Caer Ddewin, Brish, Lake Quietus and Gnivil Forest

Caer Ddewin

There is one stone circle in Farynshire, and it sits just outside the territories known collectively as Wild Wolvern Mey.  Caer Ddewin is a squat, flat-topped hill with slippery black flanks covered in wild gorse bushes.  There are secret paths to the top, but those who try to find them without a guide usually end up slipping on the shiny rock and end up impaled on the fierce gorse needles. 

The most famous story relating to the Caer gave it its name, and comes from a time before there ever was a Wild Wolvern Mey.  There are various versions of this tale, but the common threads involve one of the many skirmishes (some historical, some now nothing more than myth and legend) between humans and wolvern.  A pack of wolvern was besieged upon the Caer.  The humans had the Caer surrounded, and used their mage to create a thick fog which descended upon the summitt, until even the humans could not see or find each other.  This was an enchanted fog (it was said) and when the humans eventually broke through the thickets of gorse, torn and bleeding, they saw no wolvern, nor any sign that they had fled, and only nine hunched stones stood upon the Caer.  The wolvern had been turned to stone.

This does not sound very Christmassy so far.  But Christmas Eve is the time when the deepest magic rises up and over the ancient hill and the freezing night air is thick with the feel and taste of it.  The wolvern feel it, and their long, mournful cries echo in the darkness.  It is said that if you stay on the Caer on Christmas Eve you will see the hunched stones stand upright, come to life and frolic in the snow. 

This is definitely no longer true, if ever it was.  What you will see on the night of Christmas Eve is the Dance of the Shadows.  Everyone is invited – presumably even the wolvern, but they have yet to RSVP.

It begins in the early evening when people from the surrounding villages leave their warm homes, the fires crackling low in the hearths, and the Christmas dinners ready to be placed in the ovens the following morning.  They wrap themselves up in scarves and hats and walk out of their villages, into the fields beyond, over the frozen ground, following those with lamps and torches.  As they near Caer Ddewin they meet up with people from other villages, and excited laughter and loud chatter fills the night air.

It is unwise to try and climb the Caer if you do not know the hidden paths that wind through the treacherous gorse and provide a true surface to walk upon over the slippery slopes.  Guides from the villages lead the people safely to the summit (they will also escort them safely back down when they might be a little worse for wear after the festivities).

Lanterns are placed on long poles by each hunched stone to illuminate the flat space at the summit of the Caer.  Small fires are lit around the edge of the stone circle in order to heat up the mulled wine and melt the marshmallows.  Once everyone is comfortably settled on the blankets, rugs and cushions they have brought with them, gloved hands wrapped around mugs of steaming mulled wine, the dancers emerge from behind the stones.

The dancers are dressed in black, and they move like shadows in the warm glow of the lanterns’ light.  They make their way amongst the watching crowds, making the smaller children squeal in delighted terror.  They are fleet of foot and as soon as anyone realises they are beside them they are gone again.  The dancing can last about an hour, and it finishes with a flash of magical lights in which the dancers disappear, just like the ancient wolvern did.  At this every lantern is extinguished, plunging the whole Caer into darkness.

The challenge then is get everyone safely off the Caer and back to the warmth and safety of the village pubs.  To date, nobody has been lost before Christmas morning.

Brish

There are Christmas markets in every town and village in Farynshire, and any of them are worth a visit, but if you only have time for one, definitely go to Brish.  It is said that Father Christmas himself visits the market for gift ideas.

Brish is small town nestled in the foothills of the Bloon Peaks, and it is known for its regular snowfall.  The last time Brish had a snowless Christmas market was in 1837.  The townsfolk have a snowman competition in the week before their market, and their efforts line the main road leading into Brish, welcoming the shoppers and visitors with smiles made of coal and carrot. 

A steam-powered engine with tiny wheels and a large chimney stack pulls a small line of carriages through the streets so that people can hop on and off at the stalls they wish to visit.  The stalls line the streets around the small square in the centre of the town, selling locally made products ranging from colourful wooden toys and decorations, to handmade chutneys, cheeses, sausages, wine and ale, to exquisite jewellery (but do not believe any seller who claims that the gems in their jewellery come from wolvern mines) and crafts and stocking fillers.  You should be able to do all of your Christmas shopping here.

Shoppers make their way to the square in the centre of Brish, laden down with their wares, ready for hot food and wine.  A large pit is dug in the centre of the town’s main carpark every year for the hog roast.  A crackling pig, bursting with juices that cause sparks to spit from the fire, slowly revolves over a large open charcoal fire, and visitors line up to claim their piece.  The stalls around the pit offer all the trimmings you could want from roast potatoes, sprouts, carrots, broccoli and parsnips, to hot chestnuts, gingerbread and candied fruits, as well as bubbling fruit wines and hot chocolate.

Choirs sing carols from the doorway of the old stone church at the far end of the square, and hand out decorations for children to place upon the tree in the courtyard. 

The Brish Christmas Market lasts for three days – so make sure you get there in plenty of time!

Lake Quietus

For the months of November through to March Lake Quietus is frozen.  It does not matter what the weather or temperature is like in the rest of the county; even during the rare mild winters where there is no snow except on the tops of the highest mountains in the Daggerrock Range, the lake freezes solid.

People move onto the ice as soon as the water has frozen.  Temporary structures, some three stories high and re-used every year, and streets are set up around the edges (in case of a sudden thaw).  Many people move on to the ice permanently during these months, living in rooms above their shops.  In years gone by there was no limit or rule as to how many or who could claim a spot on the ice.  This led to fights over spaces, the Terrible Crush of 1911, and a lot of corruption. These days there is a strict map that must be adhered to.  There are limited spaces (although it still feels crowded) and applications for a spot are restricted to traders.  The streets of stalls are kept to the periphery of the lake, as the centre is where the entertainment takes place.  The lake attracts thousands of visitors, and is at its most popular just before Christmas.  It is well worth seeing at this time of year, but to avoid the really busy periods try and plan your visit for early morning.

In the days leading up to Christmas there is a carnival atmosphere.  Fairgrounds are set up in the centre of the lake.  At first these were merry-go-rounds and stalls for shooting wooden ducks, but these days they include bumper cars, waltzers, and a rollercoaster that climbs high above the lake and takes its riders in a wild ride over the temporary streets and stalls.  Circus and music shows are put on in the large tent (bring a cushion to protect yourself from the chill).  During the day there is sled racing, curling and ice-skating. 

After Christmas the lake becomes a lot quieter, though some traders take pride in staying right up until the ice starts to finally melt in the spring.

Gnivil Forest

If you happen to be in Gnivil Forest at Christmas time you might notice something strange.

At this time of year most of the forest slumbers.  If there are foresteens amongst the leafless trees they are deeply asleep.

Well, most of them are.

You have to be quiet and patient and careful.  If they know you are there, you will not see them.

Even if you are quiet and patient and careful you might not see them. 

While the oaks, elms, beeches, birches, alders and the other warm-blooded trees sleep, it is the time for the holly, mistletoe, ivy, spruce and fir to come to life.

