A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Friday, 31 August 2012

Solo Campaign - Battle of Carpio de Azaba

Troops from D'Arnauld's brigade in Carpio Village

The Battle of Carpio de Azaba, 18th June 1812

With a letter from the Minister for War in his saddlebags, urging him to press on, the new Allied C-in-C, The Earl of Aigburth (better known as General Banestre Tarleton), advanced very rapidly from Almeida, over the border into Spain, along the road towards Ciudad Rodrigo. His intention was to attempt to surprise Clauzel, with the portion of the Armée de Portugal which had been ordered to protect Ciudad Rodrigo, defeat him, and move on to attack the fortress before the French had time to make good the defences damaged during their own successful siege a month earlier.

Aigburth’s force comprised the Anglo-Portuguese Third, Seventh and Light Divisions of infantry, the cavalry brigades of Long, Viktor Von Alten and De Jonquieres, a single battery of foot artillery and no less than three troops of horse artillery, a force of 16,600 men with 22 guns. Some regiments in the Seventh Divn were severely reduced in numbers by their efforts in the campaign to date. The few remaining fit men of the Brunswick-Oels Jaeger battalion, the 51st Foot, the 68th Foot and the 2nd Light Bn of the KGL were attached to other regiments. The army made good time on the march, the spirit of the troops was excellent, considering what they had been through in past months. On the night of Monday 15th June the column bivouacked near to the old battlefield of Fuentes de Onoro, which was seen as a positive omen by the men. Always wakeful and urging more speed, the Earl impressed his staff by his energy and the clarity of his orders.

As had been the case just three weeks earlier, his army was opposed by Clauzel, with his own and Maucune’s Divisions of the Armée de Portugal, plus the cavalry brigades of Col. Picquet and Treillard and 4 foot batteries – a total 13,550 men with 32 guns. Having recently retreated from Almeida after being defeated there by Wellington (with a very similar OOB for both sides), Clauzel had assembled his force with considerable haste from its wide-spread billets. At 9:30 in the morning of 18th June, with his infantry still shivering from fording the Rivera de Azaba during the night, Aigburth advanced to attack the French position – Clauzel had placed his line with its centre in the village of Carpio de Azaba.

[This game was played using CCN rules but, because the forces were rather too large for the Command Card system, an additional rule was added whereby the “Probe” Section cards could be played, instead, as a single move of all units and leaders in the named section – this movement could not result in contact, and the moved units could not carry out any combat. This option was exercised twice during the action. Being the attackers, the Allies had first move throughout, 6 cards each, and 10 Victory Banners for outright victory.]

The field is part of a plateau adjacent to the Spanish border. There are a number of small hillocks and some wooded areas, but the field is generally open. The village of Carpio was roughly triangular in 1812, with a population of approximately 250.

Aigburth positioned Picton’s Third Divn on his right, with the Light Divn, supported by all the horse artillery and with the Seventh Divn in reserve behind them, on the left and opposite the village. Clauzel had Berlier (with Clauzel’s Divn) on his left, and Maucune’s Divn in the village and extending to his right. Both generals placed most of their cavalry on the flanks – aware that the open ground would make cavalry a threat.

The Allied attack began on the left – riflemen and horse artillery to the fore, in a style which must have been very different from Tarleton’s experience in America 30 years before. The Rifles came into their own, using their extra range to harass the French gunners and cause loss to the French infantry. This stage of the attack was mainly an exchange of artillery fire, while some rifle units on the Allied left flank cleared a wooded area of French infantry, but progress was halted abruptly when the French, led in person by Baron Maucune, rallied strongly and pushed the Allies back again. This counter-attack was so vigorous, and for a while so successful, that at one stage it was difficult to see which army was the attacker, but – once again – the unsung heroes of Eustace’s Chasseurs Britanniques held things together, established themselves in one of the disputed woods and allowed time for the reserves to come up. There was some frenzied cavalry action on this flank at this point – the Duke of Brunswick-Oels’ Hussars performing in outstanding fashion, defeating both the 14e Chasseurs a Cheval and the Lanciers de la Vistule, who were routed very quickly – admittedly General Cotton was present in person, [and he brought a fine Cavalry Charge card with him].

Once again, the cavalry conflicts did little but wipe out most of the cavalry [mental note: I really must try to have a solo wargame some time which does not involve so much pointless slaughter in the cavalry]. However, the combined Portuguese cavalry unit did well to force one of the battalions of the 82e Ligne into square, a situation from which they were chased by the combined fire of Ross’ Troop of the RHA and a battalion of the 95th Rifles.

At this point, as a result of artillery fire on the advancing British, and of the cavalry actions on the flanks, the French held a 7:2 lead in Victory Banners, a situation which did not really reflect the balance of advantage. The French were defending stoutly, and Clauzel was generally successful in pulling tired units out of the firing line and bringing in fresh ones, but – despite his apparent advantage in Victory Banners – he now had many units which were reduced to a single base/block, and were no longer able to contribute to the battle. If the Allies could avoid suffering the critical 10th Banner, they had enough troops to win the day.

In the end, the result was (in boxing terms) a points win. The Allies never did roll over the French line, nor break into Carpio village – as the attack developed, the Victory Banners score came to 8-all, then 9:8 to the Allies as a battery was put out of action, then 9-all as the French replied in kind, and silenced MacDonald’s RHA troop. Then the last of Montfort’s battalions on the right were broken by the Allied fire, and it was 10:9 to Aigburth. Rather closer than he would have hoped for, but a clear enough win in the end.

Clauzel withdrew in good order, the 3 battalions of the 15e Ligne determinedly holding the village to cover the retreat, but his lack of cavalry meant that most of the wounded had to be left on the field, and there was an element of panic among the troops as they fell back – leaving the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo exposed and heading to join with Jourdan’s forces at Salamanca.

General de Brigade Berlier, commanding Clauzel’s Divn on the day, was seriously wounded late in the day, and  General de Division Maucune was struck by a canister ball while at the head of the 86e Ligne, and he died within minutes.

The Earl of Aigburth was clearly elated at the end of the action, but was shaking with fatigue. The Portuguese cavalry, the KGL heavy dragoons and the heroic Brunswick Hussars were dispatched to keep the retiring French moving, and to assess the situation at Ciudad Rodrigo.
    
