A Reflection from Sarehole
by Chubb of the Shire
Visited Sarehole recently. It was quite
wonderful and fulfilling to actually walk among the very places that
are said to have inspired Tolkien. They're all very humble remnants of
the World that Tolkien grew up in- nothing extravagant...I can imagine
that some people might get disappointed, expecting to see idyllic hills
and lakes sweeping across the outskirts of Birmingham, a ready-made
'Shire' that one might be able to immerse oneself in. But it is not
like that; for sadly, and as Tolkien himself lamented when he returned
there from Oxford, the Urban sprawl has quite taken over even the outer
city. It is hard to believe that it was once a Hamlet!
Various places that still remained included
the Mediaeval Water-Mill, Mosely Bogs (inspiration for the Old Forest),
the River-Walk and a Ford hidden behind some cottages, that still
flooded and receded naturally.
What I loved about visiting these places was
that they were still so quiet, remote and antiquated and seemingly
unacknowledged amidst a global Tolkien-Frenzy. The Mill itself, one
would think ideal for commercial exploitation, had to be saved from
dereliction and decay by a special fund that was started up by Tolkien
himself in the 1960's. Now it is well looked after by the locals of the
area, but has lost none of it's rural charm and beauty. It seems to
still smell of grain that once filled its every eave and nook, and the
bread made in the oven room, if that's possible. The wooden stairs
creak with the wear of so many years, hazardously steep, while the
beams are low and the only light comes from the small windows allowing
shafts of sunlight in.
The bogs were perhaps the most enjoyable part
of my visit. It is described in the local guide as a place that was
'missed out by civilisation'. How very tru- everything is overgrown, no
grooming or cultivating has gone on- yet it was a lovely demonstration
of what nature can do on its own. Wild and colourful flowers grew
everywhere, while the grass and shrubs went above the knees. Ruins of
old stone stairways could be found dotted around the woods which fed
the imagination all the more, while there were also dark and eerie
swampy areas which brought out the adventurous hobbit in me!
Such relics of nature and time can be found
anywhere no doubt- but the significance and relation of these places to
the books that I love was always with me as I visited them, and so had
a great impact on me. As mentioned, it was not for their grandeur
(there was none), nor for any overt over-egged claim to be at the heart
of Tolkien's work (the link was only subtley conveyed) that I was so
warmed by these sites. But I was drawn to its simplicity, and found
that it revived my earliest sentiments when first reading Tolkien. It's
a wonderful feeling to know that there are others- indeed thousands-
who share your appreciation of something that is so close to you heart.
But I don't think it's unfair to say also, that there is another
special feeling when you have discovered something wonderful which you
think is yet unknown to others and thus becomes more precious to you.
That was how I felt when I first read the books- it was like a warm
inner glow that stayed with me wherever I went. I think it has faded.
Will it ever come back?