of Skinny Peak.

The hills become steeper and more forbidding the closer you get to the Daggerrock Range. First you pass through the gentle ambling Wessen Downs, and these lead to the Bloon Peaks, which just about prepare you for the inhospitable Daggerrock Mountains themselves.

There are five Peaks, all different from each other. Skinny is the most heavily populated because of Hen Ffydd, and tapers to a point that is usually shrouded in cloud. Next to it is short Gwyrddlas, whose slopes are covered in forests. Just behind Gwyrddlas are Mytten (Musril for mountain) Fach and Mytten Fawr, both imposing dark jagged heaps. Mytten Fach looks as though the very top was snapped off by an impossible giant. The last Peak is Tlws, known for its waterfalls, deep still lakes and rushing mountain streams.

Summer is a good time to see them for their individual beauty, with the added bonus that the weather is at its most reliable. In winter, of course, they are covered in snow and those crazy people who enjoy hurling themselves down cold, icy precipices on small bits of wood. In July only Mytten Fawr was capped in snow. Tlws’ waterfalls were sparkling ribbons in the bright sunshine.

Despite being the main urban area in the mountains Hen Ffydd is tiny. Maybe it was just the shock of coming straight from Rookpot, but I think both of us were expecting … more.

The station only has one line, one platform, and one wooden hut with a low roof, shutters, hanging baskets overrun with dead geraniums, and no visible opening hours. This is where the track ends; this is as far as you can go into the mountains by train. From here you hike or take your chances on what pass for roads in the jagged peaks, either by car or on one of the occasional death buses that make the trip during the summer months. On the other side of the mountains is the rest of England, but this was not the way to get to it. There were always proposals put in front of Rookpot Council on the feasibility of building a viable, reliable and safe transport system through the mountains, but the expense, planning permissions, logistics, and actual reality of attempting such a mammoth project means that nothing ever happens.

You can see all four of the other Bloon Peaks from a Here Marks the Spot on the platform, and get a good sense of their individual characters. Turn around and you face the gently rising green flanks of Skinny Peak, the Peak with the most villages on it. Hen Ffydd itself is all uphill from the station: no flat bits to be seen. The main street, for want of a better word, is wide enough for two cars to scrape by, and it is laid with almost-black cobbles that glitter when hit by direct sunlight. The buildings are square, squat and stolid; a lot of them look as though they have been hewn from massive boulders. The different coloured roof tiles, shutters and doors must be a welcome warmth in the winter when everything is cold and grey. In summer they complement the splashes of colour of the flowers and butterflies in the meadows between the Peaks. The shutters are thrown open and geraniums and posies shine brightly in the window boxes. Old signs hang over the door of any building offering any kind of trade: the village shop has one with a painted basket, the butcher’s next door has ominous looking cleaver, the souvenir shop a jester’s head, the baker’s a loaf etc etc.

At the crossroads at the end of the street was the oldest-looking building: a heap of rockery and aged crooked timbers, with a faded dark shape on its creaking sign that could once have been a four-legged winged dragon – and the only reason I could even guess at that was because the red writing over the door announced that the building is called The Dragon.

“That’s the pub,” announced Felix, from the guide book. “The only pub in the village,” he added, in a poor attempt at a Welsh accent.

“And where’s our B&B?”

“It’s called The Last Rest, and it’s down – up – Cheesepig Run.”

“You are making that up!”

“Nope. It was named after a pig escaped from the abattoir’s van with a large amount of cheese.”

“The pig stole some cheese?”

“Sounds like it. Do pigs eat cheese?”

“Let’s find the place first, then we can ask.”

Finding places in Hen Ffydd is not difficult. There are about five streets a car could get down before they became narrow alleyways which then lead to open mountainside. Cheesepig Run was one of the wider avenues, and it seemed to mainly consist of B&Bs.

The Last Rest had green-blue tiles, shutters and front door, all newly painted, and fragrant bluebells in the window boxes. It was, appropriately I suppose, the last B&B on the street that ended abruptly in a large heap of loose scree.