OOBs

French Force – Gen de Divn Bertrand, Baron Clauzel

2nd Divn, Armée de Portugal (Gen de Bde Berlier, acting)
Bde Berlier (Col. De Conchy) – 25e Leger & 27e Ligne [3 bns]
Bde Pinoteau – 50e & 59e Ligne [4]
15/3e Art a Pied (Capt. Pajot)

5th Divn, Armée de Portugal (Gen de Divn Antoine-Louis Popon, Baron Maucune)
Bde Arnauld – 15e & 66e Ligne [4 Bns]
Bde Montfort – 82e & 86e Ligne [3]
11/8e Art a Pied (Capt. Genta)

Cavalry
Bde Col. Picquet – 6e Dragons & 1er Dragons Provisoirs (4e & 11e) [6 Sqns]
Bde Treillard – 14e Chasseurs, 7e Chev-Lanc (Vistule), Dragoni Napoleone [9 Sqns]

Reserve Artillery
10/3e & 19/3e Art a Pied (Capts. Dyvincourt & Gariel)

Total force engaged approx 13550 men with 32 guns. Loss approx 3200 infantry, 875 cavalry and 10 guns. Gen. Berlier was severely wounded, though he is expected to recover. General Maucune was killed leading his Division.

Allied Force – General the Earl of Aigburth

Third Divn (Maj.Gen Sir Thomas Picton)
Col. Wallace’s Bde – 1/45th, 74th & 1/88th Ft + 3 coys 5/60th
Col. J Campbell’s Bde – 2/5th, 2/83rd & 94th Ft
Palmeirim’s Bde – 9th & 21st Ptgse + 11th Cacadores [5 Bns total]
10/9th Bn Royal Artillery (Maj. Douglas)

Seventh Divn (Maj.Gen JHK Von Bernewitz, acting)
Col. Halkett’s Bde – combined Lt Bn (1st & 2nd Lt Bns KGL & 68th Ft)
Von Bernewitz’ Bde (Col. Eustace) – Chasseurs Britanniques & Tomar Militia Bn (attached)
Troop E, RHA (Capt. MacDonald)

Light Divn (Maj.Gen Karl, Baron Von Alten)
Col. Beckwith’s Bde – 1/43rd, 1/95th & 3/95th + 3rd Cacadores
Vandeleur’s Bde – 1/52nd & 2/95th + 1st Cacadores
Troop I, RHA (Maj. Ross)

Cavalry (Lt.Gen Sir Stapleton Cotton)
                Long’s Bde – 3rd Dgns, 5th Dgn Gds [6 Sqns]
                Viktor Von Alten’s Bde – 1st Hussars KGL, Brunswick-Oels Hussars [6]
                Provisional Bde (Col. De Jonquières) – 1st Dgns KGL, Prov Ptgse Cav (dets 1st & 11th) [6]
Troop A, RHA (Maj. Bull)

Total force engaged, approx 16600 men with 22 guns. Total loss approx 1100 infantry, 725 cavalry and 4 guns disabled.

Detail losses:

French – 1/27 (-3 blocks), 2/27 (-1), 2/50, 3/50, 4/66 (-2 each), 15/3 Art a Pied (-1), Arnauld’s tirailleur bn, 5/82 (-2 each), 1/86, 2/86 (-1 each), 6e Dragons (-2), 11e Dragons (-1), 10/3 Art a Pied (-3), 4e Dragons, 14e Ch-a-Ch (-1 each), Lanciers de la Vistule (-2)

Anglo-Portuguese – Wallace’s combined lt.coys (-2), 5/60th (-1), Troop ‘E’ RHA (-2), 1/95th (-1), 1st Cac (-2), 1/52nd, 2/95th (-1 each), 3rd Dgns (-3), 5th Dgn Gds (-1), KGL Hussars (-1)


General view at the start, from the South-East (behind the French left)

Clauzel's position, from his left - Picquet's dragoons in the foreground

Treillard's light cavalry, on the other flank, with the Vistula Legion
Lancers in evidence - they did not have a good day  

Hanging about - some of Picton's troops

First time in action since the previous century - the Earl of
Aigburth watches anxiously

State of the Art - rifles and horse artillery - slow going, though

95th Rifles - the Qualiticast Battalion

Cotton supervising the Riflemen clearing the woods...

...with the odd setback

Fine fellows all - the Chasseurs Britanniques, who have done very well
throughout the campaign

Assault Center - and about time too

The Brunswick Hussars upset some elite opposition.
Bearing in mind his fondness for a bet, we can only hope
the Earl had some money on this one


With everything updated for the battle, here are the returns and the map for 21st June 1812 (Week 22)




Wednesday, 29 August 2012

ECW - The Rabble


I believe I may have mentioned this matter here before. I have already had some valuable advice from Clive, John C and others – for which many thanks – and I have a short term plan which I shall say more about in a moment, but I thought it might be a good move to air the topic more widely, to see if anyone has some good ideas.

While reading about the ECW in Lancashire and other, similarly provincial parts of Up North, I have come to understand that a proportion of the infantry - especially Parliamentarian town guard and militia units, were often just citizens armed with anything they could get their hands on. Of course, there are no suitable figures available in 20mm (which serves me right, I guess), so I've been having a good think what I could use for such characters. The idea is that they should be compatible with my Les Higgins/Hinton Hunt armies – a size range that also includes SHQ and (some) Tumbling Dice things.

Irregular are too small, as are Niblet. Mainstream old-style 25mm such as Minifigs S-Range (and there are two very nice armed peasants in the range) are too big, as are Art Miniaturen and the forthcoming Falcata 30YW figures, and so are all 1/72 plastics, sadly – I was impressed by Dux Homunculorum’s clubmen converted from the Imex “Pilgrims” set. I am happy to consider figures from a different (though similar) period.

My present plan is to convert some Les Higgins ECW artillerymen, and maybe some Hinton Hunt artillerymen if I can find spares – give them the odd new hat, remove their artillery tools to give them open hands, animate them a bit and fit them with pole arms (bits of florists’ wire, plus any suitable axes and bits and pieces I can get). I probably need 2 or 3 units – I would go for normal ECW figures for the command, on the assumption that the leaders would be better dressed, so I would need about 60 suitable clubmen, preferably in a suitably disorganised mixture of poses (i.e. at least 3, for preference).

If I can make up some decent converted prototypes I can arrange to get some copies made, but this is all a bit of an unexpected challenge. I knew I was going to have to obtain some Scots at some point, but there are suitable figures by both Hinton Hunt and SHQ. If you are aware of any (21mm tall) 20mm ECW figures which I haven’t mentioned, or you have any good ideas on good donor figures for cunning conversions, I’d be very pleased to hear from you.  

Monday, 27 August 2012

Solo Campaign - Week 22

Iglesia Parroquial de la Asuncion, at Carpio, which was used as
a French field hospital during the battle on 18th June 1812

Well, it's possibly going to end in tears, but General Tarleton is going for it in style. He has entered Spain, and is attacking Clauzel's force near the village of Carpio, not far from Fuentes de Onoro. I hope to fight the actual battle next weekend, so will produce the necessary map and returns after that, along with the batrep, of course.

