My trip up north!

Well folks, I’m back from my trip to the north of England, and it was absolutely glorious!

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I love a good ruin, as you may know from some of my previous posts, and this trip was replete with them – a Carthusian monastery, two castles, and a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall, to boot!

Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire was a fourteenth-century Carthusian monastery, where the monks lived in private cells and only came together on specific feast days rather than living communally as with other orders. It was suppressed following Henry VIII’s dissolution, of course, and a private house was built out of one of the guest houses. This house was later renovated in the late Victorian era in the arts and crafts style, while the monastic ruins were preserved out in the back garden. I’m a big fan of monastic ruins – indeed, religious history in general – but was really fascinated by this one, having never come across a Carthusian house before. Really interesting, I have to say!

Just outside of Newcastle, Prudhoe Castle was a Norman castle built shortly after the Conquest by the son of William the Conqueror but taken over by the d’Umfraville family, which I just think is an amazing name! Sometime mid-fourteenth century, the castle was taken over by the Percy family, the hugely important medieval Earls of Northumberland from nearby Alnwick Castle (which you may know as Hogwarts, from the Harry Potter movies). I find it really telling as to the wealth of the Percys, that they basically bought the place for their land agent to live in. Honestly! In the eighteenth century, a new house was built in the middle of the castle, which was uniquely allowed to just decay following the civil war, rather than having any deliberate damage done to it. Seems a bit strange that a country house would inhabit a shell of a castle like this, but I guess it was the height of the romantic period, and such things were fashionable!

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Aydon Castle is on the way out of Newcastle towards Hexham, and was a real discovery for me. Built in the twelfth century by the Reymes family from Suffolk, very much in the manner of setting themselves up as landed gentry in the area. What started as a manor house ended up becoming fortified as it stood on the main road from Scotland, and was being built as the Scottish Wars broke out. Now, I love the medieval period, and something I’m particularly interested in is seeing the domesticity of the era – sure, the big fortress-castles and enormous monasteries and cathedrals are stupendous to look at, but these sorts of manor houses have a much more intimate feel and, while they obviously aren’t indicative of the everyman of this time, there’s something much more “real” about them.

Finally, we come to Hadrian’s Wall! I actually visit the north of England quite regularly, and four years ago I went around a few of the forts in the area, but there was something really cool about seeing just the actual wall this time. This stretch is roughly two miles of mainly vallum – the ditch in front of the actual wall, Scottish-facing side – at Black Carts Turret, part of the stretch associated with the now-levelled Milecastle 29. While the forts were busy with people (and the dreaded school trip!), this stretch of wall was deserted (apart from some cows), which always helps to add to the atmosphere of a site. It had been quite a misty day, and despite the fact the weather was lovely, you could really feel that sense of being at the frontier of the world. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of parking here, but it was well worth hunting out!

So there you have it, some awesome places to visit if you’re ever in the Durham/Newcastle area!

Catching Up!

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good documentary, although my Sky planner is full of the things. I’ve decided to try and catch up with a lot of the stuff I’ve been recording, anyway, starting with this two-part series on the Incas. I was always very interested in the Incas, the Aztecs and all that sort of Pre-Columbian, meso- and south-American history when I was growing up, but somewhere in my late teens I seemed to lose interest.

While Machu Picchu is probably the most famous Inca relic, this documentary has introduced all sorts of other sites that look absolutely incredible, principally among them (to me), the Moray agricultural terraces shown in my tweet above. Designed to facilitate crop cultivation at high altitude, it’s another of the really humbling scientific innovations of the past!

Sleeving my entire #LordOfTheRings #LCG collection. Not even halfway done yet… #games

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I’ve decided to sleeve my entire Lord of the Rings LCG collection, a project that has been going on fitfully this past week, but is sufficiently mindless to occupy my while catching up with these things. I think I’ve used around 30 packs, which has allowed me to sleeve four decks, along with pretty much all of the scenarios released to date – not counting print-on-demand or Saga stuff. It’s a demanding task, but hopefully will be worthwhile in the end! Lord of the Rings, I’ve recently realised, is my most-played card game, and I’m concerned that the player cards might not hold up much longer. As it is also my most-beloved card game as well, it’s time to make some effort to protect it against wear and tear, methinks!