The Last Rest sounds like a funeral home,” sad Felix.

“I assume that’s not what they were going for.” I knocked on the door.

An old woman who was smaller than me answered. Her snowy hair was arranged in a tight, neat topknot on the crown of her head. Dark grey eyes were sunken in folds of deep wrinkles. She beamed up at us and grabbed at Felix’s backpack, hoisting it over her shoulders as though it was full of feathers. If she did run a funeral home, it was a very cheerful one.

“You’re from Rookpot, yes? Just got in? Found us OK?”

“Yes, thank you,” said Felix, clearly not sure whether he should try and reclaim his backpack.

“Trains OK? They should be OK at this time of year. Winter really messes with ‘em. They can’t cope with our snows. My name’s Bea, Bea Proke. We spoke on the phone, didn’t we? You’re Felix. So you must be Mabel. I had an Aunt Mabel.”

I get that a lot.

We signed in, paid our deposit, and Bea Proke insisted on showing us to our rooms up a flight of stairs that turned sharply at ninety degrees halfway up. Felix insisted on taking his backpack back. Bea continued chattering throughout all of this, and it was a bit of a relief when she closed the door and left me alone in my room.

It was nice enough: small, floral, clean, with a wash basin but no ensuite. The window overlooked the lower slopes of Hen Ffydd and the countryside beyond. I could see the railway line, and wished a steam train would puff into view to complete the scene.

Felix and I met in the lounge on the ground floor that is next to the cramped dining room, and has doors out to the small back garden. The lounge is crowded with threadbare armchairs and small sofas. Watercolours depicting various mountain scenes cover the faded pink wallpaper. The one bookcase is crammed with guides, maps and books other travellers have left here over the years.

“Did you ask about the pig?”

Felix was studying his Walking and Wine in the Bloon Peaks, and did not look up. “You have to work up to these things.”

I sat next to him on a sofa. “Found something for tomorrow?”

“There’s a trek across the valley to Gwyrddlas – that’s where the vineyards are. We can get wine and honey, have lunch, see what’s there. Shouldn’t be too taxing.”

“Sounds good. Are there any gourmet delights in Hen Ffydd we can try tonight?”

“No Michelin stars that they boast about, but there is a place that claims it has the best beer and sausages in the whole of Farynshire.”

“More pigs.”

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: On a train

We took over an entire table in the carriage, and Felix flicked through Walking and Wine in the Bloon Peaks that he had bought in the Beech.

“We have to go to a vineyard,” he said. “And they grow citrus fruits in some places, so there are lemon and orange groves.”

“I’m surprised they get enough sun for that.”

Felix shrugged. “They must do: I don’t think any of it is grown in greenhouses. And I have to get some honey. They sell honey from the mountains in Rookpot, and I’d love to talk to the beekeepers about it. A lot of the cakes in Lacey’s have mountain honey in them.”

“Does it say anything about the best place to try and see wolvern?” I asked.

Felix looked up wolvern in the index at the back of the book. “I think we need to go further in to the mountains,” he said, after glancing at the relevant pages. “Or maybe ask in one of the local pubs if anyone has seen one. I doubt we’ll see any, though – it’s not like they’re just running through the forests.”

“We’d should still try.”

And thus the duel quests of our Tour were established. Felix’s mission was to explore the many and varied local culinary delights Farynshire had to offer, and mine was the county’s rich culture and history.

I hadn’t really thought about the Peoples themselves when planning this trip, but we were going to the mountains, the forests and the coast – we might see wolvern, foresteens and seafolk. Felix said he had never seen a seafolken – and he had grown up right by the sea.

The only individuals I had met who said they had seen any of the Peoples were guest speakers and presenters on my course. The Peoples are elusive to the point of becoming semi-mythical. Everyone knows that they are out there, or had been at some point, but few have ever seen a live one. There are academics at the university who have built their careers around studying one or more of the Peoples, and all of them had given talks on our Local History module. But, from what other Professors hinted at, these academics and their chosen areas of interest were not highly thought of in academia: they were seen as chasing myths and legends, rumours and fairytales. But I, as an outsider, find the Peoples fascinating, and was convinced we would see packs of wolvern, groves of foresteens, and … shoals (?) of seafolk.

