Think of Wales and which mythical character springs to mind? Perhaps it’s the mighty Ddraig Goch (Red Dragon) that adorns our flag, or the legendary King Arthur, who is said to have slain giants on Welsh soil. But for 80s film fans, all will pale in comparison to lovable sorcerer Willow Ufgood, the protagonist of George Lucas’ 1988 fantasy blockbuster, Willow, which was extensively filmed in Wales.
The new Lucasfilms Willow sequel, sees the titular character, again played by actor Warwick Davis, on another perilous quest to stop the forces of evil, with help from a new generation of friends. Also returning for the highly-anticipated production will be the dazzling landscapes of Wales, which have once again been chosen to complement the story’s magical plotline.
Speaking about the decision to return to Wales for the series, Lynwen Brennan, Lucasfilm’s Executive Vice President and General Manager, said, "Wales has this unique combination of beautiful, natural, timeless landscapes, mountains, quarries, waterfalls, beaches, and industrial sets as well. There was this real richness and variety that was available to us."
Here’s an overview of some of the Welsh locations that feature in the new Willow series.
Located on the southern cusp of the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park, the former quarry site of Morlais Park plays a starring role in the new series as the site of an epic battle scene. The action unfolds against the park’s series of sheer limestone cliffs, which, in real life, are regularly tussled over between rock climbers and landscape photographers hunting the perfect shot. No stranger to conflict, the large park, easily accessible from the town of Merthyr Tydfil, is home to the 13th-century Morlais Castle, a small fortress partially destroyed by the English King Edward I to quash growing threats of Welsh upirisings against his rule.
Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park
Vast, wild, and at times, otherworldly, it’s no surprise the mountainous, lake-dotted landscape of Eryri (Snowdonia) felt right at home in a work of fantasy, prominently featuring throughout the new series. This is hiking country, so visitors would be wise to make like Willow’s band of buccaneers and head out on foot in order to find the very best vistas on offer. Standing atop the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Wales’ highest peak, is a feat on many adventurer’s bucket list, but an ascent of nearby Mynydd Mawr, boasting beautiful views of the Llŷn Peninsula, or tackling the Eryri (Snowdonia) stretch of the the Wales Coast Path offer similarly stunning scenery with fewer fellow explorers for company.
The pretty settlement of Merthyr Mawr, on the southern outskirts of the town of Bridgend, in South Wales, stood in as the ruins of Newtown Village for the new series. The village does in fact boast a couple of impressive reliced structures of its own, including the chapel of St Roque, which stands as part of the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, and, a short way to the south of the village, the 14th-century fortified manor, Candleston Castle. Another historic highlight here is the beautiful, Victorian-era St Teilo’s Church, home to a collection of mysterious ancient stone sculptures that wouldn’t feel out of place in the world of Willow.
It may have slipped into a new guise as a perilous fantasyland for the Willow series, but for motorsport fans, Pendine Sands, on the western coastline of Wales, has long held a somewhat mythical status. A number of land speed records have been smashed on this lengthy stretch of flat, golden beach, including the first vehicle to reach 150mph (approx 240kph). Today, however, you’re more likely to see life moving at a much slower pace, with locals carving through the surf on kayaks or strolling the pedestrianised promenade. Potential monster attacks, meanwhile, are unlikely, with the only adversary the occasional seagull with an appetite for unguarded chips!
The atmospheric remains of Neath Abbey, once one of Wales’ finest monasteries, are no stranger to the spotlight, having previously appeared in BBC productions Doctor Who and Merlin before making their most recent star turn in Willow. Like many of the greats to grace the stage, the grand 12th-century abbey has had a troubled background, being ransacked and neglected, before temporarily being transformed into a copper smelting plant. But what remains is still enough to draw wow from visitors, who’ll marvel at the structure’s grand archways and towering stone walls.
Taf Fechan Forest
Set off along the waymarked riverside trail that winds into Taf Fechan Forest, in the Brecon Beacons, and you’ll quickly see why this section of ancient woodland was chosen to feature in the new production. Walking beneath the canopy of conifer trees, keeping an eye out for silver-washed fritillary butterflies or a glimpse of an otter, it’s easy to feel like you’ve strayed into a dream. From here, take a brief detour back to reality with a visit to the characterful former mining town of Brynmawr, before dipping into the world of fantasy once more at the Market Hall Cinema, the oldest picture house in Wales.