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It's the West Country Brick Show this Saturday. We'll be there in a slightly limited capacity because most of our models are in Rheged, but fret not, we'll still have lots of really cool stuff to show you - as will the other exhibitors!
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This week is National Parks Week in the UK, so we thought it might be a timely moment to bring you an article about why we love them. A strange topic, you might think, for a blog that mostly concerns itself with Lego and photos of decaying piles of stone, but in fact, National Parks provide us with a great deal of inspiration.
Our National Parks aren’t just wildernesses to be preserved like enormous cumbersome museum exhibits, they’re vibrant fluid entities, embracing history and culture as much as nature and conservation. Their landscapes are the product of thousands of years of interaction between man and environment, and it’s this interaction that provides us with the rich and infinitely diverse subject matter that proves so popular in Lego form.
By now I think it’s fair to say that we’re well accustomed to creating massive sprawling landscapes that test our reserves of dark green and reddish brown, but landscapes aren’t just endless expanses of pasture and peat bog, they’re also made of buildings and ruins and of course, decaying piles of stone. To date, our largest model of a National Park’s landscape is 2015’s ‘The Wall: Rome’s Northern Frontier’, a sixteen square metre intricately detailed depiction of Hadrian’s Wall. Some of the Wall’s most iconic and best preserved sections are located within the Northumberland National Park, including Housesteads Roman Fort, which provided much of the source material for our own fort. We of course undertook a field trip to Housesteads, walked a section of the wall, chatted to English Heritage’s knowledgeable staff and generally had a good poke around. The visit proved invaluable and, in our own inflated opinion of our work, it’s reflected in the quality of the build.
2017 will once again see us drawing heavily on the history and landscape of one of Britain’s iconic National Parks. At the moment we’ll leave you guessing as to its identity, but needless to say, we have big plans for this one, it is after all, a big Park. Field trips are already underway; stay tuned for further clues, updates and, in the not too distant future, a big announcement.
Could this blurry snowbound ruin be a thinly-veiled clue to 2017’s big build?
Anyway, the point is we love our National Parks and we love building bits of them. Don’t forget, this week is National Parks Week, so put down your phone, tablet or computer and get out and enjoy one... or two or three if you can manage it.
Field trip season well and truly kicked off this weekend as we ventured north to what is arguably the farthest corner of mainland Britain. On Sunday we were lucky enough to be given a tour of some of the finest Broch sites in Caithness and Sutherland by none other than local Broch experts Ken and Iain from Caithness Broch Project.
Field trips are a valuable part of what we do and despite some mildly grim weather and the occasional cloud of midges, this one was no exception. Brochs on our visit included Nybster, Dunbeath , Kintradwell / Cin Trolla and Carn Liath and they provided us with a wealth of features, some of which are delightfully grizzly, to include in our forthcoming model.
As if having two Broch experts accompany us wasn't enough, we were also lucky enough to bump into AOC Archaeology's John Barber, who has years of experience working in Scotland's historic environment. John is currently undertaking research into the engineering, architecture and conservation of brochs with the University of Edinburgh, so the opportunity to quiz him did not go unmissed.
This may well have been our most productive field trip ever and so now, with our heads full of new found information, it's time to get building... or maybe go on another field trip, because you can't have too much of a good thing.
Here at Brick to the Past we don't just concern ourselves with building enormous, sprawling landscapes and minifigure scale buildings. Sometimes we like to build what we refer to as 'artifacts', which are used to compliment our main builds. So we have a treat for you today because here's one of the artifacts we've created to compliment this year's big project, England 793, which is currently on display as part of the Bricks in Time exhibition at Rheged.
Ard Ri is a variant of the game Hnefatafl, or simply Tafl, which is one of the oldest games in the world and can be traced back in various forms to the Vikings, Welsh, Saxons and Irish. It is rare in that it is one of the few games that comprises of two unequal sides. Ard Ri is played on a smaller board and with fewer pieces than standard Hnefatafl and it is one of the most challenging forms of the game.
In Ard Ri the defending side comprises eight soldiers and a king, who start the game in the centre of the board. Their objective is for the king to escape by reaching any of the four corner squares. The attackers comprise sixteen soldiers positioned in four groups of four around the perimeter of the board. Their objective is to take the King. All pieces move like the Rook in chess and pieces are taken by "sandwiching" i.e. moving your piece so that an opponent's piece is trapped horizontally or vertically between two of yours. Unlike other versions of Hnefatafl, in Ard Ri the defending side starts first.
Ard Ri is associated with the Scottish Highlands with Ard Ri meaning 'High King' in Irish Gaelic. 'Irish Gaelic' you may ask? Well Scot's Gaelic is part of the same linguistic family and in fact comes from Ireland.
Ard Ri and Hnefatafl sets often contained intricately carved pieces and beautifully decorated boards and this is what we've tried to create here, taking inspiration from traditional designs and the iconic Uig Chessmen.
The creation of this set was in fact a collaborative between our builder Dan Harris and his girlfriend, Dot Greaves. In fact it was Dot who created the intricate mosaic that decorates the playing board. The collaboration occurred by accident when Dan, having started the project, had to go away for a few nights for work. When he returned the mosaic was a lot more complete than when he left it; which just goes to show, when you leave your Lego lying around, beautiful things will happen.
