The Millstream Way, part of the inspiring scenery that fired the imagination of the young Tolkien. Courtesy Birmingham City Council.
A nature reserve on Birmingham’s River Cole has been renamed in honour of local author JRR Tolkien.
The Millstream Way, which follows the Southern Cole Valley and Chinn Brook will be renamed The Shire Country Park. The nature reserve is close to Tolkien’s childhood home and is said to have been the author’s inspiration for the home of the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings.
The newly-named park is part of a four-mile stretch of path which follows the River Cole from Scribers Lane in Yardley Wood to Ackers activity centre in Small Heath, less than two miles south-east of the city centre.
Despite its urban location, the area has been designated an area of special scientific interest and is home to numerous species of birds, butterflies and bats as well as an abundance of flora and fauna.
Rangers work closely with local conservation groups and volunteers to maintain the habitat, while events are held all year round to raise awareness of the natural and historic environment that is preserved here.
Sarehole Mill features in Tolkien's The Hobbit. Courtesy Birmingham City Council.
The decision to rename the Millstream Way followed intense lobbying from the local Hall Green community who have been campaigning for some formal recognition for Tolkien and his links with the area.
"Working together with key local groups has successfully helped to establish The Shire Country Park in celebration of JRR Tolkien," said Hall Green councillor, Mike Wilkes. "The park will link all the relevant pieces of land together and make it much easier to protect for future generations, of local people and tourists alike, to enjoy."
The four-mile trail takes in various places of interest to Tolkien fans including Sarehole Mill, which featured in the Hobbit, and Moseley Bog, upon which Tolkien based the Old Forest where Tom Bombadil lived.
New signs will be erected to inform visitors about the various archaeological sites as well as the natural environment along the Cole Valley. A visitors’ centre is also planned to help walkers make the most of their visit and inform them not just about Tolkien, but also the local area.
The renaming of the nature reserve is timed to coincide with Tolkien’s birthday. He would have been 113 on 3rd January.
Already a treasured literary icon, Tolkien has reached a new audience through the release of blockbuster film adaptations of his work. Photo: Jon Pratty. © 24 Hour Museum.
Although Tolkien was born in South Africa, both his parents were from Birmingham and he moved back here at the age of three. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien moved to the hamlet of Sarehole in 1896 and as a boy he would have explored the area around south Birmingham, which at that time would have been mainly fields.
Many of the locations in his books will be familiar to anyone who ventures south of the city – the Two Towers, the Dead Marshes – even Sam Gamgee was a real doctor from Birmingham.
The name change is hoped to capitalise on the success of the Lord of the Rings films by attracting new interest to the nature project. Sarehole Mill already plays host to the annual Tolkien weekend, now in its fifth year. The next Tolkien event is planned for May.