A hidden gem between the Kryptgarden Forest and the High Forest, the idyllic Dessarin River Valley offers hill walks, a relaxing spa, the chance to gaze at the heavens and plenty of local legends. Having joined our team as a cub reporter, we dispatched human ranger MELISANDE CALADOR to brave a flight on a hippogriff – and the local cuisine! – to bring you this report.
Lead southeast of Neverwinter and northeast of Waterdeep and – aside from the increased possibility of orc attacks! – you’ll happen upon the Dessarin Valley. It’s a region steeped with history and tales of ancient, epic struggle but that only tells half the story, as it also houses plenty of attractions certain to threaten and challenge the most stalwart adventurer.
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Those looking to enjoy the countryside should make their way to the Sumber Hills – although we recommend less-experienced travelers and those not used to protecting themselves do so in the company of Zhentarim mercenaries. Details are sketchy and change depending on the strength of the mead in each local tavern, but talk occasionally turns to the legend of an old subterranean structure somewhere near the Sumber Hills. One old-timer in the Blackbutter Inn in Red Larch even went so far as to suggest that recent unusual events may be linked to that dusty fable, but everyone else we spoke to laughed off this talk of strange sightings in the hills.
The town of Red Larch is known for a dish called crumblecake, which supposedly has health benefits. In truth, it’s one of the least tasty ‘cakes’ you’ll ever eat (although, of the two places we tried it, the Swinging Sword’s crumblecake prevailed over the Blackbutter Inn’s recipe).
Thankfully, the nearby walled abbey and farms at Goldenfields means food availability is sustained throughout the region. This fortified and warded farm complex stretches across 20 square miles and produces both grain and vegetables.
With such a major river as the Dessarin flowing through the valley, fish are also a major food source. It’s best to make sure you know what you’re ordering, though. Considered a delicacy throughout the north, the silver shalass is a much tastier fish than the smaller brown lout, which also makes its home here.
It’s easy to see why those who live in such a forward-looking place would frown at this kind of idle gossip. The area is home to many tower and temple-like structures, staffed by priests, monks and artisans, who do much more than offer tours of their buildings and a chance to pray. Those looking to wash away the pains of everyday life should visit the bathhouse at Rivergard Keep, where a small army of skilled artisans from around the Sword Coast work day and night to restore and renovate the aged fortress. It’s a beautiful structure that is sure to promote trade and trafficking in all manner of goods, and shouldn’t be missed.
Don’t go wandering off from the main areas, though! We wanted to get a sneak peek at the everyday life of Lliira’s followers and, under the guise of looking for a dry robe, tried to head into the temple’s private areas. We were courteously but very firmly instructed to return to the baths – a security conscious mindset we found at all of the attractions in this area.
For travelers who prefer to soak up the culture and traditions of a region, there is much to enjoy near the Sumber Hills. One stunning structure that’s a must-see is Scarlet Moon Hall, home to the fiery wicker giant, a massive burning sculpture that never seems to burn down. Depending on the time of your visit, you may also be lucky enough to see druids carrying out an ancient bonfire ritual using this construct. We’re told it’s a sight to behold and have promised to return to be a part of it in the future.
Those looking for more ascetic pursuits would do well to visit the Sacred Stone Monastery, an isolated setting rumored to rest atop a series of wondrous subterranean caverns. Here, a community of monks focuses their attentions inward using various meditative techniques. While we marveled at the bouquet of their Sacred Stone Brandy, we got talking to the agent of a Waterdhavian jeweler, who had spent the day scouring the hills for rare gemstones. It’s amazing who you meet on your travels in this area, we don’t even have time to tell you about the family we helped after their boat was attacked and sunk in the River Dessarin.
Flight Of Fancy
One of the highlights of our whole trip was undoubtedly our day at Feathergale Spire, rising from a 400-foot pillar of rock and built from a combination of limestone and marble, the structure resembles a gleaming sword that pierces the sky. Feathergale knights drifted high on the winds astride gorgeous hippogriffs at all times while we were there. However, these weren’t what impressed us, and neither was the solarium filled with a labyrinthine garden of strange red and purple plants. Instead, Feathergale Spire is home to flying mount trainers and their amazing giant birds, which we were lucky enough to take a ride on! Words almost can’t describe the joy of swooping through the air and whooshing around this breathtaking building. We have to thank Waterdhavian nobleman Thurl Merosska, a member of the elite Feathergale Society flying club, for taking us up on his hippogriff and showing us those sights.
More adventurous visitors might also like to take a closer look at the ruined Halls of the Hunting Axe on the eastern edge of the Sumber Hills, or head to the village of Womford to try and catch a glimpse of the famed “Womford Bat”, a nocturnal predator that snatches people caught out after dark. Be warned: while the dwarf city does have a few partially standing cathedral-like structures remaining and Womford is a delightful collection of cottages and farms, you do both at your peril.
A trip to the village of Bargewright Inn, which is named after the tavern the village grew up around, proved to be another major highlight – but not for the reason we originally thought.
We made our way to this river crossing on the southern edge of the Sumber Hills to see the Ironford Bridge, before catching our ferry home. As the name suggests, this sturdy bridge was reinforced with iron long ago, after its wooden predecessor was destroyed by fire. The artisans carrying out the work didn’t opt for function over form, though, instead taking the time to carve the bridge’s posts into the imposing shape of rearing horses.
It’s currently extremely difficult to know what to pack for a visit to the Dessarin River Valley – if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to invest in a Bag of Holding. Unbelievably changeable weather in this region means you can expect anything from droughts, fog, earthquakes, typhoons, tidal waves, blizzards, sandstorms, torrential rain, sinkholes, forest fires, landslides, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, mud, wind, heat waves, cold snaps and other calamitous weather events – both above and below ground!
While this was impressive, the high point came as we stopped at the inn itself for refreshments. Patrons at the bar recognized Harrowind, the lead singer for the band of minstrels known as the Windwyrds, and called for him to serenade them. While he charmingly denied the offer at first, it only took a couple of glasses of ale to convince this good-looking half-elf to take up his instrument and play for the crowd. True, many of his songs are odes to a moon elf called Aerisi Kalinoth, and no doubt his songs seem more polished when the full company of the Windwyrds’ singers and flute-players accompany him, but this was still a magical and unexpected moment. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip!