Sunday, 18 November 2018

Warfare 2018 -Wargames Association of Reading

Warfare has in recent times been the show that completes my usual annual circuit of wargaming shows I regularly attend, as it is this year.

I have reported on the show since 2016 and it is interesting comparing and contrasting shows held in previous years.

Warfare 2016
Warfare 2017

The show this year seemed quieter than on previous occasions and I and the chaps didn't seem to sense the elbow to elbow crush experienced on previous visits, certainly within the traders hall.

I particularly like Warfare for the breadth of traders it attracts and I was able to complete some purchase plans that were carried over from Crisis a couple of weeks ago and reported on here at JJ's

Crisis 2018

Despite the fact that I was revelling in the space within the trading and gaming halls, there was still that noisy hub-bub of happy wargamers as can be imagined in the pictures below and by leaving Exeter at 07.30 and getting into the show for 10.00, doors opening, we managed to get into Reading before the Saturday shopping traffic and got a parking spot close by before they were all taken.

The main games hall with play well and truly underway

With the luxury of being able to get round the traders for my purchases in double quick time, I was able to start looking at the games on display at least an hour before lunch and after dropping my stuff back to the car switched into blogging mode to capture some of the fun of the day.

Needless to say, but worth repeating, in no particular order and showing games that particularly caught my eye, I present a pick of the games that featured at this year's Warfare.

Earlswood Wargames Group - 28mm Stalingrad
I've seen the Earlswood chaps excellent Stalingrad game on previous occasions but never grow tiered of enjoying the modelling and attention to detail that has gone into this game.

Just about any WWII film you have seen centred on the bloody fighting within the city and its ruins are captured in the cameo scenes this game creates - well done chaps.

The Combined Oppos Wargames Group presented a game simply entitled 'Pirates' with some very nice 28mm ships, figures and terrain on display.

The Maidenhead Reapers Wargaming Society were running what looked like a fun action packed SAS desert airfield raid game when I passed by with one young player totally into the action with planes burning allover the place and SAS jeep teams moving among the carnage.

The Malvern Old Wargamers presented The Battle of Paraitakene 317 BC with Eumenes and Antigonus' repective successor armies going at it toe to toe and pike block to pike block.

The game was being played using the Amati rule set and with several collections from within the club that produced a very colourful and engaging game with the 28mm figures on show.

The Prince Rupert Blue Regiment of Foote featured in my report from last year with their skirmish game using 'Victory without Quarter'.

The chaps go the extra mile with an appearance in uniform and a display of their kit when on duty with the 'Sealed Knot'.

This year's game was focused on Price Rupert's and Prince Maurice's storming of Bristol in 1643, with a mat and river sections I immediately recognised as, like mine, from Terrain Mat.

As you can see we had some suitably medieval wall sections representing the old city boundary with Royalist troops set to attack the breach made in it, with the chaps using an adapted version of Donnybrook to govern the play.

Finally I manged to complete my day by adding some purchases to projects underway and ones still forming.

A visit to Dave Thomas added to my growing collection of Perry's Wars of the Roses 28mm figures which is the next collection planned after the completion of the Romano-Dacians.

In addition I managed also to add to my banners and standards for this collection by picking up some Freezywater Flags from The Lance and Longbow Society.

The Lance & Longbow Society

With the modifications and changes to my room, together with the completion of the first phase of the Roman-Dacian collection build, I am in the process of starting to put together an array of 28mm scatter and larger terrain items that will compliment some of the Roman buildings built earlier in the year.

Products for Wagamers (PfW) produce some really cost effective and nicely produced options for terrain which include these sections of rivers, one set of which I already had and to which I added a second yesterday.

These sets offer 7ft of river for just £20 and in my preferable colours of muddy brown will only require a bit off additional work to render them in the way I want them to look.

As you can see the Roman tents are on the stick, together with the first sections of Renedra fencing

and some randomly sized and shaped MDF terrain bases, also from PfW which will be used for my planned array of scatter terrain to simulate the rocky and broken terrain of Dacia in the first century.

So that's it for another year of shows and show reports, with some new shows reported on and with plans to add to the list in future years.

Thanks to Mr Steve, Steve M, Bob and Vince for sharing the day out and making it a proper 'Boys Beano' and thanks also to Alistair Osborne, Chair of the Wargames Association of Reading, and the team from the club who brought the show together - keep up the good work chaps.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Mr Steve & JJ's Three Castles Walk - Part One

It was back in sunny September that Mr Steve and I set out on a planned two day expedition to walk part of the Three Castles walk on the South Wales border and to take in a few other sites along the way.

