How to walk, run, hike, and bike five Star Wars: The Force Awakens locations
The scenes in the sci-fi epic weren’t all computer imagery. Much of the film was shot in natural landscapes that offer outdoor enthusiasts many opportunities to break a sweat
Lake Myvatn and Krafla volcano, Iceland
The Myvatn (mee-vaht) area is known for steaming lava and hot springs, fissures and formations, flora and fauna. Lake Myvatn is a shallow lake situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, not far from the Krafla volcano. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2,300 years ago and the surrounding area is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and pseudo craters.
Krafla is a 10km wide caldera and was formed about 100,000 years ago. The most recent volcanic activity near Krafla was in 1984 – some lava flows from that eruption are still smoking. A wintry battle scene in the film was shot here.
Explore this natural landscape with Hike and Bike (hikeandbike.is), an adventure company located in Reykjahlid village by Lake Myvatn that offers hiking and mountain biking tours for people of all fitness levels and abilities. Gear rental and mechanical support is provided. The tours vary in length and difficulty. During winter, there are tailor-made tours on cross country skis or snowshoes.
There’s a saying in Iceland: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.” Because of the unpredictable and fast-changing weather, it’s best to bring warm clothes that are both wind- and waterproof, as well as hat, gloves and sturdy shoes.
Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Ireland
Skellig Michael is part of the Skellig Islands that lie 12km off the coast of Portmagee in southwest County Kerry. Skellig Michael rises 218 metres above sea level, and on the summit of the Unesco World Heritage Site lies a well-preserved sixth century beehive-shaped monastic settlement.
The monks of St Fionan’s monastery would descend the 670 steep and rugged rock slab steps early every morning and fish for the morning’s breakfast. The monks left the island in the 13th century and it became a place of pilgrimage. The film’s closing scene was shot there.
Make sure you’re in good physical shape before attempting the climb – a few people have died from falling off the steps. In terms of distance, though, the hike isn’t long. Book a boat ride to Skellig Islands (skelligislands.com), which departs daily from Portmagee marina at about 10am – weather permitting – and takes around 45 minutes to get to Skellig Michael. The tour also stops at Little Skellig, the smaller island, to view the bird colony and seals.
For an endurance challenge, try biking the Ring of Kerry Cycle Route, a 216km loop that goes past Portmagee and is renowned for its archaeological treasures and breathtaking scenery. If you’re competitive, a sportive is held annually on the route (ringofkerrycycle.ie).
Puzzle Wood, Forest of Dean, England
The name of this ancient 5.6-hectare woodland comes from the maze of pathways that wind through the gullies of mossy rocks. Located in the beautiful and historic Forest of Dean, it was reportedly the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s forests of Middle Earth. In 1848, a hoard of over 3,000 third century AD Roman coins were found in a cavity in one of the rocks, suggesting that Romans once occupied the enchanted area. A scene involving Kylo Ren of the First Order, baddies of the film, and Millennium Falcon co-pilot Rey was filmed there.
The 1.6km-long pathway through Puzzle Wood (puzzlewood.net) is unlikely to tire you out. For more calorie burn, explore the trails of the neighbouring Forest of Dean on foot or by bike. The forest was England’s first National Forest Park, established in 1938, and covers approximately 9,700 hectares.
There are different trails to suit all cycling abilities, from the gentle, traffic-free Family Trail, challenging Verderers’ single-track trail, to full-on downhill routes used by professional riders. Grab a bike at Pedal A Bike Away (pedalabikeaway.co.uk), located at Cannop at the start of the trails. Runners can try a number of foot races organised in the forest – see forestofdean-halfmarathon.co.uk.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye, known for its dramatic and diverse scenery, takes its name from the old Norse sky-a, meaning “cloud island”, a Viking reference to often mist-shrouded Cuillin Hills. The island is Scotland’s second largest.
Pot-holing, mountain biking, sea kayaking, scuba diving, horse riding, paragliding and fly fishing are popular pastimes, though walking remains the main activity. There are walks of all lengths and difficulties, from short strolls to see waterfalls and picnic spots, to rugged alpine-like treks up the Black Cuillin summits.
Try mountaineering or rock climbing with Skye Guides (skyeguides.co.uk) in the Cuillin. The Black Cuillin range is the most complex and technical mountain environment in the British Isles, with jagged rocky ridges dropping straight into the Hebridean Sea. It has 12 Scottish Munros (or peaks higher than 3,000 feet or 914 metres), with many narrow ridges linking them.
For a less extreme challenge, Whitewave (white-wave.co.uk), Skye’s family-run outdoor centre based in the township of Linicro, in the island’s north, offers activities such as kayaking, canoeing, climbing and abseiling, mountain boarding, hill walking, archery and crating (involving a safety rope and a pile of plastic drink crates to climb).
Rub’ al Khali desert, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The world’s largest sand sea, the Rub’ al Khali (Empty Quarter) covers about 650,000 square kilometres (larger than France) and takes up a fifth of the Arabian Peninsula. It lies mainly in southeastern Saudi Arabia, with smaller portions in Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates where the Star Wars scenes on the planet Jakku were shot. The desert is one of the hottest, driest and most unyielding environments on Earth.
The Rub’ al Khali contains roughly half as much sand as the Sahara, even though it’s only one-fifteenth the size. Its sand dunes rise as high as 610 metres, and provide a challenge for visitors who take part in activities such as desert walking, horse riding, desert sailing, desert fat biking and sandboarding.
There isn’t much infrastructure in the desert. Popular hotels in the Abu Dhabi section of the desert include the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara and the Tilal Liwa Hotel, both of which offer a menu of desert activities for the adventurous.