Time to relax #StarWars #novels

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying a return to some classic Star Wars with The New Rebellion, one of my all-time favourite stories from the Bantam era! Published in 1996, the story details the efforts of the Force-sensitive Kueller to set himself up as a new Emperor. Some of the story is a little, well, daft, with occasionally unclear motivations for the characters, but overall, it still stands up for me. I really enjoy the way the story is paced – it’s a big book, 532 pages in paperback, and has pretty much exactly the right amount of story within its pages. This could so easily have been padded out to form a trilogy, which would probably have diminished its impact, I would say. Lots of plots, lots of intrigue, and lots of subterfuge, with Han returning to his smuggling roots, Luke doing some Jedi stuff, and Leia going up against former Imperial senators. Even the droids have a significant part to play in the plot! Really good stuff.

Only a couple of things really detract from it. First of all, the chapters are fairly short, and a significant number of them end on cliffhanger-style “tune in next week to see if Han survives being shot in the ass” sorts of things, which kinda gets old after a while. Also, the title kinda bothers me. While “rebellion” is defined as armed resistance to the established order, within the context of the GFFA, “rebellion” conjures a different sort of sense to that which is portrayed in the novel. We see very little of Kueller and his forces until the very end, which is kind of necessary for the plot, but this means the novel is primarily one of intrigue and subterfuge – the sort of novel that I really, really enjoy, but it just feels like the title is a bit misleading.

But that’s all pretty secondary. The novel is great, and if you can still manage to find a copy, I can definitely recommend you pick it up!

#StudioGhibli #awesome

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Last week, I read this excellent post from fellow blogger, travelling in my bookcase, which reignited my interest in Studio Ghibli. I was first introduced to these anime films back in 2008 by an ex-girlfriend, with the classic Spirited Away, and really enjoyed the everything about it. We watched a couple of others, which I also enjoyed, and while I had often thought of getting some of them to watch again since we broke up, it wasn’t until now that I did anything about it. Having had an amazon voucher burning a hole in my pocket for about three months now, I hope you’ll agree, I’ve made a sound investment with it!

In the coming weeks and months, anyway, I’m sure these will be featured as I get through them!

#PathfinderACG #Pathfinder #DrunkenMaster

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Games now. Last week I finally got round to getting a copy of the new Wrath of the Righteous core set for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, having had the character pack and adventure pack two delivered from my Paizo subscription. While I haven’t actually played a game with it yet, I have found myself returning to the Rise of the Runelords game, playing with Sajan, my drunken master Monk, which has been pretty good anyway! I’m still only playing through Burnt Offerings, so there’s still a long way to go, but it’s good to be within this universe once again, though the card game can be quite repetitive so I’m not intending to play this a lot. But I have made up a new deck using the Wizard class deck, for the necromancer, Darago. Looking forward to seeing how that works with the adventure! The class decks are pretty exciting, anyway, so it’s good to see they’re going to be putting some more out this year – including that for the Monk!

Since watching the new Titansgrave series from Geek and Sundry, combined with the recent focus on the Pathfinder ACG, I’ve been feeling the need for a RPG adventure in my life. Soon, hopefully!

On the subject of card games, though, FFG has released a couple of expansions for the LCGs in the last week, and taken another look at the upcoming Great Devourer for the Warhammer Conquest LCG. The Tyranids were always going to be fun to play, and the previews for this box definitely support that idea. Of course, I’m still looking forward to the Necrons more than anything, but it looks great all the same. Some guys have recently started a LCG group at my local store – after that demo of Android Netrunner I gave, no less! – so I’m hoping to get in some more games there.

The Thousand Young expansion for Call of Cthulhu is another deluxe expansion that’s looking pretty exciting, as does Attack Run for Star Wars, the latter bringing a brand new Fate card that looks really powerful! I’ve recently made up a Sith deck for this game, in the hope that some more games aren’t too far off. We’ll see, anyway!

