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/

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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.

What’s the attraction?

I’ve always been fascinated by places. The locations that have been used in television programmes and films have often been significant factors in days out, short trips and holidays. Sometimes it’s been planned, sometimes it’s been coincidence and sometimes it’s be precognisant!

In the sci-fi fan community I’ve met and know people who will travel far and wide to meet their heroes and grab an autograph and picture.  I’ve been known to travel to the other side of the planet to walk in the footsteps of hobbits and wizards.

There’s something quite fascinating about being the exact same spot as my heroes. While I have met actors from my favourite shows and paid money for a scribble on a picture and done the awkward production line photo shoot…I know they’re just that; actors who share the face of someone I’ve admired and enjoyed watching on screen.

So why collect locations like other people collect autographs?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to that and wonder if it’s because of the freedom of imagination. You go see a TV/film person and you have so much invested in the character they’ve portrayed…and no matter how ‘on form’ they are and welcoming…they’re not them, they can’t be them and they’re probably been nice to hundreds of people that day.

A building, a street and beach can be invested with as much imagination and fan devotion and they don’t have to react to you. They come alive purely though your imagination and that’s quite magical. A road in Cardiff is just a normal road but if you remember that’s where you’ve seen a blue police box materialise on a corner, or cybermen stomp past…well that’s as close as you’re going to get to that fantastic world you’ve seen on your screen.

Is this thing on?

Internet beware! A new blogger has arrived!

Long promised to myself, finally realised – this will be a place for my thoughts and general ramblings on the loose theme of geek related travel. Looking back over my holiday photos recently I discovered that pretty much all of my trips across the UK and the world beyond have had some inspiration from a film or television programme.  I started young too, I persuaded my family to holiday in Portmerion, North Wales when I was 16 because it had been used as the principal location used in the 60’s Cult show ‘The Prisoner’ .

I’ll be going back over places I’ve been, sharing photos and my memories of some amazing places – and will be planning new adventures. In 2017 I’ll be hopefully be walking up the ‘Jedi Steps’ of Skellig Michael…