Categories
Retro gaming

Getting to RMC The Cave without a car

I live near to the most amazing retro gaming museum called RMC The Cave, which just happens to be in my hometown in Gloucestershire.

So if you’re planning a visit to The Cave, and you’d like to get there without a car, this is the info for you. I’ll keep it up to date with any bus/path changes. Please let me know if you spot any mistakes.

Last updated: 30 June 2022

By bus from Stroud

It’s not difficult to get to the cave by bus, but Stroud doesn’t have the public transport infrastructure that a city has, so there’s a bit more local knowledge needed. Don’t worry I’ve got you.

The Stagecoach 67 bus will take you most of the way to the cave, but there is still a ~22 ish minute walk from the closest bus stop to The Cave.

A day rider will cost you £3.80.

The 67 bus stop outside Lloyds bank in Stroud
The 67 bus stop outside Lloyds bank in Stroud

The bus stop you need is outside Lloyds bank in Stroud, which is ~3 minute walk from the train station. There’s also a taxi rank next to the bus stop if you get stuck.

The buses are every 30 minutes, there may be timetable differences on Sundays.

You might want to download the Stagecoach app for the live map and bus times. Also, since Covid there have been some regular bus cancelations, so you might want to keep an eye on the Stagecoach West Twitter account too. (As cancellations are not listed in the app).

How to get there

You’ll need to get off at Bourne Estate or Toadsmoor Road stop in Brimscombe. It’ll take about 10 minutes on the bus to get there.

Ring the bell when you see the sign for Felt Cafe (or watch for when you approach the cafe on a map app). There are no screens on the bus to say where you are and there are only paper timetables on the stops.

The bus route in blue and the walk route in orange. View the map in detail.

From here you have two options for walking (~22 minutes)

  1. Walk along the road to Chalford industrial estate (the traffic is a bit fast, and you will need to cross the road back and forth for a pavement, so sorry about that).
  2. See some lovely Stroud greenery and go along the canal tow path. To do this cross the road and follow the tow path going left past the bike shop. It could be a bit muddy and bumpy in wet weather, but you’ll have a beautiful, natural walk to the cave along between the canal and River Frome. You’ll pass through two tunnels, and there are two series of steps to go up/down.
The towpath to The Cave by the Felt Cafe
The towpath to The Cave by the Felt Cafe

Towpath partial closure

They’ve closed about 100m of the towpath temporarily this summer for redevelopment. If you’ve gotten off the bus by Felt Cafe, When you reach the blocked off area, follow the road under a very large tunnel, then take the steps on the right hand side (after the tunnel) to get back to road level.

Follow the road here until you can see the Pavilion (Indian Restaurant), opposite this there is a railway crossing to get back on the towpath.

The side of Belvedere mill witha Heber sign
The Cave is on the top floor of this mill, follow The Cave signs.

The Cave will be on your right hand side (after a 20 min walk) once you emerge from the path. Follow the signs for the right entrance to use.

Getting back

The best bus stop to return from is on the same side as Felt Cafe, you’ll need to continue walking past the cafe (towards the garage) to see it. Check that the 67 bus stops there and use the live map to check you’re in the right place. Your day rider ticket will take you back to town.

Get off the bus outside Peacocks to be near the train station, failing that the next stop is at the bottom of Merrywalks (but you’ll need to walk back up the hill to get to the train station).

By Bike

The road is faster, but it’s not a very pleasant road to cycle on due to traffic speed, narrowness and people overtaking you closely.

A map of the Stroud area showing the two bike routes to the cave.
The towpath route is shown in pink, and the road in green. View the map in detail.

Road

The road surface is fine, it’s a little bumpy in places. The speed limits vary from 40-60mph. It takes about 20 minutes, but it’s not a very pleasant road to cycle on due to traffic speed, narrowness and people overtaking you closely.

Please note in winter or on late nights, there is very little streetlight from Chalford to Brimscombe and you will need a decent set of lights to see the bumps in the road.

There is a steady gradient uphill for the last mile or so but I’d describe it as a nice, gentle hill (for Stroud).

Towpath

It takes me about 25 minutes to cycle to The Cave from Stroud along the towpath, it’s about 4 miles (depends on your speed).

