A weekend in Birmingham on the Tolkien Trail

With the latest addition to The Hobbit trilogy being recently released on DVD, and the next instalment ready to grace our cinema screens in a few months, now would be a perfect time to delve a little deeper into the life of the author, JRR Tolkien. While he may have been born in South Africa in 1892, he had an affinity with the city of Birmingham since moving there at four years old and, as such, literary fans will love to explore the sights that have been linked to the writer’s Midland adventures.

The Tolkein Trilogy

The Tolkein Trilogy

It’s often believed that Middle Earth was based on the Midlands, so it’s only natural to want to see where Tolkien gained his inspiration. If you’re after a weekend break in the city so that you can see more, book with Travelodge and you won’t have to worry about spending more than your budget can allow on accommodation. The Tolkien Trail is the perfect way of exploring parts of Tolkien’s childhood, with highlights including:

Sareholl Mill in Birmingham Photo: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Sareholl Mill in Birmingham on the Tolkein Trail

  • Sarehole Mill, situated in the village of Sarehole (which is often considered to be the inspiration for Hobbiton and The Shire), is a fantastic museum that pays homage to Tolkien. It’s believed that he, and his brother, used to play for hours near the mill. It’s only open for part of the year though, so make sure you check that it’s open before you visit to avoid disappointment.
Moseley Bog in Birmingham Photo: Peter Lewis on Flickr

Moseley Bog in Birmingham

  • Moseley Bog was once a mill pool and was the site of many an adventure for Tolkien when he was a lad. Nowadays, it’s a Local Nature Reserve and a perfect addition to your Tolkien itinerary if you’re a lover of the great outdoors. You can access it via Yardley Wood Road or the Wake Green Playing Fields.
  • St Anne’s Church on Alcester Street is where Tolkien and his family used to worship. Pop by during service hours and you can enjoy the interior beauty as well as the outside.
  • Perrott’s Folly stands near to the Edgbaston Waterworks, alongside a Victorian tower that, together, are believed to be the inspiration behind the Two Towers of Gondor – which, as any Tolkien fan will know, is the name of the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Perrotts Folly in Brirmingham Photo: Tony Hidgett on Flickr

Perrotts Folly in Birmingham on the Tolkein trail

Whether you wish to head off on your own adventure, discovering these places and more, or you prefer to embark upon a Middle Earth tour with the help of a tour guide, the Tolkien trail is a must for any fan of this fantasy writer. These tours operate at various times during the year, so keep an eye on the Midlands Discovery Tours site if you fancy being part of the next one – you can sign up to receive email notification of when tickets for the next tour go on sale, and it’s recommended you do so, because they sell fast!

If you can’t wait for the next tour, there’s no reason why you can’t venture out on your own to see where the inspiration for Tolkien’s amazing literary works evolved. Incorporate it into your visit to Birmingham and learn more about Tolkien’s roots in The Midlands.

This article was brought to you in partnership with Travelodge.

Photo Credits: Sarehole Mill by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Moseley Bog by Peter Lewis, Perrott’s Folly by Tony Hisgett, Tolkein Trilogy from TheHobbit.com

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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Afternoon tea at the Arden with Romeo and Juliet

When I was last at the Arden Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon I fell in love with the old fashioned rose patterned tea service from the V & A that they had on display on the oak dresser – in fact I’m in love with the whole idea of English afternoon tea.

Afternoon  tea at the Arden Hotel, Stratford

Afternoon tea at the Arden Hotel, Stratford

I decided there and then, that when we came back to see the play of Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre just opposite, we would take afternoon tea at the Arden before the performance. It seemed a fitting thing to do in the heart of Stratford, the birthplace of England’s greatest poet and playwright with the old half timbered houses down the lane that Shakespeare might have skipped past as a boy.

Our family party settled down into the leather chesterfield sofas, in the pale green panelled drawing room at one side of the hotel. Through the sash windows, framed by toile de jouy curtains we had a great view of the original Victorian entrance of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, now extended with a modern frontage and tower after a recently completed 4 year redevelopment project.