Week 22

Random Events and Strategic Notes
Completely coincidentally, but appropriately, the Earl of Aigburth (Tarleton) has been given official orders to adopt a much more aggressive strategy [than his predecessor].

The Central Junta has now made a formal request that Wellington might be seconded to the Spanish service. The exact nature of the role he could play is unclear. There is a theory that aid for the Spanish army in the form of money and equipment would be more readily available if Wellington were actively involved.

Housekeeping
The 3D3 activation throws give both the Allies and the French 3 – a remarkable thing to witness! Since they moved first last week, the French take the option to do so again.

Moves

French (3 allowed)
1 – N (Marmont) marches from Zamora to Leon
2 – E (Abbé, with Rabbe’s bde of his own Division of the Armée du Nord) marches from Tudela to Zaragoza...
3 – ...and G (Lacharrue’s bde of the same Divn) marches from Sadaba to Zaragoza, thus threatening Morillo’s Spanish force
[Intelligence step –
  • no scouting orders]
Allies (3 allowed)
1 – Sp C (Morillo) retreats from Zaragoza back to Alcaniz. Since the advancing French force has no cavalry, his retreat is not hindered.
2 – D (Framlingham, with the Allied siege train) marches from Elvas, across the Tajo to Abrantes. This is a difficult (brown) road, so a test is required:
2D3 = 4 +2 (Framlingham’s rating) -1 (brown road) = 5   - march is completed with no problems
3 – A (Aigburth, with the Anglo-Portuguese 3rd, 7th and Light Divns) advances over the border into Spain, from Almeida to the Ciudad Rodrigo area, where he attacks Clauzel’s portion of the Armée de Portugal
[Intelligence step -
  • no scouting orders]
Supplies and Demoralisation
All units are in supply. No-one is Demoralised.

Contacts
The Earl of Aigburth, directed to take the offensive, and wishing to set up an attack on Ciudad Rodrigo before the French could complete their repairs to the badly damaged defences, led his force which was at Almeida over the border into Spain, towards Ciudad Rodrigo. This force consisted of The Allied Third, Seventh and Light Divns, with three attached cavalry brigades – a total of approx 16600 men. On the night of Tuesday 16th June the army halted near the old battlefield of Fuentes de Onoro, which was hailed as an omen of coming victory by the troops.

Clauzel

The area ahead was occupied by Bertrand Clauzel, who had his own and Maucune’s Divisions of the Armée de Portugal, plus cavalry, and could field approx 13500, with something of a superiority in artillery. Clauzel was surprised by the advance – largely because a lack of orders [as a result of the dreadful Activation dice roll!] had not allowed for any scouting patrols to check the border – and he was further handicapped in that his troops were spread over a wide area to secure adequate quartering in the poor countryside. By the time the presence of the Allied troops was reported, there was a further delay while Clauzel collected together his force, which allowed Aigburth to effect a daring crossing of the little Rivera de Azaba (a tributary of the Agueda) during the night of Wednesday 17th.

The armies met in the early morning of Thursday 18th June, in an area of poor but fairly level farmland. Clauzel, obliged to stand his ground to protect Ciudad Rodrigo, placed the centre of his line in the village of Carpio de Azaba, which was to give its name to the battle fought on that day.

Engineering at Ciudad Rodrigo
Each battalion present with the garrison rolls 1D6 each week, giving 4D6 – every 6 rolled adds 1 to the Fortress Value, which is currently 3 – aiming to be repaired to a full value of 6.  This week, the dice come up 6 4 4 3, so the Fortress Value regains a further 1, becoming 4.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Activation Systems - Again (contd)

A rare and highly-prized example of a C&CN "Tactic" Command Card 

This follows on from the previous post about Activation Rules – I got some useful input from Comments and also through email - thanks to all who contributed so positively - and I felt it probably justifies a short additional note.

The chief problem I was interested in was how to allow movement of a mass of troops in a C&C-type game, in which the Command Cards normally allow for only a small number of units to be ordered in a turn, and the fall of the cards will not normally support the movement of a large formation in a coherent manner. A classic example might be a division marching onto the battlefield, or any kind of strategic march.

First thing to note is that C&CN (the Napoleonic member of the Borg family of games) includes a Force March card – there are 2 of these in the pack, and they allow all the infantry (only infantry) in one Section (Left, Centre, Right) to be ordered together. Units with a Leader attached may march 2 hexes and battle, other infantry may march 1 hex and battle, or march 2 hexes and not battle. This is the right sort of idea, but it applies only to infantry, the 2-card allocation makes it too much of a special event, and it is quite a powerful card when it is played.

I very much liked Ross’s suggestion that an alternative meaning could be added to some of the existing Section cards. I think that marching should not be a rare or specially-privileged act. I propose to make a scenario-specific tweak, and it should be a fairly routine option with rather less inherent advantage than the Force March card – “common but not very powerful” is the aim.

The Probe cards in C&CN might be just the thing, which – again – was Ross’s idea. As an example, the Probe Left Flank card reads:

Issue an order to 2 units or Leaders on the Left Flank

and there are 4 of them – there are also 6 Probe Centre and 4 Probe Right Flank cards. My idea is that a footnote be added to these cards, similar to

Alternatively – if the scenario permits it – you may, instead, use the card to order each unit or Leader in the Section to make a normal move. This move may not bring them into contact with the enemy, they may not carry out any combat, and infantry may not form square or come out of square. Normal terrain rules apply.

Thus it does not allow any specially fast movement, but it does allow a lot of troops to be shifted together, which would be a simple enough order on the real-life battlefield. And, of course, if the opponent followed up with Counterattack, which mirrors the previous order, things would really start moving. Worth a try?

Adding a footnote is actually a physical possibility for me, since my C&CN Command Cards are in plastic sleeves, so I can put anything in there – bus tickets, you name it...

For the home-brewed ECW variant of C&C which I am working on, since I envisage the ECW as rather more static than Napoleonic warfare, I propose simply to enlarge the Command Card pack by adding (say) 3 cards which say something like

All the units and Leaders in any one Section may be ordered to make a normal move. This move may not bring them into contact with the enemy, they may not carry out any combat, and units of foot may not form (or come out of) Stand of Pikes formation. Normal terrain rules apply.

I dug out the downloadable rules for Anubis Studios’ White Mountain, which is a 30 Years War game heavily based on C&C Ancients, and, as I thought, it includes an extra rule for Standing Orders which is interesting. So that I do not misrepresent it in any way, I reproduce it here – the game is freely available from Anubis’ website anyway:

ISSUING STANDING ORDERS

A standing order is an order for a nominated group of
units who will continue to carry out that order, turn
after turn, in addition to any other orders you perform
elsewhere.

You may only have one standing order in play at any
time.

