Merlin Locations: An Interview with Julie Bozza

This issue, Fandom Wanderers chatted to Julie Bozza, the mastermind behind the popular fansite Merlin Locations. She was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about her experience of fandom.

Tell us a bit about the Merlin Locations website.

Merlin Locations is a site dedicated to exploring all the wonderful filming locations used by BBC Merlin in Wales, England and France. The show is set in a fantasy version of medieval England, and makes great use of all the wonderful castles, forests and countryside in South Wales – near Cardiff, where production is based – along with the Wye Valley, and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. Intriguingly, a Chateau in France is used for Camelot itself, which adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole project.

It’s been a lot of fun finding and visiting these various locations, and sharing that information online so that other fans can visit the locations either in person or virtually.

Inevitably, fans of filming locations are also interested in other behind–the–scenes aspects of creating a tv show, so while the original focus remains, the subject matter has expanded somewhat! Also, Merlin is blessed by a particularly gorgeous, nice, and talented team of cast, crew and creatives – so they make for some fun and interesting detours along the way!

You can find the website at merlinlocations.com.

What inspired you to start the site?

This is a long and winding road of a story, but it all started with bluebells. My husband Bruce and I were in the habit of doing a bluebell trip around May each year, and there is a particular place in the Forest of Dean which is renowned for them.

In 2009, after we’d fallen hard for Merlin’s first season, I became aware that some fans were already starting to look out for and visit particular filming locations, such as Cosmeston Medieval Village. I thought I’d follow their example, and Puzzlewood was added to our Bluebells Day Trip. And what an extraordinary place! I’ll always be grateful to Merlin for introducing me to it. So that was my first ever Merlin Location on what turned out to be my first Locations Trip, on 25 April 2009.

Our second Merlin Location that day was Speech House Lake, which required some real detective work to find, especially after we were initially directed to Cannop Ponds! The difference between these two locations was striking – with Puzzlewood being so magical in itself, and Speech House Lake being really rather ordinary – and that got me thinking about what makes a good location, and how you transform something so everyday into Avalon.

I blogged about my Locations Trip and shared some photos, and found that my fellow fans were far more interested than I’d anticipated. So after another few Trips, and further blogs which were also met enthusiastically, I thought a website might be the way to go. I was interested to see whether more ‘mainstream’ fans of the show would be interested, as well as we (I’m not sure if there’s a word for this!) more ‘fannish’ fans.

Chateau de Pierrefonds - photo by E. Musgrove

What’s the response been like from other fans?

It’s been wonderful! As you’ll have gathered, when I started all this I thought it might be a sort of ‘niche’ interest, that might only engage a few. Those few have turned out to be many – and include a whole range of different people from across the spectrum of fannish engagement. We have a love of the show itself in common, but otherwise it’s all been very diverse – and global, too!

I’ve made some great friends through Merlin fandom, and this website has certainly been a part of that. I call us all Locations Geeks, and we’ve grown a ‘core team’ of fans who are particularly engaged with the site.

How do you find out about the locations used in the series?

It’s a real mix, and I have to say that the detective work involved is part of the fun. The sense of satisfaction in tracking down an obscure bit of forest, or a bridge that’s a little too humble to be a common tourist attraction, is awesome!

We don’t have any official sources, and alas we aren’t particular friends with any of the cast or crew. And in some ways, it would kind of take away some of the fun if we were! Twice now I have given in and asked for a clue re an obscure location from directors Jeremy Webb and Alice Troughton; both times it felt rather like cheating! Although in both cases, we still needed to do plenty of leg work, so I guess I ended up feeling as if we’d ‘earned’ those ones after all. LOL!

So, our sources are varied. Of course, fellow fans will often recognise certain places, and fill us in either directly or via general fannish chatter. The official websites for locations such as Puzzlewood will often post a story about recent filming there. Local newspapers will also report on recent filming in their area; that’s how we found out about Dyffryn Gardens, for instance. Google is our friend!

Otherwise, we pay close attention to things such as the DVD commentaries, where the cast and directors will often talk about locations, or DVD extras. For example, it was the large chalk lion on a hillside in one of Bradley’s video diaries that led me to Ivinghoe Beacon and the location for the iconic opening shot of Merlin walking towards Camelot along a chalk pathway. In fact, I think of Bradley James (who plays Arthur) as the patron saint of Merlin Locations, as he has often spoken about the locations during his commentaries.

But clues are available all over the place! Sometimes it’s really obvious from watching the show itself; sometimes a kind fan or viewer will get in touch with me directly. For example, after episode 213 The Last Dragonlord, I was woefully wondering how to narrow down a search of caves in South Wales for Balinor’s cave, when someone e-mailed me about Porth yr Ogof; problem solved!

The Locations Team has a wonderful Research Geek on board, as well as a tenacious Locations Detective. Our Research Geek identified Neath Abbey for us after a crew member commented about working in a very cold abbey which dated back to 1129! As she said, there aren’t many abbeys in South Wales linked to that specific date; her work was done via the internet. Meanwhile our Locations Detective through trial and error, much poring over of maps and driving around in person, found the River Ely near Miskin; her geo–caching experience comes in very handy.

So really, anyone has the resources to be a Locations Detective, whether they live near or far!

What’s your favourite location that you’ve featured on the site?

