Visiting the Shire, Just for an Afternoon - A Recap of The Tolkien Weekend
The Mill at Hobbiton - inspired by Sarehole Mill.
The Tolkien Weekend at Sarehole Mill
It was a fun outing, indeed.
First of all, I didn't even know this mill was still standing, let alone functioning. Had I known, I would have gone two years ago when we first got here.
Sarehole Mill is a pleasant little museum/mill located in what is now a suburban development just south of Birmingham. There was all sorts of information on the mill itself (there has been a mill on the site for 450 years!) and on milling in general. We learned lots!
There was a sandy-haired miller giving talks and answering questions, but I didn't have the nerve to ask if his name was Ted! The mill was actively grinding, but we couldn't take any flour away, as the mill is not sanctioned by the health inspector. There were also displays of old farming and milling equipment. Even without the Tolkien tie-in it would have been worth a look.
What was more interesting (to me, hehe) was the two rooms set up for the weekend to celebrate Tolkien . One room had displays of Tolkien's life and work, and different editions of his work, as well as volumes of criticism and whatnot. They had a CD player playing snippets of the BBC LOTR, quite a nice touch, I thought, and not intrusively loud. The best part was the TV set up playing the theatrical trailer. Every time it ran people would gather round. Gave me the shivers!
The second room was devoted to The Tolkien Society. I chatted briefly with one of their representatives, his name was Alex. He seemed quite informed about the movies, and, like me, wished he could have crashed the Cannes party!
There was also a craft fair with a blacksmith, a wood worker, ladies spinning wool, a beekeeper - - the sorts of things we might see in Hobbiton!
We also took a walk to the Moseley Bog, another source of inspiration for Tolkien, described in Humphrey Carpenter's biography. It is truly an enchanting place (hopefully some of the pictures will turn out!) and one can see the source for The Old Forest Old Man Willow, and, indeed, for some of the Shire scenes. Even though it is now surrounded by utterly plain housing, it is easy to see how such a place captured the young Tolkien's imagination. We may revisit it before we leave.
In general, I was most pleased. There was an extremely low Cheese Factor. The whole affair was quite understated, really. The Brits are better at these sorts of things than Americans, I think. There wasn't a huge turnout, but I could tell they were all there for Tolkien. It would be interesting to see the turnout for next year's festivities, if I were here. I suspect the movie's release will have an impact. Alas, I didn't get to see "Farmer Giles of Ham." Tickets were sold out when we got there.
Final impressions: I felt a quiet, low-key excitement seeing these places that were so important to Tolkien. It was easy to wander around the mill, or look at the pond behind the mill, or wander the paths in the bog, and imagine how these scenes could spark the imagination of a young, inquisitive, sensitive child. I'm very glad places like these are preserved, as they are inspiring, indeed. I felt like I was in a part of the Shire, just for an afternoon.