Units operating under a standing order may remain in
place or may move only toward the objective marker.
If any unit affected by the card makes a move away
from the objective marker for any reason the standing
order is broken and the Command card is removed
from play.

You may also cancel a standing order by removing the
Command card without acting on it, and then take a
normal turn instead.

To issue a standing order:

1 Play a Command card on the table in the
nominated zone (left, centre or right). This is the
order that you want to units to act on automatically
in future turns.
2 Mark each unit affected by the order with a
[blue] token.
3 Place an objective marker anywhere ahead of
the affected units in the same zone. This is the
point where the units, if they move, must move
toward.
4 The units may now be moved or otherwise
acted on in accordance with the Command card
played.
5 Draw a card to replace the one just played.
Your turn now ends.
6 On your next and all subsequent turns until the
standing order is broken, you may act with the
nominated units as if you just played the standing
Command card.

In addition to this continual order, you may play
Command cards elsewhere and act with other units as
usual.

Standing orders may not be used to manage away
disruption.

To finish off, I thought I’d repeat a point I made in my comment to Lee in the previous post. C&CN’s cards can be a bit limiting for a larger battle, but I have used – with decent results – a scenario-driven tweak which offers a two-for-one option. Instead of playing a Command card, the player may play ONE Tactic card or UP TO TWO Section cards. He may not play one of each. (Section cards are those Command cards which refer to movement in – you guessed it – a Section of the battlefield. Tactic cards are all the rest). This allows more action in each turn.

And that’s probably more than enough of that.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Hooptedoodle #63 – The Hedge You Could See from Space


...and other gripping tales.

On the South boundary of our garden there is a very big hedge. It is a Leylandii, and it has been there since about 1985. The previous owners of my house had some problems with an elderly neighbour, who liked to watch them sunbathing though his binoculars. Their response was to plant the hedge.

I don’t know how big it was when they planted it, or exactly how fast these things grow, so I am unable to tell you when they were able to resume sunbathing. I do know that when I moved here, in 2000, it was about 12 feet tall, and in an excellent state of maintenance. It has occasionally been a source of a little neighbourly friction, since it shades a part of next door’s garden in the late afternoon. Accordingly, we have lopped a bit off the top – it is now around 11 feet, and we also had it shortened at its Western end by some 7 feet, two years ago, when we had tree surgeons in removing our legendary eucalyptus tree. The present neighbours, by the way, have nothing to do with the gent with the binoculars – he died years ago.

So we inherited the hedge, but we like it because it maintains a nice measure of privacy. It costs a bit to keep it groomed, but overall it’s worth it.

In recent years, a vigorous Virginia Creeper (from next door) has begun to grow through the hedge, and it produces a most attractive show of red foliage in the late Summer. When it first appeared, we were surprised, but very pleased with the look of it – “How lovely!” we exclaimed, clapping our hands in childlike delight.

Three years later, the creeper has taken over, and has removed so much light and so much water from the hedge that the poor old thing has turned brown, and is not well at all. Yesterday was vengeance day. I put on my oldest clothes (which may also be my third newest clothes) and burrowed into the hedge to see what could be done. I found it was stuffed with creeper vines, some of them an inch and a half thick – a real tangle. So I got to work with secateurs and branch loppers and a pruning saw and gritted teeth, and I howked out [Scots] a very large amount of tat – 2 or 3 big builder’s bags – maybe a couple of cubic yards. With luck, the creeper will die off – it is certainly drooping badly this morning. With even more luck – and maybe a little bonemeal – the hedge may recover.

Sitrep as of this morning – the hedge looks a bit scorched, but the
creeper hanging from the top is clearly withering...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Activation Systems - Again


Over the last few days, an exchange of emails with Prof De Vries has touched on the well-worn topic of Command and Activation in miniatures games. As usual, I had been banging on about some aspect of this at rather tedious length, when De Vries came back to me and said “you obviously didn’t think that two years ago”. Hey, what? - but I’ve always thought that.

So the Prof kindly directed me back to a post I put up here in October 2010, and I re-read it, and I have to say that I do appear to have changed my mind. It’s not that I have done a full volte-face, you understand, more that I have changed my ideas on the priorities.

During these two years, I have been introduced to two rulesets which I like very much, and which have re-coloured my views more than a little. These are Richard Borg’s Command & Colors (published as a whole suite of boxed boardgames by GMT, but also used with miniatures) and Victory without Quarter, for the ECW, developed by Clarence Harrison. One feature of both these games is that the Activation system is heavily restrictive. In Command & Colors (C&C), each player is dealt a hand of cards at the start, and on each turn he plays a single card, as a result of which he may “order” a number of units which is normally in the range 1-4 – occasionally more. In VwQ, each turn the game is driven by drawing the top card from a shared pack. The pack contains a small number of global orders – “Reload” being an example – but otherwise consists of one card for each unit, one for each commander or brigadier (which can activate any of his subordinate units which are within a certain distance), and a card which activates all artillery for both sides. The effect is even more haphazard than C&C, but it shares the “small moves” approach. The games both consists of short, focused turns, with a fast cycle time. In C&C there is strict alternation of sides (so that you may only do a small number of things, but it will be your turn again in just a minute or so), and the strategy comes from husbanding your hand, collecting useful cards and keeping them for use at the optimum moment. This is also sometimes described as “struggling to make the best of a bad deal”, which is maybe not a bad analogy for generalship anyway. The VwQ game is much more random – the cards may come up in any order at all, yet the game still seems to hang together logically.


Cards get a mixed press. I have become a big fan of late, despite early prejudices against their artificiality, and I think this is entirely down to the fact that the playability and entertainment value of these particular games is very much enhanced by their being card-driven. One thing neither game will allow you to do is march your entire army up and down the table every move. From my point of view this is a big advantage. I have wasted a lot of time over the years watching aimless countermarching. If I had some of that time back, I could use it to paint some of the backlog of figures, or to make some inroads on the “still to be read” shelf in the big bookcase! There was a day when the fact that a medium-sized miniatures battle took a huge amount of time to complete (if it was ever completed...) was somehow taken as a point of pride – a testament to the scholarly complexity and awesome realism of the noble wargame. It is also the reason why for some years I had serious doubts about whether the enjoyment gained from the games was worth the exhausting process of playing them. The thing that took up so much time, mostly (apart from arguments), was the freedom of the generals to move everything they had every turn. The proportion of the orders given that generated an interesting action was miniscule, players became fatigued and frequently forgot where they were up to.

I worried about this stuff for years – it is, after all, a First Degree Bummer when you are no longer convinced that you like your hobby very much, especially when you have committed so much time and money to it! The whole idea of Command rules seemed to be aimed to address this – to restrict this limitless ability of battlefield commanders to change everything in every single 5 minute turn. I became interested in a number of mechanisms – especially those from Mustafa’s Grande Armeé and its Fast-Play cousin. As I believe I have said before, for my taste these didn’t quite do the job – they introduced a little sanity and forced generals to prioritise, but the overhead introduced by the Command rules was too heavy in proportion to the benefit. Maybe I never gave them enough of a chance.

