Friday, 3 July 2020

Dartmoor Walk - Down Tor Stone Row

Carolyn standing in the amazing Neolithic/Bronze Age Hingston Hill stone circle at Down Tor Stone Row

With restrictions on movement in the UK gradually relaxing with all the possible implications that might have in terms of the control of the pandemic, the opportunity to explore the countryside to get a bit of physical exercise away from home is opening up and Carolyn and I took advantage of the new rules to take a trip out to Dartmoor to walk and visit some of its many neolithic monuments, many of which we have not seen before.

The map shows Burrator Reservoir and where we walked on our recent visit to Dartmoor

The area we went to is close to Burrator Reservoir, a large lake built above Plymouth in the centre of a series of connecting valleys, or combes as we call them in Devon, in the late 19th century to provide fresh water for the city and near abouts.

Dartmoor National Park is a natural moorland upland slap bang in the middle of Devon, created during the ice age which left this granite based moor covered in rocky outcrops or tors and amazingly balanced stones left on top of them when the ice receded.

This ancient landscape is covered with neolithic, bronze age and iron age settlements and monuments which reminds the visitor of the distant history of the land with its many ruins in the landscape, so beloved of Tolkein in his Middle Earth fantasy which is so easy to imagine in this part of the world.

The OS walking map with Down Tor at the centre of our planned route to Cuckoo Rock and Down Tor Stone Row

I had discovered several recommended walks in the area, but decided to opt for a relatively short jaunt, just 3.5 miles, although the walk would feel more than that with a lot of off road and track hiking and up-hill, down-dale effort to get around the central key feature of Down Tor at one end of the reservoir, with several hut circles and settlements near to and on the way to the stone row itself.

The other reason for my choice was to use my ViewRanger app on the phone for which I had downloaded the OS 1:25000 Explorer Map of Dartmoor and on which I had plotted our walk the night before and which would allow me an opportunity to try it out in this way.

My ViewRanger route planned in on my phone shows up in blue with my route
recorded in red on the digital version of the OS map seen above 

I have used this app in Spain last year for our Peninsular War battlefield tour and the previous year walking Offas Dyke with Mr Steve, but hadn't yet tried it with a pre-set route that I had plotted to follow.

Back in the day, I used to use a compass and paper map, but in these days of sat-nav and the ability to carry all the information on your phone I am very happy to embrace the technology to help in planning longer and more interesting excursions

If you look closely you can see that Carolyn and I took a few detours on the way to look at stuff and we ended up walking the route the other way than I had planned, as I set out on the wrong bridle path but carried on once I had discovered the error to see how practical making changes was with the device. No problem at all!

The first part of the walk had us following an old bridle path up from the car park and soon brought us to our first ancient buildings, namely the remains of the medieval Middleworth Farm with the old farmhouse looking rather forlorn covered in a velvet of local mosses and lichens.
The path leading up from the car park to Middleworth Farm

As we followed the valley of the Narrator Brook to our right, on our left the lower slopes of Down Tor presented indicating we were leaving the lower ground around the reservoir and climbing up on to the higher ground of the moorland above.

Down Tor peaks out above our path as we moved along from Middleworth Farm to the neighbouring ruin of Combeshead Farm next to a gloriously old oak tree

The old oak on the boundary of Combshead Farm a bit further along the path

The ruins of Combeshead Farm indicated a larger range of buildings than its neighbour along the way, but no less robbed out of its valuable stonework.

On leaving the ruins of the farm we were immediately struck by trees draped as they were in a wispy lichen that hung down from their branches as well as lacy looking clumps that adorned the lower branches.

The wispy lichen hanging off the trees here was most noticeable and very unusual.

The trail climbed steadily and soon enough, Cuckoo Rock, a curiously shaped piece of granite on the highest point cut into it by two large horizontal gashes, not doubt carved out by wind rain and ice over the centuries, hove into view, with the ground before it covered in ferns and bushes.

