Then came the night of the first falling star

Few people I’m sure have romantic notions of Woking, even less will have a visit there on their bucket list. But I don’t think many people will appreciated it as one of the locations featured in the one of the earliest science fiction novels ever written – The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells, first published in 1898.

I’m a big War of the Worlds fan – in any version; book, radio play, film, television, concept album – whatever the format I’m all over it. H.G.Wells gave us the best and simplest alien invasion story, and probably the most realistic. They invade, we run in terror – there is no hero to save the day, just a narrator trying to survive and observing the ‘massacre of mankind’ as he tries desperately to reunite with a loved one. Book ends with the planet being saved by germs, mankind basically got lucky, genius!

A few summers ago, I had been visiting friends down south and had timed it so that I would have a free day to finally do something I’d wanted to do for ages. Ever since I’d seen a picture of a shiny Martian tripod on the internet which was apparently a rather striking sculpture in Woking town centre I had wanted to do a War of the Worlds pilgrimage.
I jumped on the train from London clutching a battered vintage Penguin copy of the classic and went to explore unlikely ground zero of the Martian invasion of Earth….
Woking has fully embraced its links to the novel – H.GWells actually wrote it while he lived there and there are several public art works around the town. There is a beautiful tiled mural in an underground walkway and ‘Red weed’ twists its way round the ornamental gate to the main square.

 

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I found the Martian!

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Gleaming in the sunshine exactly as I’d seen it in pictures. It looked amazing and seemed odd that people were just walking past and carrying on their business without giving a glance to the GIANT MARTIAN WAR MACHINE in the road!!
What I hadn’t realised was the tripod was one piece of a much larger street long art work. There’s a crashed cylinder made from brick at one end then little inserts into the pavement showing bacteria dividing and multiplying. I would happily live Woking just to walk by it every day.

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I then ventured to Horsell Common itself, landing site of the first Martian Cylinder, just a short walk from the town. I have wandered many places on my own, but during the walk to find the sand pits I genuinely feared I’d get lost and my body would be found weeks later clutching a useless map and my battered copy of The War of the Worlds. But I did find them and survived to tell the tale! The sandpits are an interesting feature, lovely and quiet and peaceful and it’s strange to find what looks like a ‘beach’ without being by the sea.

 

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I returned to the town passing by the tripod again, it is beautiful!

 

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How better to finish my pilgrimage than to head to Primrose Hill once I was back in London – where the books narrator finds the Martians have been defeated and mankind has survived.
Primrose Hill is beautiful area of London I’d never been to before – there’s a stunning view of the city’s skyline. With just a bit of imagination it was easy to turn the large cranes on a building site nearby in to the three-legged war machines which I eyed nervously as I walked to the top of the hill…

 

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N.B. I’ve also realised there is another geeky location to add to my bucket list location – Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, USA. Which is the site of the Martian invasion in the famous 1938 Orson Wells radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Be a shame not to do the double!

 

Skellig Part III

In the footsteps of Rey and Luke…

I costume as Rey with a Star Wars costuming group so there was a temptation to cosplay – but I resisted (also it’s the wrong costume – I’ve still to upgrade my Jakku Rey to Resistance Rey). But as Star Wars was the primary motivation for visiting Skellig Michael – and to be honest the whole holiday in Ireland I couldn’t not do the full location geekery. My lightsaber was the first thing I packed!

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So it was with fannish glee we worked out the spot that Rey stood as she offered the lightsaber with arm outstretched. My boyfriend posed in the spot Luke stood as he turned and lowered his hood broodingly.

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Rather windy, looked on by fellow tourists and puffins we did it!

The descent of Skellig Michael was more precarious than the assent. Going down you had to look beyond the steps which was rather un-nerving, especially if you have reaction sun glasses which can mess with your depth perception! Sitting down in the worst parts helped – it also allowed you to take pictures without the fear of overbalancing.

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From landing to returning to our scheduled pick up by our boat we had about two hours in total on the island which was just enough to experience it. I would go back tomorrow and do it all again, my boyfriend however is just happy he survived the boat trip and the climb.

The trip to Skellig Michael is the perfect adventure for any Star Wars fan. It is simply stunning – there’s ancient history, wildlife and breath-taking landscapes. With a bit of forward planning it’s easy to do – weather permitting of course.

Useful info;

I’d highly recommend the B&B we stayed at on Valentia Island just over the bridge from Portmagee Carraig Leith House.

Visit Skellig Experience for an understanding of the significance of Skellig Michael and why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Enjoy a pint or two in The Moorings

And a hot chocolate and free samples at the Skellig Chocolate Factory!