Remember this? It was set to be released in June, I seem to remember, but that seems to have been pushed back to next month now, I suppose in reflection of the Marvel comics being delayed, too. I haven’t kept up with the comics in years, but the Secret Wars storyline does sound vaguely interesting. Beware of following that link if you want to avoid spoilers for the comics, however!!

What’s that Volume 1 all about, on the lower-right? Hmmm!

I haven’t played Legendary for a long while now – not since February, in fact – so should probably make some effort to correct that soon… I’ve finally found the new Fear Itself expansion to Legendary: Villains on sale here in the UK, so looking forward to seeing that when it arrives in my hot little hands… I seem to recall reading somewhere Iron Man will be a commander in his enchanted armour…

While we’re on the subject of comics-based games…

DC Teen Titans

The fourth core set for the DC deck-building game, Teen Titans brings, well, the Teen Titans to the game, with playable heroes such as Red Robin, Wonder Girl and Beast Boy. Man, I love these names! The most interesting aspect of this one is the Ongoing Abilities that certain cards will have. Something that very few deck-builders incorporate (as far as I can tell), it’ll be interesting to see how the game plays when you have more options available to you on your turn. It’s coming out next quarter, along with another Crossover Pack with the Arrow TV series. I’ve not watched the series, unfortunately, but I believe it’s awesome. However, this pack uses stills from the show rather than comic-style art, so I’m currently thinking I’ll pass on this one. Later in the year, we’re getting Legion of Super Heroes with some time-travel mechanic, and then a Watchmen Crossover Pack, presumably before the end of the year, which gives a co-op with defector flavour to the game. Interesting…

My (second) trip to Orkney

Hey everybody!
Yesterday, I got back from a trip to the Orkney islands off the north of Scotland, my second such trip there. While the weather could have been better, I have to say, it was still a pretty amazing experience, as I got to see much more than I did last time. It’s still only my second trip to Scotland, which is pretty crazy when you think where the islands are actually located…

Scotland

Anyway. I arrived late on Monday due to delays flying from Edinburgh, and as I was leaving early on Thursday morning, I only had two full days there. And how different the weather was on each of those days! To start with, anyway, I visited the famous Neolithic village at Skara Brae again, as it’s kinda required when you’re on the island, being so famous and all…

If you followed the link to my earlier blog above, you’ll notice just how much better the weather was this time around, which you can really see when you look out at Skaill Bay:

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It was pretty beautiful, I have to say!

From Neolithic living to the Iron Age now, and I next revisited the Broch of Gurness. Still a jumble of stones, it’s nevertheless an interesting and imposing structure:

The weather was already beginning to change here, and didn’t improve for the rest of my trip.

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To the south of Mainland Orkney is a small collection of islands linked together by road. This was only made possible following the construction of three concrete-block barriers built during World War Two by Italian prisoners of war, who also converted two Nissen huts into the stunning Italian Chapel:

The Churchill barriers were built to protect Scapa Flow, the body of water surrounded on three sides by islands which formed the safe harbour for the British Home Fleet during both wars. More on that later, anyway.

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Day Two was very grim, though some really awesome sights were featured nonetheless!

From a very wet and windy Standing Stones of Stennes and Barnhouse village, I trundled off to the reasonably-dry Kirkwall, the capital of the islands. I’ve been here before, of course, though this time managed to visit the Cathedral properly, as well as the Orkney Museum, which has some pretty amazing stuff!

The museum was really interesting. It’s always good to visit places like Skara Brae and see where folks lived in the past, but the items on display in the museum show a much more intimate level of detail that I, for one, find really fascinating.

From Kirkwall, I took a long route along the south of the island, pretty much skirting Scapa Flow. The second-largest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney), and as well as providing the safe harbour for the Home Fleet during the wars, it was also chosen as the place to scuttle more than 70 German ships following their defeat in World War One.