Cuckoo Rock a very noticeable landmark on our route as we climbed ever higher 

On the climb up, the path became overgrown in ferns amid which we met some of the local residents, Dartmoor ponies, that wander free on the moor and together with their Welsh counterparts are reminders of the Celtic ponies that puled the chariots and provided the mounted arm of the Britons who faced off against Caesar's and Claudius's legions.

A mare and foal, Dartmoor ponies forage amid the ferns and proved difficult to spot until you were really close up. You have to be cautious when the foals are about as mums can be rather protective. 

Dartmoor is high up and exposed to the worst of the weather in the South West and the granite bears testament to the harsh effects of the climate, particularly in the winter.

Getting near to the top now!

Well if we get stuck up here at least we some slight shelter - me first!

The view from Cuckoo Rock from the way we came and our climb up to it to the the view out to Combshead Tor on our next part of the walk were truly stunning and made a perfect stop point to grab a drink and a quick snack before pressing on.

The view of our path up to Cuckoo Rock with the ruins of the two medieval farms nestled down in the trees to the extreme right and the valley of the Narrator Brook following the trees in the valley left to right.

Now on top of the high ground behind Cuckoo Rock we could see the back of Combshead Tor and beyond that Down Tor stone row.

Another Tolkienien reference, perhaps Eleanor? The moor was dotted yellow at this time of year

I really enjoy the challenge of finding my way around in open country and identifying specific landmarks to navigate by, ever since I got lost learning to fly years ago on my pilots qualifying flight but went back to the basics of narrowing down my exact position based on known landmarks, to get back on track and pass my test.

Here I was just trying to find the stone row and found myself scanning the horizon from Combshead Tor and suddenly realise I had been looking at it for several minutes before it dawned on me exactly what I was looking at.

The neolithic monument that is the stone row and cairn or collasped burial mound within the stone circle at one end, known as Hingston Hill Stone Circle

Its really amazing to think that this burial mound and stone monument was constructed somewhere between 4000 to 2500 BC possibly just into the bronze age and represents the work of some of the most ancient inhabitants of the British Isles, with the landscape very much as it would have been then.

Carolyn follows the path back in time

With the highlight of our walk found we headed back up hill to start the descent back down to Burrator Reservoir and the car park, with Down Tor ahead and to the right of our path but with a significant enclosed settlement to look at on our way down.

Our path back to the car with Down Tor to the right and Burrator Reservoir in the distance.

This curious Ice Age landscape left boulders precariously perched on rock ledges

The high ground here is covered in granite boulders and made identifying the boundary of the enclosed settlement difficult at ground level.

The circular shape of these piled rocks indicate the circular boundary of this early settlement, perhaps where the people who built the stone row came from

The remains of a round house within the settlement can be seen peaking above the ferns in the centre of the picture, within the enclosure

Two gnarled trees seemed to mark the route between them down to the car

As we descended the path opened out, but the clouds still threatened rain

With the settlement identified we pressed on down the slope, enjoying the copious amounts of fresh air and grateful for the threatening clouds holding off from unloading a shower before we were back to the car.

Dartmoor is a fantastic place to walk with lots of interesting places to visit and we had a great time exploring around Down Tor, which made such a nice excursion after our several weeks of lock down.

I am looking forward to getting back into more walking in the year and will share the adventures here on JJ's

For more information on the sites visited I have attached the following links:

Next up, the crowds line the wharf to see the mighty 112-gun Santa Anna join the Spanish Squadron

Monday, 29 June 2020

All at Sea - Spanish Fleet Box Build

After a short break, painting and rigging a couple of ships for my friend Bob and featuring them in the recent series of rigging tutorial videos, work continues on my own collection of model ships and JJs Royal Shipyard carries on the work started with the launch of Santisima Trinidad to build my Armada Espanola.

As seen below, the core of the collection is to be built around the Warlord Spanish navy box set with my big three-decker to represent the 112-gun Santa Anna as featured at the head of this post.