The entrance to the towpath at Wallbridge, Stroud
The entrance to the towpath at Wallbridge, Stroud

For the towpath find the lock gate at Wallbridge (down from the Lockkeepers Cafe), after about 5 minutes you’ll eventually reach a crossroads (after a tunnel) with a signpost, follow the sign up to the right to Brimscombe, and follow the road along for a short distance to get back on the towpath.

Towpath partial closure


They’ve closed about 100m of the towpath temporarily this summer for redevelopment. So at the moment it might be best to cycle on the road from the crossroads at Brimscombe lane. Otherwise you’ll need to carry your bike through a couple gates and some steps on the towpath (follow the walk instructions above. The pavements on the road are narrow and very, very bumpy and unpleasant to cycle on, but that’s another option.

It’s a shared used path so please be sensible when it comes to speed and be kind to others. There are two spots that will require you to carry your bike up/down stairs. One of these has a step free route (but one) right by the cave does now.

I would not recommend cycling on the towpath in the dark, there are large stretches with no lights at all. The surface is very bumpy and rough in places (it starts off very tidy) so it’s not suitable for road bike tyres.

Feedback

Hope that helps, please let me know if there are any updates or if you have any issues.

Categories
Retro gaming

The narrative landscape of Panzer Dragoon Saga

If I ever needed a reminder of the indelible quality of video games, then Panzer Dragoon Saga served nicely.

I have started Panzer Dragoon Saga at least once before this occasion where I actually completed it – this time the nostalgia from a mere two years ago was enough to propel me through the game.

Ironically, I last time I attempted to play Saga was in a period of recovery following surgery, my recollection then was that it was compelling game, worthy of the praise I had seen piled on it for many years, but something was missing. Tired from surgery, wracked with pain, it wasn’t the game I needed, it was too subtle, too gentle in persuading me to continue.

Understatement as power

The real message of Panzer Dragoon Saga is nuance, that is perhaps why it is so difficult to really appreciate over a decade after it’s original release. Unlike it’s contemporaries (such as Final Fantasy VII) Saga is a game of understatement, and that’s no bad thing.

Most of the game is spent exploring the game world on the back of your dragon. The gameworld is quiet and brooding, mottled with splashes of pale colour, and dotted with surrealist landscapes, all complimented by the game’s quietly powerful soundtrack.

One thing you notice immediately is the apparent lack of people. As such the game feels very lonely, and this is a deliberate choice on the part of Team Andromeda. The sense of excitement you experience when discovering another person in Saga’s beautiful but painfully barren world is palpable. This experience really lends itself to this RPG experience only lent to Panzer Dragoon once. So each NPC feels more important, more necessary to the story. I found myself hanging on their every word unlike any other RPG.

Flying up to the massive ship called Mel Kava.An example map screen.

Gentle pacing

Panzer Dragoon Saga’s theme of isolation, combined with this rarity strikes the perfect tone. Playing it all these years after its release at a time when everyone was focused on the New Year period felt as though I had walked far off the beaten track. That I had a link with all the people that has sought this game out like myself and stuck with it far past it’s quiet opening, far past its moments of visual grandeur, which does still have the power to impress.

Saga sets a deliberate pace that might be too slow for some, but this is only so it can catch you out with the payoff towards the end of the game. I haven’t enjoyed an ending so thoroughly  since completing Xenoblade Chronicles. The very best gaming endings aren’t just the pay off of the story, but actually linger with you weeks after the game has been completed, and it tinges me with sadness that many people won’t be able to experience Saga’s spectacular finish.

A beautiful battle screen, highlighted in sunset.Your dragon is our salvation.

Saga’s powerful themes

It’s rare that I find the inspiration to continue with a RPG that still employs a random battle system. This is one of the moments (other than moments when Edge is on foot) that hints at the games age. However the battle system goes immediately changes from competent to endlessly enjoyable, as you experiment with completing battles quickly for better ratings, experience and items, and determining the best position for your dragon to move in real time around your enemies.

The bond that you build up with your dragon is worth a mention too. As your longest companion through the game (starting with your ability to name him). This games starts as a story of friendship, but belies something more powerful.