The best chance of seeing anything is on a clear night when the sky is full of cold white stars.

But it is only if they think nobody is looking that the winter trees light up the dark forest.

Holly berries burn brightly as their dark leaves shimmer with their own internal luminescence.  The mistletoe glows so brightly that it lights the tangled forest paths, each tiny berry a soft halo.  The ivy berries are clusters of darkness that is blacker than the night itself, so dense that they could be holes in reality. 

There are tales that those who have strayed from the forest paths and become lost are guided back by silver dust glittering amongst the needles of the firs and spruces, the only trees in the forest with any green in winter, a sign of life and resilience even in the deepest snows.  Nobody has ever collected any of this dust (though many have sought it), and it seems to only appear to those in need of guidance.  Sometimes, from a distance, an ethereal silver mist can be seen rising from the depths of Gnivil Forest, rising up to the bright stars and dissipating in the cold winter night.  If you run into the forest to try and find where it comes from, you will never find it.  

The foresteens are always elusive, but if you are quiet and patient and careful, and most of all, lucky, you might glimpse them enjoying winter.

Experience Christmas in Sylnmouth, Rookpot and Riversouth

Sylnmouth, Rookpot and Riversouth

Sylnmouth

Christmas starts in Farynshire in the port of Sylnmouth, specifically in the Sylnmouth Sentinel that has overlooked the port for over two hundred years. 

On the 1st of December every year the Sentinel’s guiding light, historically used to guide ships into the safe waters of Sylnmouth Harbour, turns red and green and sweeps across the boats and pontoons.  Then the fireworks erupt over the city, signalling the start of the festivities. 

Sylnmouth homes have already put up and decorated their trees, and at the lighthouse’s signal everyone switches the Christmas lights on.  This starts in the boats on the water, then the homes that overlook the harbour, and then ripples back from the sea into the suburbs and villages.  And it does not stop on Sylnmouth’s boundary.  Watched from the air, it must look like a wave of light washing out from Sylnmouth across the whole of Farynshire.

Rookpot

Rookpot tor lights up when it gets the relayed signal from the coast. 

The Ayres, one of the oldest Peer Families, decorate all of the city’s streets.  Their own magnificent hall, The View, is festooned with decorations and lights, and adorned fir trees line the drive from the road up to the house.  The View is the centre of the festive party season for the Peer families, and beautiful balls and celebrations are held every night in December.

The Peer families give the first donations to the Doorway Feast that begins as soon as the lights are switched on, and goes on until twelfth night.  Christmas meals are put out for all of the city’s citizens to enjoy in the entrances to the most famous public buildings: The Raven Theatre, The Lilac Beech, The Library, The Museum, the Cathedral, and the Council Chambers, and all the churches.  Everyone donates what they can, and an army of volunteers prepares the meals, taking them to the homes of those who are housebound.  This means that Christmas dinner happens across many nights, but it is different to the dinners everyone enjoys on the 25th because it is held with the community, out in the Squares, or on the church pews, the cold city air filled with the rich smells of roasting meat, hot broth and sizzling vegetables.

If snow falls on the city, the inevitable happens and, despite the City Council’s warning and lines of cones, the most precipitous street in the city, the Steep, becomes an impromptu sled run.  It truly is a Christmas miracle that nobody has been killed during this increasingly popular annual event.  Participants can compete to:

  • Be the Most Intact Sled to Arrive at the Bottom of the Steep
  • Have the Most Father Christmases on Board
  • Have the Most Christmassy Sled

The winners of each category receive a bottle of hot ginger rum and a net of satsumas (and a year’s worth of bragging rights).

          Dameg Square

A giant blue spruce dominates the centre of Dameg Square during the Christmas period.  The tree is chosen from the forests on the mountain of Gwyrddlas in the Bloon Peaks, and transported to the city by train from Hen Ffydd.  It is Rookpot Council’s gift to the city, and it always arrives with small parcels in the branches that anyone can take.  Over the years, people have placed their own homemade presents amongst the tree’s needles for strangers to take.  Dameg Square’s permanent sylvan resident, the bent oak that sits on the edge of the gorge, slumbers at this time of year, oblivious of the baubles, tinsel and lights that have been draped all over it by passers-by.

The dark gothic Cathedral is the focus of Christmas celebrations in the Square.  Thousands of candles make the colours in the stained glass windows blaze brightly at night.  On Christmas Eve the pews are full of Rookpotians singing carols and sharing mince pies and a few glasses of sherry.  At the end of the official service everyone spills out into the streets and the singing continues as people wander home or gather around the trees in the Square with mugs of hot chocolate and coffees (sometimes with an added shot of rum or whisky) from Lacey’s, the most popular and creative coffee shop, open late into the night at this time of year.  Eventually everyone makes their way home before Father Christmas begins his rounds.

          EassenBren Square

It’s pantomime season in The Raven Theatre in EassenBren Square.  There are usually at least three different productions throughout the season, as well as more serious offerings, ranging from family friendly through to definitely not for those with a delicate constitution.  You do not need to go into the Theatre to see a show.  Open air orchestral performances, formal and informal dances are performed on the steps of the theatre, no matter the weather.

Many of the artists’ covered workshops opposite The Lilac Beech are taken over by Christmas projects.  Hundreds of unique decorations can be bought straight from the artist, many of which appear on the fountain or on the trees in Dameg Square. 

In the city’s (probably the county’s) most famous bookshop, The Lilac Beech, shivering visitors pour themselves a mug of wassail from the punch bowl, and then sit in the comfy armchairs in front of the open fire.  The small Christmas tree twinkles with lights, and paper chains loop over and around the bookshelves.  All of the Christmas cards received by the bookshop are strung together and hung from the ceiling beams.  Holly and mistletoe entwine around the wrought iron staircase that links all the floors together.  The shop bustles as people try to find a last minute present, shuffling around the tables piled high with books.  Their purchases are placed in colourful paper bags and tied with string; if you see anyone with such a bag around Rookpot you know they have been to The Lilac Beech.

Riversouth

In Riversouth, Christmas, like everything else, revolves around the Meyrick.

The Meyrick’s Gift is presented to the incumbent Meyrick, and is traditionally from all of the people in Riversouth.  A procession of children make their way up the Zag to the White Palace, and the Meyrick opens the gates and accepts the gift.  Since the mid-nineteenth century the gates have then been left open and the children lead the local people into the White Palace for the Commoners’ Feast.  This is a lavish affair held in the Golden Hall, and it is the only time of year that most people ever get to see inside the White Palace, let alone attend a party paid for by the Meyrick. 

On Christmas day every Riversouth house will find a gift outside their front door, wrapped in blue and white paper and tied with a silver ribbon.  The small silver card is inscribed with the words: From your Meyrick.

The Ocean Frost Ball is the most anticipated event in the Farynshire social calendar.  This invitation-only gala brings together the county’s high society in a glittering event that raises eye-watering amounts of money for various good causes. 

