Blocks magazine Issue 25 is out in shops today (October 20th).
We're in it with a substantial yet entertaining article about our latest epic build, England 793. You'll find out about Anglo-Saxon and Viking history, hear from the builders on their thoughts about the model and the creative process and be able to marvel at the many wonderful photos of this enormous creation.
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Today we bring you another small build from this year’s Great Western Brick Show and yes, it’s another board game. If you think that this particular game looks a bit familiar you would be right, because this game is called hnefatafl, and we bought you a different version of it a few weeks ago (The Beautiful Game of Ard Ri). This version is the game in its classical form and it was made by our board game aficionado, Simon Pickard.
Hnefatafl, which means King’s Table, was a popular game in medieval Scandinavia and is mentioned in several of the Norse Sagas. It is rare in that it is one of the few games that comprises of two unequal sides.
In Hnefatafl the defending side comprises twelve 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 twenty four 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. The attacking side starts first.
Today we bring you one of the smaller models we took to The Great Western Brick Show. Nine Men's Morris is a strategy board game for two players dating at least to the Roman Empire. The model was created by Simon Pickard as part of a series of historic games he's working on to compliment the various themes chosen by Brick to the Past each year. Simon has used some clever tricks to build this board. For example, there is extensive use of the Studs Not On Top technique (commonly known as SNOT), which is often difficult to get right owing to the differing geometry of Lego pieces. Here the technique has been employed masterfully, so much so that it is difficult see where the joins and connections are actually made.
Nine Men Morris.
Tying this to 2016's England 793 project is the fact that Nine Men's Morris has been found at a number Viking and Anglo-Saxon sites including the famous Gokstad Viking Ship, currently housed in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway.
Nine Men's Morris is a solved game in which either player can force the game into a draw; as for the rules, Wikipedia is your friend. Apologies for the lazyness, but we didn't want to copy and paste lots of text from another website. Finally, it's worth saying that we don't know what the rules of Viking or Anglo-Saxon Nine Men's Morris were, there are even indications that a die may have been used. Our version is the modern version, but it's still one with ancient roots.
Last weekend was the Great Western Brick Show, held every year at Swindon’s Museum of the Great Western Railway, also known as STEAM. This is one of our favourite shows, being in a great venue, attracting awesome exhibitors and drawing a large and enthusiastic crowd.
This year we were once again in the Caerphilly Hall, sitting under the imposing shadow of the Caerphilly Castle, once upon a time the world’s fastest train. Lego Hastings made a return and was the first model people saw on entering the venue. Our centrepiece however was a much expanded England 793, with new additions from Simon Pickard, Tim Goddard, James Pegrum, Jimmy Clinch and Dan Harris. The model now covers an enormous 16 square metres and was built on 105 48x48 stud Lego baseplates. Every year we get asked how many pieces go into our models and every year we have no idea, but we are talking somewhere in the high 100,000s for this one.
Key features of England 793 include an island monastery inspired by Lindisfarne, a ship burial representing Sutton Hoo and an Anglo-Saxon village based on West Stow. A further neat touch was a vast cavern filled with dinosaur bones, which sat under a soaring hill of over 30 bricks in height. Running amok among this sweeping landscape was an army of Viking raiders who are bent on plundering the treasures of the poor Anglo-Saxons.
A shot of England 793.
This year’s show also coincided with Swindon 175, which celebrates 175 years since the birth of the Swindon Railway Works. We couldn’t let this go without note, so we bought along a mosaic of the founding father himself, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Brunell, in Lego form.
We also had a number of smaller models on display, including a Nine Man’s Morris board, a couple of versions of hnefatafl and, in contrast to England 793, our first ever micro-scale build. The micro-scale build is particularly special as it represents the first stage of our work for Caithness Broch Project – a miniature Lego Broch. Brochs it appears are not well known in southern England so we had a great time spreading the word.
Micro-brochs and ye olde board games.
Spreading the word about brochs.
We were once again delighted by the reaction to our models and cannot wait to return next year.
Official photos of our models will be uploaded to the website as soon as we finish editing them. Watch this space for updates!
This weekend is the Great Western Brick Show in Swindon. We'll be there if full force, with an expanded England 793, Hastings and many more never before seen marvels. Come say hello at one of Britain's best Lego Shows!
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Yesterday was the final day of the Bricks in Time exhibition at the Rheged Centre and so we were back on site to do the take down. The exhibition was a great success attracting over 25,000 visitors between July and September. We're incredibly pleased to have been part of the event and really happy that it was enjoyed by so many people.
The ancient Britain section.
We were lucky enough to have a quick wander around before everything closed and despite being a little bit dusty, the models still looked great. It was also great to be able to chat to a few visitors; it's always interesting to hear what people like and notice about models... plus who doesn't like a bit of praise?
While it was sad to see our models taken apart once more it won't be long before they're up again, because in just a few weeks we'll be at the Great Western Brick Show in Swindon. The show is on the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of October and is well worth a visit - we hope to see you there!
And so things come to an end... but not for long.
Dan Harris has been island hopping in Scotland’s Western Isles, here’s what he found out.
What do you do for a holiday if your country has just heedlessly voted to devalue its own currency? Well one thing is to take a bit of gamble on the weather and look a bit closer to home and, to be fair, when you live in a country that disregards the forecasts of economists about a post-Brexit economy, then disregarding the forecasts of the Met Office is the next logical step, even if years accumulated climatic data and complex mathematical models suggest the odds are stacked against you. And so with unrealistic expectations of a brighter tomorrow, we hopped on the ferry at Ullapool and set sale for the Isle of Lewis.
