D&D Chronicles 2: Lucky we like cats

For those who missed my December D&D post… we’ve started a new campaign. Your primary narrator (for now) is Sariel Donnodel, elven bard. There is dodgy poetry. Enjoy!

All posts will be categorized D&D Mythos Campaign.


SARIEL

On Black Diamond trail
Barge forges clear blue river
The Watch in pursuit

My fingers pause on the lute strings as I run through the lyrics in my head. Urgh. Still not quite right. The river is not actually clear. Or blue. (Maybe there’s a reason it’s called the Greywater.) I stick out my tongue at the offending waters. The tune is good, though. I strum the chords softly, waiting for inspiration to come.

It’s a gentle tune, since most of my companions are sleeping. Last night, our second shift on the Watch, was long and largely uneventful. But at least we solved Moorhen’s little problem with his beloved rats, and a few other mysteries besides.

No sooner had we come off shift, though, than our Watch Commander sent us off on a week’s mission. It seems our lost-memory guy from the carriage accident, the guy from the Black Diamond gang, has absconded with Wanda’s cat Espa and a valuable quiver full of arrows (magical?).

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It’s all rather odd. Why would lost-memory Black Diamond gang guy (whose name is apparently Elmerth Willowit) kidnap Espa? Unless it’s retribution for causing the carriage accident in the first place. Perhaps we shall find out, once we’ve caught up to him.

As the barge takes us steadily east along the river, I work on my songs, while the guiding arrow slowly swings north. Near sundown we disembark at a village.

Three strands of cat hair
Dob of wax to make them stick
Arrow guides us true

The following afternoon we reach the village of Bradford. It’s small, with a tavern, a smithy and a jumble of houses. Strangely, it seems deserted — not as though it’s been abandoned for months or years; more like there’s a really fun party somewhere and everyone’s dancing.

But I can’t hear any signs of a party. What I can hear are cats. Lots of cats, miaowing and mewling at each other. Since we’re looking for a cat, this could be a good sign.

The arrow leads us into the tavern — where there are… cats! At least a dozen, clambering over the tables, the chair, the great long bar. To our relief, Espa is here, although badly injured. Dixxon heals her immediately and Brosia gives her a cuddle. It seems a bit strange there are no people here.

What mischief is this?
Tavern full of mewling cats
Ale and clothes on floor

At first we wonder if our quarry is among the cats, but it’s rather hard to tell. In the stables, though, there are signs someone swapped horses (but, if it were our scoundrel, why leave Espa?).

There are also two fancy horses bearing the livery of one of the northern elven clans, whose lands are far beyond Malos. I’ve met some of our northern cousins on two occasions only. I wonder why they are here. Assuming they are here somewhere.

I don’t wonder for long. In the smithy are two suspiciously large, beautiful cats, more like lynxes than any vanya domestic breed. They are guarding the hearth, where there is an iron pot containing… something gold and gleaming. I have no more time to ponder as they attack Aramil and me, leaping and snarling, tails flicking.

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Cats bare fangs and strike
Arrows fly and steel blades skirmish
There is no good end

One of the strangers transforms into an unconscious male elf with a distinct look of the north; the other, a woman, is killed. The iron pot in the hearth contains a golden statuette of a ten-headed cat.

I recognise the idol immediately as Ravana, a divinity of the terrifying Rakshasa creatures. Anything to do with the Rakshasa cannot be good. Even once the idol is quenched, we make sure not to touch it. It has to be responsible for the feline infestation.

An infestation that continues. I wonder how to end the spell. I wonder how long the spell will last if we don’t end it. Hopefully these villagers are not doomed to live as cats indefinitely.

Towards sundown, Rufus Redblade’s men show up, including Kelmet, a priest of Radagast. Rufus Redblade is the local duke and has a bounty on the heads of the Black Diamond gang members. We’re more than happy to hand over the idol and the northern elf to Redblade’s men — especially after Kelmet heals the elf, who reveals he and his companion stole the idol, bringing the servants of the Rakshasa church onto his tail.

We don’t need to get involved in that.

Our mission is clear — keep Espa safe and pursue the scoundrel who stole her. Maybe we can gather some Black Diamond bounty while we’re at it?

Night descends darkly
On the morrow we’ll go forth
The brigands await

 

Geocaching is my new favourite travel companion

During my recent travels in the UK and Morocco, I was pretty damn excited to add geocaching to my list of activities.

As I wrote last August, geocaching is my new hobby. It’s a global activity, whereby people hunt for secret caches hidden pretty much anywhere, located by GPS coordinates and often a bunch of clues as well. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt/discovery and being introduced to places you might not have otherwise visited.

Which all makes geocaching an ideal travel companion.

Many ‘cache owners’ spend a lot of time researching the history or significance of the location where they hide a cache for others to find. (For example, I learnt a fair deal about Cornish tin mining from caches I looked at both before I left and when I was in Cornwall.)

Geocaching gives you something fun to do pretty much anywhere you happen to be… and will often lead you somewhere interesting.

In London, when I had a couple of hours to kill at Paddington station before taking my train down to St Ives in Cornwall, I took a walk down a picturesque canal in the Paddington Basin and picked up my first UK cache (and the UK digital souvenir!).

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London, Paddington Basin

I also grabbed the SideTracked – London Paddington cache, which is part of a series hidden near train stations throughout the whole of the UK. The Paddington one is found by geocachers approximately once a day, and is apparently the most frequently found SideTracked cache of them all. I guess many people find themselves killing time at Paddington!

Hunting for geocaches also gave me something fun and positive to do in the Cornish village of Pendeen, when I found myself there ahead of schedule after replacing my broken boots. It was a good substitute to walking the Zennor-to-Pendeen leg of the South West Coast Path.

There are, in fact, HEAPS of geocaches in Cornwall (and the UK in general). They’re in pretty much every town, along most walking paths, in parks, on top of hills… They’re everywhere.

Such has been my recent enthusiasm for geocaching that I factored it into all my travel planning.

I spent hours perusing the many caches along the section of South West Coast Path in Cornwall I intended to walk (St Ives to Falmouth). In fact, when booking I decided on the ‘relaxed’ pace for the walk, so I’d have more time to look for geocaches along the way.

And they’re in Morocco too. Not nearly as many, but they do exist, particularly in the tourist spots. I wasn’t sure how much opportunity I’d get, since I was travelling with a tour group, but I was determined to find at least one!

The other thing I did was purchase some ‘trackables’ for me to release on foreign shores. These are a little like keyrings — but each one has a unique code on it. Once activated, they are designed to be left inside caches for another geocacher to pick up and take somewhere else. As long as everyone who moves a trackable logs it digitally in the system, we can see their travels around the world! So cool.

In the end, geocaching promised to add a whole new dimension to my travel adventures. By the time I left Australia, armed with a new powerbank to ensure my phone wouldn’t die while hiking, I was chomping at the bit to get over there and start hunting!

And so, after a brief dalliance in London, the fun truly began in Cornwall!

First, I had scheduled a travel recovery day in St Ives, where I combined exploring the gorgeous town with hunting for geocaches. My favourite thing when travelling is to explore a new place on foot, which matches perfectly with geocaching. They are usually to be found in all the best spots and make an ideal tour guide.

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There’s a geocache on the end of St Ives pier!

Also, at home one doesn’t always have time to indulgently hunt for geocaches (what with work and commitments and stuff). But travelling solo, with the absolute freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted, I could go nuts.

Having said that, this was a holiday, so I didn’t really set any goals. I was simply free to amble along, find a geocache or five, eat cream teas, enjoy the atmosphere.

I had fully intended to find geocaches all along the coast path between St Ives and Falmouth — a walk of some 100 miles over around two weeks. But —

I learnt fairly quickly that trying to combine hiking with geocaching was a bit of a challenge.

Geocaching actually takes up a fair amount of time… there’s the navigating and there’s the hunting. If I stopped to hunt for every one I passed, it could add hours to each day — which I had anticipated. But I had underestimated how long it would take me to actually walk certain sections. Or how knackered I would feel!

So it wasn’t long before I scaled back considerably my geocaching ambitions. I limited it to first thing in the morning, if there happened to be any located in the village where I stayed. Then, if there was one near where I happened to take a break on the path, I would search for that too. (But by the end of each day I was too footsore and tired to be bothered.)