The only limitations placed on the design of the ball is that it must adhere to the Meyrick’s colours of silver and blue.  The best, biggest and most luxuriant white tree is felled from the Meyrick’s personal forest (which is made up of albino versions of oaks, beeches, elms, firs, spruces etc.) and brought to the centre of the Golden Hall where it is embellished with ropes of thin silver loops and chains and bright bejewelled (with real jewels) baubles. 

The guests waltz around the tree to music played by orchestral groups from Farynshire, and the Meyrick’s own hand-picked string quartet leads the way.  Once the dancing is over the guests move outside to the wide terrace that overlooks the ocean.  This terrace sits at the very edge of the White Crag.  A magnificent silver and blue fireworks display entertains the guests, and the rest of Riversouth, and any seafolk that might be passing by. 

After the fireworks is the feast, widely known as the Feast of Farynshire.  A selection of wines is served in crystal glasses: rich ruby root from the vineyards on the distant slopes of Gwyrddlas, sparkling Marwolaeth White, and the slightly salty Pink Prydferth.  The menu is always made up of produce from around Farynshire, and could look something like this:

Starters

Smoked salmon from the River Spurtle with fresh dill from the fields of Cheth Aracely

Roasted parsnip soup with fresh cream from the small village of Hessen. 

Main Course

Turkey from Riversouth farms

Sea bass caught from the sea around Riversouth. 

Please help yourself to anything from the mountains of crispy roast potatoes, parsnips, butter-glazed sprouts and broccoli, honeyed carrots, and red cabbage with walnuts and apple (all harvested from the gardens, orchards and fields from across the county).

Pudding

Rum-soaked Christmas pudding

Spiced apple, smooth ice cream and cranberry port.

After dinner, if the guests are able to, there is more dancing.  For those who are too stuffed to dance there are large fires and hot ginger punch.

For a wilder Christmas, see how they celebrate in Caer Ddewin, Brish. Lake Quietus and Gnivil Forest

Musril

Musril is not technically classed as a dead language, but its prospects do not look good.

It is Farynshire’s native language, and it has never been spoken beyond the Daggerrock Mountains in the rest of England.  Even within Farynshire’s borders it is considered a niche language: both English and Welsh are spoken more widely and are generally more prevalent in everyday life. 

Keeping it on life support are the Riversouth Scribe.  The Scribe is situated in the White Palace in the city of the Meyrick, and is a collective of Musril scholars, academics and experts.  The head of the group is also, confusingly, called the Scribe.  The Scribe’s self-defined role is to preserve, defend and promote the integrity of Musril.  Riversouth is the only place where Musril is spoken widely, although even here it is spoken as more of a patois with plenty of English and Welsh in the mix.  Schools in Riversouth teach Musril, but few students opt to carry on learning the language passed secondary school age. 

The spoken language may be on the wane, even within the county’s borders, but written Musril is more widespread, particularly in geographical names: towns, villages, and natural features such as rivers, mountains and woods.  The Scribe in Riversouth has campaigned to have Musril on all road signs in Farynshire, with mixed success.  In the area around Rookpot, English is usually the only language on a sign, unless a place name has Welsh or Musril elements (such as Wessentor or Cwm Purne).  In the mountains, Peaks and foothills all the signs are written in English and Welsh, with a smattering of Musril in Wild Wolvern Mey where Riversouth’s influence was once dominant and now lingers in place names that include the Mey element (Meyvale, Bremey, Mistymey etc.).  In Riversouth itself the signs are written in Musril, with a small English translation included on the most important and life-saving ones. 

Musril’s survival and future may lie in a surprising place.  One of the most interesting revelations that has come from the re-emergence of the wolvern is the confirmation that Musril is spoken by the other Peoples. It appears that Musril is the only language spoken by the wolvern, and it has enabled clear communications between the Bloon Peaks Clan and the expeditions sent from Rookpot to learn about them. The expeditions have brought back many wonderful and intriguing objects (many on display in Rookpot Museum’s Cold Earth Exhibition), and these have included fascinating examples of wolvern Musril writings.

This revelation has had a dramatic impact on the Scribe.  They have believed themselves to be the guardians of the purest form of Musril, forever battling the corrupting influences of the foreign invaders, English and Welsh.  Mischievous and provocative academics in Rookpot University have pointed out that the wolvern version of Musril must be more pure, because it is completely uncontaminated by other languages.  To their credit, once they had gotten over their initial indignation, the Scribe’s curiosity took over, and they sent representatives to join the Museum expeditions to the wolvern clans in the Bloon Peaks both as translators and in order to learn about the wolvern Musril.

There has not yet been conformation that the foresteens or seafolk speak Musril, but Diggers from Rookpot Museum, and academics from Rookpot University, are engaged in research projects to investigate this further.  The implications of the research are very exciting: Musril could be the common language between the Peoples, and it could be the key in reaching out to establish good relations.  It also raises questions, the main one being how can the Peoples speak the same language?

The Lilac Beech

Some history

Rookpot had been a city since before the eleventh century. At first there had been a wooden stockade around the straw-strewn streets and thatched houses, then there had been stone walls – remnants of these can be seen in the modern city.  Outside of the walls other settlements sprang up as people were drawn to trading and employment opportunities in the city.  These settlements consisted of crude stone houses, and these were passed on and renovated over several generations.  By the sixteenth century there were small leaning houses with hearths and two storeys. Sixteenth century maps of Rookpot show that the medieval city had broken free of its stone walls, and the tor was becoming more populated and more affluent at this time.  Narrow streets branched off from the centre, Dameg Square, up and down the hill.  One of the areas that was on the rise was what would become EassenBren Square.

According to the microfiche records of The Rookpot Chronicle (1420-1643; 1645-1801; 1811-1833; 1840-1922), which are available in the Local History section of Rookpot Library, Greta and Alun Collins purchased one of the leaning houses in a street above Dameg Square and opened a “store fore the sellings of informatione” in 1510.  This store was called The Boke. 

The original shop was a ramshackle affair. Advertisements in tiny print in the newspapers boast of a store for informatione in worde, printings and hearsayings. Come hither, booksellers, buyers, distributors, experts in knowledging, the fantastical, the travelles.  We welcome your enquiries

The Boke was the first, and for a long time, the only bookshop in Rookpot.  It employed agents who travelled over the mountains to the rest of the country, and beyond Britain’s shores to Europe and Scandinavia, and occasionally to the Americas: all to gather information, and, increasingly, to buy books.  The books were brought back to sell in the bookshop: curios, popular texts, anything related to Farynshire, particularly anything written about the Peoples (a rare subject outside of Farynshire).  The Boke also took orders from those that could afford to purchase books, and the agents would be tasked with procuring volumes for prestigious clients.  It was said that it was a Boke agent that brought the Cathedral’s Tyndale Bible back from Europe at the request of a rebellious priest.  The University also made use of the intrepid agents to bring back academic and radical tomes for their own libraries.  The agents also took catalogues with them that contained titles published from the printing press on Eassentor, Rookpot University Press, and for sale from The Boke.  The bookshop’s reputation and business grew exponentially.