Our waiter shook the starched white napkins out and laid them on our laps. He was unfazed by my son’s request “Do you have any Ribena ice lollies?” but gamely offered to pop down to the shops to get one.

Our tea was brought – Earl Grey (lemon or milk?) and fruit tea for me. I love those old fashioned cake stands they use with elegant thin cut sandwiches – smoked salmon and cucumber or chicken with salad with brown bread or white (but no crusts of course). On the second cake stand were slices of chocolate and walnut cake with scones to smother with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Afternoon tea at the Arden Hotel,  Stratford-upon-Avon

Afternoon tea at the Arden Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The conversation turned to the play of Romeo and Juliet that we were about to see. My son didn’t really see the point of going to see a play when everyone knows the ending. My father-in-law recalled the time when he saw Sir Ian McKellan dropped his trousers, exposing all, in the mad scene of King Lear and my mother-in-law remembered how at their last visit they had sat in the midst of a group of theatre critics, all scribbling furiously into their notebooks. In between mouthfuls of cake, we debated such weighty questions as how to pronounce the word scone – is it scone as in home or scone as in shone? Apparently it all depends whether you live up north or down south.

The Arden Hotel, Stratford upon Avon

The Arden Hotel, Stratford upon Avon

The Arden  Hotel, Stratford upon Avon

The Arden Hotel, Stratford upon Avon

And so, awash with Earl Grey and brushing the cake crumbs from our lap, we walked all of 2 minutes across the road and into the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to have a look around before the performance. In the shop I was persuaded by my children to fund the purchase of a book of Shakespeare sonnets and a couple of pencils with 2B or not 2B written on the side. We explored the building, from the Transformations exhibition about how the theatre was rebuilt, to the Squidsoup art installation where words that you typed into the computer were added into a swirling word sculpture that was projected on the wall.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

At the appointed hour we settled into our seats to the side of the stage that jutted out with the audience on three sides, although we had to crane our necks for the balcony scenes as we were seated in the back row. It would be well worth getting a front row seat, and those in the front row had the pleasure of having their photo taken and being compared (unfavourably) to the fair Rosalind, and having Romeo ask their opinion on whether or not he should assault Juliet’s balcony.

Romeo & Juliet Ball scene, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Romeo & Juliet Ball scene, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

It was a memorable performance, with a Juliet who was very much the stroppy teenager, an energetic contrast to the dreamy photographer-on-a-bicycle, Romeo, who suddenly forgot all about his camera once he had spotted his new true love. Having once worked in the world of fashion, I was fascinated by the styling of the production, with a range of costumes, from Shakespearean doublet and hose teamed with biker boots, to Vivenne Westwood inspired corsets and taffeta skirts, hitched up into puffballs for the dance scene. The cast went a little wild at the ball with golden sun masks and animalistic leaping to the sound of African drums, with the occasional burst of flames shooting up from the floor.

Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Shakepeare Theatre

Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Shakepeare Theatre

By contrast Romeo and Juliet had been shopping on the high street with Juliet in skinny jeans and converse trainers and Romeo in his hoodie and DMs. After a mere 24 hour’s acquaintance, they were married and Juliet was looking forward to getting her new husband into bed. It was such a shame it all had to end so unhappily and as the sleeping Juliet started to wiggle her toes, I was willing her to wake up in time to stop Romeo taking the poison. It’s easy to forget that the world’s best known love story is also a tragedy.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is truly much more than a theatre but a destination experience – and so it should be after the millions that have been spent on it! And our afternoon tea at the Arden Hotel, started us off in just the right frame of mind to enjoy the whole experience.

Sadly, we caught the last performance of Romeo and Juliet, but in the coming months you can also take afternoon tea with the Merchant of Venice or A Midsummer night’s dream – or better still book early for one of the autumn/winter performances and get those front row seats where you can be close enough to feel the actors’ spit on your face. That’s the thrill of live Shakespeare!

