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…

Fallen

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…

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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 Parys

Hey folks!
Yeah, let’s get this out there now – I don’t mean the city in France. Summer last year, I went to Anglesey for the umpteenth time, finally getting to visit Parys Mountain for the first time. You may be aware that, in the midst of all my gaming, I’m also a very big fan of history, and industrial history is something that holds a special kind of fascination for me…

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Parys Mountain was basically a massive copper mine that was used during the eighteenth century, at the height of its fame in the 1780s it was the largest mine in Europe.

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There are still quite a few relics of the mining process around the mountain, the most famous being the windmill (above).

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While Anglesey is, in general, a wonderful place, Parys Mountain is fantastic, and definitely worth checking out if you’re in the Amlwch area!

My trip to Anglesey: Penmon

It’s a double feature! Part one of today’s Anglesey trip featured an excellent visit to Beaumaris Castle. I followed that by a trip further east along the coast, to Penmon.

Penmon Priory

Penmon lies to the east of Beaumaris, and is notable for the long history of its church, which stretches back to the sixth century AD. Founded by St Seiriol, a friend of St Cybi who founded Holyhead on the opposite end of the island at this time, the early monastery was attacked by the Vikings in the tenth century, before the current buildings were established in from the middle of the twelfth century. Shown above is the chancel, which is a significantly later addition, but the tower, transepts (one of which is on the right in the picture) and the nave are all dated from the original Augustinian house.

St Seiriol's Well St Seiriol's Well

No great saint would be complete without a holy well, of course! St Seiriol’s Well was used, as were most holy wells, for reputed healing properties until at least 1811.

Penmon Priory

The monastic buildings at Penmon Priory include the refectory, or dining hall, as shown above. The building to the right in the above photo is the dovecote, which post-dates the suppression of the monasteries. The Jacobean landowner Sir Richard Bulkeley, with a mansion just outside Beaumaris, had the dovecote built sometime after 1600. The Cadw guide tells us that, in the days before farming had advanced to keeping animals fattened all year, doves and pigeons provided an important source of meat in the winter months.

Penmon dovecote

The monuments at Penmon also include a number of crosses, now kept in the Priory itself, which date to the time of the Viking invasions:

Penmon Cross

Penmon Priory

I really like Penmon. The close-siting of the monuments of a small monastic community gives a really strong impression of what life must have been like in these early Christian foundations. The remote location serves to add to this feeling, too – much better than the St Cybi monuments, which are within the town centre of Holyhead.

Penmon

Just a little farther on from the Priory, there is a fantastic reminder of Anglesey’s rich industrial past. The Flagstaff Limestone Quarry was originally operating from around the 1830s, though limestone had been quarried at Penmon much earlier, as Beaumaris Castle was made out of the stuff.

Flagstaff Quarry

A small confession, here: I love industrial archaeology. While I think I will always be a medievalist at heart, nevertheless I find the remnants of our industrial past simply irresistible. The remains of the Flagstaff Quarry buildings can be seen from the coastal road on the approach to Penmon, and I was ridiculously excited once they caught my eye:

Flagstaff Quarry

If I ever get round to writing travelogues of my previous trips to Anglesey, first on the list will be last year’s trip around Cemaes-Bull Bay, where I came across the ruins of Porth Wen brickworks and was almost faint with joy! Truly, truly magnificent!

Flagstaff Quarry

I think what excites me so much about industrial remains is the fact that everything we see had a working purpose to it. As much as one can say that every inch of a castle is intended to be a defensible structure, or an abbey is intended to glorify God, things like these massive banks of lime kilns here made things. People worked here, and they made stuff. It’s just really, really exciting to be among such buildings!

Flagstaff Quarry

I have spent a lot of time in quarries – there’s a massive limestone quarry not that far from where I live – but I can’t pretend to know a lot about what I’ve seen here today. The Royal Commission site tells me that there is a crusher house still standing, which could potentially be the structure above – that would certainly explain the chutes coming out of the walls, if not the chimney as a means of powering the rollers – but I don’t know.

Flagstaff Quarry

What I do know, however, is that this place was awesome! And so picturesque, too!

Flagstaff Quarry

Leaving our industrial past behind momentarily, however, we come to the final stop on this tour: Penmon Point.

Penmon Point

This is really what drove my trip today. I’d seen a lot of this view over on twitter for a while, and had been wanting to get up to the island to see what it’s like for myself. Pretty damn amazing, I think you’ll agree! The island to the right in the above pic is, of course, Puffin Island, once home to possibly the largest colony of puffins in Britain until a plague of rats reduced their numbers. The island was the site of another monastic foundation of St Seiriol, who is said to be buried here. There are apparently ruins of a church on the island, but it is strictly off-limits due to the bird-breeding programmes.

Penmon Point

So there you have it, an excellent tour along the eastern tip of Anglesey! It’s well worth a visit, and on an excellent day like today, you really ought to get out there and see the sights!

Penmon Point

My trip to Anglesey: Beaumaris

Beaumaris Castle

Hello everyone, and welcome to another trip-focused blog! Being off work this week, I’ve got several trips lined up, beginning with what turned out to be an absolutely incredible trip to Anglesey! I love that island so much it’s untrue, but with perfect weather, it was just grand! So let me share some snaps with you of stage one: Beaumaris!

Obviously, any trip to Beaumaris these days almost has to include the famous castle. Built from 1295, it was the last of the four great fortresses constructed by Edward I in an ‘iron ring’ around the Snowdonia strongholds of the Princes of Gwynedd. By the time work had begun at the castle, the last Prince, Llywelyn ap Grufudd, had been dead for thirteen years, and the Edwardian invasion of Wales pretty much successfully concluded, but revolts throughout the final years of the thirteenth century showed a need for visible English dominance still.

