Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Destination Life: Tolkien's Middle Earth

Michelle Styles discovers the inspirational landscape of Middle Earth

According to Peter Jackson, New Zealand provides the ultimate scenery for Tolkien. However, Tolkien never went to New Zealand and found his inspiration elsewhere. One of the places where he is supposed to have found inspiration is the Ribble Valley. His two sons were at school at Stonyhurst in the 1940s and his son Micheal later taught at Stonyhurst. The Tolkiens often stayed in the area, particularly in the NewLodge. Stonyhurst also proved inspirational to one Arthur Conan Doyle who went to school there. Two of his schoolmates were named Patrick Sherlock and Moriarty. The long walk with its yew trees was supposed to have inspired bits in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
It is known that Tolkien penned much of Lord of the Rings in an upper classroom at Stonyhurst. It is thought that Pendle Hill which dominates the area served as either the Misty Mountains or the Lonely Mountain. Pendle of course has a long association with witches and magic as the Witches of Pendle in 17 century is one of the best known examples of English witchcraft.

Stonyhurst was built by the Shireburnes and it is thought that he gave a nod to them by naming the Shire and the river the Shirebourne. Although the Hacking ferry no longer exists, there was a ferry across the river up until the 1950s.

The view from the New Lodge echoes the view from Tom Bombadil's house and Hurst Green with its nearby green mounds is thought to have inspired Hobbiton.
The Ribble Valley is the geographical centre or middle of Britain.
There is a walking trail that takes in the area.
To one side of the Ribble Valley is the Forest of Bowland. It is a Forest in the sense of the king's hunting ground. And Bowland is basically owned by the Duchy of Lancaster (aka The Queen) and so remains relatively unspoilt.

There is a timeless air to it and when you are there, you can believe you have entered Middle Earth. Bowland comes from the Anglo Saxon word for bend in the river rather than being the Land of the Bow. However for a long time Bowbearer of Bowland was a title given to one of the king's attendants and Bowman is a Lanchashire name. Bowland has been a part of the Duchy of Lancaster since the 13th century. And in Lancaster, instead of giving a toast to the Queen, one gives a toast to the Duke.
Because my eldest is at Lancaster University and I am a great believer of taking him out for a good meal about once a term (a friend of the family did this for me when I was a student as my parents were too far away). Thus we have been to stay at the Inn at Whitewell in the Forest of Bowland several times recently.
The inn is one of England's great coaching inns and features such delights as four poster beds, wood fires and excellent food as well as plenty of hot water for a deep bath. In other words, a world away from student living. The walls of the Inn are covered in Regency and Victorian prints. They keys are attached to cricket balls. Mobile phones do not work and the Inn's phones are rotary black Bakelite phones. In other words, you step back in time to be pampered.

The Inn is situated in a bend on the River Hodder and it is possible to watch various birds and fish from the pub's windows.
We had planned this time on doing the Tolkien Trail but the weather was awful. As my husband drove from Lancaster over the Trough of Bowland, the rain turned to sleet and then to heavy snow. I had a vision of having to shelter in a disused barn...However, the car just made it through the winding pass and we arrived at the inn. We stayed in a cosy room in the coach house which was really a suite. My son had the sofa bed in the sitting area and we had the bed hung with bed curtains. The bookcase was crammed with books, including several Mills & Boon. The lower half of the bookcase proved to be false and a minibar complete with milk for coffee and tea was hidden behind.
Given the weather, we gave the walk up as a bad idea (my son had not bothered to bring his hiking boots in any case) and had tea and scones in the pub overlooking the Hodder. The freshly made scones were a delight and the dinner even better. But best of all was spending time with my son.
Lots of things in life are better shared.

Michelle Styles's latest North American release is A Noble Captive and it is out now on eharlequin.


  1. That inn sounds gorgeous.

    And you're right - lots of things are better shared.

    (The Hound of the Baskervilles was also inspired when Conan Doyle stayed at the Hill House in Happisburgh, Norfolk. Smack in the middle of Black Shuck country...)

  2. The Lord of Bowland is not the Queen but a Cambridge don. Check out Wikipedia on this. Apparently, the Duchy only acquired the Forest in 1937 - it was in private hands from 1661. But the Duchy failed to acquire the title when it bought the land. One of those quirks of history.

  3. Hi,

    Of course Baskerville Hall (Clyro Court) nr Hay on Wye was the home of the Baskerville family, of whom Conan Doyle was a personal friend and stayed regularly at the house.

    The legend of the Baskerville Hound is local to the area around Hay on Wye which inspired the novel of same. Conan Doyle in respect of Baskerville family wishes set his novel "The Hound of the Baskerville's" in Devon.

  4. Forgot to mention,

    Trywn Llanbedrog where Tolkien’s family spent the summer holidays of 1920, and Tolkien made a couple of drawings.

    And, dispelling all myths of Dark Satanic Hills of England having inspired J.R.R. to write Lord of the Rings etc, it was in fact The mountains of Wales: Venedotia (Gwynedd), where Chrysophylax the Dragon dwelt (now the Snowdonia National Park)

    It figures that the mountains of Wales featured heavily if one looks closely at the map of Middle Earth, The Severn taken into account. ;)