Star Wars may have been the trigger for making the trip to that part of Ireland but the places we visited – Cork, Valentia Island and Waterville, Killarney and Kenmare made a fantastic holiday even without the geekery.

BTW there’s a Lord of the Rings themed bar in Killarney that has excellent ale…

Part II On the steps

Getting off the boat at the tiny landing site on Skellig Michael was an experience in itself on the choppy waters. Only one boat can dock at time and once you’re off it leaves immediately and another quickly takes its place to discharge its own cargo of twelve. With a time to be back for our pick up we made our way round the island to the start of the steps were a guide met us to give another safety briefing to us. Despite itching to start the trek up it does pay to listen to the experts, Skellig Michael isn’t a film set it, people have died – the most recent in 2009. They force the point (no pun intended) that this is a ‘wilderness site’ and rightly so, it would be so very easy to get distracted and take a misstep.

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Starting the assent my whole world pretty much reduced down to a one metre wide stretch of stone hand carved and laid in place by monks who first settled on the island in the 6th Century. They’re in remarkable condition as well considering their age, though uneven in places with the occasional overhang designed to catch the unsuspecting boot.  I carefully made my way up Skellig Michael in the footsteps of those monks and a certain young Jedi to be…

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I had blinkered myself by shear force of will to ignore the precipitous situation I now found myself in on the quest to bag THE Star Wars location I surprised myself by coping remarkably well with the shear drop beside me. Though I found my nerves started to fray when I had pause and wait to avoid those fellow travellers who had stopped to take pictures of puffins – admittedly lovely creature, but there the island was covered in them. I wasn’t going to risk walking around them! There is absolutely no need to stop and block the way for others who are in a genuine fear for their lives!

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We made it to the area known as Christ’s saddle, which is an opportunity to gather our breath before the next steep section of steps up to the monk’s ‘beehives’. The views  are absolutely stunning when you can peel your eyes away from your footing. Spotted a familiar stretch of wall and doorway which Rey wanders through in her search for Luke. We wandered the ancient dry stone buildings as a everyone gathered to have a bit of a lecture about them from one of the Skellig Michael guides. But having been to the Skellig Experience the day before we gave it a miss so as to avoid a bottle neck on the stairs as we attempted to make it back down.

to be continued…

Skellig Michael adventure – Star Wars and puffins Part I

Weather permitting.
Two words that strike dread in to the hearts of any traveller. I had booked two places on a Skellig Michael Island landing boat trip for the Tuesday 13th June – way, way back in March and since then hadn’t allowed myself to get excited about it just in case the weather indeed ‘did not permit’.
My boyfriend and I arrived in Portmagee on the Saturday evening with enough time to sample the delights of The Moorings were The Force Awakens wrap party was held and Mark Hamill poured a pint of Guinness and a legend was born… (I’m not ashamed to say I now own a T’shirt with the words “May the Craic be with you”).
Sunday we woke to rather bluster gales – we drove up to the Kerry cliffs with a view of the islands grey in the distance to see waves crashing below us and hardly being able to stand up!
Monday was calmer, but still there were no boats sailing that day. The weather looked to improve for the Tuesday – our day of sail – but I was still anxious when I called to confirm our attendance. Not to worry the voice on the line said – be at the dock in for 9am in the morning – it was on!

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Still I didn’t let myself believe it until we were sat on the small 12 seater boat, wearing a life jacket and bouncing across the Atlantic Ocean with spray in our faces!
The trip we booked was with Casey’s Tours to Skellig Michael and they have a safety film on their website that I had held off watching for a while…watch it and you’ll understand why, the journey and assent of Skellig Michael is not one that should be taken lightly. There is a reason monks thought it would bring them closer to God…

Now we had watched the safety film, seen the safety notices on the dock and also the handy leaflet given to us on the boat as we sailed from the safety of Portmagee harbour. So we were as prepared as we could possibly be. I was reassured by the fact that if a film crew could lug up camera gear and Mark Hamill could make it then I certainly could! Not so much scared of heights but scared of falling from them.

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To be continued….

Return to Puzzlewood

An enchanted forest on the border of England and Wales, home to wizards, fairies and heroes…

I visited Puzzlewood for the second time recently and it wasn’t because I was last there in August that it looked familiar – it was familiar because it has appeared many times on film and television – lots of  scifi & fantasy genre ones at that. It doubles wonderfully for ancient mystic forests, fairy glens and alien planets.

The BBC has used it for Merlin, Robin Hood, Doctor Who and the recent Russell T Davies version of A Midsummers Night’s Dream. Hollywood has been a few times – Ewan McGregor wandered through it while filming Jack The Giant Slayer and probably it’s most notable recent appearance has been in Star Wars The Force Awakens. Look for the part when Rey runs away from Maz’s castle – the wood where she gets captured by Kylo Ren is Puzzlewood.