The train bounced gently along through the lush green countryside. The sky was a clear blue dome, the thick grass rippled in waves in the soft breeze, the meadows were full of wild flowers vibrant with celebratory colour. We rushed passed a couple of fields filled with new red and violet poppies. Small woods dotted the fields, and clear slow moving streams sparkled in the distance. Occasionally we could see the distant blue wall of the  mountains when the train came to a bend. This was a direct train to Hen Ffydd so there was no stopping at the tiny villages we blared through – a good thing too, otherwise we might have been tempted to get out and wander around.

The plan was to spend a couple of days in the mountains, not going any further than the Bloon Peaks. We would stay in a B&B in Hen Fffydd, the last station on the line. The train would pull in during late afternoon.

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: EassenBren

I realise we are already three posts into our Grand Tour and we haven’t left Rookpot.  I promise we will!  But we have to quickly stop off at EassenBren first.

If Dameg Square is the administrative and cultural centre of the city (and the county), EassenBren is its artistic heart.

It sits on a slope.  Rookpot’s theatre, Ye Reven, overlooks the Square from its elevated position.  It has been inspired by the temples of Ancient Greece, but each classical pillar is a bright block of colour: rich purple, blood red, sky blue, sun yellow, lime green.  Branching out on either side of it down the slope are two rows of very different buildings.

On one side is a terrace of five-storey, pastel coloured Georgian houses, with baskets on chains hanging outside the front doors that pedestrians have to duck to avoid.  The baskets are full of geraniums, peonies and sometimes herbs.  These face the artists’ workshops: protected by a long roof covered in slate tiles.  The smells of oils, paints and clays waft around the Square.

In the middle of the Square is EassenBren’s fountain.  Dameg’s fountain was designed by an architect who really liked black oblongs.  EassenBren’s is a perpetual work in progress.  It is an evergrowing collection of earthen artworks produced by the craftsmen in the covered workshops.  Every artist creates a small figurine, usually a grotesque caricature of themselves, which is placed in the fountain.  There are also some larger pieces loitering near or in the water.  A carpet of coins from all over the world and from different eras glitter under the water.

Felix headed straight for The Lilac Beech.

This is the lavender building in the middle of the Georgian terrace.  A faded wooden sign, adorned with what looks like a peeling painting of a bunch of grapes but is more probably a peeling painting of a tree, hangs over the door.  The large cross-latticed windows display piles of pristine books, and posters advertising upcoming events.  As Felix pushed the door open the bell above us tinkled and we were hit by the smell of new books.

The ground floor of the shop is open plan with displays scattered throughout.  Every wall is lined with books, floor to ceiling, except at the far end where there is a large fireplace, occupied by a huge earthen pot filled with rose and lily petals in the summer.  It is surrounded by squashy armchairs, wingback chairs, and a few beanbags.  The children’s area is on the far side of the shop from the fireplace, strewn with cardboard books and toys on colourful fluffy rugs.  Rising up from the middle of the shop is a wrought iron staircase wound tight like a corkscrew.  The door to the courtyard at the back of the shop was open to let the warm summer sun in.  The pale purple leaves of the rare and ancient tree that gives the shop its name shine with summer glory.

It was tempting to sit by the cool fireplace, browse a few books, and maybe have a cup of sweet tea, but we had a train to catch.

Felix bought Walking and Wine in the Bloon Peaks to guide us through the mountains, The Living Forests for Gnivil and Oes, and Meyricks, Musril and Mermaids for when we reached the coast.

There was no need for us to rush.  Our train would not depart for another twenty minutes.

I think the best way – certainly the most dramatic way – to leave Rookpot is via The Drop.

On maps, The Drop is Newton Hill, the steepest street in the city.  There are handrails on either pavement to help pedestrians stay upright.  There are frequent petitions to the Council for a chairlift to be installed, but this is not considered a good use of public money, and would negatively impact upon the medieval aesthetics; and besides, exercise is good for people.  I do feel for anyone who has to work on The Drop, though, especially the baristas at Lacey’s, the coffee shop that sits at the top, looking straight down the hill.

