Past lives

One of the things I miss the most now we no longer live in an older house is that sense of connection to the past, that sense of fitting into a continuous story. To walk into a room in the company of ghosts. So many lives, so many hopes and dreams and fears written into every fibre, every brick.

Our former home was built towards the end of WW1 and stood through the Spanish flu pandemic, women getting the vote, the world going to war again, and humanity learning how to eradicate itself and every other form of life from the Earth. There was an area of ground at the bottom of the garden where a large hole had been filled in with rubble and grassed over: the Anderson shelter once stood there, and I could never help thinking about the people who had lived in the house then, how scared they must have been, huddling in the shelter as death rained down from above. Two of the houses on the road were destroyed in WW2; an unexploded bomb supposedly fell in the front garden of our old house.

There were changes, of course. The iron railings that once proudly decorated the front of the garden were taken for the war effort: you could see the stubs still embedded in the brickwork where they’d been cut away. Over the years successive owners added central heating, double glazing, and an indoor bathroom. Somehow the beautiful Edwardian fireplace in the front room had survived intact.

She was doing pretty well for an old lady, our house. I like to think we treated her kindly. She had her quirks, her creaks and groans and the icy draughts we could never quite eliminate, but that was all part of her charm.

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Playing around with Sims 4

I wasn’t going to buy Sims 4, I really wasn’t. I didn’t like Sims 3 and, since EA released Sims 2 Ultimate, I was perfectly happy playing that without the display issues I’d had with my physical-copy game previously.

Then came the festive season and a 50%-off deal on Origin and I decided to give Sims 4 a try. One week of (intermittent) play later and I’m still not sure whether I like it or not.

It runs beautifully. I love the look of it compared to Sims 3 and the gameplay is far more my style of play than what felt like very linear gameplay in Sims 3. I don’t miss the open world aspects one bit, coming mainly from Sims 2. The emotions are nice and my Sims are far more engaging than those in Sims 3 – and, while the game is fairly bare at the moment without the plethora of expansions previous incarnations have eventually had, I’m still having fun learning how it works.

The downsides? It’s hard to really put my finger on it – in the end, it’s just not as addictive and absorbing as Sims 2 was when it was first released. I’ll play for half an hour or so, and then I go and do something else. Perhaps part of the dissatisfaction is the learning curve, the smaller neighbourhoods, and the relative lack of visual feedback (without clicking through menus) compared to Sims 2. But the potential is there – and if EA can release some decent expansion packs it has the foundations of a solid game.

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When vampires attack … and how to fix it

Finally getting on my feet after some fairly major surgery (sporting injuries: don’t do them), I’m playing Skyrim for the 3rd time. Which is great, and the replayability of the game (with LifeAnotherLife) amazes me, but I ran into a problem I haven’t had before thanks to a vampire attack in Whiterun, namely the deaths of Belethor, Ulfberth, and Adrienne. Now that’s a problem for a new character!

Luckily the solution is pretty simple. For each character, go into the console and type:

  • prid <reference ID>
  • resurrect
  • moveto 14

Job done! (RefIDs can be easily obtained from UESP)

Adrienne resurrected without issue, however Belethor and Ulfberth then wouldn’t sell to me. This is solved by going into the console again, clicking on the NPC, and typing:

  • addtofaction 51596 1

The ability to use console commands is, yet again, invaluable!

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Sims 2 Ultimate and CCleaner

sims-2-ea Like many people, I downloaded Sims 2 Ultimate when EA released it. I’ve loved the franchise since the original game was released, but try as I might I’ve never gotten along with Sims 3. My original Sims 2 game had stopped working – for whatever reason – when I got a new graphics card so I’d, reluctantly, consigned the game to the scrapheap before Ultimate reignited my love for what is still an engrossing game.

However, I also have CCleaner – a great little program but one that has a nasty effect on Origin games if you run the registry cleaner. Tears were shed when my game failed to start, and I was staring into the abyss of reinstalling when I decided to try restoring my CCleaner registry backup*.

Problem solved.

(*Go to your backup file, right-click, and choose Merge).

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Derbyshire well dressing

Well dressing was originally a pagan custom of celebrating the gods of wells and springs to ensure a continued supply of fresh water, but it took on a particular significance in Derbyshire in the 17th century as a way of giving thanks for being spared from the Great Plague of 1665.

2014 well dressing in the village of Tideswell

2014 well dressing in the village of Tideswell

(The village of Eyam became known for the self-sacrifice of its inhabitants: after becoming infected after a tailor received a flea-infested parcel of cloth from London, they decided to quarantine themselves rather than spread the plague to surrounding villages. 260 out of 350 villagers died.)

Derbyshire well dressings take the form of elaborate pictures made from individual flower petals pressed onto clay-covered boards. These pictures may feature local landmarks, Biblical scenes, or historical events. The Tideswell well dressing shown here features landmarks from the nearby spa town of Buxton (Aqua Arnemetiae is its Roman name), including the frontage of its Victorian railway station.

Well dressings are usually displayed as part of a week-long festival in the village, and houses and the streets may also be decorated.

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Newark Castle

Newark, a market town in Nottinghamshire, grew up during the early 10th century as a strategic gateway to Northern England, sitting as it did on the intersection of the Great North Road and the Fosse Way, a Roman road built in the 1st century AD. Its castle has featured in some of the most tumultous times in English history and was besieged five times during the Baronial Wars and English Civil War. It is mostly ruined, but its prominent position as you enter the town means that it’s still very much a tourist attraction and despite the drizzle definitely worth a look around!