I walked right past so damn many! (Including, accidentally, several puzzle caches I had pre-solved — argh!) Nor did I find every one I looked for — I was only interested in relatively quick finds. It seems a shame now I skipped so many, but at the time I did as many as brought me joy. And that was the most important thing.

I also released my first trackable In Cornwall! Many of the caches I found were too physically small to fit a trackable inside, but I found one near Pendeen that fit the bill and, being not too remote, was found fairly regularly. It was located near (not in) a dry stone wall, near an ancient fogou (I think), with a view of fields and the sea.

And so Hetta the Hippocamp was released to travel the world…

 

In the end, I found 30 geocaches in Cornwall — a much more modest total than I would have expected after more than two weeks. But the hiking was beautiful. Here are some views from (or near) some other awesome geocaching locations in Cornwall:

 

After Cornwall, I spent a week introducing UK friends to the fun that is geocaching. Caches were found in a couple of corners of greater London… then around the midlands town of Evesham and on top of Bredon Hill! (Another 17 finds for the week.)

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Hillfort with geocache on Bredon Hill, UK

And now we come to my geocaching adventures in Morocco!

I am yet to write any posts about my travels in Morocco… The short version is I spent two weeks with an Intrepid Travel group doing the “Highlights of Morocco” trip. It was wonderful. Great people. Amazing scenery. Fascinating cultures. (Stay tuned…)

And geocaches! Since I was with a group and our itinerary was heavily scripted, I didn’t have a great deal of time or opportunity to hunt. But I managed to scrounge time enough to find 11 in total across six different locations — not too bad at all!

The most important thing is that I figured out how to hunt for geocaches offline. You don’t need data to operate the GPS in your phone, but you do need data to access all the information about each cache — description, instructions, images, other peoples’ logs in case you get stuck, and the ability to log your own finds.

In the UK I had a travel SIM, which gave me 3G and 4G mobile data (when it was available — which in Cornwall along the coast path was frequently not the case!). But the travel SIM wouldn’t work in Morocco. The only other option for mobile data would have been to buy a local SIM.

Not needed! Upon recommendation, I had been using the Cachly App for iPhone (instead of the official one). I didn’t have issues at all with the official app, and still find it fine for normal use. But the Cachly app allows you to save caches to an offline list — not only the GPS coordinates, but all the associated information.

So all I needed to do was look ahead to where we were going and, while still on WiFi, save any geocaches to an offline list for the day in case we went anywhere near them. There are not so many in Morocco that this is unwieldy. And there is free WiFi everywhere.

Once I figured this out I was quivering with excitement!

The first Moroccan cache I found was in Casablanca near a fountain, the next a couple of days later at the stunning amazing incredible Roman ruins of Volubilis (favorite point!).

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Roman ruins at Volubilis, Morocco

Then I released my second trackable at a cache on top of a hill overlooking the stunning kser of Ait Benhaddou (another favourite point).

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View of Ait Benhaddou (Morocco) from geocache location

In the mountains around Imlil, I was ecstatic when we happened to walk past another I’d saved (Berber Secret), and almost killed myself clambering up a cliff to locate it. (I’m actually not joking.) My travel companions all thought I was crazy. Finally I found four in Essouira on a free afternoon, and a couple in Marrakech on my final day.

All in all I found 61 geocaches while travelling in the UK and Morocco.

This included my 100th cache found in Badsey, UK. (As of writing, I have now logged 142 finds.)

While I love hunting for geocaches locally (preferring parks and bushland to urban areas), it’s even more fun when you’re somewhere new and different and far away. (Which is also why I tracked some down in Broome WA last July, and why I got up early during a work visit to Dubbo NSW to find just one…)

Geocaching really does appeal to my love of discovery and adventure, and is the perfect element to add to my travels. I just wish I’d come to it years ago, before I went to Mongolia and Nepal and China and Spain and France… Guess I’ll just have to back to all those places again!

Reading Highlights from 2018

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write a 2018 Reading Highlights post… but maybe I will, after all. (I’ve just read over last year’s posts and they’re rather a nice record for me!)

I’ll keep this brief, though. Just one post. Probably.

The top three

Only three books got my top ranking (of 9/10) last year. Not sure if this is because I’m getting fussier, but I don’t think so…

I’m not writing reviews, because it’s too long since I’ve read them; but in order of reading, they are:

A Frost of Cares by Amy Rae Durreson

a-frost-of-caresLast year Spindrift, by the same author, was one of my favourites, so this year I served it up to my reading group for discussion. I think most of them liked it, although possibly not as much as me. Anyway, it prompted me to read A Frost of Cares, which is also a ghost story, although unrelated.

This one is about Luke, a military historian, hired to catalogue the archives of the (fictitious) Royal Military School of Medicine, housed in a seventeenth-century country mansion. But soon after settling into the old house, he hears strange noises and begins to suffer from terrible nightmares. Together with Jay, the ex-military caretaker, he tries to understand the mansion’s history in order to face down the angry spirit.

Oh my goodness, I loved A Frost of Cares even more! It’s written from Luke’s perspective some time later, with Jay peering over his shoulder and inserting comments… I seriously adored that device. It’s a lot more spooky than Spindrift too.

Unfortunately it’s not very long (only 138 pages), but there’s a lot packed into it nonetheless. It’s wonderful.

Band Sinister by K.J. Charles

band-sinisterK.J. Charles just keeps on delivering. Everything she writes is fantastic — well written, well researched, well plotted. Band Sinister is more or less an ode to Regency Romances a la Georgette Heyer — so of course I was always going to adore it.

Band Sinister is is about a genteel brother and sister, poor and keeping their heads down because of a family scandal, who come into contact with a notable rake and his house party of atheists. Of course they turn out to be charming, educated, wildly fascinating — and very attractive. Sir Philip (the rake) sets out to seduce Guy (the innocent country gentleman) with… outcomes.

It’s a delightful romp that’s more than mere froth, but keeps things light, romantic and fun.

Kip’s Monster by Harper Fox

kips-monsterHarper Fox is always an auto-buy for me (as is K.J. Charles above). I love her lyrical writing, the strong emotions on the page, the wonderful way she uses setting — in this case a camp for Loch Ness Monster hunters on the shores of Loch Ness. (Not that the individuals in question refer to Nessie as a “monster”.)

I admit I was a little unsure about this one at first… For starters, the title and cover sound and look like it could be a middle grade book. Not the case! I’m so glad I decided to trust in Ms Fox and click away…

Kip’s Monster is about Oz, who has dropped out of his engineering degree to support his grandmother and sister with an admin job, and Kip, the boyfriend Oz also discarded as part of his life reprioritisation when his father abandoned them. But Oz and Kip belong together, even if Kip is battling his own demons and seeking escape on the remote shores of Loch Ness.

There are a few twists and turns and many layers to Kip’s Monster. It’s a deeply emotional book, dealing with themes of parental abandonment, responsibility, and substance abuse in a beautiful way (but it could be a little triggery for some). Like many of Harper Fox’s works it veers a little into the mystical as well. But only a little.

Worthy mentions

In addition to the three mentioned above, I read plenty of other good stuff.

Josh Lanyon (another auto-buy author, who writes crime and mysteries) had several new releases. I’m also still working through Ms Lanyon’s extensive backlist, because they’re all awesome. I re-read several of her books as well. Titles I read for the first time include: Dark Horse, White Knight (two related novellas), Fair Chance (All’s Fair book 3), The Ghost had an Early Check-out, In Other Words… Murder (Holmes and Morarity book 4), The Magician Murders (The Art of Murder Book 3), M/M Mystery and Suspense Box Set (6 Novellas), Murder Takes the High Road, Point Blank: Five Dangerous Ground Novellas. Okay, that’s a lot! Obviously I can’t get enough of Josh Lanyon.

Megan Derr is an author whose books I encountered for the first time last year… Although that’s not strictly true, because I had one on my kindle for a year before I read it. This was The High King’s Golden Tongue (Tales of the High Court – book 1), which I adored. I then inhaled the next two in the series: The Pirate of Fathoms Deep and The Heart of the Lost Star. It might be evident from their titles that they’re fantasy — Huzzah! — albeit still in the M/M romance genre. But there’s plenty of non-romance plot in all three books, and it’s not too grim. There are also interesting things going on with gender roles.

