To the west of Port Naain, the cliffs curve round to the north above Nightbell point. The cliff tops are quite popular as a picnic destination in summer, but personally I feel that the place really has to be seen in autumn as the gales roll in from the ocean and the great breakers smash against the foot of the cliffs.
Many years ago there was a castle, now ruinous, and it adds a certain stark romance to the venue.
Quite a lot of years ago, (I suppose I was just a boy) a philosopher called Naet Twead purchased the castle site for a purely nominal sum from the city. His plan was to do up one of the towers. He would then dwell within the tower and live an emeritic lifestyle, growing his own food in his own garden. Searchers after truth would seek him out, sit at his feet and learn wisdom from him. Funding of this lifestyle was never really discussed, and the assumption was that these previously mentioned searchers after truth would bring money with them.
Apparently his plan was simple. The tower needed a roof and also would benefit from having a first floor adding, as all the timberwork had long ago rotted away. This would be no great expense because a bare hundred yards from the tower there was a vast amount of timber, free to anybody who wanted it. It was driftwood brought ashore by the various tides. On the positive side there was a lot of very usable wood. On the negative side, whilst it was barely a hundred yards from where it was needed, it had to be carried up a hundred feet of cliff on narrow and precipitous paths.
This posed a problem for Naet Twead. He had something of an aversion to hard work, having chosen philosophy as a career because it had seemed to him to be the perfect indoor job with no heavy lifting. To be fair he wasn’t built for hard work. If he’d been taller he might have aspired to willowy. As it was those who knew him best merely characterised him as a ‘short streak of misery.’ Just to make things harder, he also lacked any manual skills, being barely capable of cutting wood for the fire. Also his garden singularly failed to flourish. Not only was he a remarkably wretched gardener, but the soil was also poor. Two months into winter he was found, cold, hungry, and huddled in a corner of the tower, under the one bit of roof that didn’t leak.
He was found by Alun Doorback and his wife Arna. They were a young couple of farming stock, newly married, (so newly married that Arna still thought of herself as a bride rather than a wife) who were looking for somewhere to set up a farm of their own.
Naet offered them the castle for a lift back to Port Naain and a good meal. Arna took him back to the city in the cart. Because she was a shrewd young lady she took him first to a lawyer’s office where the deed of sale was drafted, signed and witnessed. Then, because she was a kind young lady, she took him to the Flensers so he could fill up on the buffet. To be fair, given she’d paid the legal costs and the buffet cost a full vintenar, Naet probably got more for the castle than he’d paid for it.
When Arna arrived back at the castle with a cart load of things she knew they’d need, Alun had already explored below the cliff. They unhitched the horrocks from the cart and with a good long rope had it hauling timber up from the beach. If you’d visited a week later you’d not recognise the place. Alun had given the tower a good thatched roof, a first floor and Arna had made herself a stove under a lean-to against the castle wall.
For most of the winter, Alun hauled timber and seaweed up the cliff. The timber was either set aside for building or sawn for firewood. The seaweed he spread on the ground he intended to plough. By next summer saw them with crops planted, and with a handful of cows producing milk for cheese and butter. Not only could you see the handful of cows, you could sit in a pleasant enough tea house Alun had built, and there you sample the cheese and the butter.
Now people who drink large quantities of tea do tend to need other facilities, so Alun built a privy. He gave it a lot of thought, the contents of the privy would also help build up soil fertility. As they discussed the matter one evening over their tea it was Arna who came up with the idea of the sweetest privy in Port Naain.
It was quite simple. When it was finished, to get to the privy one walked along a sloping bank and stepped through the privy door. There you sat, looking out over the ocean. Obviously there was a window that could be closed, but still the view was stunning. The constant breeze meant that the air was fresh, and the fact that the privy had a drop of perhaps twenty feet beneath it was enough to guarantee that there were no lingering smells. So popular was the privy that Alun had to build another one next to it, this one a three-seater for parties.
The years rolled by, Alun and Arna started a family, their business flourished and finally they moved out of the tower into a house Alun had built. It was then that Tildan Waterquern came knocking on their door. Tildan is a philosopher of sorts. He proposed that he rent, ideally for a mere pittance, the tower, and set himself up as a sage who could be consulted on sundry matters. He felt that the tower was far enough out of the city to make it seem remote, but was not so remote as to put people off visiting.
Arna made a counter offer. If Tildan would teach their children to read and write during the mornings, he could have breakfast with the family and live in the tower rent free. Alun had also been thinking and suggested that there might be an element of partnership in the matter. After all a philosopher hermit could bring people to the tea room, whilst the presence of the tea room might bring people to the philosopher hermit. He felt that this could be a mutually advantageous relationship.
So the deal was struck. Tildan moved to the tower and revealed to the world he was freshly returned from travels to distant lands where he’d learned the secret teachings of long forgotten masters.
Anybody calling at the tea room would be told by Arna that ‘the hermit is worth a visit’. Similarly anybody visiting the hermit would hear him extol, amongst other things, the delights of the tea room. Indeed so persuasive was he about the benefits of solitary contemplation that Alun was forced to add a further two, single-seater privies, purely for meditative pseudo-philosophers.
Obviously you, dear reader, are a person of wit and discernment. Thus I have no qualms about recommending to you the following work.