During this time Rookpot itself had grown.  It was the capital of Farynshire, the county’s largest city.  EassenBren Square had also swelled to house the burgeoning population, especially those who could not afford to live in the Cuts around Dameg Square.  EassenBren was not as ordered or impressive as Dameg Square – in fact, it was a squalid over-crowded slum, with no management or planning to the haphazard and precarious housing.  It was primarily known for being a cesspit of crime, disease and frequent, sometimes accidental, fires.  It was also home to the city’s theatre, which ended up being the Square’s saving grace.  When the old wooden theatre burned down for the seventh time (almost certainly caused by a playwright who had resented the poor reviews his latest offering had received in The Chronicle) it was re-built with brick and mortar and called Ye Reven.  The fire also wiped out a lot of the wooden slum houses, clearing space for new growth.  After the fire, The Boke was one of the largest properties left standing.  It too had grown to accommodate its business, and by the time Ye Reven was built it had numerous extensions that made a higgledy piggledy place filled with nooks, crannies, hidden rooms, and thousands of uncatalogued books.  The fire saved EassenBren, and essentially created the artistic hub we know today, with the new theatre and the ancient bookshop at its heart.

The Boke had always had a good relationship with the theatre, even before the fire. In its rooms many a playwright worked on their latest piece, and the shop would sell copies to actors and theatre-goers, and promote the plays for the theatre.

In 1727 Ye Reven was bought by Sir Edward Ayres, head of the wealthy philanthropic family who would have such an impact on Rookpot over the years, right up to the present day.  Sir Edward invested heavily in renovating EassenBren.  In particular he wanted spacious and suitable accommodation to house his affluent friends who often visited Rookpot for a night at the theatre. He proposed knocking down the ramshackle stone houses that had survived the fire, and building in their place a terrace of beautiful new houses. He also planned to install a fountain with clean water, and an area for artists to work and display their creations.

There was huge protest at this proposed destruction, not least for the two hundred year old bookshop at its heart. But Sir Edward gave assurances that anyone who owned property in EassenBren would automatically be given the lease and rights to one of the new terraced houses. Once he showed the suspicious and disgruntled owners the architectural plans, all protest ceased.

By 1737 the terrace was built. The Boke moved into a central, five-storey house, and was renamed The Beech (the Lilac was added in 1836 by a new owner) for the indomitable purple-leaved tree that had survived the growth of EassenBren, the squalor, the fire and now its resurgence and reconstruction (one of its descendants resides in the back yard of The Lilac Beech to this day).

Today

The present owner of The Lilac Beech is Nolwenn Hughes, possibly the most knowledgeable person on Rookpot Tor.  The bookshop has had numerous owners over the years, passing through several families and business owners. There was much excitement when Nolwenn’s mother bought the shop, as she was a direct descendant of Greta and Alun Collins, the original founders.  It was destiny.  It looks set to continue in the family, as Nolwenn’s daughters, Eira and Elwen, work there too when they are not studying at the university.  Like previous owners, they live on the fifth floor, and the other four floors make up the shop.

Nolwenn inherited Parry Gwent, who has worked at The Lilac Beech since the 1960s.  He is officially a sales assistant, but he is also a bookseller, curator, local history expert, recommender, shelver and tea-maker.  If you want a recommendation for a book on Farynshire history, Parry is your man.

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, around which gather a motley collection of 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 that twists up through the centre of the building. The door to the courtyard at the back of the shop is open in the summer, so that peopled can read their books under the whispering purple leaves of the tree.  Behind the counter with the enormous till is the main staircase and the backroom with a back store room and a small kitchen.  Next to the till are the cakes and treats that Nolwenn, Parry and the Beech’s regulars bring in. It is not unusual to find either Nolwenn or Parry sitting with their customers, or a reading group, or a group of children, discussing books, reading, history, unicorns, what’s on at Ye Reven, with thick slices of lemon drizzle and mis-matched cups of sweet tea. In the winter the ground floor of The Beech is a popular place to come and warm up in front of a cozy fire.  But those hoping for a quiet doze are usually woken rudely by loud and verbose arguments between Parry and a lecturer from the university or a historian from the Museum on obscure topics such as the disputed succession of a sixteenth century Meyrick, with each enthusiastic participant hauling battered leather-bound tomes off the shelves to back up their point.

If you want peace and quiet, the second floor is probably your best bet.  This is the Local History section, and it is crammed with guide books, biographies, histories, old editions, first editions, myths, legends, leaflets, pamphlets … anything to do with Farynshire.  Here you will find serious scholars, genealogists, maybe the occasional reporter, studying or researching at one of the few battered wooden desks – after they have removed the stack of books from them first.

The third floor is where the various local groups meet.  This floor also has a large fireplace, with a wood-burning stove in the hearth, a black iron kettle quietly whistling on the top plate.  There are noticeboards on the walls advertising various events and meet-ups.  Anyone in Rookpot can use this space to meet.  The most frequent users have been reading groups, the Local History Group (every second Wednesday at the Library in Dameg Square, every third Friday at The Lilac Beech),  Mrs. Hackett’s Knitting Club (examples of their work can be found scattered on the window seats), the Produce Rolling Steering Committee, and the Clean Up Rookpot Campaign.  It has also been the meeting place for many radical groups who have had to hide from the authorities and meet in secret; these range from religious sects persecuted by the Council, to the Censored Council of Rookpot of 1855, to Iver Morys and his supporters when the robbing magnates were after him.  There were even rumours that the third floor of The Lilac Beech had provided a safe place for refugee wolvern when the Council were looking to expel them from the city.

The fourth floor is the Map Room.  Some of the most rare and treasured maps and charts are now housed in the Museum vaults, but they still belong to The Lilac Beech.  The agents who brought books and custom to and from Rookpot when the bookshop was called The Boke either bought or created their own maps of their travels.  There are also shelves and shelves of Farynshire maps by wolvern and human cartographers, and possibly even one or two by seafolken too, charting the waters around Riversouth and Sylnmouth from an unique perspective.  This is the first stop for any Museum Digger planning an archaeological expedition anywhere in the county.  As any cartographer knows, maps are stories and histories as well as guides, and the treasure trove on the fourth floor tells the history and legends of Farynshire and its Peoples.

The Lilac Beech is the history of Rookpot in particular, and Farynshire too.  It welcomes the curious, the radical, the argumentative, the contemplative, and those who like to lose themselves in perusing shelves of obscure and popular books with a cup of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle.  People come in for the love of books and stay for the company and cake.

Travels through Farynshire: Over Pippleford

The next stop was the village of Over Pippleford, nestled on one of the bends of the River Pipple as it meanders slowly to the sea.

Over Pippleford’s limestone cottages are white washed with roses and violets entwining up through trellises, their front gardens filled with summer flowers, their roofs thick with thatch. The green in the middle of the village has a small, well cared-for cenotaph surrounded by faded paper poppies and a couple of wooden benches. A post office, greengrocer’s and butcher’s face the green. Another street leads to a field with a cricket square neatly shaved in the middle and a white shed serving as the pavilion. Most importantly, there is a pub: the Forest River that sits right on the bend of the Pipple.

