The Two Towers - A J. R. R. Tolkien Museum Trail

By Simon Rose | 03 December 2002
Shows a painting of a mountain, painted in blues. The sun is low in the sky, which is a mix of reds, blues and oranges.

Mount Doom by Alan Chapman

The Two Towers is the second filmic instalment of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy book trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.

In 2001 our first Tolkien Trail transported us on a perilous journey through Tolkien's Middle Earth. A world of hobbits, wizards, evil sorcerers, orcs, elves, goblins, and many other weird and wonderful inhabitants.

After numerous hardships, heart-stopping retreats from Black Riders, not to forget a particularly nasty episode inside the Mines of Moria - we were finally able to return to the peace and tranquillity of the Shire.

However, alarming news has recently reached Hobbiton that the forces of darkness are regrouping. The terrifying whisper sweeping through hobbit holes is that the Dark Lord Sauron has risen again and is preparing his vast armies for the greatest battle of them all. An all-out war that could see the entire Middle Earth plunged into eternal darkness.

And so it is that the 24 Hour Museum finds itself embarking once more on the Tolkien Trail. This time, however, there are added twists, new sights and previously unheard of dangers to be overcome. As before, the trail features upcoming exhibitions, Tolkien-related places of interest and the best Tolkien websites.

So, take up the quest, or prepare for the dark shadow of Mordor to engulf Middle Earth for evermore.

Our journey starts in the far north, in the desolate Misty Mountains - an area more commonly known in this day and age as northwest Scotland.

For decades academics and Tolkien experts have pondered over the inspiration for Middle Earth, with Scotland seldom getting a mention. Residents of Sutherland, however, feel these experts have made a major omission.

Shows a photograph of a mountain with rolling hills in the foreground.

Ben Stack. Photo: Martin McCarthy © 1998 Martin McCarthy

Rob Gibson, a local historian, said: "I am convinced Tolkien came here and drew inspiration. Driving through the rain, beneath the windswept trees, gives you a very eerie feeling. England just doesn't have the desolate landscapes featured in Middle Earth. Sutherland's where it began."

Supporters of the theory point to the fact that Tolkien is said to have signed a guestbook for Lochstack Lodge, at the foot of Ben Stack, in the 1930's. This is the period in which he had started collating material for the Lord of the Rings.

Despite the scepticism of many Tolkien experts as to the authenticity of the Scottish inspiration theory, some of the scenery does unquestionably bear an uncanny resemblance to Middle Earth. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the triangular shaped mountain on the A894 near Kinlochbervie, which is remarkably similar to some of Tolkien's Middle Earth sketches.

Gibson said: "If you stand where the road bends just before Laxford Bridge and look eastward, you can see it instantly. With the Bad Lonanach forest stretching out before you, Ben Stack towers above. It's quite astonishing. It's clear that Tolkien was inspired by the Sutherland landscape and the area's architectural remains. He could have got lots of the ideas for Middle Earth place names from his research, but when he got here the landscape would have sent his imagination wild."

Shows a picture of Minas Tirith at Dawn by Ted Nasmith. There are two big craggy mountains in the background. A multi-tiered structure is built into the base of them. There is a man on horseback in the foreground.

Minas Tirith at Dawn, Ted Nasmith © Ted Nasmith.

From the wild mountains of the north our trail now heads south as we cross, with great trepidation, the bridge of Khazad-Dum. Escaping the clutches of a fearsome Balrog, we wearily arrive at our next destination - Stonyhurst College in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire.

Shows a picture entitled The Balog by Ted Nasmith. One of the characters is fighting the Balog.

The Balrog, Ted Nasmith © Ted Nasmith.

Tolkien and his wife Edith regularly stayed at a guest house in the grounds belonging to the college after their son John was evacuated to the college during the Second World War. Little has been made of the significance of this until recent years. However, Tolkien undoubtedly spent much of his time writing both at the guest house and in the college itself.

Jonathan Hewat, admissions and marketing manager at the college, believes Tolkien penned much of the Lord of the Rings whilst staying at Stonyhurst. He said: "The area is dotted with names that are familiar from Lord of the Rings - Shire Lane in Hurst Green, for instance, or the River Shirebourn."