We decided we had time to get an iced bun from Lacey’s.  The important thing about the buns is not the flavour – often not discernible beyond sweet and bordering on sickening – but the colour.  You can request any colour of icing.  Felix chose turquoise; I always had forest green.

Walking down The Drop with dignity takes practice.  I will strongly advise now, though no one will heed my heartfelt warning, not to attempt this whilst drunk, no matter how much money is involved in the dare. Doing it sober is enough of a challenge. Those of a nervous disposition use the rail; the more experienced manage to keep upright by themselves; children run and quite often do not end up in a crying heap at the bottom.  Perhaps a wiser investment than a chairlift would be crash mats at the foot of The Drop.

We landed safely enough and made our way to the grand Victorian train station, finishing off the iced buns as we boarded the train.

When Felix had said, right at the start of planning the trip, that we were going to take the long way round to his family home on the coast, he wasn’t kidding.  The first place we were going to from Rookpot was the Daggerrock Mountains – in the exact opposite direction from the coast.

Mabel Govitt (by kind permission of Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: Dameg Square

The most famous city in Farynshire, possibly the only place anyone over the mountains has heard of, is Rookpot.

It sprawls over a steep tor that is cut in two by a deep dark gorge, along the bottom of which flow the cold waters of the Darkflint River.

When people think of Rookpot it’s the gorge that they immediately picture.  Then it’s the Squares surrounded by cobbled streets and Cuts.  This medieval heart of the city is great to explore: there’s always a new boutique, gallery or bookstore to discover in the warren of narrow alleys that no car could ever get through.  That’s the other thing everyone notices: all the bikes, scooters, and lately segues and blades – because these are the only modes of transport that can go everywhere in the city.  Buses have to skirt the outside of the medieval centre and use the the wider, more modern roads.  Trains come in at the city’s only station, at the base of the tor.  We had decided that this is how we would leave Rookpot.

If students are lucky they will get accommodation on Wessentor – which is the half of the city with the Squares, history and night life.  Felix and I had been in halls at the bottom of Wessentor in our first year, which is where we had met.  In our second year we had had to move, and the only affordable place we could find was on Eassentor.  Eassentor is not a bad place to live or anything, but it’s just so ordinary compared to what’s over the gorge.  There are streets of terraced houses on Wessentor’s lower slopes, as well as some discreet luxury apartments near the centre, and the very expensive villas close to the summit of the tor.  But most Rookpotians lived in the more ordinary suburbia on Eassentor, which was encroaching slowly and inevitably off the tor and into the countryside below.

Neither of us wanted to leave Rookpot from Eassentor.  So, with our backpacks making us look like tourists in our own city, we made our way across one of the many bridges that span the gorge, and went to Dameg Square.

Dameg Square is the centre of Rookpot in every sense.  It is halfway up the tor and the gorge cuts through its ancient cobbles and the neat rectangle of grass right in the middle.

I have spent a lot of time in this Square.  The Museum and the Library stand next to each other, and face the ancient Cathedral (the foundations of which were laid in the thirteenth century) and the Council Chambers.  The green in the centre of the Square is home to a solitary oak tree that seemed to be dead for all of the time I had been at university; it is bent almost double, long branches dangling down into the gorge.

The Square is always busy, night or day.  We bought slushes from Rhewogydd.  Rhewogydd has been providing ice slushes to the Council workers, families, tourists, and students hustling through Dameg Square for at least twenty five years, and his pink van near the edge of the gorge is a sure sign of summer.  His ever-growing menu is bound in a novel-sized tome.  I recommend the cherry and rum for pure velvet indulgence, but if you want refreshing coolness on a sweltering hot day – and you don’t fancy jumping into the fountain – you have to go with mint and cucumber.

We sat on the wide white Museum steps to drink our slushes and people-watched.  It was a hot day in June so the bustle was a little fatigued, except in the fountain where children and students splashed.  The office workers, shirt sleeves rolled up to their elbows, ties loose and untidy, made the most of their brief escape.

