Wednesday 22 July 2020
In Honour of JRR Tolkien
We got up and drove to Oxford today, the spiritual home of JRR Tolkien author of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and a host of other important 20th Century books.
I have loved Tolkien’s work ever since I was first encouraged to read The Hobbit by a teacher at school (a long time ago). It was in a Library session at Secondary school and I had been limiting my reading at Library sessions to non-Fiction books.
“You really should read some fiction – try The Hobbit”.
From that moment on, there was no turning back. I read the hobbit, then went on to purchase the George Allen & Unwin Seventeenth impression 1977. I still have that copy. It’s falling apart after multiple readings as a teenager
I more recently purchased a second had copy, in much better condition than mine and started re-reading it. I find it still as enthralling and pertinent today as ever. This book has inspired generations of fantasy from novels & series of novels, through pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying through to computer games – last gen, this gen and next gen!
The next series I went on to read was The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. This trilogy (followed by a second trilogy) was incredibly influenced by the template Tolkien had laid down. I later read The Silmarillion.
And So To Oxford
So, making the journey to Oxford was a pilgrimage in honour of JRR Tolkien. I wanted to see where Tolkien spent his time in Oxford, writing these great works – as far as was possible in the midst of a global pandemic.
Oxford is a one hour destination from Silverdale. It is therefore eminently doable in a day, with plenty of time for sightseeing. It was a beautiful day and we arrived in the centre of Oxford to park in an underground car park. We had parked here when we visited before, with MIRRLESS (another Tolkien pilgrimage). The car park opened out into a square with a market and attendant Cafe Nero. It would have been rude to not socially distance and partake of a coffee and morning croissant confectionary, so we did.
Fortified, we set off in search of Blackwell’s Book Store. It was rumoured to have a well-stocked Tolkien section. We were not disappointed. There are still Tolkien books I do not possess (it’s true! My collection barely scratches the surface) and Blackwell’s had them. I did succumb to a particularly erudite hardback that deals, in detail with the flora of Tolkien’s world. I hadn’t seen this book before. It was a real find however another book I have to find space for aboard Silverdale.
Downstairs, Blackwell’s has a small exhibition of rare, mostly first edition books. In a glass case at the bottom of the stairs was a copy of The Road Goes Ever On. There were also Other Science Fiction books by Ballard and Michael Moorcock among others.
The Eagle and Child
Next stop after a short walk was The Eagle and Child – a pub where Tolkien sat with C S Lewis and discussed The Lord of the Rings among other things. The pub sign shows a child being carried away by an eagle. This has been noted as and surely is the inspiration for the eagles in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Gwaihir the Windlord – The lord of eagles rescues Gandalf and participates further in the ‘Rings’ story. The pub was closed due to the pandemic but looking through the window, we got a feel for those meetings.
We had a break for brunch (I liked to think of it a second breakfast) at the Handlebar café & kitchen whose Vegetarian and Vegan food was excellent. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Afterwards, we wandered through a deserted Oxford with a ‘one way’ system in place to socially distance any visitors that hand braved the City. This was presumably very different to when Tolkien was living and writing there.
Tolkien’s Resting Place
We decided to drive out of Oxford to find Tolkien’s final resting place. JRR Tolkien is buried in an unassuming spot in an unassuming grave in a graveyard just on the outskirts of the town centre. He is buried with his wife and it seemed a fitting place for a great writer – no pomp or glory that, though justly deserved, would have taken away from the kind of person I believe he was. Rest in peace.
This is the Way We Rollright
Finally, we set off to find the Rollright Stones just outside Chipping Norton, a short(ish) drive from Oxford. The Rollright Stones are an ancient site consisting of three separate areas. It was a long, dusty drive. However, once there, the views afforded are spectacular and the site (or sites) are a fascinating reason for visiting. Our main reason for visiting was the fact that this area may have been the inspiration for The Barrow-downs in The Lord of the Rings.
The Rollright Stones consist of three parts: The Kings Men stone circle, the King Stone, and the Whispering Knights
The Whispering Knights has an area set aside to an outdoor art trail. We Wandered around the mazes made from willow cane and cut grass paths. Later, sitting peacefully, in amongst the trees and grass it brought the area to life.
In our journey in honour of JRR Tolkien, we felt we had scratched the surface of finding Tolkien’s Oxford. We hopefully honoured his contribution to British literature in some small way. There is plenty more to find and see that relates to JRR Tolkien in this beautiful City and we will return in the future to explore a little more.
rp – peace and narrowboats