Score one for the Forest River: it serves no green ales. There are some refreshing lagers and cool mountain wines, but I went for the homemade lemonade, and Felix tried the local waterweed fizz. He sipped it cautiously and pronounced it “gritty but not unpleasant.”

Most of our fellow passengers from the coach were in the Forest River. We shared a table with an older couple who were making their way back to Sylnmouth from a trip to Tlws.

“We go every year, every year,” said Mr Bill Ness. “Spectacular, it is. Great for kayaking, and we tried jet skiing this year too.”

“Then in winter we go to Mytten Fawr,” said Mrs Sandy Ness. “For the skiing.”

“Have you ever seen a wolvern?” I asked.

“Wolvern won’t come near the resorts up there,” said Bill. “I doubt there’s any in the Bloon Peaks at all – too many people, far too many people. You need to go further into the mountains if you want to even catch a glimpse.”

Felix and I glanced at each other, thinking about the loping shadow in the mist during the crazy journey back down Gwyrddlas.

“’Course, there’s plenty what have seen ‘em,” continued Bill. “You hear stories from all the instructors up there. The mountains must be riddled with wolvern if you believe all the folk that say they’ve seen one!”

“How about seafolk?” I asked.

“Near Sylnmouth? Hardly likely, hardly likely. If there are any left these days – they’re rarer than wolvern, I reckon – they’ll be in the less populated parts of the coast, away from Sylnmouth and Riversouth. Are you headed that way?”

“In a roundabout way,” said Felix, before I could enthusiastically leap in and tell the Nesses that Felix was from Tor Calon. I wasn’t sure why he did not want people to know, but I kept quiet anyway.

Bill picked up on Felix’s evasiveness, though. “You’re not from Farynshire, right, Mabel?”

“No, Bristol. We’re studying in Rookpot.”

Bill looked expectantly at Felix. “My family lives on the coast.”

“Near Sylnmouth?”

“Further up; nearer Tropsog.”

Bill looked like he wanted to ask more questions, but sipped on his beer instead.

“Was this your first visit to Gnivil Forest?” Sandy asked me, after an awkward pause.

“Yes. It’s beautiful.”

“I always think it’s like another world,” said Sandy. “So peaceful and still compared to anywhere out here.”

“That’s the foresteens,” said Bill.

“Are there some in there, then?” I asked, perhaps too eagerly.

“Of course. All over. You didn’t see any?”

I shook my head.

“Mabel’s very interested in the Peoples,” said Felix.

“Everyone is,” smiled Sandy.

“I’ll tell you something, though,” said Bill seriously, looking me straight in the eye. “You might yet see a foresteen. They don’t just live in the forests. Most folk don’t realise that it’s the foresteens what are the most widespread of all the Peoples. Most folk think it’s the wolvern, but they mostly keep to the mountains. Foresteens can be found all over, all over.” He might have winked at this point, but I was distracted by the arrival of our lunch.

As befits its name, the Forest River boasts a menu full of fish, freshly caught from the clear-flowing Pipple. I was quite excited at the prospect of such a fresh meal, much to the amusement of my three dinner companions from the coast. Felix and Sandy did not even choose a fish dish. Bill went for a deeply filled fish pie.

I had never had perch before, mainly because it wasn’t something my local chippy offered covered in batter. The fish melted in my mouth, along with new potatoes, green beans and garden peas glazed with thick yellow butter. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was, but we hadn’t eaten anything at the Lake of Doom, so my last meal had been Bea Proke’s hearty breakfast in Hen Ffydd.

Felix had ordered a duck salad, and made quick work of that too. I felt like I could just order another perch, or maybe carp this time, but there was a dessert menu, so we went for that instead.

There was a pleasant burbling of contented conversation in the pub of happy travellers enjoying their meals and surroundings. The Pipple babbled along outside, shallow and slow moving in the summer months, the mountain waters in no rush as they made their way to the sea.

“Where does the river come out on the coast?” I asked.

“It merges with a few others further down, and they join together to make the Maw Cauldron. You should check it out if you’re heading in that direction, though it looks most impressive in winter when the waves are up and it’s properly churning.”

“Does the Darkflint come out there?” I asked.

“It’s got its own mouth further up the coast, near Riversouth. I assume you’re going to Riversouth?”

I nodded.

“Have either of you been there before?”

I shook my head.

“A couple of times,” said Felix.

Bill nodded, and again did not press Felix any further. “It’s a beautiful city,” he said to me instead. “Very different, very different, from your Rookpot.”

“Is the Meyrick in residence?” asked Felix

“I believe so. It’s usually widely announced if she leaves the city, and I don’t recall hearing anything.”

“Will that make a difference?” I asked.

“There’s usually more going on if the Meyrick is in the Palace.”

But we weren’t heading to the coast yet. We left the Nesses and the rest of the coach party, all heading down to Tropsog, and we caught one of the twice daily buses from Over Pippleford north to join the County Road.

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: Gnivil Forest

As soon as we decided we were going to do this trip, we knew we had to see the Forests. Farynshire has two, very different, Forests. The first we came to, situated between the mountains and the coast, was Gnivil Forest.

It crept up on us. The coach pulled up onto a low ridge that gave us lovely views over the meadows and copses we had just travelled through. But that was nothing compared to the view of what we were about to travel down in to. Gnivil Forest lies entirely in one valley between two limestone ridges. A layer of thin mist draped over the lush canopy, as though the trees were producing their own microclimate. It looks like an exotic rainforest, but this is ancient British woodland, and all its trees are native. Although managed and looked after, Gnivil is not a hub of tourism like the Lake of Doom: there are no garish attractions or parks here. Most ancient woodland is managed in cycles and does not have room for very old trees. But in Gnivil there is no coppicing: the ancient trees are protected and allowed to dominate the spaces.

What everyone immediately notices about Gnivil is that it is living spelled backwards. This has irked etymologists over the years. Farynshire has three official languages: English, Welsh and its indigenous Musril. English might be the most widespread, but it is still the newest, and some hold the view that the name for Farynshire’s most ancient woodland should not derive from the upstart invader. Considerable (some might say obsessive) effort has gone into trying to tie Gnivil to some forgotten Musril word – the hope being that its connection to English is just an unfortunate coincidence. There are tomes written on this subject; explanations for the name are in every guidebook for the county; there is probably a department in Rookpot Museum devoted solely to discovering the “true origins” of the name. One of my professors, Doctor Rhyll Jones, is passionate about this subject, and has written papers and subjected his students to many lectures on how Gnivil’s etymological roots are as Farynshiren as its tree roots. But however it happened, the forest ended up with the most appropriate name it could have.

There are no roads in the forest, so the coach dropped us off at the edge of the tree line. There are no signs announcing when or where you enter Gnivil: the road just peters out into a wide pebbly carpark. A few cars, four-by-fours and an ice-cream van were parked there. This was the only concession made to humans.