Finally, I’ll just mention that I went on a bit of a Cornwall bender during September and October, in preparation for (and simultaneous with) my visit there. I had a delightful time re-reading some of Harper Fox’s books set in Cornwall — including Driftwood and the first few in the wonderful Tyack and Frayne series. I also dipped into Jay Northcote’s Rainbow Place series, and books by Garrett Leigh, J.L. Merrow and Alex Beecroft in the multi-author Porthkennack series from Dreamspinner Press. It definitely got me into the mood for Cornwall!

I’m going to leave it there for 2018. Apologies to the great books I haven’t mentioned — there were plenty of them.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me until the end of the post. I wish you all another fabulous year of wonderful books!

D&D Chronicles 2: First night on the Watch

Those who followed my D&D Chronicles posts over the past several years may be interested/amused/appalled to hear the campaign is more-or-less over… and we didn’t win.

Yep. After more than six years and 79 blog posts, we kind of stuffed it up at the end.

We haven’t exactly lost, either (although it’s still on the cards), but the final confrontation has been delayed for a few months. There will eventually be a final post to wrap up what I’ll henceforth refer to as The Varrien Campaign.

You’ll hear from the mighty Zillah at least one more time at some point in the new year.

In the meantime, we have just started a new and unrelated campaign. We’ve got a new Dungeon Master, new world and new characters. Bring it on.

I am so excited to be playing a character who is not a taciturn and troubled ranger with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Zillah was awesome, but I’m definitely ready for a change.

So now I’m gonna play an elven bard!

Sariel#1b


Rivermeet, 1 Jan

SARIEL

Finally, it’s here. Finally. Our first night on the Watch in Rivermeet.

I’ve heard so much about this town, especially how my grandparents helped drive out the urku and wrest control for the Vanya, some 200 years ago. My mother’s mother met her end here, long lost but not forgotten. (May her spirit walk with Sehanine in the afterlife.)

My brother and sister — and several of my cousins — each served a year on the Watch here too, before returning home to Azan Gedat. They each spoke of Rivermeet with affection before the massacre. (May their spirits walk with Sehanine in the afterlife.)

And now it is my turn, and Aramil’s, to fulfil the terms of the Treaty on behalf of the Sularine. And we will do so gloriously!

New companions

Our first challenge will be to win the trust of our Watch companions, who are a diverse and interesting trio.

There’s Brosia, a Parnian from Rivermeet who steadfastly denies their Sularine blood, even though Aramil and I can see it, feel it. They’re very young, even for a half-elf. And they clearly despise Aramil and me.

Dixxon is a strapping young Parnian, but of Volhyn descent. I know little of the Volhyn and look forward to learning much from him. He is a cleric of Lana-Gi, Parnian Goddess of Love, and seems to follow her teachings to the letter.

Alec is of the Fedulian people; his father is a trader in the western riverlands. He is also very young, and is accompanied by an intelligent-looking dog named Kalb. He doesn’t speak much.

That makes five of us in our Watch unit, counting Aramil and me. He and I travelled down from Malos with a caravan of traders, arriving in Rivermeet a handful of days ago, just before the Vanya celebrated their new year — which begins today.

Supposedly there will be much revelry on the streets tonight, which should make our first Watch shift interesting. I can’t wait!


First night on the Watch

by Sariel Donnodel

Five strangers (two not so strange)
Thrust together, bade keep the calm
“To the wharves!” he says, thither we go
Three Vanya and two Sularine

The market stench is cloying, thick
Fishmonger roars, steel in hand
Flurry of weapons, shouts, before
Monger lies floored, cursed and mad

A bustling start! But night’s not done
A carriage marauds out of hand
With Sularine flair the horse is tamed
Tumbling out, a lady and a man

The lady is escorted home
(Least said about that, the better)
Sir Bluster, though, beats hasty retreat
We’ll meet him again, a little later

Meanwhile, we investigate and find
An injured cat, a shaken driver
And tales of masked man, gravely wounded
At Hospitaller house for succour

The cat proves familiar companion
But wounded man, having woken
Has no memory (so he says)
On his person, a tavern token

At the Mudlark inn, we find
Sir Bluster shimmying out a window
Thus we intercept the cad
But his crony melts into shadow

Other events this night include
Telling stories, listening to dreams
Meeting locals, human, fey
Wondering if all is as it seems

Finally a pledge to father of rats
Whose children vanish, lured away
By sweet music in the night
A task for us another day

Thus ends our first night on the Watch
A strange and quite eventful time!
A step away from strangers now
Three Vanya and two Sularine

<<>>

South West Coast Path: Mullion Cove to Falmouth

After walking from St Ives to Falmouth along England’s South West Coast Path (in Cornwall) last October, I’ve written some posts about each of the stages — mainly as a way to share photos and remember some of the detail.

This is the third post, detailing the final four days of my walking itinerary. The first two posts cover the first week (St Ives to Penzance) then the next two days of walking (Marazion to Mullion).

Mullion Cove to Cadgwith (~11 miles)

This was one of my favourite legs of my entire coast path walk, despite the fact it was also the longest at about 11 miles.

I think the favourite points were partly because of the beautiful scenery as I went around the Lizard — England’s most southern mainland point. Partly because it was very pleasant and easy walking — much of it along grassy cliff tops. And partly because I took some ibuprofen, which made a huge difference to all my aches and pains.

I felt awesome for pretty much the whole day.

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View of Mullion Cove from Higher Predannack Cliff

The first mile of the day involved walking down from the town of Mullion to the adorable quay at Mullion Cove. I took a few minutes to look around, then headed up onto the clifftops — Higher Predannack then Lower Predannack Cliff. (The image above shows the view back to Porthleven.)

From here it was gorgeous walking south through grassy fields towards picturesque Kynance Cove (which was teeming with day trippers) and its green serpentine rock.

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Kynance Cove towards Lizard Point

Unfortunately for me, the Kynance Cove cafe wasn’t open, so I kept going towards Lizard Point, another couple of miles away. Luckily there were a couple of cafes open at the bottom of England, and I enjoyed a delicious toastie with coffee at the Polpeor Cafe.

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Lizard Point (with cafes and seals)

By this stage I’d walked six miles along the path (seven in total) and still had four miles to go! The afternoon was getting on, so I couldn’t linger too long at the cafe to watch the seals before heading to Cadgwith.

This next section of the path wasn’t as spectacular, being more heavily vegetated, and I was (needless to say) extremely happy to arrive at my destination, the Cadgwith Cove Inn. Cadgwith is a gorgeous little village, with plenty of thatched fishermen’s cottages, nets and boats.

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Cadgwith – with the historical Cadgwith Cove Inn

Cadgwith to Porthhallow

Ibuprofen or no, I’d previously decided not to walk the 12 miles from Cadgwith to Porthhallow. Too far. After three days walking (two of them more than 10 miles), I was ready for a rest. However, I still needed to get to the village of Porthallow, where my luggage was being deposited and my room was booked.

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Cadgwith in the morning sunshine

It ended up being quite a fun and relaxed day. First I whiled away some time with my kindle in the very pretty village of Cadgwith. Then, a friendly holidaymaker I met the previous evening gave me a lift to the town of Coverack (eliminating seven miles walking).

Coverack is renowned for displaying a geological phenomenon on its beach; that is, it shows the exposed “moho”, which is the boundary between the earth’s mantle and crust. The Serpentine rock to the south (foreground below) would have once been part of the mantle, while the gabbro rock to the north would have once formed part of the crust. I wandered along the beach trying to identify the transition zone. Ha.

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Coverack and its ‘Moho’ on the beach

To avoid walking the next five-mile section of the coast path (which was diverted inland due to floods last year and quarries), I caught a local bus from Coverack to the nearby town of St Keverne. I chose St Keverne because the bus went there and it was only two miles from Porthallow via a well-marked pubic footpath (which also had geocaches along it). So 12 miles of walking became two miles, with extra time to grab a few geocaches. Win-Win!