All the hulls constructed and parts primed ready to start painting

The last week saw the hulls put together and primed in my normal light grey primer paint, with the various fittings such as masts, anchors and boats primed separately either on the sprues or, as you can see, held by clothes pegs in the case of metal parts.

I tend to paint these parts separately and then bring them together at the end thus leaving work on the hulls much easier to do without having to paint in between already affixed mast and boats.

All the painting done and fitted out with masts and boats, it’s time to start rigging.

As you will also see I am only concentrating on the rated ships at present and so this initial batch of models includes the three frigates, Diana, Ninfa and Ceres, the three third rates, Montanes, Neptuno and San Juan Nepomuceno and my first rate Santa Anna.

My generic first rate has been finished to look like the 112-gun Santa Anna

As always, these models give plenty of detail to work with and the opportunity to try and capture the look of the ships the models will represent, all be it that these are not historical replicas of the originals and were not designed to be, but instead wargaming models that to my eye really capture the look of the ships of this period and will grace any table when gathered for battle.

With those caveats in mind painting and modelling these kits has to acknowledge those variations from the actual historical ship, such as the occasional variation of figurehead and the over accentuated name plates, below stern galleries.

The Spanish frigate Ninfa (Nymph) displays her angelic figurehead with spread wings

I personally like the way Warlord have designed these models to be easy on the eye and very functional wargaming models and with a carefully applied paint job can be made to look the part which a full set of rigging will do.

Lots of added detail complete these kits with specific figureheads and stern galleries

So this week will be spent fitting these models out with their rigs and then I will start work on my three Spanish third rates of renown, Monarca, Argonauta and San Justo, thanks to Robin at Warlord Games who sorted out my particular box not having its metal deck and figurehead/gallery parts.

Following those I will return back to the similar boxes for the Royal Navy box with HMS Bellerophon, Revenge and Tonnant and the French box, Indomptable, Formidable and Argonaute.

Once these models are finished it might be time to do a bit of a fleet review.

So lots of work in the dockyard to look forward to, alongside more book reviews and game reports and perhaps a bit of outside reporting on a little local waking trip Carolyn and I have planned.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

The Struggle for Sea Power, A Naval History of American Independence - Dr. Sam Willis

My reading list from the Age of Sail has been updated with my recent reading of Dr Sam Willis' 2015 title covering the maritime war of the American War of Independence (AWI).

Although my current modelling project is very much focused on the naval forces of the era that followed this struggle, namely the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, the links to the way that latter naval war was conducted and fought, lie very much in this earlier period, and I was conscious of a gap in my knowledge about the conduct of the naval war in the AWI that I hoped this book would inform.

My interest in the AWI has always been more inclined towards the war on land in America, with a good understanding of that aspect together with a limited interest in the naval aspect focused on Suffren's campaign off the Indian coast, around which I built a collection of Langton 1:200th models, which encouraged further reading.

However any student of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era soon realises that the rise and success of the Royal Navy in that period clearly had its roots in this earlier war and the commanders who led that navy developed the strategy and tactics from the experience gained between 1775 to 1783 and gained a better understanding of how to wield sea power globally with its ability to project power and influence events on land. 

The Struggle for Sea Power is careful to include the contribution of the freshwater navies, and reminded me of the picture I took back in 1988 on a visit to the National Museum of American History in Washington DC, and the amazingly preserved hull of the gondola Philadelphia, recovered in 1935, part of General Benedict Arnold's fleet of hastily constructed boats on Lake Champlain, that resisted Carleton's expedition around Valcour Island in 1776

Dr Sam Willis is a leading maritime historian, archaeologist, and broadcaster with several naval histories from the Age of Sail to his credit, one of which I reviewed here previously, 'Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century, The Art of Sailing Warfare' which I thoroughly enjoyed and so was looking forward to reading this next book by him.

