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!

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!

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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

My trip to Croxden Abbey

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I do enjoy a good abbey! Croxden Abbey in Staffordshire is one of my favourites, being so stark and stuff. Lots that survives, though with a road bisecting the ruins nowadays, it’s nevertheless a great place – and free to visit, too! Why not check it out?!

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If you’re interested in a more historical perspective, you can check out my other blog, the more serious, history-focused one 🙂

My trip to Beeston Castle

Welcome back everyone! Time for another travelogue, I think. Well, the sun has been shining today, so it would have been churlish to have stayed in all day (even though I do have an exam in, like, three weeks or whatever). So off I popped to Beeston Castle!

Beeston Castle

I haven’t been here for nearly seven years, when it was a pretty grim day, so right off the fact that it was nice and summery went in its favour. It wasn’t particularly hot, but as the castle is perched high on a rocky outcropping, the walk up to it was certainly, er, sweaty…

Beeston Castle

The castle was largely begun by Earl Ranulf III, sixth earl of Chester, in the 1220s. Ranulf was one of the great medieval barons, with lands stretching across England to Lincolnshire, largely due to his support of both King John and the young Henry III. He played a significant part in defeating Prince Louis’ invasion from France in 1218, and also took part in the fifth crusade. His other castles include Chartley, in Staffordshire:

Chartley Castle

and Bolingbroke, in Lincolnshire:

Bolingbroke Castle

Earl Ranulf died in 1232 without heirs, so his castles passed to the crown. Bolingbroke was the birthplace of the future Henry IV, forming part of the Duke of Lancaster’s holdings. Just thought I’d mention that!

Beeston Castle

The massive twin drum towers of the gatehouse are mirrored in Ranulf’s other castles, although given Bolingbroke’s ruinous state it’s perhaps a little less obvious. Anyway. Beeston was largely abandoned in the fourteenth century, leaving behind a largely unmodified high medieval castle structure.

Beeston Castle
The outer gatehouse

During the Civil War, however, the castle saw some more action, lying as it did between Royalist Chester and Parliamentarian Nantwich. In 1644, the forces of Parliament besieged the castle for a year, before the Royalist garrison surrendered. In 1646 the castle was slighted to prevent it being fortified again, and in the subsequent Romantic movement of the eighteenth century, the ruins began to attract tourists. As well as a wonderful collection of ruins, the views across Cheshire from the crag are pretty breathtaking, too:

Beeston Castle

So much history! I enjoy ruins like you wouldn’t believe. I think the main thing that I like about them is that each building ‘ruins’ differently. I mean, castles were usually built to established militarily defensible designs, and abbeys were purposefully set out in exactly the same way so that a monk would feel at home no matter where he was, but over the years with the ravages of time and robbers, these buildings that looked so similar in their heyday all begin to take on unique aspects. That’s part of it, of course. Somewhat independent of the actual ruins aspect, though, I really enjoy being where history happened. For instance, we all learn about stuff like Henry VIII and his somewhat boisterous home life when we’re in school, but to actually stand on Tower Green where Anne Boleyn was executed is pretty amazing. But not just for the ‘famous’ stuff – pretty much wherever you go there is history to be found, and I’ve become something of a heritage nerd the past few years in seeking out as much as I can!

Beeston Castle
Oh yeah, there are also caves to be seen!