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Porthallow

Porthallow was a sleepy little town with not much going on, although it is the official half-way point of the entire coast path. I had a great view from my bedroom window — I think that’s Falmouth in the distance.

Porthallow to Mawnan Smith (~7 miles)

This particular leg was something of an adventure, as it involved two river crossings and, although I was hopeful, I was by no means certain the ferries would still be running on 30 October. They were, as it turned out, but had I arrived two days later I would have been out of luck.

It was easy walking for most of the day, the path taking me north from Porthallow to Nare Point, which gave good view of my ultimate destination, Falmouth!

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Nare Point – Falmouth in distance

From Nare Point, the path turns west into Gillan Harbour (Gillan Creek) and Helford Passage.

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Heading west towards Helford Passage

Crossing Gillan Creek was the first challenge. The advertised options were wade/ford (if low tide), stepping stones (if low tide) or maybe, if you’re lucky, an on-demand ferry…

It was not low tide. Fingers crossed, I signalled the ferry. Woo hoo! It cost me five pounds, but I didn’t care. (Otherwise I would have had an extra two miles of walking and by this stage of the walk I was cutting corners wherever possible.)

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Crossing Gillan Creek

After crossing Gillan Creek, the path ventured partway around Dennis Head, before doubling back west towards Helford, where there was a more substantial river crossing. It was the second last day for the season, but Helford Ferry was still in operation and I was very relieved. Even if I was surprised it was such a small boat! (The alternative was an expensive taxi ride the long way around.)

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Helford Ferry

I sat down for lunch at the Ferryboat Inn, enjoying the autumn sunshine. Then I walked for another hour or so — first along the coast path a little way, then inland to the town of Mawnan Smith.

Mawnan Smith to Falmouth

For my final day of walking, I elected not to rejoin the coast path where I left it (south at Porth Saxon), but instead headed east from Mawnan Smith to rejoin it at Bream Cove, thereby cutting out a short section. From there it was not long before I passed by Maenporth beach, followed by the outer reaches of Falmouth, such as Swanpool and Gyllyngvase Beach.

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Falmouth coast

Needless to say, I did not walk the long way around Pendennis Point, but instead hightailed it across the narrow peninsula to find the shops and restaurants of Falmouth. As a result, my final day of coast path walking was pretty short. Not that I was complaining.

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Falmouth harbour

I wandered along the streets of Falmouth for a bit, checking out the harbour, before I found Dolly’s! Hands down, my favourite place in Falmouth. I wished I was there with friends so I could do a proper gin tasting. (It’s really not the same on your own.)

Cornwall_Falmouth_Dollys

My own heavenly haven – Dolly’s

The following morning I explored Pendennis Castle. The history of this Tudor gun tower, built by Henry VIII, and its subsequent role in the defence of England’s southern shores — as recently as World War II — was very interesting. I spent quite some time there, looking at all the guns of different eras.

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Pendennis Castle

My final afternoon in Cornwall was spent relaxing, wandering the streets of Falmouth, before heading to Dolly’s again for an early dinner. Falmouth is a lovely town. I could definitely live there quite happily!

This marked the end of my South West Coast Path walking expedition. From Falmouth I caught the (very expensive) train up to London to visit a series of friends… and after that I went to Morocco.

But that’s another story entirely.

 

South West Coast Path: Marazion to Mullion

Back in October I spent a couple of weeks hiking the UK’s South West Coast Path in Cornwall — from St Ives to Falmouth. The complete distance is 102 miles (according to the South West Coast Path website).

I wrote about the first stage of my journey while taking a couple of rest days in Penzance. (See my previous post: South West Coast Path: St Ives to Penzance.) Even though I was walking at the so-called “relaxed” pace, I really needed those rest days!

I started writing up the second stage of my trek a few weeks ago while still traveling, but phone blogging just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. So I decided to wait until I was home to finish it — apologies if you’ve been wondering where I got to!

Since the first post ended up so big and took ages to put together, I’m going to break down the second stage into two or possibly three posts. This post covers the next two days of walking: Marazion to Porthleven (11 miles), then Porthleven to Mullion Cove/Mullion (6-7 miles).

Penzance

I didn’t do much during my rest days in Penzance. When I scheduled them, I half thought I might have taken the opportunity to do some work (me having aspirations to be a digital nomad), but in fact I was tired after six days of activity, and thankful I hadn’t committed to any work.

I walked around a little, picked up a few geocaches, and sat in cafes. It was good to rest my body — my feet especially. I didn’t get back to Mousehole or undertake any other excursions I had contemplated. Penzance is a nice town and a major centre for the region. It has good facilities and proved a good spot to chill out for a couple of days.

Marazion to Porthleven (11 miles)

I had always planned to start walking from Marazion, cutting off the 3.5 miles along the foreshore from Penzance. It was a straightforward bus ride, but then I stopped for coffee in Marazion (as you do), so I left the town later than intended.

St Michael’s Mount and Marazion

The walking out of Marazion was pretty easy, through market gardens, with views back to St Michael’s Mount. I didn’t stop to visit the Mount, having walked across the causeway last time I was here.

With 11 miles to walk — my longest day to-date — I was a little apprehensive as to how I would manage and kept an eye on the time. The first milestone was the tiny village of Perran Sands, where there was fortunately a toilet, then around Cudden Point to ‘Prussia Cove’, renowned as the former headquarters of the infamous smuggler John Carter, The King of Prussia. Prussia Cove is actually made up of several small coves, including the pretty and quaint Bessy’s Cove.

Rounding Cudden Point

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Bessy’s Cove (I think)

After 6-1/4 miles, I reached the town of Praa Sands in good spirits, with good energy, in time for a late lunch of soup and bread at a restaurant/bar called the Sandbar — which was right on the long, white beach and seemed very popular.

Although I had originally intended to take packed lunches each day, in the end I mostly relied on cafes etc when they were available. I think a big reason for this was the chance to sit down somewhere warm and comfortable for a bit. (Get off my feet!) The weather was cooler in the second week, so the chance for a hot meal and a coffee was usually too good to pass up. Soup became quite a common lunch for me, since breakfast was always so big and it was a healthy option served with bread instead of fries.

On leaving Praa Sands, I then had another 4.5 miles to Porthleven. As suggested by the guide book, I elected to walk along the very long Praa Sands beach instead of the path… which proved a little annoying as it was literally covered with rivulets of water running into the sea (which I had to jump over).

Wheal Prosper Engine House

The path got more strenuous for the last few miles. My destination, Porthleven, was visible for a very long time, but it seemed to take a very long time to reach it. This included some infuriating sections of path that traversed three sides of a square around the cliff tops… twice! (Honestly!)

I was very tired when I finally made it into Porthleven — after my longest day yet. I went straight to my B&B (Wellmore End), where the welcome was hearty and warm — and included hot chocolate sachets, which went down VERY well.

Porthleven

Porthleven is a gorgeous town, clustered around an extensive constructed cove (typically Cornish, apparently). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time (or energy) to look around. I did, however, drag myself out for dinner to a local restaurant and ate something other than pub food.

Porthleven to Mullion (6-7 miles)

After the first week of gorgeous sunshine, the weather definitely decided to turn colder in this last week of October. I awoke in Porthleven to the coldest, dreariest morning yet. This was the first rain I’d witnessed in Cornwall. There was also hail.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much chance to look around Porthleven in these conditions. I had been planning to wander around a bit and grab a few geocaches before leaving — particularly since I had a much shorter distance to walk. It was very disappointing, particularly as the rain soon eased (if only I’d waited a bit). Oh well.

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Porthleven in the drizzle

Porthleven

Although the morning was mostly cloudy, the sun showed its face here and there. I was a bit stiff and sore after the previous long day, and my energy levels seemed down — it felt as though I was walking slowly. This was frustrating, considering how good I’d felt the previous day.

Looking back to Porthleven

The first landmark was the Loe, a freshwater lagoon renowned for diverse bird life. It is also supposedly the lake into which Sir Bedivere cast Excalibur, the sword of the dying King Arthur. Since my grandfather used to tell us the story of “the lady in the lake”, whose hand came out of the water to catch the sword, this was of particular interest to me.