The sense that this is something you have experienced before – particularly if you have played the two previous Saturn Panzer Dragoon games is palpable. This is folded into the narrative by the indelible dream-like quality of the game, a sort of hazy sentiment that carries through each carefully crafted scene and landscape. The pacing of this game also nods of a lucid dream particularly through the freedom of flight.

This is supported by the ending of the game too, which reveals a richer thread to the narrative that makes your subsequent memory of the game more humbling as you spin through each exciting realisation in turn.

The dragon and rider highlighted in blue.Exploring the brightly lit rooms of the Tower.

Gliding over landscapes

So is Panzer Dragoon Saga deserving of all the high praise it has received in the years following its release? In all probability yes – if viewed through the careful lens of the time it was made. Looking back it is an extremely revolutionary game, it left an impression on me for another reason though.

I am now five years into a chronic illness. The optimism from that promising surgery back when I last attempted Saga is mere vapour. I am more tired than ever, and the fatigue has an odd effect on my brain.

Each time I sit down to play or write about a game, I left its finishing screen feeling empty-headed. Sometimes games can take us back to a moment in time, through their gameplay, their music. Their quality. And Saga did this, it took me back to that moment of recovery back in 2010, when I still had hope about my illness.

As such it has been my immense pleasure to play, despite all the pomp and noise from other games, it was this quiet, almost sombre experience that reminded me exactly why I was so inspired to start discussing video games back in 2009 upon completing this website.

Saga’s patient, impassive glides over landscapes, water and its breathtaking technicality reminded me to walk off the beaten track a little more often, to find joy from experiences that many others have moved on from. To enjoy the rich tapestry of our gaming history rather than just our gaming present.

Categories
Retro gaming

The impact of my first experiences with gaming

I was very young when I first played a video game – around two or three years old. It remains one of my oldest memories, one of my first, formative thoughts of the world.

Many children my age had favourite toys, or imaginary friends. Things they adored, that came alive with their own unique understanding.

As a girl growing up with rapidly emerging technology in the 80s, video games were mine.

Those early days

Games back then required more than a little imagination. Those hazy shapes on the screen that were meant to represent people, or vast buildings, or the tiniest item. Not everything was particularly clear. You bought lots of second hand games, you traded games with friends, you didn’t always have the manual or the context for the game you were playing. Picking up a video game then required a little lateral thinking, as few things were obvious.

The only thing that was verbatim was the sense to experiment and discover, to share, compare and learn by doing. These old, almost nostalgic gaming traits are the biggest gift that gaming has given me. They are the tools I have carried with me into adulthood. As a child I saw a beautiful magic in gaming, as I got older I wanted to understand how my consoles and computers worked, how they were made. Video games were the first things to ignite a spark of imagination in my very young mind. Many things came after, but it was that first, very powerful feeling that forged me through the years to come.

Even back then I remember being enraptured by the interactively gaming posed, the promise of what would only improve and get better. I became even more fascinated when I realised that not everyone shared this view – that my parents and siblings found the process confusing or bewildering. This same galvanising feeling of inspiration protected me each time my love of video games was misunderstood, or each time I failed in a game. Video games did look basic back then, but they were also much more difficult. Both of these concepts developed my youthful patience.

I have and always will find it liberating for this reason. As a child video games were profoundly personal experience, a puzzle, an oddity, a secret. It was always seen in that way by others, but never by me.

those-early-days-gaming-1those-early-days-gaming-2

Gaming and how it’s shaped my identity

What’s telling then is how little has changed from my origins with gaming. I face many of the game prejudices from my peers about my decision to play games. Back then this a moral panic about a young child playing games that might be violent or deemed a waste of time. Secondarily I faced criticism for spending time on what was deemed to be very much a male past-time, rather than the more obvious activities expected from my gender.

These are still subjects I am grappling to improve awareness and understanding of as an adult.

Crucially back then gaming was relegated very much to those young minds who has the patience and energy to bear with this new interactive medium. My parents and other adults complained back then that gaming was too hard for them to understand, the barriers to entry too high. They still use this same argument many years later. Interestingly it was with a young, and open mind that I first turned to gaming. Free from the worries and prejudices of those around me. No one taught me, I found a way because I wanted to.

