MIDDLE-EARTH INSPIRED BY MIDDLE ENGLAND
Whether you’ve come to the works of JRR Tolkien by reading his 1937 children’s book The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings – written in three stages between 1937 and 1949 – or the three majestic Peter Jackson movies, chances are you’ve been hooked for good.
Or it could be the 2022 television epic The Rings of Power, which has brought the heroic legends of JRR Tolkien’s fabled Second Age of Middle-Earth’s history to the screen for the first time.
It reaches back thousands of years before the events depicted in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to an era when kingdoms rose and fell, and heroes were tested in the darkest of times.
By contrast, the shires surrounding our Bredon-Vale site are calm and peaceful. However, they’re reputed to have played their part in sparking Tolkien’s imagination and pen – and they can do the same for you, if a couple of days following an unofficial Tolkien Trail is up your street.
All of the following are within easy distance:
BREDON HILL (TROLLSHAWS)
Bredon Hill is steeped in legend, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s also long been connected with The Lord of the Rings.
Its name comes from ‘bre’, a Celtic word meaning hill, and ‘don’, an Old English word also meaning hill. Two megalithic stones on the hill known as the King and Queen Stones are steeped in lore.
Passing between the stones is said to cure illness, the effects of a witch’s enchantment, or even help a woman through her pregnancy.
The Hill’s also speculated to be the basis of Trollshaws, which was roamed by the trolls William, Tom and Bert, who captured Bilbo Baggins and his companions – until Gandalf distracted the trolls long enough for them to be turned into stone by the sun.
Years later, Frodo comes across the location on his way to Rivendell and finds the stone trolls, which are reputed to allude to the King and Queen Stones.
- Distance from BVCC: 13.7 miles
- Other things to see while you’re there: The stunning view across the Severn Valley to the Malvern Hills
BAG END FARM AND BAG END (DORMSTON)
Bilbo Baggins’ home is described in the first lines of The Hobbit. It takes its name directly from Bag End Farm, which was owned by Tolkien’s aunt, Jane Neave.
It’s understood that Tolkien spent some time at Bag End Farm, in 1923, recuperating from an illness.
- Distance from BVCC to Dormston: 9.2 miles
- Other things to see while you’re there: The 14th Century Church of St Nicholas
THE BELL INN, MORETON-IN-MARSH (THE PRANCING PONY)
The Prancing Pony’s regarded by some as the most famous pub in Middle-Earth.
The four adventurous Hobbits – Frodo, Samwise, Merry and Pippin – would travel to the town of Bree to meet the mysterious ranger known to the locals as Strider.
You’ll head for The Bell Inn, in Moreton-in-Marsh, a beautiful market town that Tolkien would frequent to meet his brother.
Unlike his academic brother, it’s said, Hilary Tolkien was interested in agriculture, which led him to buy a small orchard and market garden on the outskirts of Evesham, in 1922.
JRR was no stranger to the farm, either. He visited with his family regularly. A quote that’s attributed to Tolkien is “Worcestershire was more like home than any other part of the world”.
If you venture to The Bell Inn, you’ll find a blue plaque erected by a local group of The Tolkien Society to commemorate the pub’s link to Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings.
- Distance from BVCC to Moreton-in-Marsh: 16.3 miles
- Other things to see while you’re there: Batsford Arboretum, near Batsford village, and the Wellington Aviation Museum, a museum of the history of the Vickers Wellington bomber
ST EDWARD’S CHURCH, STOW-ON-THE-WOLD (THE DOORS OF DURIN)
As a Professor of Anglo-Saxon literature, at Oxford, Tolkien is said to have visited Stow-on-the-Wold on several occasions. If he did, his gaze can’t fail to have been drawn to stunning church door of St Edward’s Church. Few modern-day visitors leave without being intrigued by the same thing.
The door’s flanked by two ancient yew trees that might have inspired The Doors of Durin and their magic inscription Speak friend and enter, which tells the fellowship how to open the west-gate to the mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings.
- Distance from BVCC to Stow-on-the-Wold: 18 miles
- Other things to see while you’re there: The English Civil War monument, in Stow Market Square, marks the last battle in the first phase of the English Civil War, which took place a mile north of the town on Wednesday, March 21, 1646
SAREHOLE MILL, BIRMINGHAM (MIDDLE-EARTH)
Tolkien spent some of his youth in Sarehole, in what was then a charming little area not too far from Birmingham. It’s believed to have inspired one of the most idyllic locations in Middle-Earth, Hobbiton, a small village that’s home to the Hobbits.
The writer regarded Sarehole as “a kind of lost paradise”, a description believed to have been coloured by the relative lack of its industrial scars when he was a young boy, as well as the warmth of its villagers.
The Sarehole Mill, now a museum, inspired the young Tolkien. You can take a guided walk around the area that explores all the different places that captured the future writer’s imagination.
- Distance from BVCC to Sarehole Mill: 26.4 miles
- Other things to see while you’re there: Grade II-listed Blakesley Hall, in nearby Yardley, is one of the oldest buildings in Birmingham and is a typical example of Tudor architecture
PERROT’S FOLLY / EDGBASTON WATERWORKS, BIRMINGHAM (THE TWO TOWERS)
The second volume of The Lord of the Rings is titled The Two Towers. The question is, which towers inspired them?
One of the towers is Orthanc, in Isengard, the home of corrupted wizard Saruman. However, it’s the second tower where matters become debatable for Rings aficianados.
Some say it’s clearly Barad-dûr, the dark Lord Sauron’s fortress – though Tolkien wrote in a letter before publication in 1954 that the second tower is at Cirith Ungol, from which Sam rescues Frodo.
So, there you have it. Or not. To confuse things, in an edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien also wrote that the second tower is “the fortress of Minas Morgul that guards the secret entrance to Mordor”.
Whatever the truth, finding the structures that inspired the two towers is easy.
When Tolkien lived in the Edgbaston suburb of Birmingham, Perrot’s Folly and a waterworks tower at the Edgbaston Pumping Station were two large towers he would have known and seen.
Perrott’s Folly’s a 96-feet tall tower, built in 1758 and named after John Perrott. The waterworks tower at Edgbaston Pumping Station is… well, a waterworks tower at Edgbaston Pumping Station.
- Distance from BVCC to Edgbaston: 37.2 miles
- Other things to see while you’re there: Too much to mention. Close at hand are the Barber Institute art museum and Edgbaston Cricket Ground. Brum city centre’s not too far
LYDNEY PARK, FOREST OF DEAN (CELEMBRIMBOR THE ELVEN FORGER OF THE RINGS OF POWER)
In 1929, Tolkien was invited to translate and investigate a Latin inscription found on an archaeological dig at Dwarf’s Hill in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire.
In the ancient inscription, he discovered references to a healing god called Nodens, which links to an Irish hero Nuada Airgetlám (meaning Nuada of the Silver-Hand) and mentions of a cursed ring. Therefore, Tolkien experts suggest, it could be argued that the Roman ruins sparked something major in Tolkien’s imagination.
- Distance from BVCC to Lydney: 47.9 miles
- Other things to see while you’re there: The Forest of Dean itself