Shows a photograph of Stonyhurst College. It is an imposing building on the banks of a lake.

Stonyhurst College, Lancashire. Images courtesy Stonyhurst College.

Tolkien was renowned for his love of nature and wooded landscapes and he could not have failed to be impressed by the beautiful countryside surrounding Stonyhurst. The ferry at Hacking Hall, still working when Tolkien visited, may well have provided the inspiration for Buckleberry Ferry. Similarly, the view from Tom Bombadil's house in the Lord of the Rings may have been inspired by the view from New Lodge, the house in which Tolkien stayed.

Shows a photograph of Stonyhurst College. It is partially obscured by a tree on the left of the picture and a statue in the middle of a pond on the right.

Stonyhurst College

A stunning building, Stonyhurst College is only open to visitors during the summer holiday period. Organised groups can sometimes be accommodated at other times of the year by booking in advance. Telephone 01254 826 345 for details.

However, don't despair if you're desperate to visit and can't bear to wait until next summer. The Lancashire Tourist Board have devised a year-round walk for visitors to the area - In the Footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien. Details of the walk can be obtained by calling the tourist office on 01200 425 566, or by visiting their website.

Shows a poster for an 2003 Tolkien exhibition at Chester's Grosvenor Museum. The words: 'Hobbits and Heroes' appears at the top, beneath them is a circular-framed picture of a waterfall scene.

Rivendell by Rodney Matthews

The trail leaves the Ribble Valley and continues south, the next landmark comprises two distinctive towers rising into the sky above the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. The pair are said to have suggested Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith to Tolkien - the two towers in the title of the second book of the Lord of the Rings and, of course, the latest film.

Edgbaston was familiar to Tolkien because it was the home of his aunt, with whom he lived for four years after his mother died in 1904.

Perrott's Folly. See below for image credit.

The first of the two towers is Perrott's Folly, built in 1758 by John Perrott. It is one of Birmingham's oldest, and certainly oddest, architectural features. It may have been an observatory or, more likely, somewhere Perrott could entertain his friends.

Nearby to Perrott's Folly is the tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, built in Victorian times.

Perrott's Folly can be visited on Sundays and bank holidays between 2pm and 5pm, during the summer months only.

Edgbaston Waterworks. See below for image credit.

We now head away from the Two Towers, an Uruk-hai army in hot pursuit, and make our way to Sarehole Mill - also in Birmingham. The beautifully rendered Hobbiton location in the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, featured a picturesque mill. Though the movies were filmed in New Zealand, the original inspiration behind the mill was in fact Sarehole.

In the late 1890's Sarehole was the childhood haunt of Tolkien. The village of Sarehole is said to be the model for the Shire, first introduced as the home of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.

Sarehole Mill. See below for image credit.

Christina Williamson, curator of Sarehole Mill, says of Tolkien: "He used to play around here with his brother Hilary. They were totally in awe of the area, just completely fascinated with the whole environment."

Sarehole Mill is the last surviving mill of more than 50 water mills that existed in Birmingham at one time. Birmingham City Council now runs it as a museum.

When the hobbits return from their adventures in The Lord of the Rings they find the old mill in Hobbiton has been torn down and replaced by an ugly new one spewing smoke. The Hobbits then set about returning the Shire to its former glory. This storyline almost certainly reflects Tolkiens's own thoughts on the effects of the industrial revolution on the city of his childhood. Tolkien would doubtless be delighted to see Sarehole Mill now fully restored and thriving as a museum.

The mill is normally only open to visiting hobbits from April to October, and to school parties throughout the year.

a

Sarehole Mill. See below for image credit.

Next we must make our way through the forbidding forest of Fangorn, commonly known to local humans as Moseley Bog. Woods and forests are a constant feature in Tolkien's Middle Earth. The ancient forest of Fangorn, the magic land of Lothlorien - home of the wood elves, and the terrifying Old Forest all form the backdrop to key passages in The Lord of the Rings.

Shows a painting by Inger Edelfeldt of Frodo, Samwise and Gollum in the Midgewater Marshes.

The Dead Marshes, Inger Edelfeldt © Inger Edelfeldt.

