DIY Tolkien Tour

Although the Lord of the Rings movies have irrevocably entangled the novels with the country of New Zealand, J.R.R Tolkien spent much of his youth in Birmingham, England, which has proudly claimed many of his childhood haunts as inspiration for various scenes in the famous stories.

As a Lord of the Rings enthusiast (who’s already visited Hobbiton), I was excited to visit some of these locations on my trip! Be warned- while some locations lean into their literary heritage, many others are simply part of the area and shouldn’t be disrupted by groups of tourists.

I would recommend using a car to get around these areas- and luckily we had a friend that was willing to chauffeur us around the area.

The first stop on our journey to the past was Sarehole Mill. Having grown up just a short walk away from the grounds, the area is thought to be the inspiration for Hobbiton. Though Sarehole is a lot more built up now than it was in Tolkien’s childhood, the nearby Shire County Park (named after the books, not the other way around) offers a glimpse into what the rural countryside may have looked like at the turn of the 19th century.

Sarehole Mill is a listed building not only for its connection to Tolkien; there has been a mill on this site since 1542- though the current building dates back to the mid 18th century. Guided tours are available for £8 per adult, but the grounds themselves are free to roam around. I enjoyed wandering though the small wooded area next to the pond behind the mill. Keep an eye out for Ent inspired figures carved in the trees! There are also replicas of the two towers from the movies on display in the area.

The Mill occasionally offers Tolkien specific tours, and available dates are listed on their website (here).

We made sure to wander through the Shire County Park and did a quick pass by of Tolkien’s childhood home. This home is inhabited by another family, so make sure to give it no more than a quick wave before moving on- they deserve their privacy, after all!

From here, we headed over to Moseley Bog, which is said to be the inspiration for the Old Forest in the novels. This seemed to be a popular place to walk dogs, and had both dirt footpaths and boardwalks across the more boggy areas. Being a particularly frosty winter day, we didn’t encounter too much in the way of mud, but I can imagine that it may be an issue in warmer weather.

A little chilled now, we did a quick drive-by of Edgbaston Waterworks and Perrott’s Folly- historical towers both thought to be the inspiration for some of the towers scattered throughout Tolkien’s novels, if not the titular “Two Towers” themselves.

We wrapped up our journey with a sort of awkward U-Turn in the car park of the University of Birmingham, where Tolkien spent six weeks recovering from trench fever during World War I. The University’s Chamberlain Tower, with its illuminated clock face, is thought to have provided the idea for the Eye of Sauron itself (though personally, I think this one is a stretch). The University is an active school, so try not to disturb any students!

This sort of self-guided tour is not as touristy as other Lord of the Rings sites I’ve visited, and requires a fair bit of imagination. I wouldn’t recommend this to those only casually into J.R.R. Tolkien, but it’s definitely an insightful and enjoyable trip for hardcore fans of his work!

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