A Tolkienist’s Pilgrimage
I do not claim to know every nook and cranny of this most exquisite town (or city, if you prefer the moden word) in the heart of the English countryside. But I can assert that I’ve visited the place twice so far and had the opportunity of exploring and witnessing some of the most important landmarks in relation to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Hopefully in this post, I’ll be able to give you a taste of what I’ve seen and where I went (all in a day).
Perhaps you’re planning a trip yourselves …
This is less a guide, than an informative piece on what a Tolkien fan can do in Oxford: to experience just a taste of what life and the environment was like when Middle-earth was being put on page.
Getting There …
I took a bus from London’s Victoria Coach Station, and spent the next 2 hours of the journey witnessing the beauty of the English countryside.
London is a fantastic city, but it was equally rewarding to emerge from the dense urban area and blend into the rich and natural world. Looking through the coach’s glass window, I felt like a viewer experiencing some fantasy land – perhaps, Middle-earth itself; as the rolling hills and wide grasslands seemed to go on forever into the distance.
Truly, a visual feast for the mind.
Even from the outset, Oxford embodies everything of a typical English village. The rustic aesthetic of the houses. The little hidden pathways with overhanging trees. The idyllic lifestyle.
Oxford is not a big town and walking around its alluring streets, is the best way to soak in all the beauty and enchantment it withholds.
The Eagle and Child
Formerly known as The Bird and the Baby, this is perhaps the most popular visiting site related to J.R.R. Tolkien.
It’s top on this list not out of preference, but rather due to its relative short distance from the bus station.
As you make your way through a narrow alleyway, you suddenly find yourself within a brightly-illuminated street (if it’s sunny) and just round the corner, is the welcoming and cozy-looking facade of The Eagle and Child.
Inside, it is equally gorgeous – reminding me of the popular scenes from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the hobbits’ Green Dragon inn.
The lighting, the structure and the general atmosphere of a typical English pub are all enclosed within this small space (not to mention the exquisite beer on offer 😉 ).
It’s a thrilling sensation as you walk inside and just think about the great writers – Tolkien, Lewis, Williams – all gathered here; lost among papers, beer mugs and plumes of smoke.
A definite must-see.
Unfortunately, the pub only opens after 12pm, so in case you arrive a little early, you can always visit the next locations first …
No. 20, Northmoor Road
Somewhere here, hidden from the bustling main street, is Northmoor Road.
Precisely, a house with the No. 20 assigned to it.
This was Tolkien’s home – having lived here from the 30s till the late 40s, and it is where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were mostly written.
How amazing is that?
I’ve had an opportunity to walk around in that area – managing to get a picture or two next to the road sign and The House.
(p.s. Notice the perfectly-placed, parking sign)
I’m sure the residents who saw me there, wandering about in a daze, thought: “Ah, there goes another one of those Tolkien loonies.”
Just being able see the view of the house from outside was a thrilling experience.
Much of Middle-earth was crafted here.
Merton College (University of Oxford)
You can’t go to Oxford without, at least, going past the building where Tolkien delivered many of his lectures, as Professor of English Language and Literature .
The architectural style is so particular. Elegant, sophisticated and somewhat “classical”.
Just walking around one of the quadrangles of these colleges, I could easily conjure up images of a young Tolkien (in his lecturing gown) – books in hand – scurrying to some lecture room.
If you’ve got time, you’ll certainly enjoy the academic feeling you get.
This is the University of Oxford after all!
This is perhaps the most important feature in any Tolkien Pilgrimage.
Lying just on the outskirts of the city (to the North), is the Cemetery of Wolvercote.
Frankly, I’ve never seen nor thought, that a cemetery could look so beautiful – considering what it is.
A grassy plain – scattered here and there with enormous trees – stretches over a large area of land. Placed in a certain symmetrical pattern, are tombstones of every size and shape.
Getting to find the one in particular, proved an easy task. Small signs along the pathway directed you towards the author’s grave.
The walk itself is very pleasant and quiet – except for the distant hum of traffic and the chirping of the birds in the trees.
Occasionally, you might spot an individual carrying flowers and placing them in particular places – most probably, a relative of theirs.
At the end of the journey, you arrive at a common grey, gravestone. Filled with colourful flowers, the most striking features are the various “Thank-you” cards, or Lord of the Rings memorabilia, placed on it.
Signs that other fans have honoured this author and travelled from around the world to pay their respects.
The famous names of Beren and Lúthien are clearly written on the stone – one of Tolkien’s final wishes.
There, in the quietness of that place, I felt like I had reached the edge of the world; a destination of sort.
Time seemed to stop.
Standing on that spot and paying tribute to these individuals, was both moving and inspiring, at the same time. I felt as if I had achieved something important – something which was so strongly linked to my passion towards Middle-earth.
I also had a chance to visit the lesser-known tombstone of John Francis Reuel Tolkien – the author’s eldest son.
Overall, an astounding and nostalgic experience.
Yes, nostalgia played a role in all of this. I don’t know why, considering I’ve never met these individuals. However, being so close to the works and the stories and the characters, I felt as if (like millions of others), I was connected to this man and his family.
Back Again …
Overall, it was a highly rewarding experience. I felt inspired by the visit. Having tread the same pathways and locales that Tolkien once did, reinvigorated my passion both towards Middle-earth and writing itself.
Nevertheless, I’m so gratified and humbled to have made this journey to Oxford. Ever since visiting, I have been able to immerse myself all the more in Tolkien’s works and came to comprehend a very minuscule fragment of his mind, when he set out to write his stories and essays.
If you’ve been to Oxford before, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, I strongly urge you to do so!
Anyone care to share their experiences here?
Go ahead! 🙂