My approach at this time to Command and Activation was “introduce some inconveniences – you start off with the ability to order every single unit, but some will be too far from their commander, and  some of the subordinate commanders will have characteristics which get in the way, which will cut the scope down a bit”. The idea was good, but often it was too much work to carry out – the Universal Movement grunt had been partly replaced by the Command Tests grunt, but it was still a grunt. And it was a very particular grunt if the Command rules were a lot of work but only rarely affected the game.

I think I am getting close (at long last) to the point on which I have changed my mind. I have not changed my belief that Activation type rules are a good idea, but I have come to realise that they should be approached from the opposite end of the problem – i.e. start off with the assumption that no-one can do anything and then allow a small number of units to be activated to receive orders. It’s less work, the effort is expended on the parts of the battle where something is happening, and it produces a snappier game, with short turns, better focus and less waiting around. Yes, it is artificial, but no more so than the other approaches.

It works. It works easily and effectively, and I can approach games that work in this way in the safe knowledge that I am going to enjoy them. That is a pretty fair bonus.

I accept that a lot of people will disagree – maybe very strongly. If it wasn’t in Charge! then maybe it should be viewed with suspicion – and it has to admitted that there is a snag. C&C games are usually played around published scenarios in which the armies are ready deployed, all set to go. I very rarely use other people’s scenarios (scenarii?), published or not, and many of my battles are fought as part of a campaign. If the action requires an army, or a large part of an army, to march somewhere – on to the table, for example – the standard card-driven systems don’t handle it well. In reality, a simple march order would keep a whole Division marching until they were stopped – simulating this by shifting penny packets of 2 or 3 of the units in the right direction when (and if) suitable cards come up is unsatisfactory. The card systems require extra rules in this type of action to allow the units to march about the place – something, as you will have noted, which the old free-for-all rules would have coped with, with no difficulty at all!

So – card systems such as C&C work excellently for set-pieces, but we need something extra to cope with mass marching. Anubis Studio’s White Mountain 30 Years War rules are heavily based on the C&C Ancients game, but they also allow a Command Card to be played as a Standing Order for a particular unit (or group of units), and it will remain in force until it is cancelled. I need to read that up again, but maybe something along those lines is what I’m after.

Whatever – I believe I have maybe changed my mind, after all. Some expression about old dogs and new tricks comes to mind.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Hooptedoodle #62 - Embarrassment of Riches


First off, may I record my delight that someone has just broken the world record for throwing a mobile phone. Apparently there is an annual mobile-throwing contest held in Finland (since 2000) - an idea which truly warms the cockles of my heart - perhaps there is hope for mankind yet? The young man pictured above managed the astonishing distance of 101 metres, which is a fantastic effort and breaks the previous world's best by some way. I hope that people all over the world will be inspired to have a go at this. The fact that the throw could be measured suggests that the item was not lost in the attempt, but it was probably not in great shape afterwards. Perhaps someone could produce an app to measure the throws automatically (yes - by GPS, naturally). Perhaps the mobile could ring you back on a number of your choice to report the distance. No - just a minute - I don't think I like that last bit.


Meanwhile, on a more mundane level, my wife has won a competition (which did not involve throwing anything), the first prize for which is a meal for two people in a restaurant. The restaurant has to be selected from a list of pretty prestigious establishments - there are two in Edinburgh we could choose from - and they will allow you a maximum of £250 deducted from your bill. £250? For a meal for two? That, you will agree, is a very fine prize indeed. An old but vaguely familiar conundrum raises its head - do you go for the most expensive items you can find on the menu, or stay sensible and select items which you like best, however cheap? This has echoes of the old supermarket "smash and grab raids" they used to hold in the UK - the winner of some kind of promotion would get an empty trolley and five minutes to fill it, on the house. The world wised up pretty quickly - after the first couple of such freebies the stores realised they would have to bar access to the wine and spirits aisles - smart customers were filling the trolley with single malt whiskies and selling them privately. Presumably there would be the odd supermarket winner who was stupid enough to fill the cart with packets of Doritos or similar, but the tendency would be to go for something expensive. We discussed this yesterday, and Mme la Comtesse said a good move would be to concentrate on the fresh meats - steaks and other high-quality stuff which can be frozen.

Anyway, to get back to the particular prize in question - apparently accommodation and transport are excluded from the £250. I guess I could indulge myself with a bottle of Sassicaia, and maybe the odd fancy cognac, but we are going to have to be able to get home afterwards. Left to myself, a nice fresh insalata Caprese with big Italian tomatoes, firm mozzarella and fresh basil makes me a very happy bunny, but that would make a dent of about £6 in our budget. This is an interesting challenge.

The restaurant we have selected specialises in French cuisine. One of their offerings is a Chateaubriand steak for two people, which might be a good idea. It's complicated - one has to worry a bit about what sort of unsophisticated baboon one might come across as. I'm sure people with real class would order something moderately priced that they really loved - apart from anything, that would also suggest that eating out in a restaurant of this calibre is not such a novelty. Yes, that's good. On the other hand, the pricier exotica might be just the sort of thing that a genuine epicure would go for. Tricky.

I'll have to prepare for this, mentally. It is not unknown for me to agonise over the choice between three things I really love on a menu, and then - feeling under some pressure to get on with it - I might just panic and order something I don't like too much. I don't know how this happens, but sometimes it does. Another commonplace in restaurants is that when you see the waiter carrying someone else's meal to them, you suddenly know for certain that that is what you should have ordered if you had only thought of it. One thing is for sure - even with plenty of time and lots of deep breathing, there is no way we can run up a dinner bill of £250 for two people, so the skill will be in making sure we fail in a way which makes us happy.

Not a bad problem to have, though. Well done, Mme la Comtesse - nice one! 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hooptedoodle #61 - Glentress, and the Lumberjills

Been walking again this week - taking advantage of some fine weather at the end of the school holidays (so this was family walking), and trying to get some more miles in toward my build-up for Hadrian's Wall next month.

On Wednesday we walked from North Berwick, along the John Muir Way as far as East Linton (this is all East Lothian, South-East Scotland), which is a straightforward walk, without any particular hills - the only challenges were some rough conditions underfoot around field margins, with long grass and some marshy bits, and a remarkably smelly compost works to be passed by.

Looking South across the Valley of the Tweed, between Peebles
and Innerleithen, from the edge of Glentress Forest

Today we were in hilly parts again, at Glentress Forest, near Peebles. This was a bit more demanding in the up-and-down department, and we had a good walk - around 6 miles of pretty vigorous going in woodland - but I got a real surprise - I felt, literally, like a visitor from another century.