The Loe is separated from the ocean by a strip of sand/shingle called Loe Bar. The Coast Path forges across this bank and passes a memorial to the 1807 Grylls’ Act, which allowed bodies washed up by the sea to be buried in the nearest consecrated ground without being proven Christian.

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Looking back to the Loe and Loe Bar

Then came Gunwalloe fishing cove, where a path diversion due to a cliff fall saw me take the long way around. And then another case of walking three sides of the square around Halzephron Cliff… It was tempting to follow the more direct road instead, but I stuck to the path and was glad in the end since it was pretty.

Halzephron Cliff (behind) and Dollar Cove with St Winwaloe Church

After a while I reached Poldhu Cove, where there is an all-year beach cafe. Although I was always intending to stop for coffee and lunch, mainly I just wanted to sit down and get warm, because the day was really cold and my feet/ankles/knees were aching.

From Poldhu Cove, I had a number of options: 1) Continue walking to Mullion Cove (~1 mile) then walk inland to my B&B in the town of Mullion (~1 mile); 2) Skip the last section of coast path and walk directly to Mullion along the road (~1mile); 3) Catch the bus from Poldhu Cove to Mullion (and not walk any further).

I ended up hanging out in the drafty cafe for an hour or so and catching the bus. Somehow I managed to get deposited right outside my B&B, but I was way too early for the check-in window, so I holed up with my kindle and hot chocolate in a diner across the road.

The Old Vicarage B&B was a lovely old home, and I had a large room and bathroom with a bath. Thankfully, it was only a short walk to the nearest pub for dinner. Because of the aches and pains in my ankles and knees, I decided to try taking ibuprofen for the next day.

That’s it for now… Only four more days until Falmouth.

South West Coast Path: St Ives to Penzance

Hiking the South West Coast Path: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “wow” (out loud, to myself). The scenery — rugged cliffs, sweeping vegetation, sparkling beaches — is stunning. There are ancient monuments and the fascinating and forlorn remnants of tin mining days. And wildlife — seals and birds in particular (haven’t seen any dolphins yet). It’s hard to describe without veering into hyperbole.

The coast path is a 630-mile trail around the coast of southwest England. I first encountered it five years ago, when I walked the sections from Instow to Westward Ho!, then Westward Ho! to Clovelly. Ever since, I’ve wanted to return to tackle a longer section.

So here I am, taking on this solo walking adventure, which will see me complete (more or less) the stretch from St Ives to Falmouth — a total of ~103 miles.

Okay, so I hadn’t added that up until right now… 103 miles! Blimey. No wonder I have sore feet.

I’m currently in Penzance for a couple of rest days. It’s not even halfway, it turns out; but as I limped into Mousehole on Tuesday I was extremely thankful I’d allocated the break. The coast path is TOUGH! It’s very up and down, rocky in parts, muddy in parts, steep in (lots of) parts. At the end of each day my knees ache, my feet scream, and I collapse in a heap.

So two days to mooch around Penzance have been bliss. (Right now I’m in a cafe, using my Bluetooth keyboard with my phone… it’s almost like home. In the last five years England seems to have found out about flat whites!)

St Ives

I arrived in St Ives last Tuesday, after a long journey from Australia. The train ride from Paddington to St Erth seemed never ending. Then the last short train journey to St Ives followed the Hayle estuary — very pretty. My hotel (Regents Hotel) stood high over the town, giving stunning sea views.

I spent the following day exploring (geocaching) the town, completely falling in love with it. It’s a tourist mecca — but I can see why! I loved the harbour, where a couple of seals hung out near the fishing boats bringing in their mackerel haul.

Mackerel haul

Pretty St Ives (with fishermen and seals) — Harbour Beach and Old Town

A stroll about St Ives Head gave views back over the old town with its twisty cobbled streets. I had lunch at the popular Porthmeor Beach Cafe, and found truly good coffee at Mount Zion (where the owner refuses to make cappuccinos… flat whites, espresso, long black or pourover only!). I also hung out in the Cemetery for a while, looking for family names, since we hail from here (Richards, Thomas).

Another view of St Ives — Porthmeor Sands

St Ives to Zennor Head (6 miles/10km)

On Thursday I started walking. This was a “short” but strenuous stage. I encountered many people out for the day, although I seemed to be the only person staying in the village of Zennor. Most availed themselves of the bus to/from St Ives.

Along the coast path…

My approach from the start has been to take my time — take photos, enjoy the views, stop to look and breathe it all in. (I also stopped for a few geocaches along the way.)

Dog or seal?

Trevalgan Ancient Stone Circle

Stunning cliffs

I took a delicious sandwich from a recommended deli, and ate it at River Cove overlooking a beach with seals. Another Australian couple were there too — they pointed out the peregrine falcon perched on the cliff nearby… my jaw dropped. The peregrine perched there for at least 20 minutes and I couldn’t leave until it did.

Lunch with a peregrine falcon

In the afternoon my boots started falling apart. Literally. They were old and I suspect the adhesive had degraded — meaning the soles sheared clean off both boots. I finished the walk gingerly, after taking an alternative path (shortcut) that cut off the final route around Zennor Head. Luckily they didn’t fall apart completely!

At the iconic Tinners Arms pub (where I stayed) I enjoyed a St Ives gin (or two) with tonic in the late afternoon sunshine. I ate dinner in the pub, while chatting to locals. They have folk music there on Thursday evenings, but unfortunately I crashed into bed instead.

Penwith Peninsula Ancient Stones walk (7 miles/12km)

Now, a dilemma. I had arranged for a car to take me onto the moors today, intending to visit some of the ancient stones and walk back to Zennor for a second night. But my boots were dead. I did, however, have my trail runners as a backup, so resolved to keep to the plan and see how they went.

The car took me to Lanyon Quoit, where I clambered over a stile into a field. And immediately my shoes and feet were wet. Not good. The quoit was cool, though. Dated to neolithic times, Lanyon Quoit is one of the best known monuments in the area.

Lanyon Quoit

I then followed a designated route around the moors that took me next to the Ding Dong Mine Engine House (Greenburrow) — its hilltop tower visible for miles around.

Ding Dong Mine — Greenburrow engine house

Next my walking route took me to the neolithic or bronze age Boskednan (Nine Maidens) Stone Circle nestled in the heather. I actually met two different groups of people here and had to wait until they left to take my photos. The circle was quite difficult to capture in full.

Boskednan/Nine Maidens Stone Circle

The Men Scryfa (written) stone stands alone in a field, accessed by a stile. There was more damp grass to traverse (my feet were pretty wet and cold). The stone has writing on it (dated 6th to 8th C AD): RIALOBRANI CUNOVALI FILI (of the Royal Raven, son of the Glorious Prince). It is thought to commemorate the death of a Celtic royal soldier.

Men Scryfa stone

The Men an Tol (stone with hole) is another of the best-known prehistoric monuments on the moor. Apparently holed stones are very rare in Cornwall and it’s likely this one had a specific ritual purpose.

Men an Tol

At this point, I will mention the awesomeness of the British OS Maps App! I downloaded this onto my phone before I left home, and it shows all the tracks, monuments, places of interest etc. It ALSO shows you where you are using GPS. I have used this frequently this past week when figuring out my route. I love it. (You have to buy the maps, though.)

My next stop was the summit of Carn Galver — where there was a geocache. I also managed to stumble and rip my hiking pants while scrambling over rocks. The weather for this day was mostly overcast, although the sun came out a few times.

Carn Galver summit

I was delighted to find the Rosemergy Farm tea rooms open when I descended from the moor. This meant hot coffee and a cream tea! After that I trudged/squelched back to Zennor (couple of miles) where I dived into the shower.

Random standing stone (with hens)

Zennor to Pendeen

Instead of walking this leg (approx. 7-8 miles), I went to Penzance to buy new boots. The bus timetables weren’t friendly, so I caught a taxi there, then a bus straight to Pendeen, once my mission was accomplished. I could have possibly returned to Zennor and walked, but wasn’t sure about the lost time. My walking pace is proving to be slower than I expected. I also thought I should break in the new boots a bit first…

I was sorry, though, to miss Pendour Cove, which birthed the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor.