The weather for our little 'beano' turned out lovely with warm sunny afternoons embraced with autumnal chilly mornings and evenings, perfect for getting out and about and seeing a bit of history.

The map below illustrates the signed route between the three Marcher castles of Skenfrith, White and Grosmont, on the Herefordshire- Monmouthshire border, which is a mixture of cross-country walking, mainly fields and tracks, mixed with the occasional minor road or lane.

As you will see from the map this is very much contested border country of old with the cross swords battle sites of 1404 and 05 marked up for the campaigns of Owen Glendower.

Battle of Campston Hill 1404

Battle of Grosmont Castle

My Welsh ancestry can hold its head proud for causing so much trouble in centuries past which if the castles visited bear testimony to was on occasion a good deal of trouble.

The wall of Skenfrith Castle with the central bastion built in the late 13th century, between the north-west and south-west towers, with the grass in front covering the moated area in front of the wall. The tower keep looms above.

Steve and I met up mid morning as I had a two hour drive up from Devon and after leaving each of our cars at each end, set out to walk from Skenfrith to White castle, about eight miles, but given the occasional map reading detours and a landscape not dissimilar to Devon, a county of hills and valleys, it certainly felt and probably was a lot further.

A really interesting aspect of spending a day not just looking at the castle sites, which on their own are extremely revealing, but also the opportunity to experience walking in the landscape that the warriors from this particular era and those before, as the Romans campaigned in the area against the Silures, would have had to contend with.

Obviously many of them would have been a lot younger and a lot fitter than us two old codgers but the difficulties of moving even a small army amid this terrain was well demonstrated during our days walk.

The artwork on the sign boards at Skenfrith give an excellent impression of this small castle built in the 13th century besides the River Monnow controlling the access routes into and out of England on this part of the Welsh border.

As can be seen the castle was originally surrounded by a water filled moat that used water from the nearby river to feed it and Steve and I were keen to explore the circumference for evidence of how that system was designed.

The map below gives a good plan of the site together with information on the various buildings within the castle and likely dates for their inclusion.

Before setting out on our walk I turned to my copy of the Osprey title 'The Scottish and Welsh Wars 1250-1400' to refresh my memory with an overview of the Welsh frontier during the time these castles were in operation together with the men who likely manned them and fought locally.

Osprey Men at Arms - The Scottish & Welsh Wars 1250-1400

Skenfrith is a pretty hamlet with a pub built near to the castle and on the day we visited the weather bode well for our walk.

The three castles of Skenfrith, White and Grosmont were built by the Normans, probably before 1100 and would have been simple wooden motte and bailey arrangements when first constructed.

The area was an important choke point along the border with England known as the Welsh Marches and the castles were put under the control of one of the Welsh Marcher Lords, Hubert de Burgh who probably had Skenfrith rebuilt in stone between 1228 and 1232.

The remains of the base of the north-west tower - see map above, with the ramp further along leading into the main gate

The wall along from the main gate leading to the north-east tower

Looking along the wall from the north-east tower on the bank of the River Monnow

Large chunks of masonry perhaps part of the wall or an earlier bridge?

The Water Gate or postern gate leading out from the wall above the river bank

Remains of a long disused sluice gate leading to the river

A water wheel, part of the mill built on the back wall of the castle and making use of the river and moat for more peaceful purposes

Hubert's castle was a rectangular affair with towers built in each corner of a curtain wall surrounded by a moat.

The inner courtyard was dominated by a tower keep which both it and the walls would have originally had overhanging wooden fighting platforms.

The keep really is the dominating feature of this relatively small castle and still towers over the curtain walls around it today

The area within the wall also encompassed the kitchen, living accommodation, likely stabling and a small chapel.

The inside of the wall between the north-east and south-east towers along which the kitchen range of buildings would have stood.

Across from the kitchen wall the other wall was taken up with the living accommodation for the Lord and his men

The remains of the fire place, seen in the great hall

This small but imposing castle would have been a very difficult place to attack with its moated wall and could probably have been well defended by a relatively small but well armed garrison.

Living accommodation next to the great hall

The base of the oven to the left of the gatehouse
The wall between the south-east and south-west towers has seen the addition of an old mill and stable block seemingly added in the 19th century.

A memorial to the transport of past centuries gifted to the parish

With Skenfrith well and truly explored, it was on with the walking boots and backpack and off on the walk to a much more imposing castle, White Castle.