Tolkien also described marshlands. Sam Gamgee is nearly eaten alive by the Neekerbreekers at the Midgewater Marshes. Another episode sees Sam and Frodo guided by Gollum through the Dead Marshes outside Mordor.

Tolkien often lamented the encroachment of civilisation upon his childhood home in the countryside. However, Moseley Bog was one area where Tolkien and his brother Hillary used to play that civilisation missed.

Moseley Bog. See below for image credit.

Birmingham City Council now preserves the bog's nine hectares of dense, damp woodland as a nature reserve.

Moseley Bog's greatest claim to fame is that it is widely understood to be the inspiration for Fangorn and the Old Forest in The Lord of the Rings. Visitors experiencing its unique atmosphere will understand why. As one of the hobbits observes in The Fellowship of the Ring: "They do say the trees can actually move, and can surround strangers and hem them in."

Eagle and Child Public House. Photo: Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum.

Finally emerging safely from the darkness of the forest's dense treetops, the path now heads further south to Oxford. The city of Oxford is where Tolkien pursued his day job as the University's Merton professor of English. It was also here that he met C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia stories.

Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and other friends formed a group in Oxford called the Inklings. Their most famous meeting place during the 1930's and 40's was the Eagle and Child Pub, known locally as the Bird and Baby. The pub is a cosy hostelry on St. Giles, a stone's throw from the Ashmolean Museum.

A perfect spot for literature. Photo: Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum.

There is a plaque inside remembering the Inklings. More importantly, for our purposes, the pub provides an ideal opportunity for those on the trail to rest their weary feet.

Enjoy a beer in a setting that may well have been the inspiration for The Prancing Pony Inn in the Fellowship of the Ring. Sit back, relax and try to forget about Ringwraiths for a while.

From the Eagle and Child make your way to the historic university, where Tolkien spent many years. One of the famous Bodleian Library buildings is called Radcliffe Camera.

Pictures among Oxford's dreaming spires - the Bodleian Library. Photo: Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

Tolkien once remarked that this building resembles Sauron's temple to Morgoth on Numenor. Numenor was eventually to be swallowed by the sea and, rumour has it, is now the legendary land of Atlantis. Radcliffe Camera still stands, though, and is well worth a visit.

The Bodleian library is in possession of some of Tolkien's original manuscripts which are, unfortunately, not accessible to the general public. Other valuable documents can, however, be seen - including C.S. Lewis' original Narnia manuscripts.

While at the university head for the English Faculty Library on Manor Road. The library boasts an impressive bronze bust of Tolkien, sculpted by Faith Tolkien. The bust is traditionally placed in the window of the library each September in celebration of Oxenmoot, the annual meeting of the Tolkien Society.

Photo: Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

The next destination should be considered strictly for the most loyal and dedicated Tolkien trailers only, as there is very little of note to behold.

Tolkien lived at 76 Sandfield Road, in the Headington area of the city, from 1953 until 1968. At first glance there is nothing to see here - it's a private house, not open to visitors.

Closer inspection of the area above the front door, though, reveals a picture of Smaug, the greatest dragon of the Third Age. Visitors should take great care to avoid the arrows of Bard the Bowman.

Photo: Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

Those wishing to pay their respects to the great man can visit Tolkien's final resting place. He died in 1973 and is buried, with Edith, at Wolvercote Cemetery in north Oxford.

Photo: Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

The simple gravestone reads: 'EDITH MARY TOLKIEN LUTHIEN 1889 - 1971 JOHN RONALD REUEL TOLKIEN BEREN 1892 - 1973'. The grave lies along the western side of the cemetery in the Roman Catholic section, amongst the Polish immigrants.

The grave has been treated with reverence - followers occasionally leave an offering.

Photo: Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

Following a narrow escape from a spell cast by Saruman's evil ally Wormtongue, we now make our way to Poole, on the Dorset coast. It was here that Tolkien moved to and lived for four years following his retirement from Oxford in 1968.

His former bungalow is Woodridings, at 19 Lakeside Road. Again, this is a private residence not open to visitors. However, there is a coastal walk that takes in the Branksome and Bournemouth chines, as well as passing Woodridings. 'Chine' is a name peculiar to Dorset and the Isle of Wight, meaning simply a dry ravine.

