“It’s a beautiful day outside. Let’s go somewhere,” I said to my better half. “Is there anywhere in Birmingham we have not been yet?”
“Of course, there is,” John replied, “south of Birmingham.”
Of course. We live in the north of Birmingham, and after a dozen years as residents, it seemed that we had been everywhere.
So with John’s pick, we headed south to the other side of the city. Nearly an hour later, we arrived at Sarehole Mill and parked our car. Apparently, J.R.R.Tolkien’s family moved into a hamlet just across the road from the Mill and used to spend hours exploring the grounds and being chased away by the miller’s son, whom was nicknamed the “White Ogre” – does that sound familiar to any of Lord of the Ring fans?
During his formative years, Tolkien lived in nine houses in the south of Birmingham. Sarehole is said to have been the model for ‘The Shire’, although more fans of Lord of the Rings have paid homage to the location of the films in New Zealand. At Sarehole when we visited, there was hardly anyone in sight. Now about 100 years after Tolkien’s happy childhood, the Mill is part of Birmingham Museums Trust as well as a working mill, showing the Signposts to Middle Earth exhibition and linking to famous author to the landscape of Birmingham.
Other landmarks that connect Tolkien to Birmingham are the two towers, one is the Perrott’s Folly, the crenelated gothic towel build in 1758, originally part of a hunting lodge and then a weather recording station. Another is a Victorian chimney tower which stands tall at Edgebaston Waterworks. Readers of Lord of the Rings can probably guess that these two towers inspired “Minas Morgul” and “Minas Tirith”, the “Two towers of Gondor”.
Following our visit to the Mill, we picked up a little guide “Birmingham Tolkien Trial” and walked to another location nearby: Mosley Bog, where Tolkien used to hang out with his brother and went on their mini adventures. According to Tolkien, it was the ‘Old Forest” where Tom Bombadil lived. It was known to be the model for “The Marshes of the Dead”. Today, it remains pretty wild, although little pathways with deckings have been built to allow those dog walkers and modern-day explorers like us to keep our feet dry.
The sun rays were pouring through the many trees, reflecting the blue sky in those remaining boggy areas and muddy ponds. It was easy to imagine that once upon a time, it could have been dangerous, one easy slip leading to being sucked down by the swamp. Although we did not see any orcs, we did spot a couple of old trees that looked vaguely like the Ents in the Lord of the Rings films. I wouldn’t have minded a lift from these trees as my legs began to tire.
I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, although I did read The Hobbit. I am not a fan of fantasy stories, but I absolutely adored the films. Who could have watched the Hollywood blockbuster without feeling attracted to the Ring and faithfully following Frodo all the way to Mordor? Who could forget Golum, the elves and Gandalf?
I am so glad that I live in a city that inspired such great writing and incredible imagination of human minds. Birmingham, as many of us know, is the home of the Industrial Revolution too, and in fact, it transformed from a village to what it is today, the second largest city in the UK.