I had heard of the location a while ago but assumed it was in the middle of no-where somewhere down south. It’s actually barely 15 minutes off the main motorway to Cardiff! Perfect place to stop on the way to one of my favourite geeky cities.

So last summer I dragged two mates with me to the Forest of Dean to visit both Puzzlewood and Clearwell Caves*. Another filming location less than 2 minutes drive away – ridiculously perfect day out! So perfect I went again a few week ago with my equally geeky boyfriend to show him the places they film Doctor Who, Star Wars and many, many more.

Puzzlewood is beautiful, so worth a visit even if it hadn’t the geeky links. It’s strange but familiar and you could drive yourself potty trying to work out what was filmed where – some are obvious, others you’d need to really study the film or episode to spot.

Visiting again in the spring sunshine was amazing as the light filters though the budding trees giving a different look to areas that were in shadow last year. I can understand why it’s used so often – it can be filmed and lit so differently. The trees twist in the most remarkable formations and there are moss covered stones that are as green as the leaves.

It’s a wonderful place that is worth visiting any time of the year. I certainly plan on returning again, maybe take my Rey costume next time and drag a Kylo along and get to play Star Wars…

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*The Sycorax spaceship in the first Tennant Christmas Special – that was Clearwell Caves, also used later in the Satan Pit and Fires of Pompeii.

http://puzzlewood.net/

http://www.clearwellcaves.com/

These are your first steps…

Next month sees the next Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, Florida. For at least one evening I did consider going until common sense sadly prevailed! I’ve been to two Celebrations so I’m fortunate – Essen in Germany 2013 was my first and London last year was brilliant. I’m planning to watch all the stuff happening online this time. I had friends watching from the comfort of their sofa seeing things I missed even though I was there!

Star Wars Celebration London has actually inspired my main holiday this year…

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Full marks to the Irish Tourist Board for taking a stand to the London Excel to promote the Star Wars VII The Force Awakens filming locations. They recreated those steps from the end of the film which Rey walks up in her search for Luke. Of course I couldn’t resist a cheesy photo opportunity!

I had a chat with a very engaging young Irishman and got a tote bag of leaflets and magazines featuring the places I should visit. Sold. Flights booked, hotels booked, car hire booked….and finally last week I managed to reserve a boat trip that should land on Skellig Michael. Frankly getting Glastonbury tickets sound easier to get, had at least an hour of “website is experiencing heavy traffic”. Within a few hours of going online all the summers landing trips had been reserved – ALL of them. I have read that the Ring of Kerry and Skellig are 2017 ‘must see’ tourist destinations – for the first time in my life I’m totally on-trend!

Can’t wait until May! Now to decide – do I go in my full Rey cosplay outfit or just take a lightsaber…

Bright lights, big city

It was the Oscars this weekend and it’s always now a sense of nostalgia that I note its annual presence in the awards seasons. Not because of a particular obsession for the swanky self-congratulatory show, but because the 86th Academy Awards is also the 10th anniversary of my first and only (so far) major wanderlust adventure. In February 2007 I landed at LAX for what would be six months of backpacking – one month around the West Coast USA, four months traveling and working in New Zealand, and finally a last month is Australia with a brief pop back to San Francisco before the train from London back ‘oop North’.

For a while after it was “this time last year” I was watching the sunset at Uluru, “two years ago” I was hunting for the YHA in Wellington, “three years ago” I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and Sydney Harbour Bridge in the same week.

How quickly time goes by!

There were many geeky elements to my six-month jaunt. I freely confess I went to New Zealand for two reasons – Lord of the Rings and Zorbing. The former lived up to the expectations – the later did not. But was almost fun for the few minutes I rolled down a hill in plastic bubble with a bucket of water poured in for extra pleasure.

Australia was a place so far away due to geography yet so familiar due to Neighbours – yes of course I went to Ramsey Street while I was in Melbourne, how could I not!

In California I went to places I’d seen so many times on screen – Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Griffith Park Observatory, and Alcatraz – the only place I wanted to get to but didn’t were Vasquez Rocks which must surely be on any Star Trek fans list of pilgrimage sites. One day, yes one day.

So when I think of the Oscars I think of my first day in the USA – walking on the red carpet in the Kodak Theatre – albeit, covered in plastic as they erected the giant statuettes and spruced the place up in advance of the big night the next day. I watched the ceremony from the luxury of a hotel room comforted by the knowledge that, I’d been there and I’d walked that carpet.