As such I’ll never really understand the argument that gaming is hard, and it really isn’t that much easier for young mind to learn, it was just easier for my younger self to be engaged by video games as a medium rather than terrified by it. I now find myself with the means and knowledge to verbalise that epiphany I had all those years ago. Something new isn’t something to be afraid of, and that certainly applies to video games.

those-early-days-gaming-3those-early-days-gaming-4

Gaming gave me confidence

So gaming inspired a life-long turn against the tide. The streak of my personality that asked questions. It encouraged a young mind not to rot, but to think more creatively and experiment.

Ultimately it was gaming that inspired a life-long love of computing and technology and my career in web development. Gaming helped me to appreciate that it was a hobby every bit as valid as any other way to spend time. A progressive and social medium. It’s not perfect and we certainly have a long way to go as a community, but it’s helped me to develop a way of thinking and adapting to change that few other hobbies could have.

Above all though it’s made me happy. Gaming has given me more pleasure and joy than anything else I have tried, and all from a flippant decision all those years ago to try out something society had told my young mind I wasn’t allowed, or wasn’t for me.

This post was written for the Critical Distance Blogs of the Round Table. This months theme was origins.

Categories
Retro gaming

A summer of nostalgia

Retro gaming suits the summer well. The summer is a time of comfort, when we relax and take our holidays. I’m noticing more and more people in the gaming community are using catch up on their backlog, or return to what they really enjoy playing.

Summer is the perfect excuse for me to combine two favourite experiences – playing games cooperatively and replaying games I once enjoyed deep in the throws of nostalgia.

Gaming and solidarity

Nostalgia is the main reason I find myself returning to this idea every summer in particular. This time last year I started a weekly cooperative replay of Final Fantasy 9 with my closest friend.

We have a long history of playing games together. It taps straight back into the old way we all used to play games before the internet. Back when we were kids you learnt how to play games by watching others in the room, observing your friends (and competitors) skill. You carefully watched where your friends succeeded and faltered. Your gaming skill blossomed not under your single, solitary effort, but weeks and months of shared rumours, hints and collaboration.

Far from the image people having of gaming being purely about navel gazing. Gaming – then and now – was always about a shared purpose. This might be from the way we play games together, or talk about our separate experiences, it’s rarely something that we as gamers shut away and never talk about. This sense of shared purpose might be why so many of us are still so fascinated by video games despite being encouraged to move on from them.

To this day sharing a game, even a single player game with another is still my favourite way to experience it.

Revelling in nostalgia

Going back to old titles that you admired in the past has its disadvantages though. Each year I find myself returning to titles that I loved hugely as a child and find more often that not that the games I held in such high regard fall ever so slightly under the scrutiny of my older mind.

Every so often though games stand up as proudly as they did before. The games that fall under the greatest scrutiny are those we played as children. Similarly I enjoy returning to the games I played as a teenager when I was starting to identify as a gamer. The era at which this happened for everyone is different, but mine was during the original Playstation era, when I was being raised on RPGs such as Final Fantasy VII. Replaying the games that I enjoyed from this area for me is a two-fold pleasure – the experience of playing the game again, and the pangs of nostalgia that come from reminding yourself of how much you appreciated a game the first time around.

Which brings me to Final Fantasy IX. A game I did not widely understand or appreciate at the time. Many of my problems with the narrative came from the “re-imagining focus” of the game. How poorly this came across to me upon playing the game for the first time. How could I know about the importance of crystals and other old Final Fantasy tropes, if Europe was not to even see the games that Final Fantasy IX references until far after it was released. As a result I had a very muted response to Final Fantasy IX upon its release here, truthfully the well-trodden medieval setting was a disappointment after the cyberpunk sizzle of Final Fantasy VII and VIII.

So playing Final Fantasy IX with another person (particularly someone who enjoyed it at launch more than I did) was about tapping into that very old way of playing a game. We helped each other through it, imparting what our favourite moments were, working through narratively and what didn’t. We took turns to play, chuckled and laughed and made an evening of every session. I will now always associate Final Fantasy IX with that happy and successful replay, buoyed up by the positivity of another.

