Sunday, 3 February 2013

Terrain part 3 - Man and the landscape

Over the weekend I've been travelling a fair few times between Peterborough and Grantham, over what is part of the countryside that Andy and my Dux Britanniarum campaign is set in. Basically we've been driving up from Durobrivae to a point just south and west of Cavsennae (if you have the map from page 79 of the rules). Now obviously, it's 2013, and the landscape shows a lot of signs of the hand of man, but even if you take away the glaringly obvious ones, the railway, the motorway, the telegraph poles, the electricity pylons, you're still left with a lot. And remember, when you do that, you also have to take away a fair number of the land level changes that things like railway embankments and road grading create.

If you can let your inner mental editor do that, and maybe remove anything that looks like it was built this or last century, then maybe, just maybe, you're kind of close to a Napoleonic era England, or a landscape for a War of the Worlds campaign (hey… there's an idea!). But there's still so much of what you're seeing that looks quintessentially English and somehow 'natural', but that plain isn't.

Take a look at the image on the right, which is a Google Street View from just south of what's now Ancaster but was probably Cavsennae in Saxon times. 
Ok, so we can easily mentally edit out that big radio tower and the few structures. But there's also those awfully English-looking hedge lines. Those didn't happen by accident. Not only that, some of them are old enough to be interesting.

The lovely Chantelle is a friend of mine who (as well as being part of the fabulous Talis Kimberley's band - check her out!), very usefully both happens to be a professional archaeologist and someone who was at the con I was at this weekend, so I picked her brain a little, and probably will do so more before I'm done (she's promised to go trawl through some of her lecture notes for me). To broadly summarise, a lot of the field patterns we see are quite late in nature, but it would be naive to assume that what we'd be fighting over for a Dark Ages game was devoid of field boundaries and similar man-made intrusions on the landscape.

I suspect this is going to turn into another series of posts, and I probably ought to state here and now that anyone who thinks wargaming is just playing with toy soldiers has clearly not been reading my blog lately! I now find myself doing research into Dark Ages and Romano-British farming techniques purely so I can build scenery and craft more detailed terrain rules to satisfy my inner pedant.

Google Earth view of lynchets at Kirmond Le Mire
in Lincolnshire. [This is actually in prime country for
Andy and my campaign.]
My tame expert mentioned lynchets as a not-unusual feature, so of course I had to look them up. It turns out a lynchet, or set of lynchets, is what you get if you repeatedly plough a slope. Essentially what happens over time is that the ploughed material falls downslope - there's a debate afoot as to whether the terraced effect you get is encouraged by the farmer building a wall or such, or just happens, but they're pretty distinctive, and you get them many places in the UK where there are slopes to be farmed.

And I have to say? I'd love to see someone plonk a lynchetted hill tile on a wargames table!

More soon, I suspect. But to close? Today I learned a new word. No day on which you learn a new word is entirely wasted :D Thanks, Chantelle!

[Edited to add: Ashley in comments recommends Making of the English Landscape. Duly ordered, along with Francis Pryor's book of very nearly the same title (he does admit it's a rewrite/update!)]


  1. If you are interested in reading up on this a good book is _Making of the English Landscape_ by W. G. Hoskins available from Amazon.


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