This Sunday gone (26th April), Benny and I ascended Blackstone Edge. My boy’s quite a hardy little walker, although I suppose he doesn’t really have much choice, and he had a great time clambering over the rocks on the summit. He only had one meltdown about how far we had to go, about normal for him. Once he gets over that, he genuinely can go for miles at some speed. In fact, he insists on running large stretches of our walks.

I’d been on my good pal Jes Bickham’s stag-do the night before and had consumed prodigious quantities of booze. So a walk up a wind-blasted hill was just the ticket to reinvigorate my half-poisoned organism.

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The summit of the ridge looking Northwest. The trigonometry point is visible to the right. The dark hill in the far distance is Pendle Hill, about 15 miles away. At 557m it’s the tallest hill in the area, and a candidate for genuine mountainhood.

Blackstone Edge is a high ridge topped by large millstone grit formations. I’ve never been up there, despite growing up in the area. Here the Pennines plunge dramatically down to the Lancashire/Cheshire plain, and you can see for miles. All the towns from Littleborough to Manchester are laid out like models, and in the distance is the grey band of the Welsh mountains. To the north the height of hills round Calderdale obscure the view, but you can see far south into the Peak District. The Pennines stretch off like broken teeth, giving one a firm impression of geographical decrepitude. In these brown stumps are the memories of long dead mountains.

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This is the view to the Southwest. The hills pretty much just stop here, plunging three hundred metres straight down to the plain. Blackstone Edge is 447 metres tall, and affords fantastic views. Hollingworth Lake and Littleborough are in the foreground. Rochdale beyond. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you can see on the horizon a dark bar in the haze. That’s Wales, well over 65 miles away.

This was our second attempt to climb the hill. The first time we were blasted back by a frigid wind that tortured our gloveless hands. A foolish oversight on my part, as I should have known better. The weather in the valleys has been unseasonably clement, and tricked me. Blackstone Edge is, however, terribly exposed, very high and therefore bloody freezing.

If you fancy going yourself, park by the White House pub off the A58. The walk to the top is around three miles. As a note of further interest, there’s an old paved road on the way. For many years this was believed to be Roman, but it’s now believed to be a packhorse route or turnpike dating from the early 18th century.

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A bold six-year-old explorer freezing his nuts off on Sunday 19th April as he surveys the lands of Lancashire. After restorative sausage rolls by the old road, we were forced to turn back for base camp.


Today I have TWO little bits of hobby for you. Glorfindel the elf for my Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game army, and an orc drummer for the same game. Different side, obviously.

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I painted Glorfindel the weekend before last. I’m fairly pleased with this paint job, but the amazing quality of the sculpting on this particular model made it very easy to accomplish.

The orc I’m less pleased with. This is actually the second time I’ve painted this figure. It was the first model I painted in my new house last summer. The initial paint job was better, but sadly ruined by the spray varnish I used and I had to strip it. This is despite me following the instructions exactly. I was so miffed that I’ve stopped using spray varnish of any kind. I’ve always given my models a coat of Winsor and Newton matte artists varnish to take the shine out of the sprays I did use. Now this and this alone stands between my hard work and over eager, scrabbling fingers energised by gaming adrenaline, but it’s better than nothing and doesn’t shag up the paint job.

Glorfindel is an interesting character in The Lord of the Rings mythos. All of Tolkien’s elves have unique names. But he accidentally used the name Glorfindel twice, once for a First Age Elf killed at the fall of Gondolin fighting Gothmog, chief of the Balrogs, and the one that lives in Rivendell at the end of the Third Age. In Tolkien’s notes he suggested perhaps that they were one and the same, the original Glorfindel having being reincarnated by the Valar. However, Tolkien died before he could make his mind up. I prefer this never implemented explanation.


The last ever Ten Minute Guide from Death Ray, and this one never published. I liked writing these articles, but although quite a few people read them don’t expect me to create any more specifically for this website – they take ages to research, so this really is the very last.

Leafy Concerns

We all feel stupid for laughing at the hippies now we’re all about fry on fires stoked by our own greed. And guess what? SF was there fairly early on, warning us all to cut it out…

Science Fiction with an ecological slant is a very broad topic, because many, many writers like to put their characters in extreme situations. What can be more taxing than an extreme environment, of an alien world, or one created by mannish foolery or nature’s wrath right here on good old Earth? Said environments, through the mechanisms of evolution, also force change upon our fleshy shells, another favourite of SF authors through the ages. We’re talking science fiction encompassing everything from tree-hugging flicks like Silent Running to The Time Machine, whose brutal social-Darwinian message of mankind’s fragility in the uncaring face of time still gives us the willies, frankly. Read the rest of this entry »


Another piece written for the very final, unpublished issue of Death Ray, which was halfway through production when it was cancelled. A little like the ultimate fate of SG:U, come to think of it.