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About mid-way along the coastline is the village of Orphir, which has the remains of an Earl’s Bú, which I believe is analogous to a manor house (rather than the Palace of the Earl of Orkney at Kirkwall), and in the Norse years, this would centre on the drinking hall. Orkneyinga Saga, collected in (I think) the twelfth century on Iceland, tells some pretty colourful stories that take place around this area, and is well worth investigating if you have the time!

The round church at Orphir is also the only such example in Scotland, modelled on that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It also has a great view over Scapa Flow:

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To conclude, it’s back to the Stennes area, and the mighty Ring of Brodgar!

I was staying at the Standing Stones Hotel, which is not far from the collection of monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, and I must say, the hotel was really nice this time around. Especially, the food! My goodness, it was immense…

food collage

The entire trip was pretty great, though I’m still not a big fan of flying. I’d like to go again, and do a spot of island-hopping, as there is so much more to see on the other islands, but I think if I do, I’d definitely drive up and take the ferry…

Until next time!

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Ruins and Games

Hey everybody!

It’s the last day of another week off work, sadly, though this one didn’t go quite according to plan – I was supposed to be going to Milan, but as it turned out that didn’t happen. Milan, in case you’re interested, is a pretty great city to visit – you can check out my photos of a previous trip in one of my first blogs here!

It’s been a good week regardless, as I’ve celebrated my one-year anniversary of being here on WordPress and haranguing you all with nonsense. The festivities were centred on Indiana Jones, as I explored anew one of the great movie franchises, and managed to squeeze in a look at one of my favourite boardgames, Fortune & Glory! If you haven’t already, make sure you check that one out, as it’s a lot of fun!

Games haven’t featured as much as I thought they would, actually – I think I’ve been too annoyed at the change in plans to relax enough. I did have a game night on Friday though, where we tried out a couple of new ones (games I have had for months, but just not played yet – it happens a lot). This coming Tuesday, you can expect a blog on one of these two; it’s a game that has been mentioned on here quite a lot, actually – the game of Fallen!

I’ve largely spent the week split between my two great passions, heritage-hunting and Star Wars. I managed to get two ruins in during the awesome weather we had mid-week: Stokesay Castle, and Witley Court!

Stokesay Castle is off the A49 in south Shropshire, and has long been a favourite of mine. I think the intimate feel of the place really plays a big part of this – it’s essentially the fortified manor house of a fourteenth-century wool merchant, so while it is a defensible structure, it’s not a castle in the sense of a military fortress such as Caernarfon, for instance. Instead, we get the rooms of medieval domesticity such as the solar and bedchambers, and it’s all really nice.

By contrast, Witley Court is the shell of a country house, which was a centre of the Victorian country house party circuit before the disastrous fire of 1937 gutted the place. I first visited the ruin three years ago, after a day spent in the Hereford and Worcester area, and it quickly became my very favourite place in England. I haven’t been able to make it back until this week, but it was great to be there again, I have to say!

It’s now quite famous for the restored fountain, which fires hourly during the day. As I got there, it was still going, but I hung about until the noon extravaganza too, and it was funny to see the amount of people who emerged from the ruins to witness the spectacle shortly before 12…

Driving often gives me a headache, and driving in the sun is not much fun for me, so I didn’t manage to get anywhere else. That said, I did manage to read some pretty awesome Star Wars bits and pieces – some of the very early newspaper comic strips (check them out here and here), and the new Heir to the Jedi, which I reviewed on Friday. For a quick recommendation, I definitely suggest you check out Heir to the Jedi, as it’s a really awesome book! It’s part of the new continuity of course, which alone had given me pause before I read it, but as it happens it’s pretty contiguous with the EU that I know and love. Well worth checking out, though! I’ve since moved on to reading another Luke story, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, which I’ll doubtless be entertaining you with just as soon as it’s finished, though this is one that I have read before, so I can recommend it to you now, anyway 🙂

