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)