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?