Dimrill Dale, Misty Mountains, South Farthing, Armenelos, Bay of Balfalas – to anyone familiar with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, these are evocative names, along with Grey Havens, Gulf of Lune, Mirromere and Eryn Vorn. But within Second Life, these sims are not in any way a reproduction of Tolkien’s wonderful Middle-Earth (although I confess that’s why I was attracted to them in late 2010, when I made my first visit).
Calas Galadhon – or “Calas” to those more familiar with it – is the “parent” region to a 10-sim parkland estate owned, curated and offered to the people of Second Life by Tymus Tenk and Truck Meredith. Like the other regions in the estate, it should have drawn on Tolkien for its name – Caras Galadhon – but for an opsie by Linden Lab. Not that the slip-up diminishes in any way the fact that it, and the other regions of the estate make for a must-see destination.
The core of the sims represents rural America in the early 1900s – but there is also a touch of the Mediterranean as well in the form of Armenelos, and even a hint of Atlantis. As such, there is much to explore and see, and the sims combine to make a fabulous setting for the romantically inclined or those that love SL photography.
At the moment, four of the ten sims – Glanduin, South Farthing, Dimrill Dale and Calas Galadhon itself – are given over to a winter wonderland, with snow covering the ground, frozen ponds and lakes for skating on, inviting lighting hanging from eaves and glowing through windows while snow-capped mountains make a stunning backdrop. Here you can take a balloon ride with your loved one and friends, or enjoy on your own, drifting serenely over the town before swinging out over Glanduin (where the sim crossing can be a little bumpy!) and the other sims in the estate.
Cross the bridge on the north side of Calas Galadhon, and you enter the summer world of Mirrormere and Grey Havens. Here you’ll find wooded parkland and hills to wander, all with their own secrets to reveal. There are places to sit down and meditate, places to dance with a partner and much on offer for the snap-happy. If you can turn your Draw distance up reasonably high (around 512m), there are some great landscape views to be captured and enjoyed, as well beautiful views across the water to the Grey Havens and Armenelos. Just remember to slide the Draw distance back down to avoid overloading the Viewer!
Mirrormere is the home of the Calas Caverns – although to find them, you’ll need to keep a sharp eye open; the teleport point lands you close, but you’ll still have to take a little bit of a look around to find the entrance. The caverns wind under a part of Mirrormere, with little hideaways for romantic trysts, opportunities for swimming, and a tunnel that leads even deeper underground….although if you come via the bridge from Calas Galadhon, you may encounter the tunnel before the caverns…
The park continues up through Mirrormere into Misty Mountains, which has a wonderful series of trails and walks to follow, the best of them (to me) leading to marvellous views over to Armenelos, which can also be seen from the northern side of Grey Havens.
Armenelos itself offers an entirely different theme. Modelled on the island of Santorini, here you can climb the stairs to the cliff-hugging, whitewashed walls of the town and wander its narrow streets.
The real Santorini – or Thēra, to give it its official name – was once an important trading point for the Minoan civilisation, prior to one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history devastating the island and resulting in the formation we see today, with the great lagoon and the broken rim of the caldera formed by the eruption. A popular theory has it that the eruption – 3600 years ago – gave rise to the legend of Atlantis.
From Armenelos you can take a motorboat out onto the water, travelling out under the watery caverns of Grey Havens, or around the clifftop village and out into the Bay of Balfalas. As you do so, be aware that you are passing over another of the estate’s secrets: the Lost Gardens of Thera.
Here, in a nod to the legend of Atlantis and memory of the Minoan eruption, you can take the stairs down into the water, grab some scuba gear and explore a beautiful underwater world, moving among ancient ruins – and remnants from more recent times – where fish and rays swim and play.
wherever you go in the Calas Galadhon estate, it is evident that Tymus and Truck have gone to great lengths to present an immersive, enjoyable experience – one that extends to the sounds that are to be heard across the sims. In this regard, if you don’t have sound on as a rule when visiting SL, I strongly recommend that you enable it prior to visiting Calas Galadhon. The care with which Tymus and Truck have put together a soundscape to compliment the estate is incredible, and while there is much to be enjoyed without sound enabled, walking / riding through the sims with sound on, and being immersed in the soundscape really adds tremendous depth to the experience.
When you are exploring, keep an eye open for kiosks linked to the Bronx AIDS Services, the non-profit organisation supported by Tymus and Truck and make time to visit the AIDS & HIV learning Centre in Calas itself.
Calas Galadhon is an amazing place to visit and spent time exploring – I’ve deliberately not covered all ten sims here, as I wanted to leave you with places still to explore for yourselves. Given the care and attention put into the estate, it is little wonder that it rates so highly in several categories in the Destination Guide – so why not take time out this weekend and pay it a visit yourself?
And why not visit the Calas Galadhon blog?