Just one…? {whimpers}

OK, well, the Chateau de Pierrefonds and Puzzlewood are the obvious two. They have such a significant impact on the show, and are also incredible places in their own right. I also love Speech House Lake. Despite it being such a plain place, I revisit it every time I’m in the area – and there’s something about it that moves me, I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s partly because Bruce and I managed to track it down all by ourselves; you feel more attached to them when you’ve solved the puzzle! Dunraven Bay is simply astonishing and so changeable, while Goodrich Castle is a terrific place to scramble about in…

But I suppose if I had to choose one, it would inevitably be the Chateau de Pierrefonds. Spectacular, fascinating, and beautiful. And in France, with my favourite patisserie at its feet!

The courtyard of the Chateau de Pierrefonds, photo by E. MusgroveAre you involved in fandom in any other ways?

I very much enjoy fan fic, but there isn’t really any crossover between that and the Merlin Locations project, so the two interests tend to each stay in their own compartments. Mind you, I think a fic needs to be written about the Chateau de Pierrefonds indulging in some French taunting at the expense of the English and Welsh castles… That could definitely work.

Also, I am a big fan of our lovely cast, and I’ve very much enjoyed seeing their other work, especially in the theatre. I’m a bit of a stage door stalwart, I’m afraid!

How would you describe the experience of going to things like premieres and conventions?

The BFI events which have included a preview of the opening episode(s) of the new season, and a panel with the main cast and producers, have been absolutely awesome. Very exciting to be a part of! I’ll never forget watching the season two premiere with the cast sitting up the back, and Bradley calling out the odd comment or two. It’s a real buzz to be seeing the episodes in a theatre full of people as excited as yourself as well as the people who created it all!

I have to admit to mixed feelings about the big conventions. They are just a bit too massive (and edgy at times) for the likes of little old me! On the other hand, some of my most fun experiences have been at cons. Occasionally it seems a tad silly for a 49–year–old woman to spend all day travelling there and back, and queuing for autograph sessions and so on, just for the sake of two minutes of undivided attention from Rupert Young… But then he smiles at me, and I realise that yes I actually would walk a million miles for one of them, and it all starts making perfect sense again.

What’s the best thing about being involved in fandom?

The absolute best thing is the friendship. I have made some utterly marvellous friends through fandom, and I am hoping that my Merlin friends will be with me all my life in one way or another. I have friends and family who aren’t fans, of course, and that’s important. But it’s a real joy to share your squee with mates who understand even if they don’t share exactly the same passions.

The next best thing, if I may, is all the other places that fandom has prompted me to explore. Merlin re–awoke my love of the Arthurian legends, introduced me to Sondheim, sent me to Puzzlewood, and so much beside. I’ll always love it for that!

And then the marvellous opportunities I’ve had, for a smile from Rupert, interviews with the awesome Alice Troughton and Jeremy Webb, watching Colin Morgan work his acting magic on a tiny stage not six feet away… that’s up there in my best things, too. These people are hardworking and inspiring, not to mention gorgeous, and it’s so cool to interact (even in a small way) with my heroes!

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Merlin fandom has been – and still is – fantastic. I love the show, and I love being part of its fandom. Given that I’ve lived in Australia most of my life, this is the first time I’ve really had the chance to personally engage with a ‘live’ show, as it were, with the filming, and the public events surrounding it. I’ve counted my blessings, rolled up my sleeves, and made the most of it!

As a big part of that, I’m delighted that the Merlin Locations project has been so successful in terms of its popularity, and the good will shown towards it by people like Alice and Jeremy. I think I enjoy it so because it combines a whole lot of loves of mine: Merlin and the Arthurian legends, exploring Britain and France, castles, lovely lush green landscape, photography, detective work, puzzle solving, research, writing, behind–the–scenes elements of film and tv production, cinematography, cast and crew and creatives – and oh my word yes, my fellow fans. You’re all awesome!

You can join the quest for filming locations at www.merlinlocations.com. Series 5 of Merlin is expected to begin on the BBC in the Autumn, no doubt bringing new locations to track down!

Julie Bozza was talking to Eleanor Musgrove.

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7 Responses to Merlin Locations: An Interview with Julie Bozza

  1. Pingback: Merlin Locations | mentioned in dispatches « BBC Merlin Filming Locations

  2. Stella says:

    Great interview! I have had the great privilege of having become good friends with Julie as a result of being a Merlin fan and have accompanied her on several of her locations quests which have all been totally awesome experiences; she is a great poster girl for fandom in general – a great enthusiast of many aspects of our beloved show who, through hard work, tenacity, talent and the sheer loveliness of her personality has managed to forge good relationships with many of those involved in the show and at the same time has enhanced others’ experience of Merlin fandom manifold!

  3. Cara says:

    Such a beautiful interview! I’ve just got back from a week-long holiday inspired completely from the Merlin Locations Website!!! I had such an extraordinary time (even if the family didn’t particulary find staring an a small hut in a muddy field as exiting)! I’ve visted the site very frequently ever since it ‘aired’, and I know I will continue to long after the show ends! Expect a large ‘thank you’ email from me soon, Julie, as I have much to thank you for! The information and you’re brilliant personal comments/insights have been marvelous!

    • julie023 says:

      Hello, Cara! What a beautiful response! I am so happy that you had such a wonderful time during your holiday. I think all the credit of that really goes to you and your lovely family … but I can live with you sparing a thought for me as well in such wonderful circumstances. 🙂

      Thank you again!

    • We’re glad you liked the interview, and we hope you had a fantastic holiday! It’s nice to hear about the site in action. –Ed.

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