What I found particularly interesting in this book was Willis sets his stall out right from the start in how he constructed this history basing the work around five rules:
  1. A naval history that includes reference to the formal and informal navies that characterised the war with the national and state navies together with the privateer fleets, 
  2. The scope to cover the war on the rivers and lakes as well as at sea, 
  3. The global nature of the war that included alongside the fleets from the US, France and Great Britain, those of Spain, Holland, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, the East India Company, the Bombay Marine and native American Indians, and 
  4. A joining up of all the dots by linking the effects of war between the navies in widely separated theatres influencing each other.
His final rule five set out to highlight how all sides involved in the conflict had expectations of sea power that were often disappointed with a clear mismatch of the expectations and an understanding of the unique aspects that control of the water, be that riverine or maritime could deliver; which as a theme constantly seeks to illustrate how, when the role of sea power was exploited effectively by all the combatants, its effect could be dramatic and war changing.

A contemporary watercolour of Arnold's fleet at Valcour Island in 1776 with the sloop, Royal Savage in the centre and with the gondola, Philadelphia, seen above, shown second from left - Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada.

This latter rule was so clearly emphasised for me by the chapter covering the impact of the lack of cooperation between the French admiral d'Estaing and American Major-General Sullivan off Rhode Island in 1778, following the great excitement and anticipation French naval power seemed to offer American capability in the land war; when the French admiral departed the American coast after the effects of storm damage and a robust resistance from British Admiral Howe's smaller squadron seem to  convince the French commander that he needed to be anywhere else other than helping his American allies to capture Newport. 

D'Estaing and his dismasted flagship Languedoc 80-guns narrowly escaped capture following the storm off Rhode Island in 1778, when attacked by Captain George Lawson's HMS Renown 50-guns, part of Howe's British squadron.

The effect was to leave the American's hugely disappointed and Sullivan's troops unemployed the following year, with Washington having no idea where the French fleet was or if it was coming back, with d'Estaing having departed for the Caribbean. Thus it was that Sullivan's troops had time on their hands to head up to the Mohawk Valley area and devastate the Iroquois Indian settlements, a deployment that had previously baffled me when purely focusing on the land war, but now makes complete sense, with the Mohawk valley being such an important food resource for the American army and in desperate need of relief and with troops more than capable and available to take punitive action.

Washington crossing the Delaware - Emanuel Leutze
A somewhat fanciful and romanticised rendition of Washington's several crossings of the Delaware River in December 1776, captures well the impact of John Glover's Marblehead men in enabling safe passage of this large river in winter for the American general and his army to conduct a surprise campaign that would drive the British out of New Jersey and its rich supply base.

Willis takes pains to stress how important it was for the land forces to cooperate closely with the maritime forces when operating on or close to water, which was a natural consequence of operating along the extensive coast line of the American colonies and in the vast open tracts of colonial North America where large fast flowing rivers and great lakes were a major feature of the landscape.

As well as the ability to land on or blockade the American shoreline, very often it was the same sailors from the respective navies and their commanders who were recruited to enable the armies to operate on these fresh water obstacles and where the cooperation was effective, very often the results of that collaboration paid dividends, with examples of the Marblehead sailors led by John Glover who enabled Washington to escape from Brooklyn and his later crossing of the Delaware during the American winter offensive that led to the actions at Princeton and Trenton.

The Siege of Charleston, March 29th - May 12th 1780 - Alonzo Chappel
Just under 5,500 troops together with tons of stores, munitions and shipping fell into British hands, the worst surrender of US troops until 1862, illustrated the benefits to be had by coordinated command from land and sea.

Likewise General Clinton's successful attack on Charleston, South Carolina in 1780 was more than enabled by the close support by the Royal Navy on the sea and on land with sailors under the able command of Captain George Elphinstone who like Glover and the Marblehead men worked with the army, transporting guns taken from the supporting warships to bombard the city on land after the British siege train was lost at sea on route, and enabled the army to outmanouvre American defences in the swamps and marshes of the River Ashley using flat bottomed boats to transport the troops with muffled oars to avoid detection.,_1777.svg

Where that cooperation sadly lacked the consequences could be disastrous, with General John Burgoyne's seemingly ludicrous decision, amongst others, to leave Skennesborough at the bottom of Lake Champlain and march off on a sixteen mile hike through the woods, dragging a hundred bateaux over bogs and thickets and crossing the same creek forty times in pursuit of the Americans who naturally turned to fight in terrain perfectly suited to their tactics. The alternative being, with British ships controlling the waterways, to return back up Lake Champlain and take his army on prepared boats down Lake George leaving just a short march on well used roads to Fort Edward on the River Hudson. 