A story time event had just finished in the Library, and the parents with prams were milling about outside, the adults chattering loudly, their small children chasing each other around in the safety of the Square.  When I had first arrived in Rookpot as a fresher I had been horrified at the sight of small children – or drunk students, or Council workers staring at their phones – shrieking and playing excitedly close to a chasm plunging hundreds of feet to a fierce river below.  But I had gone completely native, and was now confident that no child would fall.

There was nothing – no barrier, fence, not even cones – to stop anyone from plummeting into the gorge, yet nobody ever seemed to.  Only seven people had ever died this way in the whole history of the city.  The gorge was narrow in Dameg Square, and brazen Rookpotians casually jumped across on their way to work, hardly breaking their stride.

The exhibition in the Museum was Coastal Treasures, advertised on the listless banners hanging over the steps.  I had been a week before, and it was an interesting exploration of the expeditions and research focused on the coves and beaches along Farynshire’s coast between Tropsog and Sylnmouth, and the shipwrecks and treasures that had been discovered beneath the waves.  Felix was inspired to go scuba diving when we reached the coast.  I was less keen, and hoped he would forget this notion by the time we reached the sea.  He was also inspired to buy a few guide books, which I was much more on board with.

Sipping on our slushes, we made our way along the edge of the gorge to the Cut that linked Dameg Square with EassenBren.  Rookpot was riddled with these Cuts: long, winding, red-bricked alleys lit by old iron lanterns even on a sunny summer day.  This was the most famous and well-used Cut as it linked the two most important Squares.

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: The first post

So this is the first post on this website.  Big responsibility.

I should explain what’s going on.

My name is Mabel Govitt, and I’ve just graduated from Rookpot University.  Last summer me and my friend decided to explore this extraordinary county.  Adam Court (something to do with the Tourist Board, I think) asked us to write about our experiences in a series of blog posts.  This is the first of those.

So, just before my final Musril in Context exam at the end of my final year, Felix came up with a plan.

“Mabel.  Why don’t you come with me this summer?  Stay at my house, meet the family.”

There is always a slightly odd emphasis on family whenever Felix speaks of the extended ap Hullin clan that seem to occupy an entire village on the coast.  Before I could scramble up an excuse, he went on:

“We can go the long way round – see a bit of Farynshire.  Go to the mountains, the big forests, Sylnmouth and Riversouth.”

This was a more attractive prospect.  I had spent two years at Rookpot University, and although I felt I had got to know the capital fairly well in that time, I had not explored the county of Farynshire at all.  I was studying its history, culture and languages, most of my lecturers had local interest or specialism, and I had visited exhibitions at the Museum, Library and various galleries on the city’s steep slopes.  But I had never ventured into the mountains that separated the county from the rest of England, or visited the dramatic coast where Felix was from, or the forests and countryside inbetween.

I didn’t want to spend the summer months waiting at home in Bristol to see if I had made it into the third year (spoiler alert: I did). I needed a distraction.

We used the time between studying for exams, panicking about exams, and taking exams to research our trip.

I had thought that Felix, born and raised in Tor Calon on the coast, would know a lot more about his county than I, a more recent student of its wonders, did.  But, as it turned out, I knew more about why Musril was spoken most widely in Riversouth, how Rookpot came to be the capital, and the difference between peers and magnates.  He had heard of all of these things, but they were just background noise to Farynshire natives.  This was one of the reasons Felix wanted to travel: I was always educating him on his own county, which he found interesting, but:

“You can’t learn it all from books and museums.  You have to go out there and live it.”

I agreed.  There were so many places in this small county that I wanted to see – and visiting Felix’s family could be interesting to.

By the time of my last exam (Museums, Masques and Festivities: Cultural Appreciation Throughout the Years) we had a rough itinerary.  We did not want it to be too detailed because the whole idea was to be spontaneous and adventurous.

The obvious starting point was Rookpot.

Please join us.  🙂

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)