VISIT | Take a Journey through the Malvern Hills of Tolkien’s Imagination | Worcestershire
The Mountains of Middle Earth
Discover the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire - the hills that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien
Hauntingly compelling views and a legend or two
Alive with the spirit of adventure
"...this Worcestershire wonder - clambering hills and views that simply endure..."
The Malvern Hills in Worcestershire was the backdrop to periods of Tolkien’s life – his visits with C.S. Lewis as a student from Oxford University and the far-off ‘green hillsides and white mountains’ of his brother’s fruit farm at Evesham.
Tolkien never forgot the memories of his life. And he embedded them in a tale of fantasy, conflict, friendship and personal responsibilities. He wrote about dark forests filled with terrifying creatures, of valleys shining with angelic singing, of a countryside full of rural closeness, character and charm.
The story, of course, the Lord of the Rings. The author – John Ronald Reuel Tolkien; otherwise known as J.R.R. Tolkien.
He was the author of my childhood stories, the painter of my childish dreams. He wrote The Hobbit – a singular book about an ordinary person pulled into a journey that allowed others to see his extra-ordinary skills. The dragons, the elves, the dwarves were all a bonus!
But back to Tolkien…
The Lord of the Rings is littered with the examples of his life. They are places, hidden by beguiling elven language and fantastical imagination. Tossed in rich description, the fantasy, the characters, but to see beyond would take you back to the man, the writer, the scribe of the piece – Tolkien.
Tolkien was born in South Africa from parents born of Birmingham and the West Midlands but who returned to Britain in 1895 when he was just three years with his mother and younger brother Hilary. It is at this point his father, who had remained working in Bloemfontain in South Africa died from rheumatic fever the following year. It is possibly where young Tolkien began to develop his imagination with his infancy filled with African images.
His childhood with his mother growing up was at Sarehole, then a paradise village outside the city limits of Brum. A watermill, rural outlooks, the river, the fields… Was this the Shire of his mind?
But this life was ripped from them as education, and eventually their own mother’s death led them to the darker, dirty passageways of the city. But not before tuition and an encouragement in exploration and reading, led to that trademark Tolkien quest for knowledge and experience. Places. Plants. Ideas. Language.
There is more, so much more than I could ever hope to write about Tolkien – my own faint efforts to understand an imagination I could only dream of creating in my own mental landscape. But I can sit here and see the Malvern Hills, and see parts, glimmers of land that may at once have given life to idea.
At Oxford University, a fellow academic (a renowned story-teller in his own right) C.S. Lewis joined him with a small circle of like-minded individuals in a literary group known as the Inklings. Lewis knew Malvern well from school and from his bouts of ill health, he brought Tolkien on visits there. Imagine the creations, the abstract discussions, the theological intrigues that would have been let loose in their company.
For these were men, and friends of men who had seen war at close quarters. The Great War. The First of the World Wars. Not that they knew that then. But men of a class, of a background who had (in Tolkien’s case not entirely with an open heart) enlisted as officers to fight on the Western Front.
Tolkien was a man, like others, haunted by the responsibility he felt for his men as an officer and enchanted by the characters of men he came to like. Tolkien’s war ended on the Somme with the Lancashire Fusiliers when he contracted trench fever (a lice-borne infection) but not before he had seen the worst of the Somme, the gravity of war, the sacrifice of men and the brotherhood of the army. Tolkien’s brother, Hilary also served. For these perhaps were the Black Gates, the dead marshes and the fires of Mordor.
When each man’s war was over, they returned to a Britain much changed. Hilary came back to find a life desired by many. He found his way to Evesham and a life which came to be characterised by family and fruit-farming. It must have been quite the idyll for those whose dreams were affected by the sights and sounds of war. But in its background, its backdrop were those hills of Worcestershire – the Malvern Hills.
Some say that Tolkien found his home in his brother’s life at Evesham. Some that the Malvern Hills were the White Mountains he described so detailed between Rohan and Gondor. But the Malvern Hills were a part of Tolkien’s story. The source of imagination. A place of immense beauty, of fresh air, of magnificent views, of a life beyond the cities and towns.
This was the Malvern Hills of Tolkien’s days – of challenge, of conversation, of adventure and of the wild. Even if today, the hills are not so wild, not so filled with adventure – they are full of the walkers, the groups, the friends and individuals who seek out this place on sunny days, on rain-drenched afternoons, on windy kite-flying days. Not so much of Gondor or Rohan – but who cares? I’m sure the Tolkiens wouldn’t have minded.
Directions and Map |
Find the Malvern Hills in the West Midlands accessed from Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester, Tewkesbury or Upton-upon-Severn