We start Final Fantasy VIII next, and our roles are reversed. I am more comfortable with that game, as it made more of an positive impression on me (despite the bobbins involved in the story) her not so much, but the journey to find out how long that game holds up to each of us will be just as memorable.

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Retro gaming

Still captivated by Final Fantasy VII

Replaying Final Fantasy VII is in many ways like returning to an old flame. Upon reflection it was my first gaming love, the experience which didn’t just set me on the gaming path, but set the tone of all other games I would come to enjoy.

I was no longer a child who enjoyed playing games, but a young adult who identified as a gamer. It was for me (and many others) my gaming coming of age story.

Cloud, Barrett and Red XIII stand at the end of a Midgar highway at sunset.

The moment

I can sum up why Final Fantasy VII remains dear to me in one scene – this view just before leaving Midgar. This scene so perfectly summarises the experience of playing FF7 back near its launch (and perhaps even now). It was an almost overwhelming feeling of being of the cusp of a great wave, one which in turn captivated and motivated hundreds of other gamers.

In this scene the characters stand at the end of an enormous highway, about to venture out into the world. It’s a perfect moment where the ambitions and direction of the narrative turns on its heel. Each individual character’s personal focus is superseded by one larger and more necessary journey.

That one scene summed up how the entire experience felt to play. Total pleasure mixed with pure discovery; with the whole discorse of the game ahead of you on a vast horizon. It also helps explain part of Final Fantasy VIIs legacy. This scene is one of the moments where I had my epiphany about video games in general. I could sense the complete potential of the medium in one moment, knowing I had similarly profound moments ahead of me to look forward to. This almost insignificant scene was just one of many to come. My heart was fit to burst.

Final Fantasy VII collected hundreds of moments like these – all utterly captivating. Playing it for the first time was the first occasion that I was distinctly proud of my hobby. It became less of something I did to pass the time and more something of my identity. The game that makes you realise this is different for everyone, but I suspect I share Final Fantasy VII with many, many thousands of others. All of us appreciating not just the the games content but the promise of those future blissful moments.

Captivation

As children stories were always so black and white. The heros are concerned only with good, the evil of the world is obvious and in many cases without genuine malice.

Final Fantasy VII is a story about shades of grey, it was one of the first gaming stories that I had access to that was brave enough to aim at young gamers and completely muddy the waters.

The lead characters are members of a terrorist group that kills hundreds of people in order to strike the smallest of blows to a greater evil. The main antagonist is a relatively normal individual that is instantly unhinged by his disturbing origin. The true villain of the piece is an alien creature which falls to Earth, taking the forms of trusted elders and the faces of dead loved ones, rendering all it touches insane, or riddled with fatal disease.

So ultimately I think Final Fantasy VII was partly about captivation. It’s a running theme throughout it’s narrative. The allure of Mako, and how it changed Shinra’s fortunes (from electricity company to all-consuming dictators of the world). The legend of the ancients and how their legacy went on to both redeem the world through Aeris’ effort, but also undermine it through the misguided ambition of Sephiroth and the bleak survival instinct of Jenova.

Cloud looks up at the Shinra headquarters.Rufus believe he's found the promised land.

A little context

These characterisation points aside, Final Fantasy VII was always about it’s core audience. And here in Europe it was our very first Final Fantasy, and that fact had a profound and unique effect on its importance for many young people here.

This was because of an equally captivating reason: the arrival of the internet. The late 1990s was when the internet was really first widely available for gamers in the UK. As a result an entire generation of gamers flocked online to discuss gaming experiences for the first time. Final Fantasy VII was one of the first things I searched for, I am certain it was one of the first games I was able to research and discuss online.

Replaying Final Fantasy VII again takes me back to that view. It reminds me of the best aspects of our community. It takes me back to a time when everything was still new and inspirational; back to those youthful first days on the internet, when having discussions online were still magical. Many of the conversations I had online back then are some of my happiest memories. The friendships I made from discussing those moments still last today.

The experience of playing Final Fantasy VII was one of my happiest to date, but the best part is although those sorts of experiences don’t happen often, but they almost always happen again.