Where can you experience Tolkien’s Middle-earth?
Middle-earth is the imaginary world created by J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) as the setting for his novels, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Tolkien took his inspirations from a wide range of mythologies and cultures, including those of Finland, Iceland, Brittany, and Anglo-Saxon England. But there were also many real places that found their way into his stories, several of which have connections to the National Trust.
Cornwall and the sea
The sea constantly evokes feelings of loss, exile, and longing in Tolkien’s works. The immortal elves feel the pull of the western sea as a route to escape the mortality of Middle-earth. Gondor and Arnor, the kingdoms of men, are founded by refugees from the drowned island of Númenor. Tolkien himself experienced a recurrent dream of a great wave overwhelming a green land.
Tolkien’s seascapes were strongly influenced by the Cornish coast. He first experienced them during a walking holiday on the Lizard in the summer of 1914, when he visited and sketched Kynance Cove. West Cornwall and the legend of lost lands under the sea continued to haunt his imagination for the rest of his life.
White Horse Hill and the Berkshire downs
Tolkien had undertaken an earlier hiking tour of the Berkshire downs in 1912 and continued to visit them from Oxford in later years. These grassy, windswept uplands entered into The Lord of the Rings in various forms. With their Neolithic burial mounds, such as Wayland’s Smithy, they seem to be the model for the Barrow Downs, where the hobbits are captured by a barrow-wight.
Adjacent to White Horse Hill, Dragon Hill was believed by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, to be the ‘real’ Weathertop, where Frodo Baggins is stabbed by a Ringwraith. The prehistoric White Horse itself appears as the heraldic symbol of the Kingdom of Rohan, a white horse on a green field.
‘Tavrobel’ and the Shugborough Estate
In 1916, with Tolkien in military training nearby, his new wife Edith moved to the village of Great Haywood in Staffordshire. The village was remembered by Tolkien as a place of refuge from war and was mythologized in his early Book of Lost Tales as Tavrobel, an elvish place of learning and culture.
The nearby Shugborough Hall may have been the model for Tavrobel’s ‘House of the Hundred Chimneys’. As a place where lore and memories are preserved, Tavrobel was a precursor in Tolkien’s imagination for Rivendell, the house of Elrond.
Throughout his life Tolkien felt a deep affinity for the landscapes of England, especially those he had first encountered as a young man. In his writings, sometimes only years later, these remembered places were transfigured into the luminous landscapes of Middle-earth.