Willis outlines how both France and Spain were careful and deliberate in their timing of entry into the war not to be pulled in until their preparations were complete. In Spain we see the first signs of their decline as a leading power with their forces unable to make an impact until they combined their efforts with France, which was not without inherent problems.

The Spanish forces led by Bernado de Galvez at the Siege of Pensacola - Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau,_Galvez_en_America.jpg 

This decline in Spanish capability is best reflected in the inability of the Franco-Spanish fleet to break into the English Channel to enable an invasion of the British Isles and their failure to prevent a resupply of Gibraltar together with repeated attempts to take the rock, after they had made it the centre piece of their agreeing to enter the war with France in the first place. Overstretch of the Royal Navy would enable them to take Minorca and to capture a very large British convoy off Spain, but of their few successes perhaps Bernado de Galvez, Governor of New Orleans deserves the most credit for engineering British woes along the Mississippi and the capture of Pensacola with his combined operations using a limited naval capability to rapidly move his forces and take full advantage of British weakness.

The take-home messages for me was that the British political management of the naval conflict as with that on land was a woeful performance by Lord North and his government, offset somewhat by the leadership of key admirals such as Howe and others who had to often defend British interests with overstretched and inadequate resources given the cuts to the navy before the war, only made up for from about 1778 onward as the Admiralty geared up for global conflict.

The British were clearly aided by the Bourbon navies of France and Spain being often unable to cooperate to combine their strengths to overwhelm the Royal Navy, coping with the built in distrust that haunted the alliance against a common foe. That and the technical differences between the opposing fleets with the gradual improvement in the Royal Navy's ability to operate for longer periods at sea and avoid the sickness levels from poor hygiene and inadequate nutrition that continued to take its toll on the French and Spanish sailors, whilst less so in the Royal Navy.

The Spanish ship San Domingo explodes before HMS Sandwich, flagship of Admiral Sir George Rodney at the Battle of Cape Vincent, 16th January 1780, otherwise known as the Moonlight Battle by Richard Paton

With the advent of British developments such as the carronade and coppering of their ships hulls, the latter carried out amazingly quickly and at great expense, this combined with the rapid ship building programme initiated on the entry of France into the war, the tide of war at sea was turned and prevented the loss of even more of the British Empire than might have been the case without them, and with the improvement in British tactical methods and the aggressive approach demonstrated by commanders like Admiral Rodney at the the Moonlight Battle against the Spanish in 1780 and the Saintes against the French in 1782, laid the foundation for their greater battle effectiveness in latter periods as well as a strong negotiation position during the peace talks. 

The Battle of Flamborough Head, 24th* September 1779 - Richard Paton
Captain John Paul Jones and the US 40-gun ship Bonhomme Richard defeats the 44-gun HMS Serapis, one of the most hard fought actions of the war, that left both ships very badly damaged and saw the Bonhomme Richard sink two days later. Captain Richard Pearson was knighted by King George III for his defence of the Baltic convoy, all of which escaped capture and effectively ended Jones' cruise.
* Note the date for this battle, highlighted in Sam Willis' account, is the 24th not the 23rd quoted in many accounts, including that on Wikipedia! 

In amongst the great naval events of the war Willis weaves in the other no less important aspects such as the war waged by privateers and the state fleets, with the exploits of characters like John Paul Jones, who along with William Bingham in the Caribbean were able to take the war into British waters in a way that the fledgling Continental Navy was never able to do.

