After our coverage of countryside travel last week, it’s time to share the Intrepid Explorers™ experience of one of the outlying settlements. Maldon is one of the “larger” towns with a population of around 2500 (don’t laugh, please). Surrounded by woodlands, if you don’t have a guide you could easily miss it and think that you’re travelling in completely untouched wilderness. Cultivated fields and orchards surround the town, but as previously stated there is no road leading to it. Your best landmark is Maldon River, which leads you to the watermill and fishing areas, and then you can follow a dirt path to the town square.
The town square is where the weekly market is held, and a good meeting place. Buildings of note include the town hall, used for social functions, and the guesthouse where travellers may stay. Don’t expect comfort or single rooms! It’s wise to bring sleeping bags and mats if you wish to make use of the communal accommodation. At least it’s kept clean. Food is provided from the quaintly-named “guest-tithe”: a custom whereby households that can afford it contribute a portion of their food every day for distribution among visitors or the needy. Ruralite travellers will often barter goods or service for their accommodation, although guesthouse managers will accept coinage too. It is possible to arrange accommodation in private houses, for appropriate payment. When this correspondent first visited, the mayor of Maldon generously offered a room in his own house, in return for a favourable mention. Upholding our bargain as agreed, the favourable mention is this: the mayor’s hospitality is like nothing I have ever experienced before.
Travellers with city origins will be struck by the generous distance between houses, even the more modest ones. Space really isn’t an issue with such a small population. With only two exceptions, the buildings are single storey. Naturally, you’re curious about the exceptions. One is the posthouse, where messenger birds are kept and launched on their journeys from the upper storey. The other building belongs to the rather eccentric town artisan, and it seems he constructed an upper floor to his house in the spirit of architectural experimentation.
What can you do on your visit to Maldon? Don’t expect sophistication in the settlements. You could walk around the entire town in less than an hour. You must, however, appreciate the pristine state of the surrounding terrain, and it’s a great place for people who wish to go hiking or rambling.
A word of warning, however. The locals are paranoid about so-called beasts, and you will cause an enormous amount of alarm if you mention seeing any mammals — or even other four-legged creatures — on your rambles. So if you do encounter any, keep it quiet. As far as we know there are no wild animals large enough to be dangerous to a sensible traveller although some of them might give you a nasty nip. My advice would be to carry a stout stick or walking pole — certainly no need for firearms or more advanced weapons.
This concludes the Intrepid Explorers™ introduction to the places of the Numoeath and travel within it. Our next article will feature an interview with one of the good inhabitants of the realm. Watch this space!