Travels through Farynshire: The Wild Gift

The Wild Gift

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

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

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

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

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

You are responsible for your own safety

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

Do not ride, drive or bring anything with wheels here

Do not linger, do not loiter

Take nothing you did not bring in with you

Leave only footprints (if you must)

Do not damage or mark anything

Do not get lost – nobody will come and find you

No noise

No heavy scents

No picnicking

No flash photography

No crowds

All life here must be respected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mabel Govitt (by kind permission of Ammaceadda)

Travels through Farynshire: Soup by the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)

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 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: 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.


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)

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: 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)