The Arden Hotel,Waterside, Straford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire Tel 01789 298682
Visti the The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon

Compare prices and book for the Arden Hotel through Hotels Combined

More to see in Stratford upon Avon

Seasonal and Wild – The Waterside Brasserie at the Arden Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon
The Tower and other transformations at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford
Country House Classic at the Menzies Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon

Photo Credits: Romeo and Juliet Photos by Ellie Kurttz from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre website

Just so you know, we were treated to afternoon tea by the Arden but bought our back row seats ourselves.

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The Thinking Cottage in Shropshire – at Buckshead eco-cottage – video

This is the story of our weekend at Buckshead eco-cottage in Shropshire, a taste of how generations of farmers lived on this land and how wind and wood from the farm are powering the future. This is the story of the ‘Thinking cottage’.

Trevor was born a mile or so over the hill from Bynmawr farm where he now farms with his wife Sue. Just up the track from their farmhouse, Trevor’s great aunt and uncle ran the smallholding at Buckshead cottage until they were into their 90s, and when his great uncle died, Trevor bought the cottage at auction.

Buckshead eco-cottage in Shropshire

Buckshead eco-cottage in Shropshire

Once he had set the land around it in good order (as he said, you can’t do much maintenance when you’re 91), Trevor decided to renovate the cottage following ecological principles, without even having the cottage connected to the mains electrical supply. All this he told us over a cup of tea on the chilly evening we arrived, as we sat around the Clearview wood-burning stove that he had stoked up for us earlier. Trevor gently chastised us for using the gas cooker to do two things that could just have easily been done on the stove; boil a kettle and make the toast. We hastened to put the kettle, with its old fashioned whistle, firmly on top of the stove to keep it on the boil and set the boys to work in front of the stove with the toasting fork.

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What about those storage heaters on the wall, how do they work? Oh no, Trevor told us, those are the power dump for the battery. Here’s how it works – the wind turbines charge the battery but if the battery is full then the overflow will start to warm those heaters. We felt them hopefully but they were cold. And the little box under the stairs that looked like a thermostat was in fact there to tell us when the power in the battery was getting low. If it registered anything below 46, we should start getting worried that the lights would go out. Now we started to understand why Trevor had told us that this was a ‘Thinking Cottage’ – it got you thinking about how to stay warm, especially when it was minus 3 outside! Worried about being left in the dark we realised how much power we were consuming and started turning off the lights sharpish. The powdery white-wash on the walls, traditionally used in these cottages as it lets the lime plaster breathe, dusted our clothes as we ran up and down the stairs, turning off all the lights we had carelessly left burning.

We warmed ourselves around the stove, trying to stoke it up as much as possible before we went to bed- ‘I don’t think I’m going to take off many clothes while I’m here’ joked Guy. I hunted around upstairs and found some hot water bottles that Trevor had left for us in the bed – thank goodness for that, at least my toes would be warm. We stoked up the wood burner and closed it down as Trevor had instructed but in the early hours I woke up with an icy nose. Grrr, the stove had gone out and I had to give Guy a nudge to go down and employ his best boy scout skills to get it going again. Clearly we soft city dwellers had some work to do to hone our country skills of setting a good fire.

Buckshead eco-cottage interior in Shropshire

Buckshead eco-cottage interior in Shropshire

Things looked up in the morning once we sent the boys out to the wood shed to bring in the logs and get a good supply warmed in the basket by the fire. Soon we’d had breakfast and Trevor was tapping on the door again ready to take us out on his quad bike up to the Rhos Fiddle Nature Reserve just up the road. Once this area of moorland was common land where the villagers from nearby Newcastle could come to cut peat to stoke their fires. Now it is protected by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust as a Site of Special Scientific interest, where the boggy areas are rich in sphagnum moss and yellow mountain pansy blooms, where the buzzard soars overhead and where lapwing and curlew make their nests among the heather.

Trevor grazes his longhaired highland cattle here and they love nibbling the bracken tops and grazing the rough moorland where lowland cattle would never thrive. As we drove through the reserve, they came lolloping up to follow the trailer and crowded around us hoping for a handful of corn from Trevor. He told us how he doesn’t use the farm sheepdogs Lad and Jess with the cattle, prefering that the cattle follow him as their leader, and they eyed us watchfully from behind their long, shaggy fringes.