We will be taking this set to The Great Western Brick Show in October, why not come along and challenge us to a game:
Here at Brick to the Past we love a good field trip, so this weekend we've been vising the Highland Folk Museum to catch up with some of the locals. We loved the display put on by Major General Glenbucket's Regiment, Alan Breck's Prestonpans Volunteer Regiment and Régiment Irlandois de Dillon. Now, is this the biggest clue yet for what we have planned for 2017?
We are delighted to announce that Brick to the Past have been commissioned by the Caithness Broch Project to build a minifigure scale Lego Broch for permanent display at the Caithness Horizons Museum. The model will also be taken around schools in Caithness and used for discussing Brochs in more detail with local children, as well as other aspects of Iron Age life.
This project is just one of many outreach activities Caithness Broch Project have planned to coincide with the Scottish Government's 'Year of History Heritage and Archaeology' in 2017.
For those unfamiliar with Scottish Iron Age archaeology, a broch is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure of a type found only in Scotland and mostly in northern Scotland. Caithness, Sutherland and the Northern Isles have the densest concentrations, but there are also a great many examples in the west of Scotland and the Hebrides.
Caithness Broch Project is a registered charity (SC046307). The aims of the Project can be divided into several achievable targets:
Check out their website and support them on social media:
Bricktastic sadly over, Monday morning saw us leaving Manchester in convoy and making our way north to the Cumbrian town of Penrith. Penrith is home to the Rheged Centre where our models would be built once more to become part of the Bricks in Time exhibition, curated by Bright Bricks. Not only would we be contributing our Bricktastic models to this event, we would also be adding an Iron Age village, Romano-British villa, mosaic of the emperor Hadrian, Norman keep, and Sir Frances Drake’s ship, The Golden Hind.
We would not however be setting up until Tuesday and so with some time to kill we decided to go on a road trip into the Lake District. The British summer delivered its usual mixture of rain and lukewarm temperatures but we still managed a short walk and a cheeky ice-cream. The trip also turned into an impromptu photo shoot as new mugshots were needed for our website; this activity was more popular with some than it was with others, but I think we can safely say, the camera loves our Lego models more than it loves us.
Tuesday morning brought some bad news when we discovered that Simon Pickard’s Iron Age village had been seriously damaged in transit and so what was meant to be a five minute job turned into 10 hour one as he endeavoured to re-build it; we blame the northern cattle grids. Owing to its complex structure this was no mean feat and Simon demonstrated superhuman levels of patience in completing a task that would send lesser mortals into fits of Hulk-like rage. Thankfully, the rest of our models went up reasonably quickly giving us time to lavish extra attention on the placement of vegetation and minifigures, an activity that by contrast, fosters zen-like calm in our builders. Rheged is undoubtedly a gorgeous venue and it was wonderful to see our models laid out so cleanly and lit so beautifully; we are massively excited to be on display here.
The exhibition will run from Saturday 9th July to Sunday 4th September 2016 and if you love history and you love Lego then be sure to make time for a visit. Tickets are £2.50 per person and 3’s and under go free. Read more about it on Rheged’s website:
Show season finally kicked off last weekend with Manchester’s Bricktastic taking place at the event centre known as Manchester Central. Being, as the name suggests, in the middle of Manchester, it is an awesome place for a show and has the added bonus of being but a short walk from the city’s Lego shop, which is great news for our collections but bad news for our wallets. The movement of folk from the show to the shop following close of day on Saturday is up there with the great migratory events of the natural world; indeed, the jostling for position that occurred on arrival at the Pick a Brick Wall has much in common with the nesting practices of certain birds; other customers looked on with what must have been a mixture of confusion and concern.
This year we bought not one but two of our massive creations, built collectively by partners James Pegrum, Jimmy Clinch, Dan Harris and Steve Snasdell. Also with us was Simon Pickard, who bought along his own collection of inspiring models. Our largest creation and star piece was a 7.4 x 1.95 metre depiction of Anglo-Saxon England, including island monastery, Anglo-Saxon villages, burial chambers, and of course, hordes of Viking raiders. Our resident lavatory expert James Pegrum also built another one of his finely detailed period toilets, which delighted both children and the resolutely immature alike.
Coming in a close second in terms of sheer scale was our 2.2 x 2.2 metre model of the Battle of Hastings, generously decorated with over 750 Saxon and Norman warriors. As I’m sure you know, this year is the battle’s 950th anniversary and we felt that waiting for its 1,000th anniversary might be tempting fate a bit too much. In this model the battle is just about to get serious, so King Harold is still in possession of all of his eyes and the creators of the Bayeux Tapestry are yet to secure their lucrative commission. Talking of the Bayeux Tapestry, we had a third but comparatively small model depicting some of its key scenes, medieval tapestries and modern Lego models proving themselves to be remarkably compatible mediums.
The show was a great success, attracting more than double last year’s visitors. With so many highlights it’s hard to pick a favourite, but Dan Harris was overjoyed to be able to ride Bright Bricks’ giant Lego dragon, he is after all, Welsh. We were also blown away by the reception our models got and it was wonderful to stand back and watch people point out all the little details we like to pack into each of our creations. As always, the weekend left us both happy and exhausted in equal measure, but our work wasn’t over yet…
Read more in tomorrow’s Blog to the Past.
Bricktastic is run to raise money for Fairy Bricks, a charity who provide Lego sets for sick children in Britain’s hospitals; it is an honour to be able to contribute to their mission.
Blog to the past
On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past