Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A MAGICAL REALM BY THE RIVER WYE: MERLIN



For four years from 2008 until 2012 Merlin, a fantasy drama series about the young wizard of the same name, was a popular show on the BBC.  Loosely based on the Arthurian legends, and portraying Merlin’s developing relationship with the Prince Arthur Pendragon, and a whole other cast of colourful characters, the series required a suitably fairytale backdrop, and the makers found some of the best locations for this in the Forest of Dean and adjacent Wye Valley.  The Forest of Dean in the westernmost reaches of Gloucestershire is an elevated expanse with lots of enchanting nooks and crannies, which in recent years has gained notoriety for the wild boar roaming and breeding in the area.  The Wye Valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the border between England and Wales.

The magical Puzzlewood, located within the Forest of Dean, featured in all five series, acting as the secret hideaway of the sinister Morgana, plus scenes featuring dragons and unicorns and druid camps.  Puzzlewood’s appeal lies in its lush, mossy rocks and gulleys, and its twisted tree roots and fantastical rock formations, which can all be explored via a maze of winding paths.  It is rumoured that JRR Tolkien took the inspiration for Middle Earth from Puzzlewood.  There are a number of attractions aimed at families, including mazes and picnic areas.  As well as Merlin, these woodlands have featured in a number of other productions, including Dr Who.

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Puzzlewood. Photo by Reiner Tegtmeyer, via Wikimedia Commons

Also in the Forest of Dean, Clearwell Caves provided the backdrop for some of the most memorable scenes in the series.  The caves played the part of the caverns below Camelot’s Castle with tunnels leading to a sorcerer’s tomb in ‘The Curse of Cornelius Sigan’.  The caves also acted as the interior of the Tunnels of Andor in ‘Lancelot and Guinevere’, in which Arthur and Merlin rush to save Gwen, and they put in an appearance in ‘The Last Dragonlord’.   The caves in real life are naturally formed caves where iron ore has been mined for over 4,500 years, and continues to be mined to this day.   The caves are open to the public between February and October.  As was the case with Puzzlewood, Clearwell Caves has also featured in Dr Who.

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Subterranean lake in Clearwell Caves. Photo by Penny Mayes, via Wikimedia Commons

Another landmark in the area which featured in Merlin is Goodrich Castle, located near Ross-On-Wye, to the west of the Wye Valley, overlooking the river. Merlin and Arthur are seen riding up to the castle for a visit to Morgause.  This part was filmed in the Solar Block, which was the castle’s main living quarters.  The castle was begun in the late 11th century and lasted until it fell during the Civil War.  The present-day castle, now run by English Heritage, is a romantic ruin surrounded by beautiful scenery and offering wonderful views of the surrounding area.  

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Goodrich Castle. Photo by Michael Eccles, via Wikimedia Commons     


 Map of the area.

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