Highland Cattle in the Rhos Fiddle Nature Reserve, Shropshire

Highland Cattle in the Rhos Fiddle Nature Reserve, Shropshire

Highland Cattle in the Rhos  Fiddle Nature Reserve, Shropshire

Highland Cattle in the Rhos Fiddle Nature Reserve, Shropshire

Trevor pointed out to us a long walk that would take us around the ridges and valleys surrounding the farm, but after a good pub lunch and a pint or two at the White Horse Inn in Clun, our enthusiasm for a yomp across the hills was waning. On the way back through the village of Newcastle, however, we spotted signs for Offa’s Dyke, the long distance path that runs all along the Welsh border with England, from the Severn Estuary on the south to the Irish Sea in the north. The earthwork that runs alongside much of the path was built on the orders of King Offa of Mercia in the 1st century, who knows why, but probably for some defensive reason or marking of boundaries. Guy had walked a stretch of the path before and wanted to try a bit more, so we climbed up to the top of the rise and walked along for a way, over a few stiles, scattering sheep beside the path as we went.

Clun, Shropshire

Clun, Shropshire

Trevor and his tractor at Brynmawr Farm, Shropshire

Trevor and his tractor at Brynmawr Farm, Shropshire

On the way back to the cottage, we stopped at the farmhouse to get some finest beef that Trevor had ready in his freezer to sell at the farmer’s market. Trevor keeps 58 highland cattle, but the 59th had been taken to slaughter last week and we felt the benefit that evening, as we tucked into some of the best sirloin steaks we’d ever tasted. We treated No 59, as we dubbed the object of our supper, with the respect it deserved, frying the steaks in hot butter with a mixture of Trevor’s fresh and crisp organic carrots, potatoes and swedes – so fresh they were genuinely bursting with flavour. By this time we’d got the measure of the wood-burning stove that had been warming the cottage all afternoon and made sure we got a good blaze of hardwood going before we shut it down for the night. Thankfully it didn’t go out and we kept cosy with the help of the hot water bottles.

Master bedroom at Buckshead eco-cottage in Shropshire

Master bedroom at Buckshead eco-cottage in Shropshire

Bedroom at Buckshead eco-cottage in Shropshire

Bedroom at Buckshead eco-cottage in Shropshire

On Sunday morning we walked up to the Cantlin cross -there’s a story in that! We found that Trevor had a story for most things hereabouts and was happy to tell you them. The story goes that in 1611 a pedlar named Bill perished as he travelled along the ridgeway, an old drover’s route that dates back to Roman times. He met his end on the border between 2 parishes, who wrangled over which should bury him. Eventually he was buried in Bettws-y-Crwyn churchyard and later the Cantlin cross was erected on the spot he died to mark the boundary of parish land. How did the Cantlin cross get it’s name? Well according to Trevor, the peddler was called Bill but as for his surname ‘Can’t tell’ -so it became the Cantlin cross -  well that was Trevor’s story anyway! The cross was set in the middle of open land, at the edge of the forest, with the road running along the ridgeway nearby, and a pack of hunting hounds, with no visible owner ran across our path to the call of distant horn.

The Cantlin Cross at Bettws-y-Crwyn in Shropshire

The Cantlin Cross at Bettws-y-Crwyn in Shropshire

Our weekend at Buckshead eco-cottage or the ‘Thinking Cottage’ as we now know it, was a window on another world where the hardy Shropshire farmers who have farmed this land over generations look to the future with wind turbines, solar power and sustainability. We returned to our city lives with rosy cheeks and fresh air in our lungs and just a few stories to remember from our stay at the ‘Thinking Cottage’.

We highly recommend a stay at the Buckshead eco-cottage to get away into glorious unspoiled countryside and close to nature, to enjoy walking and pub lunches and most of all Trevor’s stories.

Thanks to Trevor and Sue Wheeler who hosted us at Buckshead eco-cottage through One Off Places. Buckshead eco-cottage may be booked through One-off places, who specialise in places to stay that are just a little bit different and special, which Buckshead eco-cottage certainly was.

oneoffplaces

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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