On the recent international Star Wars Day I decided to explore the heritage of the other Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings by checking out the Tolkien Trail in Birmingham.
There are 10 parts to the Tolkien trail if you are following the guide, of these I did three and a half. I visited Sarehole Mill, The Bog, Tolkien Walk and tried to find Tolkien’s house. I did the first four as they are all located next to one another while the other parts will have to wait for another day.
My friends and I traveled to Sarehole Mill via car, the Mill is located approximately 4 miles outside Birmingham City Center. There is a small car park at the side of the Mill which is free. By public transport it is very easy to take a train from Birmingham New Street to Hall Green leaving only a short (approx half a mile) 10 minute walk.
I hadn’t planned very well for our excursion so we arrived at the Mill for 10:30 AM, unfortunately the Mill doesn’t open till 12 PM. So we decided to start by trying to track down J.R.R. Tolkien’s family home at 264 Wake Green Road. We walked up and down Wake Green but were unable to find the house. This is probably for the best as it is a private property, I doubt the residents would have wanted a bunch of wallies posing for photos out the front.
Next we decided to visit the Moseley Bog. The Bog can be reached via Thirlmere Drive through a pleasant-looking housing estate or from Yardley Wood Road. I’d recommend the Yardley Wood side as this is the main entrance and the experience is laid out with this entrance in mind.
The route is guided by maps on info boards and a looped path, running to the Bog and back to the main entrance. There are a number of sights to see and spot throughout the woods, including the Burnt Mounds, Grand Old Oaks (thought to have inspired the Ents) and finally the Bog itself. The Woods in parts seemed similar to any other public park and in others you could definitely see the inspiration for Tolkien’s stories. This was particularly apparent as we traveled through the wetlands towards the Bog. The Bog felt like the main event, a really beautiful clearing at the back-end of the park. The view was spectacular, the only thing it lacked was some mist and maybe a couple of Orcs. Sadly some idiots had thrown litter into the water which was a shame.
As we headed back towards the Mill we passed the Hungry Hobbit Cafe (we were hungry and it was approaching lunch time) but disappointingly it was closed. I did peak through the shutters in the hopes of viewing the Middle Earth experience we would be missing out on, maybe glimpsing a traditional Hobbit Café. It actually looked very sleek and modern, in fact exactly like any other cafe, it appears the only part of it that was themed is the name and font! There may have been a Middle Earth Menu but I was unable to find out :(.
We still had time to wait before the Mill opened so embarked on the Shire Country Park Walk, which takes in Greet Mill Meadows, Blackberry Way, Burbury Brickworks culminating at the Ackers. This walk is mostly pathway based and follows the River Cole. We did deviate from the path where possible opting to trudge through mud and some wetland. This was fun as we tried to feel the excitement of Bilbo and Sam journeying to Mount Doom. As a result we ran into a couple of dead ends, occasionally retracing our steps or having to hop from rock to rock to cross the river to stay on course. The rock hopping is something I wouldn’t advise as I don’t want anyone to injure themselves on my recommendation and try to sue me. This is a long walk, which I did in trainers but with hindsight I should have worn boots (my trainers are now a mess).
When we returned from the Shire Country Park Walk the Mill had opened so we entered the grounds. Sarehole Mill is one of only two working water mills in Birmingham. There has been a Mill at the site for nearly 500 years with the current building having been there since 1768.
We entered the grounds into a small court-yard with three open buildings, the first is the Tea Room, the second is the Mill and last the oven room. Heading to the Tea Room first we were warmly greeted by a staff member. They serve drinks and snacks which was fine although it would have been nice to have the option of something a bit more substantial, we chose tea and cake. The cake was discounted due to lots leftover from a cake festival the previous day. We sat outside to enjoy the weather, the cake was super tasty, I would have happily paid full price. The Tea room also has a small souvenir section and even sells flour made on site.
When we were done we paid at the counter for entrance to the Mill and headed in. The Mill is spread out on multiple levels and is negotiated via heading up and down different sets of stairs. There are lots of low beams to watch out for, fortunately I’m short so this wasn’t an issue. The Mill has been beautifully maintained and is in fantastic condition. As we looked around we saw information panels and questions for children. For the Lord of the Rings fan there’s a mini treasure hunt, carved plaques each with a different character and a clue to the next plaque (I found them all ….SMASHED IT!).
The tour even heads outside to overlook an amazing pond, it’s a great view and is litter free. One of the final sections is a room devoted to The Lord of the Rings, it is painted to look like you have entered from a Hobbit’s house. There are a number of info panels about the Mill, surrounding areas and their significance to Tolkien. At the back of the room is a seating area with a video about Tolkien. This was a really enjoyable and gave extra information about Tolkien, the area and the Mill. It really set the scene for a Lord of the Rings fan.
The last areas contain an activity room mostly aimed at children, then a room all about the history of Tolkien and the Mill. From here we headed over to the Oven room for a quick peek inside. There wasn’t much to see but it’s nice to know that they bake their own bread on site.
My day job is working at a very busy tourist attraction in Birmingham, the previous day I experienced over 3500 people piling through the doors. So I was unsure how hectic the Mill and nearby sites would be on a Bank Holiday Monday. Pleasantly it was a total contrast, it was calm, peaceful and thoroughly enjoyable.
The day on the whole was great, however there were a couple of negatives. The lack of anywhere nearby to sit down and get a decent lunch was a shame. Maybe if the cafe had been open although there was a Fish and Chip shop and a Sainsburys so there are options. It was a shame that people feel the need to throw litter all over the place, as this spoilt the bog slightly. These are pretty small grumbles and didn’t impact on the day over all.
This is very much an experience for a brighter day. It was really enjoyable sitting in the court-yard eating cake. I’d recommend doing the Mill before the Bog as this really set the tone, helping to create a bit of atmosphere and context. Preferably do the Mill first and maybe even watch the Trilogy before going to visit.
Like Lord of the Rings this involves lots of walking, so if you don’t enjoy walking or being outside you might not like all of this experience. If you are planning to just go to only the Mill you may be left feeling slightly underwhelmed. As although the Mill is a definite must see, on its own it is a small attraction. So make sure your take some comfy foot ware and see as much as possible.
A great alternative to a busy tourist attraction, I can’t recommend it enough and a real shame it isn’t a more popular tourist destination. Though I wouldn’t want it to become over run by hoards of visitors. As we walked around we saw plenty of other fanboys, I clocked lots of different geek culture t-shirts, which added to a nice sense of fan community.
The whole experience was excellent, keeping us busy from the morning until afternoon with things to see. So find a day with good weather, round-up some friends and head over to Sarehole Mill for a great day out.