Peebles and I have a lot of history. It's a fine little town, on the River Tweed, and I've spent a fair amount of time there. For a while I had occasional use of a holiday cottage there, but I've also done a lot of walking in those parts (Glentress and Cardrona Forest Parks), played tennis and cricket there, even done a little fishing - an easy drive from Edinburgh, it has always been a good watering-hole and relaxing place. When my first lot of kids were young we must have walked hundreds of miles in the Peebles area - at Glentress especially.

Anyway, today we estimated it was three or four years since we were last at Glentress, so it was time we went back. What a change. The place is unrecognisable - they have constructed a very ambitious mountain-biking facility - this is obviously a huge money maker for the area, and though we were a bit taken aback by how busy it is now, it is great to see so many people enjoying the countryside and getting exercise. The downside, sadly, is that they have taken a lot of trouble to keep the walkers and the bikers separate - which is eminently sensible - and the poor old walkers are now restricted to a small number of rigidly-defined walks in the edges of the forest area. We had a nice enough walk, and I enjoyed it, but a small part of me is a little sad that it has changed so much.


In the forest we came across an unusual (solar powered) monument to the Women's Timber Corps of WW2 - the "Lumberjills". A branch of the Land Army, these girls worked in the forests - in the East of Scotland there were a lot of them, mostly making pit props as far as I can see. The little monument was set up to play some audio selections - the recollections of local women who had worked in the forests, along with some excerpts from wartime newsreel clips on the subject. I had a look round the online Pathe News library when I got home, but couldn't find anything relevant.

There is a traditional tale told of the Land Girls in this area - the choice between being called up for the ATS or working on the farms and getting to meet Italian PoWs was regarded as something of a no-brainer...

[Late edit] The John Muir Way - In reply to an email from the US - yes, this is the same John Muir, naturalist and explorer, who is famous for mapping and opening up Yosemite and other places in North America. He was, in fact, a Scotsman - a native of Dunbar, which is about 10 miles from here. Old JM is now commemorated with the big coastal walkway from Musselburgh to Cockburnspath - named after him - and there are statues, a permanent exhibition in a dedicated building in Dunbar High St, and - the ultimate tribute - the HQ of East Lothian County Council is now called John Muir House. However, this huge surge of pride has all been comparatively recent, as far as I can see - he was little known in his homeland until the 1970s, and most of the impetus for raising his profile here came from visiting Americans asking questions about the great man and getting blank looks! 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Holy Moses! - Franznap

In an email received from Rod this morning, there was casual mention of Franznap, a new figure manufacturer of whom I have never heard. It is possible, of course, that I am the only person in the world who doesn't know of them, but I checked them out.



The range is in its infancy, and the online shop is not running yet, but the website is certainly worth a serious look. 1/72 Napoleonics in metal or resin - the sculptor/proprietor is Francesco Messori, an Italian living in Amsterdam - an architect by profession.

Have a look and a drool. Come on chaps - we want this guy to be successful! - we want lots of these...

Friday, 17 August 2012

ECW – In Darkest Lancashire


I’m doing a lot of reading at the moment about the English Civil War, and especially about my chosen wargaming theatre of Lancashire (and Cheshire, and North Wales...).

I chose this area for a number of reasons; firstly, I was born and raised in Lancashire, so it adds a personal touch to things, secondly, I am an awkward beggar at the best of times, so going for a “minority” aspect of the war suits me in a number of ways, one of which (thirdly) is that it is relatively poorly understood, which leaves a lot of scope for making stuff up where the history is sketchy. Almost an “Imagi-County”, which is particularly satisfying.

One advantage of coming new to the ECW at such an advanced age(!) is that I don’t have any preconceptions, other than the sort of folk legends which we are all brought up with. I am also able to judge what I read from a mature viewpoint – or at least I like to think so. A couple of things stand out for the newcomer:

(1) Some of current received wisdom is as beset with legends and silly bias as was my childhood. There are people who are rightly held to be experts – including some of the movers and shakers in the re-enactment fraternity – who appear still to be actually fighting the original war, and distortions do creep in. This is not new – some of the earliest of the “modern” writers are identifiably partial one way or the other. Fair enough – stand by with the odd pinch of salt.

(2) Some of the real history seems to have become confused with – in some cases partly replaced by – the activities of Sealed Knot regiments which have titles or associations founded in history. This is neither a poke at the Sealed Knot nor even a complaint, I hasten to add – it is just an observation that if you enter “Lord Molyneux’s Regiment” into Google (for example) you will learn far more about the recent activities of the re-enactment unit of this name than you will about the real unit back in the 1640s. Again, I wish to emphasise that this is a perception thing, and there is not necessarily a conflict – the re-enactors themselves are devoted to maintaining the correct traditions and to preserving the true history, and I have nothing but praise for their efforts.

(3) The particular situation of Lancashire is remarkable for the asymmetry of extant knowledge. I have acquired some splendid books on the subject – notably

A General Plague of Madness – The Civil Wars in Lancashire 1640-60 – Stephen Bull
Massacre – The Storming of Bolton – David Casserly
The Siege of Liverpool and the Lancashire Campaign 1644 – John Barrat
The Finest Knight in England – Stuart Reid (this is a booklet about Sir Thomas Tyldesley and his various regiments)

Sir Thomas Tyldesley

plus a couple of small publications by various local history societies and – of course – the relevant sections of the more general works.

I have done some pretty diligent note-taking, and a lot of scratching around on the internet, much of it directed at the rather humble and very personal aim of putting together an approximate OOB for my forthcoming miniature armies. It is very evident that there is about 5 times as much information available for the Royalist forces in the North-West, compared with the Parliamentarians. This may be for a number of reasons, and – again – I am coming to this subject for the first time, and I am learning all the time, so maybe I just haven’t hit the right sources yet:

  • Lancashire had a remarkably high proportion of Catholics in the 1640s – some of these had undoubtedly arrived from Ireland to escape the troubles there, but also a good many of the prominent families were Catholics (and thus Royalists by default).
  • There is an unmistakeable whiff of the Royalist side having somehow been the Good Guys – I guess this is connected with the retrospective view which came with the restoration of the monarchy. Whatever, it feels as though the individuals who had been prominent on the Parliament side tended to make rather less noise about the fact after the wars.
  • An absolutely invaluable source of information about Royalist officers and their units is the list of Indigent Officers published in 1663. This is a list of officers who had held commissions in the King’s armies, constructed to allow a £60,000 bonus fund to be distributed among them by Charles II. There is no equivalent record for the other side.
  • A good proportion of the Royalist units which fought in the area came in from elsewhere, involved prominent colonels and already had a significant reputation and war record. The Parliament side, by contrast, included a number of rather humble, local units which were effectively town guard or militia bodies – John Moore’s “Regiment of Foot”, for example, would appear to have consisted of Moore’s own retainers and citizens of Liverpool, armed very simply – on the wargames table, these might well be “clubmen”.
  • I have been very surprised how often identified units in Lancashire – even Royalist ones – do not rate any mention at all in (for example) Colonel HCB Rogers' Battles & Generals of the Civil Wars 1642-51 – the standard work. Unless they were at Marston Moor, of course.
  • All of this is absolutely fair enough – I have chosen to take an interest in what was, relatively speaking, a backwater sector of the war, and it is probably what I would expect.