Once in Pendeen, I checked into my room at the North Inn and then went exploring (geocaching). It was another gorgeous day and, although I missed the coast path leg, I enjoyed my day and got up to the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch. (Had a good view of the path I had skipped.)

Pendeen Lighthouse

The path not travelled

Then I climbed the hill behind the town, where some interesting sights awaited…

Looking down over Pendeen and Boscaswell (beyond)

Bathtub graveyard

By the end of all this I was pretty weary (!) and availed myself of the bath in my suite. So far this has been my only available bath — I’ve wished for one since!

Pendeen to Sennen Cove (9 miles/15km)

Finally back on the coast path! This has been the longest (and possibly my favourite) leg so far. First was the four-mile section to Cape Cornwall, past the fascinating remains of Geevor, Levant and Crown Mines. Geevor has not been closed all that long (1990) and is now a working museum with underground tours. Both Levant and Crown are mostly beautiful ruins.

Geevor Tin Mine

Remains of Levant Mine

Crown Mine (near Botallack)

After leaving the mines, I arrived at Kenidjack Castle, an Iron Age fort. I sat here for a while admiring the view, which included Cape Cornwall. It also happened to be near a geocache, so I clambered down to retrieve it. (I also picked up a couple earlier in the day.)

At Cape Cornwall, the seasonal snack van was still open, so I grabbed a light lunch, plus coffee and cake. To my amusement and delight, this was served on a tray using china crockery.

Cape Cornwall

Then it was another five miles to Sennen Cove, past Ballowal Long Barrow and numerous mine shafts. This was fascinating, since some of the shafts were fenced and signed, but others were not!

Warning: Danger of death!

The walking for this day was rated “moderate”, but I found it just as difficult as the first day. The last couple of miles heading towards Sennen Cove were not hard walking, but I was fairly shattered. At one point, I just sprawled on some grass and rested in the sun for a while, trying to gather my reserves for the last push.

It didn’t help that my B&B was in Sennen village at the top of the hill, with no nearby eating options. My room was also tiny. This was my least favourite accommodation — despite there being nothing intrinsically wrong with it — and I went to bed at 7pm without dinner. (I was just too tired and footsore to get myself anywhere else.)

Sennen Cove to Porthcurno (6-7 miles)

Another “moderate” day of walking, a bit shorter. I had loads more energy at the end of the day, but my feet were still sore!

Soon after leaving Sennen Cove (where I grabbed a couple of geocaches), I stopped to look at the cliff top Maen Castle, which overlooked the fascinating wreck of the RMS Mühlheim (2003). There was a geocache here too.

Wreck of the RMS Mühlheim

I continued along a beautiful stretch of the path to Land’s End, which is a popular route with day walkers. Lands End itself was surprisingly deserted. I had been hoping to find the restaurant open, but I guess I was too early in the day. Instead, I had to make do with a kiosk that served the worst “coffee” in the history of ever. I also picked up a pre-made wrap to eat later for lunch.

Heading towards Lands End

After Lands End, more walking over and around cliff tops with interesting rock formations towards Porthgwarra. I stopped to eat lunch overlooking Carn Guthensbras, near the holed headland (which I totally missed), before heading down to the cafe and a much better coffee — and cake! Any excuse to rest the feet.

Interesting rock formations

Near my lunch stop

Onwards then for another hour or so to Porthcurno,which is famous for its open air Minack Theatre built into the cliff. You can’t see it from the the path, unfortunately, so I missed this too.

There’s a perilous descent from the entrance of the Minack Theatre into Porthcurno by way of cliff stairs. In Porthcurno, I stayed in the delightful Seaview B&B not too far from a pub — where I had a cider and a chat with the proprietor (and later, dinner).

Porthcurno to Mousehole (7 miles)

This was the final leg of the first stage of my walk, and I was feeling pretty well ready for my Penzance rest days! The trail for this day was rated “strenuous” but felt similar in difficulty to the previous “moderate” sections.

Leaving Porthcurno and Minack Theatre

The Logan Rock

It was yet again beautiful walking on leaving Porthcurno, with views across fields of the Logan Rock, which I elected not to visit. (By this stage of the walk I wasn’t taking many diversions.)

The path passed high and low (i.e. up and down) through scrub, gorse and woodland areas. The small fishing village of Penberth was deserted when I went through (although thankfully there was a toilet).

Penberth

Down… to Porth Guarnon (I think)

Through patches of scraggly forest

Tater Du Lighthouse

This section of the path was far less populated than other sections I’ve walked — possibly not such a popular stretch for day walkers; although I did encounter some here and there. There were a lot more wooded sections too.

At Lamorna Cove there was a cafe where I had soup for lunch — with coffee, of course. Quite a few people lurked here, enjoying the sunshine. I stayed for about an hour to gear up for the final stretch of the week.

And then I only had two and a half miles to go. I had always intended to catch the bus to Penzance from Mousehole, which I reached at about 4pm. It’s a quaint village. I would have liked to wander around a bit, but I was pretty weary by this time and looking forward to having a couple of days break.

Mousehole

It’s now the end of my second rest day (this post has taken me quite a few hours to compile on my phone!) — tomorrow I head off along the path again. It will be a bus to Marazion, then walking to Porthleven and the longest distance yet at over 10 miles. Gulp.

There’s more to say, but phone blogging is a bit limited, so this will have to do for now. I still have almost 60 miles to walk in the next 6 days… reckon I’m gonna feel it! (And there’s always the bus!)

I’ll be back with a report on the second half of this expedition in another week or so.

3 Dec: I’ve edited this post a fair bit. Corrected some things, added some detail and tidied up the formatting.

One and only timer shot of me on the coast path!

D&D Chronicles: The Colossus

ZILLAH

Despite our so-called victory, it takes a few days for the revolution to build. The quadrant leaders are all reluctant to commit — wanting detailed plans and still more demonstrations of our strength. They are scared and self interested, demanding assurances of victory before lending aid.

But how can we plan a revolution — let alone assure victory — without knowing what our resources are? We are visitors to this accursed city, yet they provide no insights. It’s both frustrating and infuriating.

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Planning the revolution

In the end we decide we cannot depend on anyone other than ourselves. But as soon as we declare our intention to attack the gates, Orral says the tunnel people will lend aid. Well and so.

We will attack in two days time at midday during the Festival of Elloran.


The day of revolution comes at last. The Council has withdrawn all forces behind the walls of the Bastian. The town is holding its breath as we march towards the gates, people joining us as we move through the streets at the head of a growing throng. The tunnel people are carrying large nets and assorted weapons. Other townspeople are joining them.

The steel and coal quadrants hold back, still not committing. Cowards.

We arrive at the gates. All is quiet; the wall crawlers and guards on the wall watch and wait.

Our plan is simple. Attack, defend and await the Colossus. Fen has learnt a new protection spell and cast it upon each of us. Blaze has brewed more healing potions. We are as prepared as we can be. It feels sorely inadequate.

Blaze and I commence by warping some of the crawlers. Alix sets a blade barrier along the top of the wall. Then the gates open and the first wave of Council forces emerge.

It’s a phalanx of automata and elite guards. The guards peel off right and left — I lose sight of them quickly. The automata keep coming, surging towards us, three abreast. Nightshade stands on my right, Blaze on the other side of her. Together we meet the onslaught of these magicked machines.

The automata keep on coming and coming and coming. No sooner do we hack one into oblivion than it gets dragged back to make room for another. And another. These are the ‘guardian’ class automata Orral told us about. The toughest, meanest, hardest to defeat. I know not how many I’ve destroyed, only to face the next.

I cannot see what is happening elsewhere in the battle. Every so often I hear a loud cheer from back in the town and the air is filled with the ringing of steel, the scent of blood. Some of it’s my blood, and that of my companions. None of it belongs to these cursed automata.

They keep at us. I keep swinging until I’m not sure I can take much more. My vision is swimming and my arms feel about to drop off.

But we’ve achieved our first aim. Ahead, still within the Bastian, but lumbering ever closer, is the Colossus. The Eye of Varrien smoulders like an ember in its forehead, casting a reddish glow over the swarm of wooden machines in its path. It moves at ponderous speed, inexorably closer.

FEN

I’ve never seen anything like it. The bodies. The blood. And yes, the heroism.