Entering the Castle gardens

Entering the Castle gardens

Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, had a stone castle constructed on the site of an earlier motte and bailey castle next to the river Trent in the early 12th century. King John died in the castle in October 1216 and after his death it was kept by one of his men against the orders of the new king, Henry III. That defiance resulted in the first siege of the castle – for eight days – until the castle was surrendered to the king.

Newark Castle 2

The castle was rebuilt towards the end of the 13th century with a new curtain wall. In the 15th and 16th centuries fireplaces were added and windows enlarged and glazed as it became more of a place of residence than a defensive stronghold. It had been owned by the Church but in 1547 it passed into private ownership under Henry VIII’s Reformation.

Newark Castle 3

Newark was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and the castle was besieged three times, finally surrendering in 1646 on the orders of Charles I. Parliamentarian forces had been ordered to destroy the castle, but the plague had broken out in Newark and the order was not fully carried out.

Newark Castle 4

The public gardens within the walls were laid out for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, opening in 1889.

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Bailey Hill in spring

Bailey Hill can look a bit on the bleak side in winter but at this time of year (after plenty of rain!) everything’s looking much more verdant.

The motte at Bailey Hill

The motte at Bailey Hill

Something I never get over coming here is how quiet and peaceful it is. Being set high on the hill, and slightly off the beaten track, there’s something curiously timeless about it.

Path behind the bailey embankment

Path behind the bailey embankment

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Tropico 5 – First impressions

I’ve been a fan of the Tropico franchise for a long time and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the latest incarnation – Tropico 5. Tropico has always been witty, rich in detail and content, and one of the most satisfying strategy games around, and Tropico 5 (so far) seems like a pretty good update to the franchise.

Tropico 5 1

The GUI has been overhauled substantially, which can be confusing if you’re coming from Tropico 3 or 4. The information is still there – you may just have to look for it in a different place. Sometimes that’s less convenient, but after ten minutes or so I found myself getting used to the new interface.

Tropico 5 2

The new construction menus threw me at first but now I’m used to them I love them. New buildings, new resources to exploit, trade routes, dynastic progression – and the artwork for the menus looks great.

Tropico 5 4

The visuals have been revamped and, to be honest, I think they’ve lost a little of that Tropico flair. The game does play more smoothly on my PC than Tropico 4 but it does feel ‘flat’ and the resource overlays are clumsy.

Impressions so far? Overall I like it, and it’s a good addition to the Tropico franchise. Maybe with more gameplay even the ocean waves will grow on me.

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Rain not fog

Rain falling on the Hope Valley

Rain falling on the Hope Valley

It’s not the best weather in the Peaks today – rain with bonus hail and even a bit of thunder at Brough!

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The Monsal Trail from Millers Dale

The Monsal Trail in the Peak District is a 8.5 mile-long trail from Bakewell to Wyedale running along the former Midland Railway line, which closed in 1968. To create the current Trail, four tunnels along the route were renovated and reopened in 2011, with access ramps and lighting to create a safe and relatively level trail for walkers, cyclists, and horseriders. The Trail follows the course of the river Wye, taking in some spectacular scenery alongside reminders of the history of the Peaks.

The disused station at Millers Dale

The disused station at Millers Dale

Millers Dale is a valley (and tiny hamlet) on the B6049 between Tideswell and the A6. Much of the area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it’s a popular spot for visitors, with the car park at the now-disused station filling up rapidly on busy days!

At one time there were five platforms at Millers Dale, and the station seems very large for such a small hamlet. The reason for this is quite simple however – anyone wishing to travel to the spa town of Buxton had to change here. At one time this was an extremely busy line with both passenger and freight traffic, but the Beeching Report of 1962 sounded the death knell for the Midland Railway line. There’s some great information about the glory days of Millers Dale and the Midland Railway here.

Disused railway building next to the Trail

Disused railway building next to the Trail

The station building itself is now a visitor centre, providing toilet facilities and refreshments. Pay and display parking is available – there isn’t really anywhere else to park in Millers Dale as the hamlet is built into the sides of the valley. I’d suggest arriving early at weekends and during holiday periods, but generally it’s reasonably quiet. From the station the visitor has a choice of heading east or west along the Trail. Taking the eastern route leads down to the Chee Tor tunnels (1 & 2).

Chee Tor tunnel 1

Chee Tor tunnel 1

The tunnels are lit dawn to dusk but the Park Authority do recommend taking a torch if you’re there early or late in the day, as the lights are sensor-activated. The level of lighting inside the tunnel is good and the tunnel is wide enough not to be too claustrophobic.

The Trail gives some excellent views

The Trail gives some excellent views, even in miserable weather!

Not far from Millers Dale stand the East Buxton Lime Kilns. Cut into solid rock, the Lime Works was opened in 1880, with the concrete buttresses added in the 1920s. Limestone was brought in from nearby quarries and hauled up an incline to the kilns to produce quicklime, which was then shipped out by rail. At one time the kilns produced over 50 tonnes of quicklime a day.

East Buxton Lime Kilns

East Buxton Lime Kilns

The last kiln closed in 1944, and today the site is a nature reserve. The kilns can be viewed from the Trail, and a short walk up an incline takes you to the top of the Works where the limestone was brought in.

The Monsal Trail is a great route for a day out walking or cycling – bikes can be hired at either end of the Trail at Hassop or Blackwell Mill. It’s not a particularly challenging route, the path is wide and well-cleared, there are accessible facilities, and there’s plenty to explore in the surrounding area too.

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