England’s own Middle Earth: the inspiration behind The Hobbit

Date Posted: 06/11/2012

Pictured: Northumberland's Corby's Crag has found fame through the promotion of Peter Jackson's impending blockbuster The Hobbit.

As fans of The Hobbit gear up for the release of Peter Jackson’s blockbuster film, discover the sites and attractions of England which inspired Tolkien’s fantasy adventure.

Scheduled for release this December, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is this Christmas’s hotly anticipated big blockbuster.

The film follows the plot laid out by J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel The Hobbit, in which Bilbo Baggins is set a quest to find a hoard of treasure guarded by an evil dragon, Smaug.

The desolate wastelands, eerie forests and wild waters that Bilbo discovers on his journey might have been filmed in New Zealand, but the Birmingham-raised and Oxford-educated author found inspiration for his fantasy adventures much closer to home... 

BIRMINGHAM: Childhood memories and mysterious lands

J.R.R. Tolkien first moved to England at the age of three, when the family relocated from South Africa to King's Heath just outside Birmingham. Tolkien admitted that his writings had been greatly influenced by some of the places he grew up around in Birmingham.

Just a short walk from the Tolkien’s family house on Wake Green Road is Sarehole Mill, where Ronald (J.R.R) played with his sister Hilary as a child, and is thought to be the inspiration behind The Shire. Each May, a Middle Earth Weekend is held alongside the mill, in the Shire Country Park, to celebrate Tolkien and the area.

In 1900 the family moved to Edgbaston. Tolkien fans will be familiar with the Two Towers, and it is believed that they were inspired by two buildings local to this area - Perrott's Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks Tower.

To celebrate the release of the film, Birmingham Tours is running a guided Tolkien Tour on 15th December, taking visitors on an ‘unexpected journey' around the city. Visit Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog, which is recalled in Tolkien’s description of the Old Forest, last of the primeval wild woods, where Tom Bombadil lived. Along the way, guides will bring alive the background which led to the creation of Tolkien's fantasy novels.

OXFORD: Studies, family life and final resting place

As a young man, Tolkien left Birmingham for Oxford, where he studied at Exeter College. There, he enjoyed the company of a group of like-minded men including C.S. Lewis, and they formed a group called the Inklings, meeting regularly in Oxford pubs, the Eagle and Child and the Lamb and Flag.

Tolkien returned to Oxford in 1925 and became professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, a post he held for 20 years until elected professor of English. During his time here, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954). After his death in September 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien was buried next to his wife in Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford.

Book a driver-guided group tour of Tolkien's Oxford and see houses where J.R.R. and his wife Edith lived, where they raised a family and where J.R.R. wrote his famous Father Christmas letters to his children. Visit Exeter and Pembroke colleges and the pubs in which he often sat and smoked his pipe during meetings with C.S. Lewis.

CHEDDAR GORGE: Dramatic landscapes and inspirational heights

In 1916, Tolkien married Edith Bratt, and the pair took a seven-day honeymoon beside the sea in the pretty Somerset town of Clevedon. Their visit included a trip to Cheddar Gorge, which left a deep impression on the writer. Tolkien wrote later that the caves provided the basis for the jewelled caverns that lay in the White Mountains behind Helm's Deep in Rohan.

From April to September, an open-top double-decker bus can take groups on a sightseeing tour through Cheddar Gorge, beneath rocky pinnacles and sheer rock faces. Climb the 274 steps to the lookout tower for stunning views of this limestone countryside, before embarking on a three-mile cliff-top walk around the country's biggest gorge.

FOREST OF DEAN: Ancient trees and woodland floors

Tolkien was a frequent visitor to The Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, which has inspired some of Britain's most imaginative writers. Tolkien helped to excavate Roman remains near Lydney at Lydney Park in 1929, shortly before he began work on The Hobbit.

There are several sites in this area where Roman opencast mining has left strange and mysterious landscapes, labyrinths of tunnels, grottos and tracks overgrown with mosses and ferns. The ancient woodland site of Puzzlewood is likely to have provided inspiration for Tolkien's fables. Explore the maze of trails and pathways for yourselves on a group day out at the attraction, and discover secret caves and ancient trees.

NORTHUMBERLAND: The real shire?
Whether J.R.R. Tolkien ever visited Northumberland is unknown, but locals and tourism officials from the county were stunned to see a recognisable county view brought to fame by the promotional poster for Peter Jackson's new blockbuster.

Following the launch of the poster, a fan of The Hobbit and of Northumberland proclaimed that the poster showed Sir Ian McKellen's character, Gandalf, standing against a backdrop of rolling Northumberland hills.

Corby’s Crag has long been a well-known Northumberland viewing point, and is the location at which this image was taken. Hiking groups can venture on a 7.5-mile circular walk that takes in the best of this area's sweeping views. Stand at Corby’s Crag, above Alnwick, looking west towards Edlingham Castle and the Simonside Hills and recreate the scene for yourself (wizard's beard and staff optional).

This list of sites was compiled by VisitEngland. Group travel organisers can visit the website of England’s official tourist board for further advice on planning a group visit to any of the featured sites and attractions.

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