The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum


Visit The *EVEN NEWER* Barrow-Downs Photo Page

Go Back   The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum > Middle-Earth Discussions > Novices and Newcomers
User Name
Password
Register FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read


Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 03-13-2020, 12:35 PM   #1
Huinesoron
Overshadowed Eagle
 
Huinesoron's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2017
Location: The north-west of the Old World, east of the Sea
Posts: 3,717
Huinesoron is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Huinesoron is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Shield A walk on the Barrow-Downs

(Cross-posted from Dreamwidth and Livejournal, this is the latest in my series of mostly-not-Tolkien-related Friday Blogs.)

On the southern limits of the Shire (Oxfordshire, specifically) lie the Berkshire Downs, part of the greater North Wessex Downs. It is stated in various sources that J.R.R. Tolkien visited this area - once on a hiking trip in 1912, and later with his family while working on either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings - and that it inspired the haunted Barrow Downs of LotR. This week, I got a chance to visit the area, and let me tell you, I am entirely convinced.



Image: Google Street View

The Downs are a world without a horizon. The landscape is all gently rolling hills, and other than the trees which stud them there's no indication of how far away any given green mound is. If it weren't for the road, it would be shockingly easy to become lost, wandering the hills until darkness took them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien: Fog on the Barrow-Downs
Their way wound along the floor of the hollow, and round the green feet of a steep hill into another deeper and broader valley, and then over the shoulder of further hills, and down their long limbs, and up their smooth sides again, up on to new hill-tops and down into new valleys. There was no tree nor any visible water: it was a country of grass and short springy turf, silent except for the whisper of the air over the edges of the land, and high lonely cries of strange birds.
And not all the hills are natural. The seven barrows of, uh, Seven Barrows lie right alongside the road, and I'm certain I saw others crowning distant hills. I can imagine mist rolling between them, a silver carpet studded with green featureless mounds.

One thing Tolkien did not mention is the shocking suddenness with which the Downs fall away. From where we eventually parked, the south view was the gentle hills of the Downs; the north was flat countryside, stretching for more miles than I can count.

We turned out backs on that green country, heading up into the wild lands. Specifically, we took the ancient Ridgeway, following it down a shallow dip and back up the far side. A line of trees marked the roadway ahead of us, but our course took us beyond it: to the top of a shallow rise, where the Great Barrow waited.

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien: Fog on the Barrow-Downs
Suddenly he saw, towering ominous before him and leaning slightly towards one another like the pillars of a headless door, two huge standing stones.

Image: Own work

This is Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound dating back eight thousand years. At one time it was revered among the Saxons as the forge of the gods; later it was overgrown, a cave in the woods. But at all times it has been a place of power - tucked away on its hillside, like something out of another world.

And you can picture Tolkien coming up here with his children, and them playing around the 60 foot grassy mound. You can picture them clambering into the small chambers between the great leaning stones, and calling out "help, help, the monster has got us!". And then along comes Tolkien and peeks the head of a raggy Dutch doll over the stones: "Fear not - Tom Bombadil is here to rescue you!" You can see it, when you stand by the barrow.

When you leave the Barrow, the Middle-earth connections become if anything even stronger. Ahead of you, as you walk east along the ancient road of the Ridgeway, lies Uffington Castle - a great Iron Age hill-fort, with its entrance facing you: two great earthen banks, and a cut between them like a grand gateway.

Quote:
Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien: Fog on the Barrow-Downs
[i]Certainly the distances had now all become hazy and deceptive, but there could be no doubt that the Downs were coming to an end. A long valley lay below them winding away northwards, until it came to an opening between two steep shoulders. Beyond, there seemed to be no more hills.
And beyond that? Beyond that lies the Uffington White Horse, a chalk-carved figure of a galloping or rearing horse. A sign of a prancing pony, if you will, though there is no inn on the hilltop. Beyond that, on the very edge of the Downs, stands Dragon Hill - a flat-topped hill set apart from the rest of the uplands. It is said that Christopher Tolkien believed the area of White Horse Hill inspired Weathertop, and Dragon Hill certainly looks the part (even if it is a little small).