Route instructions for the chine walk can be accessed by visiting the dorsetmag website.

The dramatic Dorset coastline © Jon Pratty.

Finally, the advance of pursuing orcs leaves us no choice but to take to the sea in order to make our escape. Those who undertake the final voyage of our Tolkien trail are worthy of the great wizard Gandalf himself! From Poole we must risk an encounter with the black ships of Umbar and cross the Atlantic Ocean, to the city of Milwaukee in the USA.

Milwaukee's university, Marquette, possesses the original manuscripts for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The university's director of libraries, William B. Ready, purchased the manuscripts from Tolkien in 1956.

Shows a picture called Black Rider by John Howe. There are several people hiding in the roots of a tree. Behind the roots, in the background, a black horse with a Black Rider is clearly visible.

Black Rider, John Howe © John Howe.

Ready had recognised The Lord of the Rings as a masterpiece soon after its publication, and long before the work and its author had gained widespread popularity.

At the time, no other institution had expressed an interest in Tolkien's literary manuscripts. The £1,500 paid for the manuscripts was undoubtedly one of the best business deals of the century.

The manuscripts were microfilmed in 1983, and researchers are now only permitted to use microfilm in order to preserve the originals. An exhibit of manuscripts featuring The Lord of the Rings is, though, available for public viewing. Find out more on the web

Of course, the vast majority of hobbits are home-loving creatures. Not all 24 Hour Museum readers will want to undertake our trail, a voyage many consider as perilous as the Quest of Mount Doom. Thankfully, there is an easier, less dangerous alternative.

The world of Middle Earth can be accessed via the Internet. There are countless websites devoted to all things Tolkien and we have picked out some of the best:

A good starting point is www.lordoftherings.net. This is the official movie site and features music from the film, trailers and screen savers among other things. You are even treated to a welcome from actors Liv Tyler and Orlando Bloom when you log on!

The Tolkien society has an incredibly comprehensive website - www.tolkiensociety.org. A veritable Tolkien shrine.

National Geographic has created a superb educational section called 'Lord of the Rings: Beyond The Movie.' It can be accessed by visiting www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings

Tolkien's publishers Harper Collins have introduced a new website dedicated to the great man's works. Its attractive layout features Tolkien's own sketches. Visit it at www.tolkien.co.uk

Chat room addicts who wish to pass the time of days discussing all things Middle Earth should visit www.minastirith.com.

Those who struggle with their French or Spanish speaking every summer can now see if they fare any better at elvish at www.elvish.org. The site is devoted to the scholarly study of the invented languages of Tolkien.

Cited as the best non-official site by fans, www.theonering.net is constantly updated with all the latest information.

Hobbits from outside the UK frustrated by all of the English language websites will be delighted with www.tolkienworld.com. Not only is it a great site, but it also has a number of foreign language portals.

Finally, for a fantastic visual experience, pay a visit to www.thereandbackagain.net. This is a beautifully presented and lovingly prepared fan-based site that takes the form of an old book.

We hope you enjoy our trail. Before we leave you, though, we offer a final word of advice from Gandalf: "Be careful of what you say, even to your closest friends! The enemy has many spies and many ways of hearing."

Simon Rose is a freelance journalist based in Brighton. You can email him at simongrose@yahoo.com

All Moseley Bog pictures were taken by Peter Gamble of VirtualBrum and are reproduced with his kind permission. Other Sarehole, Perrot's Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks pictures are also courtesy of VirtualBrum. Visit VirtualBrum's Tolkien Birmingham site at www.virtualbrum.co.uk/tolkien.htm

IMPORTANT NOTE: The copyrights in the works of J R R Tolkien are owned by the TolkienEstate. 'TOLKIEN' is a registered trade mark of The J R R Tolkien EstateLimited and is used on this site with kind permission. The trail is not,however, endorsed or approved by the Tolkien Estate and the views expressedin describing it are those of its author.

This site is in no way endorsed by/affiliated with Tolkien Enterprises, the Saul Zaentz Company, or New Line Cinema.

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