Back to my gaming roots
One of my first ancient armies for wargaming was a box of Airfix Ancient Britons. Despite the archaeological anomalies like the solid wheels on the chariots and odd arms and armour in places they were great fun to paint and fought many a battle in the 1970s. I did sell them off when I moved up to 25mm metal figures from Minifigs. However, the Roman invasions of Britain and Boudicca’s revolt kept the interest in gaming with Ancient Britons alive. Sadly I’ve no photos of those early Ancient Britons nor their Roman opponents
Airfix never had druids and screaming women!
Going down a size
Moving house twice in a year focussed my attention on just how many unpainted little metal men I had. Yes, I used the past tense there!
I decided to clear out anything I just have a few of and wasn’t going to turn into a complete army. I also decided that for big ancients armies I would move to 15mm size figures. This is because they take up less room, are quicker to paint (as I can’t see so much detail now!) and thanks to scale creep are almost as big as my old Airfix figures were!
Before making this decision I considered trying 10mm for ancient and medieval but found them not quite right for me. I used some Pendraken 10mm Vikings as a test and can while they did not suit me I suggest trying Pendraken if you are considering 10mm. I sold these on eBay as part of the grand clear out in the end.
Cracking on in 15mm
Another consideration was having a Peter Pig Roman army in 15mm I had painted for DBA and DBM. Getting a similar scaled opponent made sense of course but like most wargamers I try to leave sense out of it when choosing armies and scales!
Peter Pig Romans
The challenge with painting an army of irregulars is getting the variety there without painting each figure separately. I have a simple system for this involving strips of cardboard!
This is a rather ocd variant of the old take a colour and paint a different bit of each figure with it. To ensure variation I sort the figures into groups with a minimum of duplicates. Then each group is glued to a cardboard strip and undercoated.
I paint all flesh first using a red brown wash then a warm flesh colour.
After that the fun begins! Well my idea of painting fun anyway. Take a colour and go through a strip of figures applying it to different areas, so a dark brown is hair on figure one, trousers on figure two, belt on figure three and so on.
Then take another colour and move onto the next strip. As you can now see repetition of colour and pose is kept to a minimum. Having plenty of paints helps!
One point to keep an eye on is use brighter, historically more expensive, colours on better equipped wealthier types. Use patterns on clothing and showy shield decorations as well, again more so for those who could afford them.
For the sake of sanity and speed use one colour for shield backs, spear and weapon shafts, metals. Then varnish and base to taste!
Chariot Miniatures slingers
Chariot Miniatures Warband
A fruity hill fort?
While planning my trip to Blackbury castle I was amused to see in a recent AA walks book it is referred to as Blackberry Castle. However, it is called Blackbury Castle by English Heritage so that must be the right name!
One of the nice things about Blackbury Castle is it is well signposted from the main road at Branscombe Cross. For a good day out in fair weather a walk around the surrounding area ending with a picnic at the hill fort is hard to beat. On a less clement day lunch at the Mason’s Arms in Branscombe is a good Plan B!
Oh fog it!
I picked the wrong day for this trip. When I left home it was reasonably clear at sea level and I hoped it would brighten up later. Optimism was no match for Autumn in East Devon as I found out on hitting thick fog after Sidmouth. I was impressed how many drivers of silver cars thought having no lights on was a good idea…
Could you see it though?
On arrival the fog had lessened and created atmosphere rather than obscuring the hill fort. As I walked around the hill fort pondering its odd flattened D shape the fog steadily lifted. Less atmosphere but more to see. There is a rather attractive monochrome interpretation panel by the car park with a potted history of the hill fort. It was briefly occupied in the Iron Age, well for two centuries anyway.
This site is famous for its “barbican” entrance. Despite excavation in the 1950s it is still not clear whether this was built to impress, made for practical reasons as a paddock for stock, or an attempt to extend the hill fort. Excavation showed there was a single impressive timber built entrance on the south side possibly with a gate house including a tower – the three other modern entrances are just that by the way.
Another quirk of this place is that the central area is domed in shape as can be seen from either side of the D.
And there’s more?
One of the pleasures of this site is there are plenty of footpaths around it. These range from lanes to footpaths to permissive paths. There’s a good circular walk to be had from Devon’s most rebellious town, Colyton, to Blackbury Castle. Probably best done on a dryer day though!
Bit of an old crock
I first met Hembury through seeing pottery recovered in excavations on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery. The pottery is distinctive and called Hembury Ware. It’s one piece of evidence that the fort was a centre for trading.
My next encounter was a walk around the fort after a task clearing footpaths with BTCV. Seeing the fort itself is always interesting, as it’s one thing to read its on the end of a ridge and another to climb up the end of that ridge!
A longer lasting monument
Like Maiden Castle this was a causwayed camp that was reinvented as a hill fort in the Iron Age. Before you dash off looking for remains of the causwayed camp it is under the ramparts of the later fort now. You can walk around the ramparts and on a clear day there are views towards Dartmoor. The centre of the fort is filled with a mix of trees and bracken. You can get pretty soggy on a damp day!
From trade to industry
Close by the fort you can find the remains of collapsed mining adits. These were made mining for whetstones and many adits are collapsed now. Now forestry is the industry by the fort and there are several way marked walks through the woods.
Maiden Castle is Britain’s biggest hill fort built over a Neolithic causwayed camp. It really is big too! You will need stamina to climb up the ramparts, even with the handy steps in them although going in by the west gate is easier.
Return to Maiden Castle
I last visited Maiden Castle as a teenager in the 1970s and it was an experience that kindled my lifelong enthusiasm for prehistoric monuments. This was probably helped by the still current interpretation of events at Maiden Castle in 43AD.
Sir Mortimer Wheeler had excavated the castle in the 1930s and was of the opinion that Vespasian’s legionaries had assaulted and captured the castle, thus causing its decline. So climbing the ramparts with visions of Roman soldiers slogging up them in testudo formation covered by their ballistae firing bolts at the defenders was a powerful image. Naturally it inspired me to paint some Hinchliffe Roman Legionaries, aided by Graham Watson’s book on the Roman Army and illustrations by the Embletons in Military Modelling.
Excavations in the 1980s lead to this version of events being overturned. Wheeler’s war cemetery was seen as the result of tribal raiding rather than Roman sturm und drang. Rather than being crushed under the Roman boot the site was abandoned as people moved to the new settlement of Dorchester.
What’s to see
Maiden Castle is a complex beast with several stages of occupation and development. A walk around the ramparts is a must if only to appreciate how big this place is. IF you need a breather pause and admire the complexity of the west gate with its double entrance. Perhaps an early customs barrier? A very impressive long barrow cuts across part of the central fort and the stone faced east gates still impress. There are also the remains a fifth century AD Roman Temple from the last phase of activity.
English Heritage maintain the site well and have put clear interpretation boards in place. The sheep find them excellent scratching posts! Finds can be seen in nearby Dorchester.
Numerous pebbles to be used as sling stones were found at Maiden Castle. I always wonder if Iron Age mothers sent restless children off to the coast to collect the pebbles as a way of keeping them busy!