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!

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…

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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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Llangollen in summer

Hey folks!
Yesterday I went off to Llangollen, a small town not far from me in North Wales, famous throughout the world for the International Musical Eisteddfod held during the first week of July. As such, it’s pretty much a tourist nexus, though luckily it wasn’t too bad when I went.

To be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the actual town, but hung out around the area of the chain bridge, between the hamlet of Llantysilio and the town itself. But I’m sure you all remember my trip there a couple of months back…

There is a lot of stuff around there, anyway, centring on the Chain Bridge hotel and its attendant bridge.

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The bridge was first constructed in 1817 to transport materials across the River Dee from the Ellesmere Canal (on the north side) to the A5 Holyhead road (on the south), avoiding the tolls payable at Llangollen. It was rebuilt in the 1870s, and again in 1929, all the time re-using the original chains, which makes it the only bridge of its kind to still use the original material.

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We also have the King’s Bridge/Berwyn Viaduct complex close by, that marvellous feat of Victorian engineering:

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The viaduct was built in 1862, and the road bridge between 1902-6. The road bridge curves through one of the arches of the viaduct and links Llantysilio with the Holyhead road. Fantastic!

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The viaduct is also still in use, and a steam train actually passed through while I was on my trek:

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I’ve never been that close to a steam train before, and let me tell you, those beasts are loud!

Continuing upstream like a salmon, we get to the Horseshoe Falls! These are most easily accessible from the north bank, but I was wandering around on the south bank this time. For illustrative purposes, then, here’s a picture I took of the falls last summer:

Horseshoe Falls

The Horseshoe Falls were constructed by Thomas Telford between 1804-6 as a weir system to feed into the canal. This was actually an elaborate system that, as originally planned, worked all the way back to Bala. A weir, in case you were wondering, is just a way of controlling the flow of water in a river; in the industrial revolution, you would generally find rivers interfered with in this manner all over the country where mills were built, as a weir was a great way to make a fairly sedate, slow-running river generate enough speed to power a waterwheel. (Locally, there is a great example of this at Bersham). The River Dee itself is actually quite fast-flowing, however, so the Horseshoe Falls were designed almost as dams, slowing the water by backing it up and making it flow over the top in a much steadier stream, from where it was channeled into the canal system.

At any rate, I fell down the side of the bank and scratched my left forearm in order to take this picture of the Falls:

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Worth it!

Anyhow, it was a really great day, and if you’re ever in the area, you should definitely make the trip to Llangollen and investigate some of these places!

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Weekend away, and other bits

Hey everybody!
I’m recently back from a weekend spent in the south of England, which was quite simply splendid! I went to Oxford for a long weekend, somewhere I haven’t been for years now, but it’s one of my all-time favourite places to be, so I was looking forward to that quite a lot! In the event, while I spent most of Sunday there, I don’t feel like I got to see enough of the place, having spent most of my time at the Ashmolean Museum, but even so, it’s a wonderful place, and I’m hoping that I can go back very soon!

I also went to Winchester, which has been on my to-do list for years now, but unfortunately was caught in the torrential rain on Monday, so didn’t hang around half as long as I should have. I managed to see the cathedral, and the statue of Alfred the Great, but sadly that was that! Thoroughly soaked, I abandoned the trip for another time – hopefully July!

I’d hoped to fit in so much while I was down there, but was sadly rained off. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being back there. Winchester looks like a lovely place, and Oxford is almost a spiritual home for me, so I’ll be planning that return soon, anyway!

While I was there, I also finished reading Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, which I actually posted about yesterday. It’s a tremendous book, and following my Heir to the Jedi excitement of last month, I feel on something of a Luke kick. Perhaps surprisingly, there aren’t that many stories that really showcase him, though, so I’ve resumed by reading with Darksaber, which will feature here soon, no doubt!

I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t really been playing many games lately. In fact, I haven’t done so at all this month! Perhaps explaining the somewhat rushed game day blog yesterday. I’ve arranged for another game of X-Wing on Friday, though, so if nothing else, there’ll be that to look forward to.

There hasn’t really been a great deal of news on the boardgame front lately – not that much that interests me, at any rate. Except, perhaps, for this:

Call of Cthulhu Mark of Madness

FFG are churning out the Call of Cthulhu deluxe boxes, that’s for sure! The Hastur faction’s box, looks like a lot of exciting stuff will be coming from this one when it arrives in the autumn! I enjoy running Hastur/Silver Twilight, so definitely looking forward to this one!

FFP have a new ad for the upcoming Caverns of Cynder expansion for Shadows of Brimstone, which is looking really nice! Only one new enemy for the world, though apparently the hellbats from the Jargono box will be usable as “lava bats”, so that’s interesting.