Spring is supposed to be the best time to visit Gnivil, when the trees are full of blossom and new leaves, and carpets of bluebells, wood anemones and primroses cover the woodland floor. But I can tell you that it is glorious in summer too. The warm sunshine makes the greens breathe with life, and there are still flowers in the clearings, and lining the wide corridors between the ancient misshapen trees. In Felix’s The Living Forests there was an excellent flora and fauna section, and we managed to identify wild garlic, violets, a bunch of what were probably celandines or buttercups, and a few fading primroses. There is also plenty of fauna: butterflies – smaller, more delicate than those in the mountain vineyard – and bees made the most of the flowers. Great tits, bullfinches and chaffinches flitted busily around their half-grown chicks. We saw a couple of woodpeckers who regarded us suspiciously from a head-high branch as we walked beneath them.

We hurried through all this, though, because there is one place that you have to go to if you’re in Gnivil Forest.

There are no sign posts in the forest, so you have to rely on maps and the well-worn trails. And few of the trails are worn as well as the one that leads to the Wise Grove. After a mile of walking through the peaceful forest, and across a few wildflower meadows, you come to the edge of a shallow bowl crater. A few saplings gather on the grassy banks, overlooking the group of seven trees in the middle of the depression.

Even I, who cannot tell an oak from a pine, could see that each one was a different type. Luckily Felix’s book had a whole chapter on the Grove. The most imposing one is the ash, because it is the tallest. The yew, with its peeling reddish trunk, is the wildest, and takes up the most space. The oak’s twisted branches are clad in new green leaves. The elegant apple tree rustles on one side of the yew. The stunted thicket of hazel huddles close to the ash. Felix informed me that the other short one was an elder, and the least impressive, darkest and most ordinary looking of the group is an alder – but it would produce catkins at some point, which made it more interesting to me.

To the surprise of many historians, Druidism has never been widespread in Farynshire. It has certainly been there, but not as extensively as some might have guessed given the pervasiveness of the Welsh language and Welsh names. One theory about the Wise Grove was that it was the centre of their limited influence. The official guides and respected academic publications could find no other credible explanation for the careful plantation and arrangement of seven different types of tree. And these official explanations, of course, went out of their way to avoid the word foresteen.

The literature mentions tree spirits, and would often recollect the many myths from various cultures about world trees, living trees, the believed powers of trees etc. but it was all just backstory and scene-setting, it was never addressed as anything remotely serious. And it was only in this context that Farynshire’s “living trees” were sometimes mentioned.

There are, of course, any number of books on foresteens, like there are on all the Peoples, but they are always shelved in the folklore or mythology section in book stores, even in The Lilac Beech. These books write that the seven trees in the Wise Grove are slumbering foresteens.

Now, I’m not saying I believe this theory, but there is definitely something … different about the Grove. The whole forest is serene and peaceful, and when we went we could feel that the trees, the birds, the butterflies, the bees were all enjoying summer with a smile. But I got the feeling as we walked down the banks of the Grove that the seven trees were not smiling. It was not sinister or even unsettling, just sombre and a bit subdued. It felt like a place for Serious Business. It was a place of respect. Everything was hushed here. It was a contemplative place. Neither of us spoke a word until we had climbed back up the banks through the on looking saplings. We didn’t take any photos.

I would love to say that I saw faces in the trunks of those trees, but I did not. I don’t know if foresteens even have faces. I looked at each one, right into its knotholes, and they all have their own characters, for sure, but they still looked like … trees. According to folklore, if one of them awakens and looks at you, they can see into your very soul, which does suggest they at least have eyes …

The birds did not seem at all bothered: they landed in the branches, or scurried through the leaf litter. I think there are blue tits nesting in the oak, which showed no signs of caring.

We looked back down at the Grove from the top of the bank. The leaves were thick and bright and gilded by the summer sun in gold. There was a slight haze over the hollow making the trees look slightly out of focus.

I recalled the over the top tourism at the Lake of Doom: a blatant attempt to cash in on a local legend about one of the Peoples. The thought of something similar happening to the Wise Grove made me feel sick to my stomach. Viewing platforms sunk into the raised earthen banks, open-sided vans selling plastic figurines of each of the trees. But this would never happen. Gnivil Forest was a Natural Park and protected. And the idea of interfering with the Grove seemed like blasphemy.

We left quietly. The Grove instils respect and reverence in all who visit it. We were back at the car park before we had a proper conversation.

Mabel Govitt (by kind permission of Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: Lake Quietus

Our train was in no rush as it ambled slowly through the foothills on its way to Lake of Doom, Farynshire’s largest lake.

OK, its real name is Lake Quietus. For most of its history everyone thought that that referred to its still and peaceful waters. But the true meaning of the word is the fulfilment of a debt. And once the story of the debt became widely known the lake became associated with Doom.

Legend has it that the lake was once home to a community of Lakefolk (basically, seafolk that live in a lake). This was unusual as seafolk are usually seen on the coast. I don’t think any of them live in rivers or lakes any more. But this community did. The local human Baron kidnapped a mermaid princess after seeing her bathing in the shallows and losing his heart to her. The Lakefolk demanded her return. The Baron refused, and this led to a violent conflict between the two Peoples. The Lakefolk tried to rescue the princess, but most of them perished. Finally a noble human knight took it upon himself to rescue the mermaid princess, and because this is a fairytale legend, he succeeded. The King of the Lakefolk was so grateful that he gave his daughter (the poor princess who had already been forced into one marriage, but I’m sure she really loved the knight …) to the knight along with the entire lake, as he had decided to relocate his people back to the ocean. The knight and the princess went on to rule their now mostly empty kingdom fairly, prosperously and peacefully, and had many fishesque children – which the locals are said to be descended from. I’m not sure what the moral of tale is supposed to be, but that is why the lake is called Quietus – for the debt paid to the knight for his heroics.

Lake Quietus does not sound nearly as interesting as Lake of Doom, though, and there are so many weird and fascinating places in Farynshire that a catchy name is an essential marketing tool. So the legend has been reconfigured slightly to emphasise the attacks, kidnapping, violence and wholesale exodus and has assumed the nickname Doom.

And the locals really capitalise on their famous legend.

It’s basically a giant waterpark, and a very popular tourist destination in the summer months (who doesn’t want to be able to say that they spent their summer holidays at the Lake of Doom?). After the peaceful paradise of the mountains, it was a bit of a shock to arrive at a place full of shrieking children, stressed parents, and glassy-eyed holiday reps.

The Lake sits between two round hills. It is dominated by Trident Castle, the large waterpark that has taken over the area. A tangle of flumes loop, curl and plunge up, around and down into the cold water. Pedalos, rubber rings and large foam structures bump into each other on the surface, crowded with people. At the deep end of the lake is the diving centre with three piers and a few motorboats berthed outside. Quietus’ depths contain archaeological evidence of a long abandoned community; some believe it is the Lakefolk community of legend, others that it is a human village that had been flooded centuries ago.