Also on the subject of Star Wars, I had the chance to try the new Armada game at the local games shop on Friday, and that’ll be written up in blog form soon no doubt. It was pretty good, too, though I’ll save my thoughts for the blog itself. But this brings me back to the subject of boardgames, and while I haven’t played many this week, there’s still plenty of excitement here!

new games

I’d gone to the local shop to pick up some stuff, and got caught up in the Armada thing, but yeah: new Lord of the Rings box, and new Necron stuff! The Treason of Saruman is a new Saga expansion for the game, and follows the first half of The Two Towers. As such, there’s a new Fellowship hero, Aragorn! I’m quite excited, anyway, because I now have ten more Saga expansion quests to play through in my ongoing project, having now had Fog on the Barrow-downs as well, though I haven’t gotten around to any more plays yet. Soon, however…

Following the game of Warhammer 40k the other week, even though I don’t know when I’d be playing next – if at all, to be honest – I’m feeling vaguely more interested in what I’m actually modelling and painting now, beyond the way something looks. Buying the Doom Scythe was largely the result of a gameplay idea rather than wanting to build and paint one – these ships act as tanks for the Necrons, as they can transport up to 15 models, so following that game, where I could see how useful transport vehicles can be, I decided to get one. It doesn’t look too bad to build, either.

This week hasn’t been without its painting endeavours, either, as I’ve been working on three Tomb Blades – the jetbikes of the Necron army!

What fiddly models. In order to paint them, I assembled the main bike and the rider separately, but that meant I couldn’t attach the arms or hands to the rider, in case I did so at a pose that would ultimately be impossible to fit him in there. The rider is also hooked up to the bike itself, with two very small, very thin tubing-bits, and even using tweezers to put them in, I had a hard time getting them in the right place. Urgh! But they’re all (reasonably) assembled now, with all of the base coats (and some highlighting of the buttons under the riders’ hands, for instance), so it’s time for phase two of this operation. Though I’m not sure when that’ll be… They look really great as models, however, and I’m looking forward to having them finished!

I particularly like the look of my Necron vehicles so far, I think the green and the silver looks quite effective as-is, and doubt I’ll be doing anything more to it. However, when I shared a picture of the Command Barge on facebook, someone made the comment about it looks like a Hasbro toy that way. I’m pretty sure it was meant to be insulting, though given how successful Hasbro are as a company, maybe there’s a complement in there? I don’t know. At any rate, I’m not really wanting to do anything to change it right now, so will just carry on!

While we’re on the topic of Warhammer, though…

Assassinorum Execution Force

This has got me pretty excited, I don’t mind telling you! I love co-op games, as I enjoy working together to overcome something horrible. While PvP games can be good, I get tired of the effort that can be involved at times. With co-op, there’s a camaraderie that I feel just can’t be beaten – I mean, I’m friends with people because I like them, not because I want to destroy them! However, the potential for solo play cannot be overlooked, either. So I’ve preordered this from the local shop, and will look forward to getting it put together – if anything like Space Hulk, it should only be seven or eight months before I think about painting it…

Assassinorum Execution Force

I went to Shrewsbury today

Hey everybody!

Here we are, at another weekend closer to Christmas! Of course, it seems lately like every other day is Christmas, what with the recent hauls I’ve been having! To kick things off, I’m pleased to say that Lagoon has arrived!

This game does look very beautiful, I have to say, though I’ve not managed to have a game with it yet. Hopefully soon, though!

Warhammer Glottkin

Today has seen a pretty impressive arrival though! You’ll remember the End Times of course? Round Two has been going off for the past few weeks, culminating in the release today of the enormous and disgusting Glottkin:

Warhammer Glottkin

I’m not a big fan of Nurgle, as I feel vaguely ill looking at some of these new models. Which I suppose is a good thing, as they’re meant to, but still… While I’m not a fan of the miniatures (if you can call something like the new Glottkin a “miniature”), I was keen to get hold of the new book for the history of the apocalypse. It looks fantastic, too! I feel quite lucky to have managed to get a copy, however, as it sold out in pre-order within something like two hours, which I find pretty hilarious, if I’m honest. Games Workshop continue to baffle all in their sales strategies, it seems.