Beaumaris was the only castle Edward built on Anglesey, its location chosen expressly for the purpose of supply by sea. The Welsh town of Llanfaes that already existed at the site was seen as the most prosperous in the whole of Wales, benefiting from its location on the main route between Chester and Holyhead, and beyond to Ireland. It was also the final resting place of Joan, the daughter of King John and wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth ‘the Great’.

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That the town was also built on a marsh was of little consequence to Edward – the need for symbols of might and dominance was never far from his mind, so placing his castle here was the natural choice. Before work began, however, the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn, a distant relative of Llywelyn the Last, broke out across English-controlled Wales. This revolt is most startling to me because it was led by a chap who had once been on good terms with Edward. Anyway, at one point the revolt razed the incomplete castle at Caernarfon, and the sheriff of Anglesey, Roger de Pulesdon, was lynched. The revolt was brutally quashed by the English, and it was perhaps in response to this that work was ordered to begin immediately at Beaumaris.

Beaumaris Castle

The castle was built on flat, open ground, which is probably why the architect, Master James of St George (see picture below), was able to make it the almost-perfect concentric fortress that it is. For years, the English had been building castles in Wales in this manner, perhaps most notably at Rhuddlan and Harlech, but at Beaumaris, the example is really quite stunning.

Edward I and Master James of St George

The castle was built speedily, with stone quarried from nearby Penmon, and within about ten weeks or so, there was enough standing for the records to describe the king as staying in thatched buildings ‘within the castle’ here. Some pretty amazing records survive, showing that the castle was costing about £270 a week to build in the first season, and was projected to run around £250 a week throughout the 1296 building season.

Beaumaris Castle

However, almost as soon as the conquest of Wales was considered complete, Edward turned his attention north to Scotland, and began waging wars up there. The consequence was an increasingly tight budget for all of the royal castles in Wales, and the records show that labourers and other workmen were leaving the site in droves because they weren’t being paid. As 1300 loomed, expenditure on the castle was virtually nonexistant.

Beaumaris Castle

The work was resumed early in the fourteenth century, but on nowhere near the scale that it had been taking place earlier. The primary focus was to secure the site, and complete the curtain wall circuit across the north and west (shown above). The reason for this was a commonly-held fear that the Scots might join forces with the simmering Welsh and attack the castles of north Wales. While the curtain walls were completed, work on the castle was eventually halted around 1330.

Beaumaris Castle

As an incomplete castle, Beaumaris has a peculiarly squat appearance in comparison with the other royal castles of Wales. No turrets here! The outer curtain towers were left at pretty much single-storey, and the work continued just long enough to secure the towers of the inner ward around a storey higher. A survey of 1343 estimated costs to bring the castle to completion at £684. This work wasn’t carried out, evidently.

Beaumaris Castle

But that doesn’t detract from the fact that Beaumaris is a superb castle, and is justly referred to as a perfect design. For years now, I’ve thought of Aberystwyth as my favourite of the Welsh castles, but walking around Beaumaris today, it makes me think that I may have to revise that opinion! An excellent day out – you should all go! Now!

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle

I bought a new camera

Welcome to my latest blog, a little bit of odd jollity for a Saturday! You know you love it.

It’s been another exciting week, as you may have seen from my blogs posted over the past few days. Perhaps the most exciting event was finishing the Thrawn trilogy, which is always good. In case you hadn’t picked it up by now, I’m a really big fan of Tim Zahn’s work! This morning I finally got round to the short story Heist that was published in the Star Wars Insider magazine. A prequel of sorts to the novel Scoundrels, which I read just before Easter, it features the ghost thief Bink Kitik and her sister Tavia on a job. It’s all pretty standard stuff, nothing earth-shattering or anything, but it’s a good tale, and well worth it if you can still find it.

The most exciting thing to happen this morning, though, was the massive delivery of another of the huge ships for the X-Wing miniatures game: Tantive IV!

 

This ship really is huge! Remember the last one that arrived? Well this one is even bigger:

X-Wing Tantive IV
“Look at the size of that thing!”

Wedge may have been referring to the Death Star, but it still holds true here! It does look pretty spectacular, I have to say. Of course, as I mentioned last time, sadly I never get to play this game nowadays, so there’s no telling when I’ll ever get to actually give this a go, but hopefully soon…

I bought a new camera last week as well, it’s about time as I’ve had the last one for about six years now. I popped over to Anglesey, which is one of my absolute favourite places in the country, to give it a proper try and whatnot, but no sooner had I got there than it began to rain. Gah! But I did get some good shots at Red Wharf Bay:

Red Wharf Bay

Red Wharf Bay

Ah, marvellous!

Remember Yig, the new Ancient One in the expansion for Eldritch Horror that I received just over a week ago? Well in addition to reading the classic Lovecraft Call of Cthulhu the other day, I also read the Curse of Yig collaborative tale. It’s a pretty good story, actually – unlike quite a few of the Lovecraft tale I’ve read, this one feels very much like a modern horror story when we come to the end. The tale of a couple who move out west to start a new life, where they encounter the local stories of a snake-god who punishes anyone who kills the indigenous snakes, it very much reminded me of the sort of horror films that begin pregnant with expectation, and culminate in something truly horrible at the end. It’s available in The Horror in the Museum, a collection of other collaborative stories, definitely worth investigating! Especially for fans of the many Cthulhu-themed games.

 

 

 

Some cracking news this week, the Carcassonne android app has been updated, and finally we have some of the expansions! Not all of them, sadly, but hopefully this will be the start of seeing more available soon!

It’s a bank holiday weekend in the UK here, and as per tradition, it’s been pouring with rain all day. Also as per tradition, I’m having a bit of a boardgame weekend with that old favourite, Arkham Horror! Stay tuned for more on that soon!