We headed to this end first because I wanted to see the Education Centre, a modern glass building that holds history in displays and glass tanks. Visitors are welcomed by the Legend of the Lake of Doom depicted on large display boards in curly writing and evocative artwork. Seafolk imagery dominates the entrance: watercolours of mermaids playing in the Lake, nineteenth century portraits of seafolken hang next to modern digital photographs of murky underwater scenes. Heavy wooden bookcases sit beside glass display cases. The bookcases are tightly packed with leatherbound volumes of stories, histories and mythologies of the Lakefolk specifically, but also broader texts on seafolk in general. The glass cases display artefacts recovered from the Lake.

I was in my element: I love museums. Rookpot has plenty: as well as the infamous Rookpot Museum in Dameg Square, there is also the Museum of the Walls, Cotton Production Through the Ages, Bookbinders and their Ilk, and a Museum dedicated to the Evolution of the Cobbles. All of them utilise small squares of card to provide details on each artefact. The Education Centre does the same thing, but each card gives two possible versions of each artefact’s providence.

A smokey blue clasp caught my eye. It had been worn smooth by centuries spent underwater, but it was still recognisable as a fish with a hollow eye where I imagined a jewel had once been set. The card beside it read:

This exquisite brooch was recovered in 1976 by one if the diving teams sponsored by Rookpot Museum. It was part of a small collection retrieved from one of the Weed Caves at the north end of the Lake.
Its origin has yet to be fully determined. Its design has been found in other waterside settlements in the mountains, especially on Tlws in the Bloon Peaks. It could also be evidence of the Lakefolk that are believed to have lived in the Lake, as per the local legends.

I doubt I’m the only one to imagine a mermaid princess wearing the clasp in her long golden hair (I have no idea if mermaids have golden hair in real life; quite a few of them in the nineteenth century pictures certainly did). It was a much more exotic and romantic notion than a cold human huddled in the mountains clutching the clasp as their only solace in a bleak, endless winter. When we reached the end of the exhibition I pretty much believed in the legend of the mermaid princess and her human knight. I bought a fridge magnet, a teatowel, and a book, History of the Legend, from the little shop.

Felix had not bought into the legend. He had followed me around the exhibition making scoffing noises and rolling his eyes. I suppose it must have seemed very strange to find such an entrenched seafolk legend in the foothills of the mountains to someone from Tor Calon on the coast where seafolk were occasionally still seen.

“Have you ever seen one?” I asked, not for the first time.

“Maybe. Not up close. We get dolphins and porpoises as well, and from a distance it’s hard to tell the difference.”

“Between a dolphin and a mermaid?”

“Well, yeah. It’s the tails.”

I had tried many times over the two years of knowing Felix to break through this evasiveness, and, like on this occasion, had failed each time. We were going to end up in Tor Calon at some point (if I had any say in the matter), so maybe I would find out more then.

The village of Quietus lies above the Lake and is home to people who work in the waterpark and the Education Centre. It has been designed to look weathered – as though it has been there for centuries – but after the squat rubble houses and narrow alleyways of Hen Ffydd the wide tarmac roads and faux-Tudor buildings look far too modern. It does have lovely views over the Lake. I looked closely at the locals to see if I could discern any Lakefolken ancestry in their faces – unusual eye colour, slightly leathery skin, the hint of gills on their necks … but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and eventually Felix got embarrassed and told me to stop staring.

We left the Lake of Doom on a coach that was heading for the coast, though we would get off before we reached the sea. I had never seen such blatant and crass commercialisation cashing in on Farynshire’s unique history before, and I wasn’t sad to leave it behind.

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: Mountain wine

There was no trace of a hangover the next day – probably thanks to the sausages.

Bea Proke makes the best cooked breakfast: yet more sausages, bacon, fried and scrambled eggs, black pudding, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms (I had an entire plate of these), beans, toast, homemade marmalade and two pots of tea.

“Most of my guests are here to go walking and you need a big breakfast to prepare you for the Peaks,” said Bea Proke, as she brought two more racks of toast to our table.

This was our only full day in the mountains: we were catching the train out to the Lake of Doom early the next morning. This limited our trekking options. The Myttens were out – we would need to hire an off-road vehicle to get to them. We could make it to either Tlws or Gwyrddlas’, but not both. The vineyards Felix wanted to visit were on Gwyrddlas’ verdant slopes, which proved the deciding factor, because although I would have loved to see Tlws’ lakes and waterfalls, especially on a hot summer’s day, there was not much else to do on that mountain, unless you were into water sports – which I’m not. Felix had also used Walking and Wine in the Bloon Peaks to show me that wolvern sightings were uncommon but possible in Gwyrddlas’ forests.

The narrow, hedge-bound country lanes meandered through fields in the valley, and they were full of summer flowers and new life: everything that was alive was enjoying the bright summer day. I’ve never really been one for nature, but even I felt that we had stepped into some sort of Garden of Eden where everything was colourful and bountiful and happy and living in harmony with every other living thing. There were probably fieldmice in the wheatfields. We saw hares chasing each other through wildflower meadows, and by the clear streams a stork and a flash of bright blue – that I initially declared to be a hummingbird, but on reflection was probably more likely to be a kingfisher. We saw the occasional farmhouse in the distance, but there were no other signs of human life.

Of course, the whole area is managed by the farmers and the Natural Park authorities. Farynshire has seven Natural Parks: designated protected wild areas. Three are in the mountains, including the whole of the Bloon Peaks region, two on the coast, and the last two are the forests of Oes and Gnivil.

From the valley floor you really get a sense of the size and character of the individual Peaks. Skinny Peak towered behind us as a crude spire, whilst ahead Gwyrddlas’ slopes were dark green, leading to its rounded summit.

As the lanes started to gently curve upwards, wooden signposts informed us that there were a few vineyards in the area. Felix had chosen Huan Gwenynen, as one of his ap Hullin relatives knew the owner, and he had found it in the fold-out map in Walking and Wine.

Like the meadows below, the slopes of Gwyrddlas are well managed. The oaks, beeches and birches give way to pine forests further up, and interspersed with the trees are the vineyards – mostly on the Peak’s eastern flanks that get the most sun. The western side has fewer roads and darker forests.

Huan Gwenynen was at the end of a rough path made into a tunnel by the overarching branches of tangled hawthorn, which beams of sunlight broke through to criss cross our path. The path led up to a ridge, and below the ridge lay the vineyard.

A white-walled cottage sits at the entrance to the vineyard. It is built in the same squat, rubblesque style we had seen in the streets of Hen Ffydd; a reminder that although today everything was peaceful and serene, we were in the mountains and it was a harsh environment in winter.

From the courtyard outside the cottage we could see a stable block, some long, low barns, and a modern conservatory at the rear of the cottage that looked out over the valley. A grubby grey sheep waddled out to greet us. As it got closer it looked more like a dog, but I was never entirely convinced. It snuffled around Felix who ruffled the dreadlocks on its head.

“Barney!”

The sheepdog turned its head in the direction of the cottage. A bald man with a walking stick limped out to greet us. The sleeves of his checked shirt were rolled up to his elbows, his faded jeans were stained with dried mud, heavy workboots thumped in the gravel.

“Lost, are you?”

“Mr Cled? I’m Felix ap Hullin. This is my friend, Mabel. You were expecting us?”

