Lancashire: the Real Middle Earth
Close to twenty hours of celluloid (or whatever the digital equivalent is) has convinced a generation that the rugged landscape of New Zealand is Tolkien’s Middle Earth. However, you’ll find that the real inspiration behind The Lord of the Rings, sequel to The Hobbit, is far closer to home – an area that is not just Middle Earth, but also the centre of the Kingdom.
You’ll find the village of Dunsop Bridge in the centre of the Forest of Bowdale, an Area of Outstanding National Beauty that borders the Lancashire towns of Forton and Clitheroe. Its major claim to fame is that it’s the village closest to the exact geographic centre of the UK (Whitendale Hanging Stones, 4.5 miles to the north). And just ten miles to the south is Stonyhurst College, a private school where Tolkien spent much of his time while penning the trilogy. This beautiful part of the country became his muse, and many pieces found themselves as scenery in the epic saga.
On a walk around the area it’s not hard to spot where he got his inspiration. The Forest of Bowdale is heavy with local folklore and legend, about things that go bump in the night and monsters that don’t even wait that long. Supposedly lurking in the trees are boggarts and trolls, just waiting to snare an unwary traveller.
Stonyhurst College itself was built by the Shireburn family, whose name is now immortalised as a river running between Eastfarthing and Southfarthing of the Shire. You can walk down Shire Lane in nearby Hurst Green or see Hacking Hall where the Hacking boat used to cross the Ribble and inspired the Buckleberry ferry that helped the Hobbits escape from a Black Rider. Looming in the distance is Pendle Hill, a local landmark just a few feet short of being a mountain. It stands alone and has a history of witchcraft and dark rumours so it’s not too much of a stretch to link this with Erebor – the Lonely Mountain.
As well as the Ribble, both the Hodder and the Calder flow through the area and if you’ve a map of the area handy, check the area where they converge and compare it to the three rivers of Brandywine, Shirebourne and Withywindle – they are virtually identical. Even Stonyhurst itself has its priest holes and escape tunnels, these narrow underground spaces reminiscent of Tolkien's warrens and caves.
If you’d like to explore this Middle Earth landscape for yourself then one of the best things you can do is take the official Tolkien walk. The five and a half mile trail starts and ends in Hurst Green, and on the way it takes you past the college and through the forest along tracks and across streams. You’ll take in Cromwell’s Bridge, Hodder Place and all three rivers on your walk.
Oh, and if you see a ring on the ground during your travels? It’s probably best to leave it where it is.