But yeah, otherwise it seems to have been a quiet time on the game front lately…

2015, Day Two: Awesome

So here we are in the future! Well… How has 2015 been treating you so far? I hope you’ve been enjoying this fresh new year, anyway! Despite some dreary weather yesterday, today has been really quite glorious in my little corner of the UK, which I’m hoping is a good sign for the year ahead! I also finally took possession of the penultimate kickstarter game I’ve been waiting for…

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I haven’t played it yet – heck, I’ve only unwrapped the cellophane and sorted out all of the cards – but it looks absolutely incredible! Not sure when the game is going to hit retail, but on the basis of the look of the game, I’d recommend you keep your eyes on the official site for news of the release! I’ve already profiled the game once, last summer, but once I’ve managed to get in a game or two, I’m sure I’ll be back with some more useful thoughts!

I have been playing lots of Shadows of Brimstone so far this year – in fact, I’ve played a game every day of this year so far! Another kickstarter game that was profiled last summer, I had a couple of games before the festive season, and didn’t really feel the love. However, those were one-hero jaunts into the mines only; I’ve now used the full rules, including bringing the Targa Plateau into things, and the deeper immersion that results has led to my quickly becoming enraptured with this game!

Still unpainted, of course. I can’t decide if I’m going to bother though – so far, it’s clear that having just grey minis isn’t impacting on my enjoyment at all, but also I have far too many Necrons awaiting my attention, I just don’t know whether I’ll be able to get round to it any time soon! Doesn’t help, either, that I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since before Christmas…

Shadows of Brimstone

I’ve taken my Gunslinger and Bandido through the first two scenarios, which have both been an absolute blast – my Bandido is now even on the first true rung of the leveling-ladder! So I’m hoping that this is the real start of something truly awesome! No doubt I’ll also be writing more about this game once I’ve truly gotten to grips with it all!

Which brings me onto writing in general, something that I’d like to do more of in the coming months, at least! I enjoyed last year’s efforts with my three short Star Wars stories, and I intend to add to their ranks very soon with at least one more that is in the planning stages…

Formosa gunpowder #tea

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It’s not really a resolution, but I finally got round to using my Chinese tea set on Thursday, something I bought for myself back in Christmas 2011. I’m a very big lover of tea, of course, so this is quite the adventure for me! So many loose-leaf teas to try! The inaugural cup was Formosa Gunpowder, which I am going to hesitatingly say didn’t live up to expectations. There’s plenty more that I have yet to try, anyway!

This, though, is something of a resolution. I don’t think I’ve really explored it on here yet, but I absolutely adore the island of Anglesey, which I’m fortunately only an hour-or-so away from by car. I went a few times last year, notably for a jaunt along the south-east coast to Beaumaris and Penmon, but expect to see more in the coming year as I investigate bits I’ve never before been!

Oh, it’s shaping up to be a heady year already…

My trip to Berlin

Hey everyone!
It’s six years to the day (I think) since I was in Berlin, so wanted to do a quick little blog with some of my pictures from that trip.

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It was truly, truly excellent, I must say. Germany seems to really know how to ‘do’ Christmas, which really helped with the atmosphere and such, but even with all that aside, I can’t tell you just how lovely the place was.

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The famous Brandenburg Gate.

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The Reichstag, just the other side of the Gate.

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Remnants of the Berlin wall often jut up along streets. For a large part of its course (perhaps even the entire course, I’m not sure), there is still some form of reminder laid into the pavements, certainly there is around the Brandenburg Gate.

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Checkpoint Charlie, another reminder of the Cold War era…

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There will be more Christmas lights coming, but seriously – how good are the Germans?!

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Berliner Dom, the Cathedral of the city.

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The Altes Museum, home of some of the most famous Egyptian art and artifacts (while I was visiting, at any rate):

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Even more famous, of course, are the Amarna artifacts:

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Unfortunately, I went to Berlin with a new, untested camera – only a point-and-shoot affair, but still, it really wasn’t very good, and a lot of my interior shots were wasted. Sigh. Moving on! Berlin has a whole “museum island”, and right next door to the Altes Museum, we have the Pergamon Museum!

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There are some truly megalithic sculptures in this place. It was quite late in the day when we got here, so unfortunately we didn’t explore properly, but there are still a lot of fantastic things that I did see!

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The Ishtar Gate! Oh my goodness! I had no clue that was there! I was really happy to have seen this as well!

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Berlin by night at Christmas is truly awesome, such as here, as Unter der Linden:

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Again, my terrible camera:

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We actually went round the Reichstag’s glass dome that night, but my pictures are all terrible. However, I remember it being really quiet (it can be packed during the day)

For day three, we went to Potsdam, to take a look at the famous Sanssouci Palace of Frederick the Great:

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Frederick the Great was King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, and is well-known for being both a great military leader along with his lavish patronage of the arts (he was, among other things, a skilled flautist). Sanssouci was built in the 1740s as a retreat from Berlin, the name meaning “without a care”.

Of course, you don’t have to go to Potsdam for rococo magnificence…

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Schloβ Charlottenburg, built by Frederick’s grandmother Sophie Charlotte of Hanover (not, I assume, single-handedly). There is a pretty awesome Christmas market in the vicinity of the palace, too…

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And here’s a chocolate Reichstag…just because…

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Remember I said Berlin knows how to ‘do’ Christmas…?

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So there you have it, my friends! I absolutely adore Berlin, and can’t believe it’s been six years since I was there. With a bit of luck, I’m hoping I can go back next year…