Image: Own work

The correlations aren't exact. Tolkien wasn't one to transpose our world directly into Middle-earth. But driving and walking through this ancient landscape, it's hard not to feel like one has at least one foot on the Barrow-Downs.

hS
Huinesoron is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-13-2020, 12:48 PM   #2
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,262
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Thank you for sharing both the pictures as well as the narrative.

Tolkien, of course, embarked upon the creation of the early versions of his Legendarium as a mythology for England. While his writings later diverged from his early goal, there is no doubt that the English countryside inspired many of his descriptions of Middle Earth's lands. Your photos seem to confirm this.
__________________
Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the Elven-land.
Mithadan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-13-2020, 03:31 PM   #3
Huinesoron
Overshadowed Eagle
 
Huinesoron's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2017
Location: The north-west of the Old World, east of the Sea
Posts: 3,717
Huinesoron is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Huinesoron is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithadan View Post
Thank you for sharing both the pictures as well as the narrative.

Tolkien, of course, embarked upon the creation of the early versions of his Legendarium as a mythology for England. While his writings later diverged from his early goal, there is no doubt that the English countryside inspired many of his descriptions of Middle Earth's lands. Your photos seem to confirm this.
Oh, absolutely! And I can't blame him: there's some really striking landscape out there.

One thing I missed mentioning is that the white horse is also on the banner of Rohan. It seems unconnected, what with Uffington being a Neolithic Stone Age site... until you realise that in the early 20th century, it was thought to have been carved by Saxons. Which makes it /very/ relevant to Rohan.

hS
Huinesoron is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-14-2020, 09:34 AM   #4
William Cloud Hicklin
Loremaster of Annķminas
 
William Cloud Hicklin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 2,270
William Cloud Hicklin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.William Cloud Hicklin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.William Cloud Hicklin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithadan View Post
Thank you for sharing both the pictures as well as the narrative.

Tolkien, of course, embarked upon the creation of the early versions of his Legendarium as a mythology for England. While his writings later diverged from his early goal, there is no doubt that the English countryside inspired many of his descriptions of Middle Earth's lands. Your photos seem to confirm this.

Tolkien unequivocally said that the theatre of action was "the North-west of the Old World, east of the Sea," and that the Shire lay at "the approximate latitude of Oxford;" putting both together there's no question that the Shire was England, in some mythical past, and certainly he filled it with English topography, vegetation, place-names and people.

Having said that, the rest of Middle-earth is not confined at all to English geography. The Misty Mountains, again explicitly, were modeled on the Swiss Alps- I have seen a photo of the Lauterbrunnental which from that angle is too like his Rivendell painting to be coincidence. His description of the flora of Ithilien makes it unmistakably Mediterranean (he also said Pelargir was at the latitude of Venice). And of course England has no open steppes like Rohan, either. (Neither does New Zealand).
__________________
The entire plot of The Lord of the Rings could be said to turn on what Sauron didnít know, and when he didnít know it.

Last edited by William Cloud Hicklin; 03-14-2020 at 09:46 AM.
William Cloud Hicklin is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-14-2020, 09:42 AM   #5
William Cloud Hicklin
Loremaster of Annķminas
 
William Cloud Hicklin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 2,270
William Cloud Hicklin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.William Cloud Hicklin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.William Cloud Hicklin is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
Oh, absolutely! And I can't blame him: there's some really striking landscape out there.

One thing I missed mentioning is that the white horse is also on the banner of Rohan. It seems unconnected, what with Uffington being a Neolithic Stone Age site... until you realise that in the early 20th century, it was thought to have been carved by Saxons. Which makes it /very/ relevant to Rohan.
Uffington is late Bronze/early Iron Age, and has been believed to be such since before Tolkien ever went up to Oxford (confirmed in the 1990s). Even Saxon and early Norman writings refer to it as "the work of ancient men." Much older than the Anglo-Saxons, but not remotely Neolithic.

However, it can't possibly be a coincidence that the banner of Rohan is "a white horse running on a field of green"
__________________
The entire plot of The Lord of the Rings could be said to turn on what Sauron didnít know, and when he didnít know it.
William Cloud Hicklin is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 01:29 PM.



Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9 Beta 4
Copyright ©2000 - 2023, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.