My draft OOB at present is just a list of notes, and it is based on units I can identify as having been in the area in the period 1643-44 – to date I have the following [no laughter, please! – if you know better, or you have some good information on this period, please do get in touch – all clues will be most welcome!]:

Royalist

Prince Rupert’s Horse
Prince Rupert’s Lifeguard
Sir John Hurry’s Horse
Col. Marcus Trevor’s Horse (ex Lord Capel’s)
Col. Henry Washington’s Dragoons
Lord Byron’s Horse
Sir William Vaughan’s Horse
Lord Molyneux’s Horse
Sir Thomas Tyldesley’s Horse
Prince Rupert’s Foot (ex Henry Lunsford’s)
Col. Henry Tillier’s Foot
Col. Robert Broughton’s Foot
Sir Michael Earnley’s Foot
Col. Henry Warren’s Foot
Col. Richard Gibson’s Foot
Lord Byron’s Foot
Col. Robert Ellis’s Foot
Sir Thomas Tyldesley’s Foot
Lord Molyneux’s Foot
which is probably more than enough to be going on with, though I also have a goodish list of Royalist units which are known to have fought at Malpas and Nantwich (Cheshire), but may not have got to Lancashire

Parliamentarian

Sir William Brereton’s Horse
Sir William Brereton’s Dragoons
Col. Henry Brooke’s Regt (foot?) (this is not Lord Brooke, of purple uniforms fame)
Col. Robert Duckenfield’s Regt (foot?)
Col. Henry Mainwaring’s Regt (foot?)
Col. Ralph Ashton’s Foot
Col. John Booth’s Foot
Col. Philip Egerton’s Foot
Col. Richard Holland’s Foot
Col. John Moore’s Foot
Col. Alexander Rigby’s Foot
Col. Richard Shuttleworth’s Foot
Col. Robert Aspinall’s Regt (foot?)
plus some 12 or so unnamed units of horse, most of which appear to have been descended from the Northern Association, and thus originally from Northumberland and Yorkshire. It seems that the Parliament troops in Lancashire were particularly impoverished in local cavalry.

So - where am I? Well, for a start I cannot promise that all the above units ever appeared on the same field at the same time – in fact I’m pretty sure that there are a number of instances here of impossible combinations – units that may never even have existed at the same time. I do not intend to worry too much about such technicalities at the moment...

I have to crack on with my reading – in particular I want to find out more about the Northern Association. I really am having a whale of a time!

Uniforms – very little known, overall. I have a good idea about some units and even some of the flags, but a lot of my first guesses are going to be just straight fiction. A number of the Royalist foot units who had fought in Ireland (e.g. Tillier’s and Broughton’s) are thought to have worn green, though whether there is an actual correlation I have no idea. Tyldesley’s lot wore red, probably, and Prince Rupert’s units were in blue, and it seems that a good proportion of the more soldierly of the Parliament units were probably uniformed in good old Northern grey or off-white. Booth’s Foot are thought to have had a black flag. There may have been a fair amount of civilian dress - I’m working on it!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Solo Campaign - Weeks 20 & 21

The Earl of Aigburth - a portrait painted by his wife, showing him in
the ancient regalia appropriate to his position as Governor of
Berwick on Tweed

There's been a bit of a delay, with holidays and a computer problem and a few other distractions, but here are the next two weeks of the Peninsular War campaign. Wellington has now been notified of the change of command, and his successor, the Earl of Aigburth (that's Tarleton to you and me) is at Porto, and  will arrive at Almeida to review his army in a week or so.

Following on from the hectic activity of the end of May, these two weeks have been spent resting and re-shuffling the armies. The French have now withdrawn from Portugal, though they now hold the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, which they are repairing.

There is a possibility that the Spanish Supreme Junta may request that the British Army second Wellington to the Spanish service - but this may just be a mischievous rumour.


Week 20

Random Events and Strategic Notes
Wellington is still not aware that he is to be replaced by the Earl of Aigburth, and so continues to command in the field.

After the fighting at the end of May, both armies require rest and some re-organisation.

Housekeeping
Following General de Divn Nicolas Guye’s wound at Balsa, General Casapalacios commands Guye’s Divn of the Armée du Centre, and Casapalacios’ own brigade of Bonapartist Spanish line troops is temporarily commanded by Col. Hugo of the Regt Royal-Etranger.

Following the death of the Earl of Dalhousie at Almeida, Maj-Gen Von Bernewitz has temporary command of the Anglo-Portuguese Seventh Divn, and Von Bernewitz’s own brigade is temporarily commanded by Lt.Col Eustace of the Chasseurs Britanniques.

The 3D3 activation throws give Allies 4, French 5 – French elect to move first.

Moves

French (5 allowed)
1 – 3 Bns of H (Chassé) leave Ciudad Rodrigo garrison and join up with Jourdan’s Group K...
2 – ...leaving behind the battalion of the Regt de Prusse, to be joined by Col D’Orsay (3 bns of 122e Ligne – Group C), who marches from Salamanca to become new garrison
3 – O (Clausel) and I (Maucune) join at Ciudad Rodrigo to become new Group I, under command of Clauzel...
4 – ...and they rest for a week
5 – N (Marmont, at Orense) rests for a week
 [Intelligence step –
  • no scouting orders]
Allies (4 allowed)
1 – A (Wellington, at Almeida) rests
2 – B (Graham, at Braga) rests
3 – C (Von Alten, at Almeida) rests
4 – Sp B (España, at Braga) rests
 [Intelligence step -
  • no scouting orders]

Supplies and Demoralisation
All units are in supply. No-one is Demoralised.

Contacts
None

Engineering at Ciudad Rodrigo
Each battalion present with the garrison rolls 1D6 each week, giving 4D6 – every 6 rolled adds 1 to the Fortress Value, which is currently 2 – aiming to be repaired to a full value of 6.  This week, the dice come up 5 4 3 2, so the Fortress Value remains 2. Not good enough...


Week 21

Random Events and Strategic Notes
The Earl of Aigburth has arrived at Porto, and will join the Allied HQ at Almeida next week.