We see the rise of the tension that would be a key part of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period in the Baltic as Russia sought to take advantage of perceived British weakness and British blockades of France and Spain and the insistence of their policy of stopping, searching and if necessary confiscating merchantmen from Sweden, Denmark and Russia, found carrying supplies to enemy ports. This Russian manoeuvring would bring the Dutch into the war, much to their cost, that would see their naval power and overseas holdings taken apart by British naval power, keen to remove the threat from just over the Channel and to take or neutralise important overseas holdings in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Cape where Dutch traders had been profiting hugely from the British war whilst supplying her enemies at a very advantageous price.

Vice Admiral Sir Edward Hughes gets a much more sympathetic appraisal from Sam Willis, which chimed with my own thoughts. The admiral compares very favourably alongside, to quote Willis 'the useless' Thomas Graves.

Finally one of the interesting aspects of this read was the characters described who shaped the outcome of the war, two of whom stuck with me, namely the irascible Admiral Sir George Rodney, who though gifted with great talents in leading fleets in battle, displayed less admirable qualities of self enrichment at the expense of the greater war effort, repaying the Dutch for their trading pursuits in the taking of the Dutch island of St Eustatius (now I know what that card refers to in Washington's War) and his somewhat  disregard for the chain of command when it suited, and Admiral Sir Edward Hughes who has often appeared in other naval histories as rather unimaginative and plodding but who Willis takes pains to recognise for his ability to manage well the limited resources at his command and to fight a successful defensive campaign that ensured the Indian sub continent would remain firmly in British hands at the close of the war.

I really appreciated the approach to the layout of the book in that my understanding of the naval war in the AWI and its wider impact on the war as whole gained a much clearer understanding as Willis, whilst describing the events of a particular campaign in a particular theatre, constantly took the reader back to the impacts the events described had on other theatres and the conflict as a whole.

In addition I came away from reading it with a much better understanding of the learning process the British naval and military leadership went through in this war in understanding the need for close cooperation in combined operations. Of course these lessons would need to be relearned as a new war commenced after the previous one, but the tactical success of the landings in Aboukir Bay and the wider cooperation between British naval leaders and the army in the Peninsular War that followed can trace a path of experience gained from the Howe brothers landing an army off New York with great success and planning in 1776 and would become a key factor that would allow British power to be projected so successfully around the globe in the next century and beyond.

The Struggle for Sea Power, A Naval History of American Independence is 587 pages that includes:

List of Illustrations
Sixteen Colour
Twenty-Four Black & White

The charts in this book are extensive and well executed to follow the text

List of Charts:
America Before the War
Rhode Island
New York to Quebec, Part 1: New York and the Lower Hudson
New York to Quebec, Part 2: Hudson Highlands and Lake Champlain
New York to Quebec, Part 3: St Jean to Quebec
Northern Europe
The Caribbean
The Red Sea and India
The Gulf Coast
The Chesapeake Bay
The Invasion of Canada
The Pennsylvania Campaign


PART 1 American Revolution, 1773 - 1775
1. British Pyre
2. American Origins
3. European Gunpowder
4. Canadian Invasion
5. Colonial Sea Power
6. British Evacuation

PART 2 Civil War, 1776 - 1777

7. British Attack
8. Freshwater Fleets
9. American Riposte
10. British Surrender
11. American Sea Power

PART 3 World War, 1778 - 1780

12. Bourbon Alliance
13. French Firepower
14. British Survival
15. Caribbean Sea
16. Indian Empire

17. Spanish Patience
18. Bourbon Invasion
19. British Resourcefulness
20. Caribbean Crisis
21. French Incompetence
22. American Destruction

23. British Dominance
24. Allied Recommitment
24. Spanish Skill
26. Russian Meddling

PART 4 American Independence, 1781

27. Dutch Disaster
28. British Obsession
29. French Escapes
30. Allied Success

Glossary of Nautical Terms

The book in hard copy retails at a list price of £30 but at the time of writing Amazon are listing new copies available for as little as £10.95 which is a steal for this quality of book.

Next up - Work progresses with the Spanish Fleet in All at Sea and more adventures from Washington's War in Vassal