I went to Shrewsbury this morning, where the GW store didn’t even have an allocation of the books, though they were stocking the model. So you could buy the model, but you won’t have the rules to use it in your games. Hm. From what I understand, this has been repeated across the world, pretty much. In this respect, I feel a bit awkward about having one when I don’t intend to use the miniature, but then I have nothing to do with retail merchandising for them, so I absolve myself. I did pick up the new End Times novel from the store, however, The Fall of Altdorf, along with a box of Lizardmen.

Shrewsbury, however, is one of my absolute favourite places in the country. I used to go there a few times a year as a child, but it was 2012 when I renewed my acquaintance with the town, and it has swiftly become one of my all-time favourites. The sense of history that you get when there is palpable, and it’s one of those places that I’m utterly content to just wander the streets with no particular destination.

Shropshire formed something of a project for me towards the end of 2012, actually, as I trawled the county visiting some new places and re-acquainting myself with places like the county-town itself. You can check out my wanderings in a series of blogs I wrote over on my blogger site:
Part One: Oswestry, Whittington, Ellesmere and Whitchurch
Llanymynech
Part Two: Wroxeter
Part Three: Montgomery, Bishop’s Castle, Clun, Stokesay Castle
Part Four: Shrewsbury
Part Five: Market Drayton, Wem, Newport, Lilleshall Abbey, Shifnal, Much Wenlock, Bridgnorth
Part Six: Ludlow

Basically, I love history, and I love Shropshire! In doing the research for this mini series of blogs (which isn’t technically finished yet!), I discovered so much about a truly fascinating area that is basically on my doorstep. If you can, I highly recommend making a trip!

History is something that has always been something of a passion, of course, but it seems that lately it has begun to fall by the wayside in my life, as I’ve been embracing a whole tranche of other stuff, but I’m beginning to feel the need for a return to this lately…

I suppose this is the downside of being a geek: when you like something with an all-consuming passion, you tend to have energy only for a small number of things. It’s also one of the ironies, I find, of doing a degree in history: because I must look into certain things, I find myself disinterested until I no longer have to follow that syllabus. As a case in point, I was forever behind on the last module of my degree, as I would always want to look further into a part that we had just finished, and now that I’m doing the Classics side of things, I’ve been finding myself looking instead back to the middle ages. Not that I’m not enjoying the degree, of course! First world problems, and such.

Anyway, brushing all that aside, I’ve been enjoying a cup of Spiced Orange Mocha, which I can highly recommend to you all (though not as highly as the Millionaire Shortbread Mocha)

Exploring the Classical World

Hey folks!

And so it begins again… #100happydays

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Yep, it’s that time again – I’m gearing up for the next module in my degree. I’m quite excited, as I’ve had a lifelong love of classics. So yeah, exciting times are on their way, make no mistake!

I’m kinda hopeful that this one will go well, anyway – thanks to my A level in Classics, I’ve already studied at least two of the set-books the course demands, and have already written an essay pretty similar to one of those for the module, so fingers crossed!

An interesting read

Morning everyone!
I shall apologise in advance for a quiet weekend from me, as I am still recovering from nearly two weeks of migraine and almost-migraine, so don’t want to spend too long staring at a screen. But I have taken delivery of a very interesting little book that I thought deserves some attention, so lo! Here it is:

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The House of Wisdom is a look at the Arabic culture that really flourished in the traditional European ‘dark age’. That is a contentious issue, of course, and one that I don’t want to get into right now (because I’m still delicate, y’know). However, I have long been intrigued about this era, and especially since I studied it as part of my degree back in 2012. Focusing on the survival of medical knowledge from Ancient Greece and Rome through the Islamic lands, the degree course really whetted my appetite for more!

I’ve only started to read House of Wisdom, but it nevertheless appears to be a really interesting read, so I can definitely recommend it to folks who are interested, and also if you’re not entirely sure what I’m banging on about and want to know more!