For those unfamiliar with Scotland’s geography, the Isle of Lewis is the largest island in the Western Isles of the Outer Hebrides. More accurately, it is just over half of the largest island in the Western Isles of the Outer Hebrides, because confusingly, the southern half is called the Isle of Harris, despite being part of exactly the same landmass.
There are brochs on Lewis, awesome ones.
Situated on Europe’s Atlantic edge, Lewis and Harris are both astonishingly beautiful islands, with everything from vast, white sandy beaches to precipitous, rugged hills and mountains. You might be able to tell, it didn’t really take that much to convince me to visit them, even if the weather was more promising in the Mediterranean. But I’ll pause there, because this isn’t supposed to be some kind of ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ type essay, of the sort you had to write on your first day back at school. No, this is essay is supposed to have some relevance to the Blog and oh what relevance there is!
Not only beautiful, the Outer Hebrides are also home to some of Scotland’s finest archaeological sites and so this trip wasn’t just a holiday, it was also a field trip. There were three sites in particular that we wanted to visit and by happy coincidence, they are all within a few miles of each other, on the western coast of Lewis. Of greatest relevance to our current work was the Dun Carloway Broch. This remarkably complete structure, perhaps second only to Mousa on Shetland, is thought to date from the late first millennium BC and the late Iron Age. It’s south side stands almost intact to what is thought to be its original height of 9 metres. Remarkably, people alive in the 1830s remembered seeing the broch in a near-complete state, roofed over with a large flat stone. The broch has a well preserved entrance, guard cell, intra-mural staircase and cavities, scarcement ledges and ground level chambers. The ground floor of the broch is uneven and contains a large slab of bedrock, suggesting that a second timber floor would have been the main living space. The broch proved an excellent source of first-hand information to help inform the construction of our own Lego Broch for Caithness Broch Project…despite not actually being in Caithness.
Dun Carloway is beautiful.
Just south along the coast is another of Scotland’s best archaeological sites, the Callanish Complex of Standing Stones. These are somewhat older than the Broch, dating back to around 3,000 BC and the Neolithic period. The complex comprises of at least 19 visible monuments as well as many now hidden remains. The best known and best preserved is known as Callanish 1 or Cnoc An Tursa, located just to the west of the village of Calanais. While we don’t have any immediate plans to build any more stone circles, it’s always worth having a few examples stored up, just in case we do decide to. Building an accurate model of Callanish 1 would certainly prove an interesting challenge.
Neolithic stones and highland cows.
The final site visit took us to the island of Beàrnaraigh Mòr, perhaps better known as Great Bernera, which is connected to Lewis via a short bridge. On its northern coast lies the sandy bay of Traigh Bostadh where in 1993, following a severe storm, the remains of a Viking house and older Iron Age village were uncovered. Evidence suggests that the bay was occupied at least as far back as 1,500 years ago by people thought to be Pictish in origin. The Iron Age village proved the most interesting find, comprising of a complex of semi-subterranean, drystone dwellings of a ‘jelly-baby’ shape. The local history society has built a life-size reconstruction of one of these Iron Age dwellings, which can be visited for a small donation. While obviously less ambitious than Caithness Broch Project’s aim to build a life-size reconstruction of a broch, the house is an excellent example of what can be done and of the benefits of recreating historical buildings using traditional methods.
Traigh Bostadh and the reconstructed Iron Age house.
This is how we think the Picts lived; it's all mood lighting & sheepskin rugs.
Since I don’t think you want to hear about my days spent on the beach or wandering the hill country of Harris, this marks the end of my report. As forecasted, the trip ended with driving rain and winds so strong they uprooted our tent, leaving us soaked, cold and in need of alternative accommodation – next year we’ll probably just holiday in Greece.
Dan Harris is a builder for Brick to the Past. He lives in the Scottish Highlands and enjoys hill walking, rock climbing and old piles of stones. All opinions are his own.
Apologies for our late blog post, but summer time usually means things take a little bit longer. After all, when the sun is shining there’s very little incentive to sit indoors and thrash out copy for the website. Plus most of us currently have broods of out-of-school children to entertain, which is a distraction all by itself.
Anyway, this is a quick report on the first ever West Country Brick Show, which took place in Exeter's Phoenix Centre on the last weekend of July. This event was organised by Darren Smith, Lewis Aylmer, Marc Reid and our very own builder, Simon Pickard. Unfortunately, Brick to the Past could only be present in a very limited capacity as most of our models are still in Rheged, however Simon and James Pegrum were able to take along some excellent smaller scale displays, which we are delighted to say were well received.
Busy day at the Phoenix Centre.
The show was an amazing success, attracting around 2,400 visitors, which is some way above the 700 the organisers expected to get. Simon said:
“Starting out as four friends that wanted to share our hobby, in a region of the country that we thought had little interest in LEGO, we were naturally overwhelmed by the unprecedented demand for a LEGO show in the west country. Despite the long queue that formed, visitors were really enthusiastic about the event. We are now working keenly on ensuring that the west country gets the bigger and more accessible LEGO show that so many requested in their feedback.”
Simon dispenses Lego based wisdom.
The show raised funds for three charities; the RCN Foundation, who offer financial support and career development opportunities to UK nurses, midwives, health care assistants and nursing students; St. Loyes Foundation, an Exeter based charity that for over 75 years has been working to transform the lives of disabled and disadvantaged people in the area; and Fairy Bricks, who provide Lego sets to sick children in hospitals throughout the UK.
We congratulate the event organisers and hope that there will be many more shows to come.
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.
Blog to the past
On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past