“Of course I was, of course I was. This time of year we get all sorts lost on the mountains.” He shook each of our hands. “I’m Arawn Cled. This is Barney. So – one of the Tor Calon ap Hullins, eh? You’re a long way from home!”

Felix shrugged. “Mabel’s from over the mountains.”

Arawn did not try very hard to look interested in this information. “Did you come up from Tor Calon?”

“We came from Rookpot. We’re at university there.”

“Ah, doing the Grand Tour, are you? Well, you’ve picked a lovely summer for it. Will you be heading to Tor Calon along the way?”

“Maybe. We are planning on going to the coast.”

“If you see Henry, tell him we’ve got some new varieties he’s interested in. He sent a gentleman called Reuben up here a couple of years ago. Relative of yours?”

“My cousin.”

“He took back quite a few crates. I’ve laid out some samples so you can take back your personal recommendations.”

Arawn and Barney led us passed the cottage to the veranda overlooking the vineyards. The vines covered the slopes in regimented lines of stunted trunks and long, delicate trailing tendrils. The veranda was where Arawn brought his guests to show off his lush green empire. A long wooden table with a sturdy white table cloth took up the middle of the veranda, and was surrounded by chairs and a battered sofa, which Barney immediately curled up on and went to sleep.

“I’ll get Ruth to bring out some wine for when we get back. Follow me down.”

A wrought iron staircase – not unlike the one in the centre of The Lilac Beech – wound down one side of the veranda to the dusty track that ran above the vineyards. We crossed the track to walk amongst the sweet-smelling vines. The path between the vines is bare earth, but Arawn pointed out wildflowers like poppies, cow’s parsley, clover, and the occasional primrose (I wrote them down so I wouldn’t forget) that added drops of colour in the shaded roots of the vines. The vines themselves were carefully tied in ways to keep them secure and ensure productivity (Arawn did explain a lot of the technicalities, but I failed to retain most of it). Flowers bloomed on some of the vines, and bees worked furiously whilst butterflies floated on the warm air.

As we walked along, Arawn used his walking stick to flick a stone or move a tendril carefully to one side so he could peer underneath. Occasionally he whipped out what looked like a nail clipper to cut a shoot or a twig he did not like the look of.

“People are often surprised to find vineyards on a mountain in northern England, but it just so happens that Gwyrddlas provides us with an almost perfect location with regards to the right growing conditions. Just look at all of the natural woodland and other flora on her slopes. She seems to absorb the sun into her – it can feel almost Mediterranean up here at times. What can be tricky is the harvesting.”

“When do you do that?” asked Felix.

“We try to leave it as late as possible, so usually late September. But, as you can imagine, weather affects everything we do here, and the harvest more than anything else. We’ve had the snows come in August, and we’ve had summers stretch into October. The weather determines the character of the wine, and some years are better than others. The worst years are when we get wet summers – small grapes and a low yield.”

“How do you harvest?” asked Felix. “I didn’t see any machines.”

Arawn swung his stick around to take in their surroundings. “How would we get machines up the mountain and over the ridge? The closest we can get is the track below the restaurant, and the biggest vehicle that can get up that is our old truck. So we couldn’t use machine pickers even if we wanted to. But I wouldn’t use ‘em anyway. We use people from the local villages, and they have a discerning eye. They make sure we only get the best grapes.”

“How long has the vineyard been here?” I asked.

“Over sixty years. My great uncle planted the first vines here. He was born and bred in the valleys and saw the potential on the mountain slopes. Your grandad, Henry, came to see him when they was both young men.” Arawn bent awkwardly to scoop up a handful of dry soil. “It’s all in here, see? This mountain is ancient, with roots stretching to the centre of the earth, and all that age and wisdom in its soil feeds our vines, and gives our wine a timeless richness. You can taste the mountain in the wine. Would you like to try some?”

Ruth was Arawn’s wife: middle-aged, very fit, with a long silver plait hanging over her shoulder. She had laid out a few bottles of wine on the long table on the veranda, as well as bowls of salad, loaves of local bread, cheeses, pickles, a massive pork pie, and assorted fruit tartlets. Barney lifted his head curiously from his place on the old sofa, sniffing in the direction of the pork pie.

Living and studying in Rookpot, I thought I was used to stunning views, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more magnificent vista than I did that afternoon drinking wine in Huan Gewnynen.

Ruth had brought five bottles for us to try, and she assured us that a ’88 had gone into the summer fruits trifle waiting in the fridge.

Arawn’s version of wine tasting was to … just drink a glass of the chosen wine. There was not much swishing, gurgling, or commenting on what kinds of fruit and wood we could taste. What he did insist on, though, was a particular wine for a particular kind of food. The clear sparkling white went with the cheese, followed by a more mellow pinkish variety with the pork pie. He gave us a list of everything we had sampled that Felix could take back to his granddad and cousin.

As the sun moved around behind us, it occurred to me (through something of a wine-induced fog, admittedly) that we had no plans as to how we were going to get back down the mountain. Despite the seven glasses of wine (and not counting the fruit salad ’88), I had enough awareness to know I did not want to try and get back to Hen Ffydd in the dark. A chill was creeping into the warm evening, accompanied by wisps of mist.

Arawn offered to take us back in his track, but Ruth insisted, as the most sober one out of all of us, that she would do that.

The truck had once been blue, but was now mostly rust with one green door and a red roof. It had an open flatbed to carry supplies and wine. I’m not sure I could have made that trip back with my nerves intact without a good amount of wine inside me. Ruth clearly knew the mountain like the back of her hand – but that was of little reassurance to me when she suddenly swerved down sudden drops, twisted away from trees in the middle of the road, and skidded over mudflats. It felt like we were going to die with every turn of the steering wheel.

I spent most of the journey with my eyes squeezed shut, clutching Felix. But there was one point when the truck slowed right down and Felix nudged my attention to something outside. The mist was thick now and obscured the track completely (so Ruth was essentially careening down the mountainside blind). I did not understand what I was supposed to be looking at until I saw a shape move in the mist. It was a shadow, tall and dark, taller than Felix, with arms, a large head, and a loping gait. And then it was gone.

“Don’t often see them this low down,” said Ruth, pressing down on the accelerator again. “Not at this time of year.”

“What?” I asked, needing conformation.

“Wolvern, I reckon. Must have wondered what we were.”

I craned my neck around, trying to see through the mist and darkness. How may were out there? Would we hear howling? But there was nothing more. Just that one fleeting glimpse. But I have seen a wolvern.

Ruth dropped us right outside The Last Rest. She gave us each a bottle of Pink Huan and said she hoped to see us soon. There was no mist in Hen Ffydd – thousands of stars lit a clear sky.

I think it was quite early when my head hit the pillow, but the wine had made me sleepy, and gave me strange dreams about giant shadows swimming in fog.

We left Hen Ffydd the next day, after one of Brea Proke’s magnificent cooked breakfasts. Felix bought some blood sausages from the butcher’s on the way to the station.

As the train chugged southwards the only thing missing from the postcard-perfect scene of the five Peaks was a plume of smoke trailing behind us.

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)