The main priority for both armies is re-organisation – Jourdan’s Armée du Centre, for example, currently has no cavalry at all.

It is extremely unsatisfactory for the Spanish Central Junta to have España’s part of their 3rd Army serving in Portugal, so it is a priority for the Allies to move him back into Spain as soon as is practicable.

The Central Junta is also debating whether to request that Wellington be seconded to the Spanish service, if he is not required for the British...

Housekeeping
This is the week ending closest to the 15th of the month, so replacements, reinforcements and returns from hospital are added to the returns for all armies.

Details of additions (in CCN "blocks"):
French – 2/25L (+2 blocks), 3/25L (+3), 2/59, 5/82, 6 Dr, 11 Dr, Regt de Francfort, Neuenstein’s Tirailleur Bn, 1/It 2L, 2/3 It, 2/5 It, 1/69, 2/76 (all +1), 3 Huss (+2), 1/Gd Gren, 1/Gd Fus, 2/Gd Fus, 13 Cuir (all +1) – total additions approx 3400 infantry, 600 cavalry
Allies – 1/21 Ptgse, 68th (each +1), Chass Brit, 1 Dr KGL (each +2), 1 Ptgse Cav, 11 Ptgse Cav, Bull’s Troop RHA (all +1), 1/Coldstreams (+2), 2/24 (+1), 2/KGL (+2), Gardner’s Bty RA, 1/43rd, 3/95th (all +1), 1 Cac, 2/95th (each +2), Ross’ Troop RHA, 1/36th, 1st Sevilla (all +1), 1.Lanc de Castilla (+2), 2.Lanc de Castilla (+1) – total additions approx 3400 infantry, 840 cavalry, 6 guns.

The 3D3 activation throws give Allies 4, French 8 – French elect to move first.

Moves

French (8 allowed)
1 – K (Jourdan) marches from Ciudad Rodrigo to Salamanca
2 – N (Marmont) marches from Orense over the hills to Zamora. Since this is a difficult road, a test is required:
2D3 = 4 +3 (Marmont’s rating) -1 (brown road) = 6   - march is completed with no problems
3 – Marmont detaches Maupoint, with the cavalry of the Armée du Nord...
4 – ...who march to Salamanca...
5 – ...and join Jourdan (K)
[Intelligence step –
  • no scouting orders]
Allies (4 allowed)
1 – A (Aigburth, at Almeida) absorbs C (Von Alten, at Almeida)
2 – Sp B (España) marches from Braga to Orense. Since this is a difficult road, a test is required:
2D3 = 5 +2 (España’s rating) -1 (brown road) = 6   - march is completed with no problems
3 – E (Clinton) marches from Porto to Braga. Since this is a difficult road, a test is required:
2D3 = 4 +2 (Clinton’s rating) -1 (brown road) = 5   - march is completed with no problems
4 – E (Clinton) merges into B (Graham) at Braga
 [Intelligence step -
  • no scouting orders]

Supplies and Demoralisation
All units are in supply. No-one is Demoralised.

Contacts
None

Engineering at Ciudad Rodrigo
Each battalion present with the garrison rolls 1D6 each week, giving 4D6 – every 6 rolled adds 1 to the Fortress Value, which is currently 2 – aiming to be repaired to a full value of 6.  This week, the dice come up 6 5 5 3, so the Fortress Value regains a further 1, becoming 3. 



Sunday, 12 August 2012

Hooptedoodle #60 - Walking in the Pentlands, and Hadrian's Wall

I'm in training, you see. Yesterday I spent the day walking in the Pentland Hills, south of Edinburgh, with my friend Chester, who is a veteran of the Appalachian Way and various other Very Serious Walks. It was a terrific day out anyway, but it was all in aid of getting my general fitness up in preparation for a walk along the length of Hadrian's Wall next month, of which more later. Yesterday we started our walk at Flotterstone, and then walked along the switchback of hills which forms the eastern end of the Pentlands.

We went up Turnhouse Hill, Carnethy Hill and Scald Law. There is a single track which goes right over the top of each in turn (which must be a modern phenomenon - Ancient Man would have been sensible enough to walk around the hills, you would think, unless he was looking out for someone). The individual hills are not very high, but they are steep, and the cumulative effect of coming down one and then up the next is interesting, shall we say. Originally we had thought of continuing the chain to East Kip and West Kip, but in the event we decided to head back after Scald Law. My recent experience of walking in the Alps has definitely helped in the heart-&-lungs department, and I have to point out that it wasn't me that wanted to miss the last two hills, though I'm probably glad that we did! The hills are all around the same height - I think the top of Carnethy is 573 metres - but the dips between them are around 200 metres, so it gets your attention when it goes up again.

After Scald Law we cut north, down into the valley, and walked past Loganlea and Glencorse Reservoirs back to our starting point. Probably 9 miles all told. The photos are by Dave Henniker, who does some lovely work in this area.

Looking back from Carnethy Hill towards Turnhouse - gives a good idea
of the surrounding landscape.

Scald Law

As Chester said yesterday, it really is very easy to forget the lovely places we have almost on our doorstep. I worked it out - last time I did this particular walk was 13 years ago. Hmmm.

I'm sure I'll say more about Hadrian's Wall on another occasion. I shall be doing that walk with a couple of other friends. We are attacking it West-to-East, which is not the "normal" direction, but we chose to do it that way because it puts the prevailing wind (and rain) at our backs, and it is far easier to get transport home from Newcastle than it would be from Bowness-on-Solway at the other end. No, they probably aren't very good reasons, but that's how we are doing it. We are also doing it the softies' way, arranging for a courier to handle our main bags from base to base, and carrying only a light day pack, and we are pacing it pretty gently - about 12-15 miles a day. It will not be anything like as strenuous as what I did yesterday, but walking 12 miles in an exposed situation and then getting up the next morning to do it again brings challenges of its own. We will have 6 days of walking, and we're planning to have time to see a few sites on the way.

Another faint disadvantage of doing the wall the "wrong" way is that we can't find any guidebooks which do it in this direction. You would think that it would be easy to reverse-engineer a walk from a guidebook, but I've tried, and it isn't. The maps work OK, but looking out for landmarks doesn't work very well in reverse at all. If I disappear without trace, you will be able to guess what happened.

Hadrian's Wall is not very far from where I live, but I don't often go there, and find some bits of it quite affecting. If you stand at the north edge of Housesteads Fort, actually on the wall, and you face north, then that was the end of the civilised world. Behind you, the Roman Empire stretched to the Black Sea - in front of you were the barbarians. For some reason I find that very moving, and remember that the poor sods who were stationed there included the SAGITARII HAMIORUM, who were Syrians and must have found it a bit chilly.