Alix swept the wall clear of enemy troops with a wall of her own, one of flashing blades. Then the enemy flooded from the citadel, and my compatriots met them in the street, shoulder to shoulder. A constant stream of soldiers and automata came upon them, to be hacked down mercilessly.

I ran my magics down to empty, expended all my healing potions, keeping my colleagues in the fight. My chief offensive act was a fireball, to deter what I perceived to be a mage attempting to raise dead soldiers. I shudder to think of this unnatural act. Stopping it merited the destruction wrought by my spell.

At one point, our flank was threatened, and here I was able to lend support, in the form of a stinking cloud to slow the enemy advance, and then with swings of my club until reinforcements put the foe to flight.

How valiantly the city folk fought. One lane was so covered in dead and wounded, I could not see the flagstones. What an appalling waste.

NIGHTSHADE

I can feel the energy of my goddess running through me. After all the deceit and betrayal on the part of my former comrades – the ranger killed me; she shall regret her treachery – the cleric finally succumbed. Varrien is too powerful for the homely shield of Shadrath to ward against for long. The world shall soon know just how powerful she is. All shall soon know her wrath … and, if they are meek, her generosity.

It was a mighty battle. We marched straight up to the gate of the citadel quarter, full of half-hatched plans and bravado, and the elite guard came out to meet us, in league with the cursed automata as expected. But we held the line, drawing them in twos and threes down the narrow street and despatching them thus. From the bellowing and sounds of clashing iron around us, all of Tel Marrenor was up in arms. The tunnel people had birthed their ridiculous revolution at last, though I cared not for the outcome so long as it kept busy the extra swords and machines which might otherwise be troubling us.

Then the Colossus began to move.

We were still fighting automata and not yet ready to face such a foe and so, as soon as I caught glimpse of it I cast a sleet storm in its path. Thank Varrien for my newly acquired spells!

And thank Varrien too for her tightening grasp upon the cleric’s will. I had seen for days how troubled Alix had been, how carrying the Eye vexed her, and it must finally have proved too much. In the heat of battle, I heard her call my name. A desperate plea!

I turned and there she was, running toward me with arm outstretched and in her hand … the blessed gem. Freely, she gave it to me, pressed it into my palm and closed my fingers around it. It felt like a key slotting home after too long an absence. It felt like my heart could beat again.

I don’t remember too much of what happened next. The Colossus was upon us and we fought, maces clashing against stone. I don’t think I was hit; if I was, my goddess cast her benediction over me and I felt no pain. All I could think of was the second Eye, that bright red beacon in the monstrosity’s head. It filled my vision, and my soul.

Then the Colossus was slain, crashing to the cobbles with such weight the earth beneath us trembled, and I ran. Faster than I ever have. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Zillah move as well, but my feet were swifter. Goddess-touched.

And now I have them both, the blessed Eyes of Varrien. I can scarcely believe it! At long last this ungrateful world will know its end.

ALIX

What the hell have I done?

I suspected for a while that carrying the Eye would have some effect – I had seen it when Cal carried it and couldn’t doubt it after seeing Nightshade altered – but I really thought that having it sheathed in silver would keep me safe.

I didn’t count on the subtle probing every single minute of the day, nor the more direct thrusts at my will as the golem came closer and closer. Shadrath, help me hold! I kept pleading in my head, but someone else was whispering and She was starting to entice.

We had to fight. We had to stop the automata and keep the citizens motivated. We had to back each other and stay up… and all the time, She was calling.

Tickle, probe, thrust. The golem arrived, bearing the other Eye. Another tickle, another probe and bam! My resistance was gone. I had to get to Nightshade. I knew with bone-deep certainty we would all die if she didn’t get the Eye I carried. Rise, Varrien!

I reached Nightshade, screaming “take it!” and holding out the glove. We were both still in battle, but for a second she had room to move. She reached out and scooped up the Eye, just as the golem fell.

As Zillah and Nightshade raced to tear the Eye out of the golem’s head, I couldn’t turn away. Couldn’t decide who I wanted to win. Zillah clambered atop the golem on hands and feet. Nightshade, on the other hand, tripped along its length as if she was skipping in a meadow. Zillah stumbled, slid back, leaving Nightshade to reach the Eye. She bent, prised it out, stood, an Eye held aloft in each hand.

I wanted to scream with glee. Then Shadrath himself smacked me on the side of the head and my mind cleared.

Now… Now Nightshade holds both Eyes. The battles have stopped. There is smoke in the air and blood on the streets and the sounds of people in pain and dying.
And Nightshade has both Eyes.

My God will have to come here now. One day soon, he and his brethren will have to call us to account. I should have let us die. Instead I gave her the Eye. And look at her now. Jubilant.

Oh, my God, what have I done?

FEN

Now the real battle begins. Both Eyes are in the hands of Nightshade, a servant of the dark goddess, and the flail is many weeks of travel away. If the goddess is summoned before we retrieve the holy weapon, what hope do we have of saving the world?

ZILLAH

The worst has happened: the two Eyes brought together. We strove to prevent it; yet somehow it seems as though it was always inevitable. I feel helpless, gripped in a relentless tide I cannot control. At least it is almost over.


One gets the sense this campaign is almost over.

What will Nightshade do with two Eyes of Varrien? Will we be able to stop her from resurrecting the evil goddess?

We are about to find out.

Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Fen), Kirstyn McDermott (nightshade) and Lita Kalimeris (Alix) for contributions.

So… geocaching is my new hobby

This past weekend I headed down to my parents’ beach house on Phillip Island (with my cat) to get away from it all. My intention was to spend some time writing, as well as read and walk along the beach and generally relax. Most of this I could in theory do at home, but there’s something about escaping one’s everyday environment (and all the things on the to-do list) that makes the near two-hour drive each way worth it. The wood fire is nice too.

Lucia_PhillipIsland

It wasn’t until I got down there that it occurred to me I could also log some geocaches.

Geocaching is something I have been gradually getting into. It started for me a year ago, when I nagged my friend into finally taking me out for the day. It’s a global (secret-ish) activity, whereby people hunt for secret caches hidden… pretty much anywhere, located by GPS coordinates and often a bunch of clues as well.

Normal people (who the geocaching community call muggles) have no idea there’s a disguised mint tin hidden under the seat in their local park… or a plastic box shoved in a hollow log. But finding these caches (without being noticed), signing the tiny log inside, and then logging them digitally using the geocaching app or website, is the ultimate goal. There are no prizes as a general rule, no real competition. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt/discovery and being introduced to places you might not have otherwise visited.

So that’s geocaching 101 (of sorts). For more information visit the official geocaching website, where you can sign-up for free and get in on the fun!

After our first day out a year ago (when we logged 12 along Scotchman’s Creek in Melbourne), I found a few caches on Phillip Island. One took me to the local cemetery, which I hadn’t ever visited in all the years I’ve been spending weekends down there. It turned out to be a real highlight.Cemetery-PhillipIsland_1

Then I didn’t do much geocaching (or in fact any) until my recent trip to Broome in July. Still using the free subscription, I identified three that looked worth finding and, accompanied by a few family members (notably some of my nephews), I hunted them down, including a couple near Cable Beach, where we were staying. It gave me an extra thrill to find some so far from home.

It reminded me how fun it is.

So, when I recently spent a few days in Kyneton with friends, I decided to see what geocaches were to be found in the area… Not many (if any) for the free subscription, it turns out.

Determined, energised, and with a heightened sense of anticipation, I signed up for the premium subscription, which provides access to additional caches. (It’s only about A$50 a year.)

It’s opened up a whole new world. Literally.

The caches in and around Kyneton were fun — they were my first multi-caches, where you have to gather information to decipher a code to find the GPS coordinates of the actual cache (termed ‘ground zero’ or GZ by the caching community). With a few friends, I did three multis all told, plus several others.

My favourite of the weekend was again to be found in a cemetery — the Carlsruhe Cemetery. I loved it purely for the location — historic graves with Hanging Rock in the distance. In the late afternoon sunlight, the place was gorgeous.

I think I will make a point of hunting down caches in cemeteries.

