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.




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.


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



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!


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


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:


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!


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…

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.


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.


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…


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


Berliner Dom, the Cathedral of the city.


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!


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!



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


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


Again, my terrible camera:


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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Schlo╬▓ 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…


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


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…

My trip to Durham

Ah, Durham! I do love it up there. As I mentioned in a previous blog, my trip this year was slashed short, but I’ve been up there quite a few times, so here’s a pictorial record of my trip from three years ago.


I suppose the Cathedral is one of the biggest draws of the northern city. It’s absolutely stupendous – especially when you think it was built in just forty-odd years.






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For more of the history of the city, check out an earlier blog I wrote!




Futon days

Look at this, it’s Saturday again! Where would your day be without my latest blog, right? You can say that again. It’s been a very exciting week for me this past week, for a whole host of reasons. In case you missed it, I’ve been doing the rounds of Edward I’s castles in north Wales this week:
Beaumaris and Penmon;
Conwy, and

Wonderful stuff, as you can see! It’s always good to get out and see some castles, especially when the weather is as good as it has been! Fantastic times for all concerned. To finish up the week of awesome, after a very exciting Thursday, I went off to Cwmhir Abbey and Hereford Cathedral. Because a week off isn’t worth having unless one drives over 650 miles, as I’m sure you’d all agree!

Cwmhir Abbey

Cwmhir Abbey

Cwmhir Abbey, in case you were wondering, is where Llywelyn the Last is buried (minus his head).

Hereford Cathedral

Ah, marvellous! I actually went to Hereford two years ago. While it’s perhaps not brimming with medieval splendour, Hereford is nevertheless a really interesting place as one of the three original Marcher Lordships. I did a blog about it following my last visit, you can read it on blogger here.

So given the fact that I’ve spent most of the week behind the wheel of my car, I’ve not really been up to anything else of note, you’ll no doubt be greatly dismayed to learn!

Of course, today is the summer solstice, so here’s what I suppose you could call the obligatory photo of Stonehenge that I took when I went there five years ago. Whatever you’re up to today, Happy Midsummer, everyone!


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.


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 Milan

Ah, here we are again! For my fourth blog, I’d like to reminisce with you good people of the internet about a trip I took to Milan last year. Sigh! It was a really good trip!

The Duomo of Milan
The Duomo of Milan

I’d never been abroad by myself before, but after constantly hearing it broadens the mind, and suchlike, I decided I wanted to make good on what had been a years-long desire to visit Italy, by going to the city with the highest density of English speakers in that country. So off I trundled, and despite the terror of being in a foreign country where I knew nobody and could just about get by in the language, it was a really great time!

Milan is an old city, with as rich a history as any other of the renaissance centres of Italy, though because of that rich and varied history, the city doesn’t look like Florence, or Lucca, or Bologna. Instead, what struck me most when I arrived was how much the city reminded me of London, with a lot of big, stone buildings that makes the experience almost like a walk down Whitehall.

However, renaissance Milan still survives, not least in the Castello Sforzesco.

Castello Sforzesco, Rivellino di Santo Spirito Castello Sforzesco, Cortile DucaleCastello Sforzesco, Piazza d'Armi Castello Sforzesco

The Castello is now an art gallery and museum, but it still looks pretty awesome!

The city was an independent duchy until the sixteenth century, when it became a Spanish possession. Following the War of the Spanish Succession, however, it was ceded to Austro-Hungary, and during the eighteenth century – the Age of Enlightenment – rebuilding has created the look we see today.

Arco della Pace, initially intended to commemorate Napoleon's entry to the city
Arco della Pace, initially intended to commemorate Napoleon’s entry to the city
Teatro alla Scala, the 'cathedral of opera'
Teatro alla Scala, the ‘cathedral of opera’
Piazza Beccaria - Cesare Beccaria was a key figure in Enlightenment Milan
Piazza Beccaria – Cesare Beccaria was a key figure in Enlightenment Milan

The centrepiece of the city is the Duomo, the Cathedral of Milan. Started under the Visconti Dukes of Milan in the fifteenth century, the white Carrara marble that fronts the church and gives it such a stunning appearance today was added for Napoleon Bonaparte’s triumphant entry into the city in 1805 for his coronation as King of Italy. Emerging from the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele into the Piazza del Duomo had a really stunning effect on me, I must say!

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, one of the world's first purpose-built shopping centres
Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, one of the world’s first purpose-built shopping centres
Piazza del Duomo, looking towards the Galleria
Piazza del Duomo, looking towards the Galleria
The Duomo
The Duomo

I met a Canadian chap in the Piazza, who was also travelling alone and was overcome with relief to meet someone who also spoke English! Ah, marvellous! The Duomo is free to enter, but remember that Italy is a staunchly Catholic country, and here the army were guarding the entrance preventing access to anyone inappropriately dressed – they turned one woman away in front of me because her skirt ended above the knee. Inside, the building is surprisingly dark, but I have no pictures because I couldn’t find anyone to buy a photography permit from!

There are more churches in the city than just the Duomo, of course. The most impressive, I found, was San Lorenzo alle Colonne, just a short walk from the Duomo.

San Lorenzo alle Colonne
San Lorenzo alle Colonne
The rear of San Lorenzo alle Colonne. Public executions used to take place here in the middle ages.
The rear of San Lorenzo alle Colonne. Public executions used to take place here in the middle ages.
San Lorenzo alle Colonne - the Roman columns
San Lorenzo alle Colonne – the Roman columns

The name comes from the columns that run in front of the church, which were brought there when the church was built in the fourth century from either a Roman temple of bath house. The Roman connection with Milan is actually quite strong – in the late third century, Maximian built his palace here when the Empire was split, with┬áDiocletian ruling from Nicomedia (in modern-day Turkey). The ruins of the palace were discovered during the second world war bombing of the city.

Maximian's Palace, Milan Maximian's Palace, Milan

Maximian's Palace, Milan
Maximian’s Palace, Milan

Lots of history to be discovered here! I run a history-centric blog on Blogger, where you can read more about the history of the city if you’re interested!

Unfortunately I’ve not been back to Italy since – I suppose it’s a combination of nervousness and a distressing lack of funds. But it’s something that has been on my mind a lot lately, partially the reason for writing this blog, and I hope that I can get back there soon – certainly to revisit Milan, as a start!