The route we were following is well signed with route markers positioned at strategic way-points along it and both Steve and I enjoyed the challenge of staying on track whilst chatting and taking our packed lunch among glorious countryside with weather to match.

That said by late afternoon, the legs and back were starting to feel the last couple of miles and White Castle for me was starting to take on that mythical element, rather like Camelot in a certain Monty Python epic, each time Steve suggested it should be insight just over that next hill.

Finally the curtain wall of White Castle comes into view, nestled behind the roof of a distant farmhouse, as this was taken with telephoto!

As can be seen in the illustration below White Castle is a very serious statement of intent amid this pastoral landscape which was designed to leave the locals in no doubt as to who was in charge.

White Castle or Castell Gwyn is thought to get its name from the white plaster applied to some of the exterior stonework although another explanation suggests that the name Castell Gwyn refers to the name of Gwyn ap Gwaethfod who possibly occupied an earlier defensive position on this site at the time of the Norman invasion.

As mentioned, White Castle was built originally by the Normans in wood sometime before 1100 and originally had a central tower withing the inner ward with a wooden stockade and moat encompassing the outer ward, both of which were later rebuilt in stone around 1184-86 whilst also seeing the tower within the inner main ward demolished.

It seems a very uncertain political situation in Wales lead to the decision in the 1260's to massively rebuild and strengthen the defences of White Castle, which saw the addition of projecting towers well equipped with arrowloops together with a new entrance protected by imposing twin towers.

The whole castle area was surrounded by a moat with drawbridges protecting the entrances to both the outer and inner keep.

Osprey Men at Arms - The Scottish & Welsh Wars 1250-1400

The smaller gatehouse added to the curtain wall of the outer ward sometime in the 1260's

White Castle is a major military establishment and it is thought that the outer ward served as an army base which would have been fitted out with many wooden buildings within its stone wall to accommodate the troops stationed here.

The outer ward curtain wall and ditch which would have been a moat, leading to the gated entrance with its protected drawbridge

The furthest tower on the northern wall of the outer keep marks the extent of the area used to accommodate a local army 

The upgrade made to the castle in the 1260's saw the increased provision of arrowloops

The Outer Ward seen from the bridge over the moat to the inner ward conveys the extent of this area for housing a large number of troops in a defended area.

Where Skenfrith Castle's dominating feature was its tower keep, White Castle's is definitely its extraordinary twin towered gate standing proud behind its gorge of a moat.

Now that is what you call a gate house!

And that is what you call a moat! Are you seriously going to attack this place!

Mr Steve conveniently stands in to give a sense of scale to this impressive twin-towered gate house.

The remains of the runner that would have housed the portcullis is still visible in front of the arched entrance

The view of the inner ward from the main gate house

The small buildings along this wall of the inner keep housed the kitchen

On this side of the keep are the remains of the great hall and apartments

The view of the gate house seen from the rear of the inner ward near to the keep

The towers on the wall of the inner ward are massive and house serried floors of fireplaces that would have provided a modicum of comforts to the garrison

As you can see from these pictures White Castle is a very powerful operating base and quite different from the much smaller Skenfrith Castle whose scale suggests more one of living accommodation for the Lord and a small garrison to police the local area.

The southern wall of the outer ward viewed from a shallow dried up moat is no less imposing than that of the inner ward

With our tour around White Castle a fine way to end a very nice day's walk Steve and I were keen to head off to our accommodation, The Old Rectory in pretty Llangattock Lingoed.

The Old Rectory, Llangattock Lingoed

Not to mention sampling the fine beverages and good food on offer at our nearby hostelry, the Hunters Moon Inn where after all that fresh air both of us were starving.

Right next door to our B&B was the Hunters Moon Inn

The day ended as gloriously as it had started and maintained throughout, offering splendid views of the surrounding countryside from the garden.

Oh and see that tree to the right of picture, well whilst arranging the shot I couldn't help but notice the melodious bird-song accompanying my attempts to frame the shot.

So a quick squeeze on the telephoto and a realignment revealed our dainty little 'songmeister', a Robin celebrating his or her (only Robins can tell the difference!) surroundings sat close to the perfect Christmas shot of red berries set against evergreen.

In part two of this post Mr Steve and I decided to go easy on our knackered old frames and take the car to look at a very old church or two, Grosmont Castle , Raglan Castle and the Roman Veterans Town of Caerwent.

Other sources referred to in this post