Which brings me back to Phillip Island and this past weekend (when I was supposed to be writing). Turns out there are heaps more geocaches in interesting places on Phillip Island available to premium subscribers. Turns out there are several along the beach west of Cowes, along which we walk every single time we visit.

In truth, I looked at all the new ‘premium’ island caches available to me and nearly hyperventilated with excitement. Check this out:

geocaches-PhillipIsland

The yellow smiley faces are the ones I’ve found so far. There are enough caches here to keep me going for a while — even discounting the ones along the road (which I have little interest in).

I found one along the beach between our house and Cowes, but another eluded me. The next day I headed in the other direction to Ventnor and had a better return of three. It was in fact the first time I’d ever walked all the way around to Ventnor, and by the end of the return hike (in the rain) I was a little weary! But this only highlights what’s good about geocaching — taking you places you haven’t been before.

Ventnor_PhillipIsland

On Monday, I drove down to Pyramid Rock (south coast), where there is a cache, and another a half-hour walk away on Red Bluff — one of my favourite places on the island. There were too many people (muggles) around for me to hunt for the Pyramid Rock cache, but I hiked up to Red Bluff and found that one easily.

RedBluff_PyramidRock_PhillipIsland

That was my last one for the weekend — I found five in total, leaving plenty for next time.

I only just logged my thirtieth cache on the weekend, so I’m still very new at this. But it’s swiftly becoming my latest obsession… I figure it has at least one benefit in getting me out and about into the fresh air, and eventually heading off to places new.

I’ve already been looking at the international options for when I next go travelling. (squee!)

Even though it took me a while to get going after signing up, I have a feeling my geocaching activity is starting to ramp up. I guess the real test will be once I’ve found all the local ones — both near home and on Phillip Island.

But I like to think geocaching will inspire me to take off with intention to new places on a semi-regular basis. I’ve already found (both in Broome and Kyneton) that it adds a new dimension of fun and exploration and adventure.

And those things are what I’m all about.

In the meantime, there are a couple of local caches that currently have me stumped…

D&D Chronicles: In which we start a revolution

ZILLAH

In the morning, we await the fallout of last night’s raid.

I still feel queasy at the memory of throats slit in the dead of night, guards cowering against walls in their sleeping garb. There was nothing noble or honourable about such activities, even if they achieved our objective.

Not long after midday, we’re summoned by Orral, leader of the tunnel people. With her, shouting and spitting, are two of the quadrant leaders from the city above. They inform us the council of mages has retaliated by rounding up 20 of the populace for execution. And not just random city-dwellers: the family and friends and allies of prominent people.

The quadrant leaders are furious… furious and afraid and even more antagonistic than before. I feel awful. Most of us feel awful — except Nightshade who is denouncing them for cowards and fools and asking them whether they want to be free of oppression or not?

Much as I resent it, she has a point. A bloodless insurrection is impossible. If we are to rouse the people against oppression in order to secure the Eye of Varrien, there will be casualties. Many of them. I just wish it wasn’t so.

Nonetheless, we resolve to rescue the captives. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, Orral’s people bring in news: where the captives are being held, how many guards, the suspicious movements of mages. We’re sure there’s a trap involved. Doesn’t matter. We come up with a plan of sorts.

Rescue attempt

Late that night, we go out into the city once more. The tunnel people guide us through the maze of tiny streets to the Old Castle wall. All is quiet, still, as we launch our plan.

Blaze and I cast spells on the castle’s wall defences — magical boxes of wood and steel on rails that hurl missiles at attackers. We warp the wood in an attempt to deactivate them. Meanwhile, Alix uses her magic to build walls across the road, aimed at slowing the ‘automata’ — fiendish machines on wheels that patrol the streets at the mages’ bidding. And Fen… Fen lumbers forth under the cover of invisibility and makes a hole in the castle wall.

It all happens quickly, going more or less to plan, and we’re inside the Old Castle.

The stone corridors of the castle are also silent and still. We’re either being remarkably silent, or there’s no-one here. I fear the latter, but there’s no time to stop and ponder. Every moment we delay gives the automata more time to arrive…

The stairs lead down to the basement. I see the ambush and am ready when they attack. There are only two guards and we defeat them easily enough. Behind a locked door with a grille is a corridor with cells. The captives huddle behind bars, calling for us to help them.

Still no guards have come.

Leaving Nightshade and Blaze, I run up to the first level, past Alix at the top of the steps, to find Fen. He comes when I call softly, and I send him down to use his magic to unlock the door and rescue the prisoners.

Unease makes me stop beside Alix and guard against attack. Why has no-one come? Where is the trap?

Down below, there’s a massive explosion, so huge that a wave of heat slams up the stairs, followed by tongues of flame.

big-bang-422305_640

Oh blessed Emrys, no.

I hurtle down into the smoke and dust and heat and fire. My companions are picking themselves up off the floor, slapping at the flames on their clothes and swearing. A massive fireball. I’d recognise this aftermath anywhere.

Strewn about the cells are the charred corpses of the 20 people we were intending to rescue.

Fighting in the streets

For a moment, I’m too appalled to do anything other than stare, my gut churning. Appalled that we fell so easily into this trap. Appalled at what the mages have done. I don’t know how we’re going to face the quadrant leaders now. They’ll never support us.

But there’s nothing we can do about any of it. We need to get out of here.

Our hole in the wall is now guarded by four automata. Taking a chance these are the same automata previously guarding the two entrances, we run to the back exit. It’s clear and we dash out into the streets of Tel Marrenor.

Of course they’re waiting for us. Missile-hurling wall crawlers drive us into the waiting ambush of guards. Four of them, weapons drawn.

Well, this at least is an honest battle.

My focus narrows to the guards before me. Beside me is one of my companions. I’m dimly aware of fighting going on some way behind. But the guards keep coming. And coming. Alix’s impressive blade barrier carves through an entire unit at once.

The town nearby is on fire. I don’t know how this happened, but the people are pouring out into the streets, yelling and weeping. Children are screaming. Smoke is making the air hazy and hard to breathe.

Some of the wheeled automata glide out of the smoke, bouncing across the cobbles. They bear steel blades that sweep and slice. I switch to twin maces, all the better to hack at these contraptions of wood and steel.

daleks

Based on the DM’s description, we imagine the automata to be something like daleks… Except made largely of wood, with blades. And they don’t fly.

By the time the immediate threat is dispatched, I’m breathing hard. Then Fen rushes over saying some of Orral’s people are nearby, bringing word of a large contingent of automata nearly upon us. It’s time to flee. Looking back towards the castle, I see the mangled wreckage of several automata. Doubtless Blaze’s work.

Bring on the revolution

Orral’s bouncing off the walls when we return. Crowing with excitement, she rattles off the numbers of guards and automata we’ve apparently defeated this night. It seems such a victory has not been seen in many a long year. We’ve made our statement. Convinced the quadrant leaders that we mean business.

The revolution has finally begun, she states triumphantly.

Although she and everyone are horrified about the murder of all those innocents, they seem to apportion no blame to us.

We know better.

FENFAREN

I have seen cruelty. The animal being slowly sucked down by the bog, the crushing death in a constrictor’s coils, the frantic wait for the spider. Firbolg disembowelled in battle by rakshasa claws, burnt by their fireballs. But never have I seen such calculated cruelty as this. The trap, the explosion, the innocents burned to death in their cells. All for what? To send a message?

The message is one that says this reign of terror cannot be allowed to continue.

Unbelievably, the citizens of this place agree. Despite our sense of abject failure, clever politics has pulled a victory from the ashes.

But what cost!

The town alight (my own part in that kept hidden in a cloak of shame and silence), innocents dead. Their faces haunt me. My clumsy frame, my slow wit, unable to save anyone. It’s like I’m back in the swamp again, good for nothing against the forces we face. Not a true firbolg, not a true mage.

Nightshade is right when she says more people are going to die, caught up in this grand quest, a firestorm of destruction. Such is the price of saving the world.

The mages await with their colossus, and I’m consistently reminded that the mage whose place in this party I have taken would have been eminently better suited to the task. What to do? There is nothing else to do, but continue. To the death.


That was certainly an epic raid and battle. More to come from the streets of Tel Marrenor soon… (Thanks again to Jason Nahrung for Fen’s perspective.)