I never liked Stargate. Not my cup of tea, really, although I acknowledge its immense popularity. I thought this last installment had promise, but I was far from convinced.

THREE AND A HALF STARS

Director: Andy Mikita

Writers: Robert C. Cooper, Brad Wright

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Justin Louis, David Blue, Biran J. Smith, Jamil Walker Smith, Alaina Huffman, Elyse Levesque, Ming-Na, Lou Diamond Phillips

 The venerable franchise returns with a third (or fourth, if you count the cartoon) show. All brushed up and looking flash, but can it bring SG into SF’s major brains league?

Stargate has been around for a long, long time. We have to admit we have asked, sometimes, why. It’s never really had the brains of the best Trek, the chutzpah of Lost, the grit of Battlestar, or the charm of Doctor Who, in fact, it’s hard to think of anything it really excels in as a franchise other than persistence. It’s been there for a decade and a half, quietly but always on, the cosmic background radiation of televisual science fiction. It’s SF of a very particular sort, you can’t help but think that when mainstream types talk about SF in a less than positive light, it is the likes of the SG franchise they are talking about. It’s the soap-opera end of SF, the epic fantasy of the airwaves. Our problem with it? It matches the competency of the modern Trek franchises, with whom it overlaps in time, and with which it shares many similarities (the close-knit crew, the cosy soap opera character development, the same studio bound alien worlds and limited locations, the same rubbery-faced aliens) but it rarely reached the heights of those series, there is no SG equivalent of, say, ‘Darmok’. Read the rest of this entry »


IMG_2870 I’ve been reading about Space Marines for the last fortnight as I attempt to catch up on the Horus Heresy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has induced an urge to paint power-armoured post-humans, so I added another warrior to my Crusader Squad. As this unit can take an additional specialist melee weapon, I’ve given him a power fist. Smush! Bzzt! Crush!

On this model I experimented with the Blood for the Blood God  technical paint, to make him look like a killer (they are, after all, fanatical zealots). Next time, I must remember to put it on after I’ve applied my usual coat of Winsor and Newton Matt varnish, otherwise you lose that fresh gory look. Obviously.

Not a bad job, but the models always look better in real life. Photographs mercilessly expose every dodgy highlight, speck of dust and missed millimetre of detail. Seeing my perfectly painted mini become a botched maze of overly thick paint and shakily applied line effects only intensifies my respect for the ‘Eavy Metal painters.

I’ve now painted twelve Black Templars over the last year – pretty much one a month. At this rate, I’ll be out conquering the galaxy by the actual 41st Millennium. Fear me.

Enormous rocks

Posted: April 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

The moors and woods around here are full of massive bloody rocks. Not quite Monument Valley size, but still larger than many other famous rocks in the UK. Layered strata of shale and very hard sandstone called Millstone Grit (it’s gritty, they used to make millstones out of it) exposed to lots of rain and gale-force winds, oftentimes together, give some very fine formations. But strangely, they’re not that well known. Here are a few I’ve taken pictures of over the last few months. There are literally hundreds more.

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A pinnacle of rock in front of the Hell Hole rocks quarry. Local legend (or at least the schoolyard version I heard as a child) has it that the quarry owner sold his soul for riches, hence the name. My dog Magnus is in the foreground. I saw a peregrine falcon up there a couple of weeks ago.

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The Bottleneck Bride at the Bridestones (it’s about 20 feet tall). This collection of rocks is a mile away from my parent’s house. This one of my favourite places in the Calder valley. It’s the tallest summit actually bordering the valley itself, and can be seen for miles – the really tall hills can only be seen from the very tops of the moor. There’s hardly ever anyone there despite the magnificence of the stones and the views.

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These are part of the Bridestones also, one of about two dozen equally impressive formations at the site. Six-year-old boy included for scale purposes. The name “Bride” probably comes from the Celtic goddess “Brigid”. West Yorkshire was once the kingdom of Elmet, a holdout of the Celtic peoples in the face of Saxon colonisation. There a number of names with “wal” in them signifying “welsh” villages (foreign – at least from a Saxon point of view), so they probably lasted a long time as a distinct culture. In fact, according to a recent study, their genetic marker is still dominant in our population.

If you’re interested in roaming the moors round here like I do, I can recommend The West Yorkshire Moors by Christopher Goddard. A great book packed full of hand-drawn illustrations, great walking routes, and historical, geological, and natural historical facts (although I have spotted one mistake).

If you want to visit the Bridestones, go to Blackshaw Head in West Yorkshire. Drive along the Long Causeway towards Burnley. You’ll ascend a hill above the village, where there is an old radar station. At the top of this hill – Pole Hill – there is a sharp left turn just before the hamlet of Kebcotes. Drive about a quarter of a mile down this to where there is a rough lay-by on the left. On the righthand side of the road is a stile. You can see the beginning of the rocks from there. Follow the path to them.