At A Glance:
  • Upcoming departures:
    Oct. 13 - 20, 2024

    Sojourn begins:
    Robin Hood's Bay, England

    Sojourn concludes:
    Oxford, England

    Price from:
    $3,595/person (DO)
    $3,990/person (SO)

    Combines with:
    Uncovering Camelot

    Great Castles of Ireland

    Scotch Whisky in Depth

  • For J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle-earth was England. And although the recent film versions of his works were photographed in far-away New Zealand, the author of the books took much of his inspiration from his own country. Tolkien spent almost his entire life in Britain and loved the countryside, history and traditions that he transformed into a modern mythology. The endeavor of our unique tour is to uncover the springs of Tolkien’s inspiration and investigate the significance of his literary achievement as we travel through his England.

    Our sojourn begins in picturesque seaside village of Robin Hood’s Bay. Not far from here, in the nearby town of Whitby, Tolkien once passed a summer holiday and sketched the haunting ruins of Whitby Abbey, perched high upon the cliffs overlooking the town. We visit these ruins following an invigorating hike along the coastal route from Robin Hood’s Bay, and, as we explore the imposing, historic structure, we begin to see why ruins were so important to Tolkien and how he incorporated them into his work.

    Before he became a professor at Oxford, Tolkien taught at the University of Leeds and often took walking journeys across the evocative landscape of the nearby North Yorkshire Moors. We too travel that same landscape, passing the morning with a pleasant ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a heritage steam train, to the charming market town of Pickering. Continuing our journey by motor coach, we stop in the town of Harrogate Spa to visit the hospital where Tolkien convalesced following a life-threatening case of trench fever which he contracted during World War I.

    Next we journey across the north of England to the ruggedly beautiful landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. Tolkien passed some time here and indeed was particularly fascinated by the Yorkshire dialect. In fact, The Denham Tracts, a collection of Yorkshire folklore first published in the mid-19th century, contains the earliest example of the word “hobbit” and that is very likely where Tolkien discovered the term. As we hike though the spectacular scenery of Malhamdale to Malham Cove and Dry Valley, it is not hard to imagine that this setting could very well have supplied inspiration for the mountains of Middle-earth. And our morning walk to the haunting remains of Bolton Castle lets us experience the emotional power of ruins in a dramatic landscape, an image so effectively used by Tolkien in his literary works.

    Leaving the moors and dales behind, we descend into Ribble Valley, basing ourselves near the picturesque village of Hurst Green, which lies only 10 miles away from the exact geographic center of the United Kingdom. Tolkien spent a great deal of time here visiting his son John who attended the nearby Jesuit Seminary at the very time he was writing The Lord of the Rings. Local sites including the Shirebourn River and Shire Lane show us the beauty of the simple, unspoiled countryside that is so important to Tolkien’s depiction of the hobbits’ homeland.

    Continuing southward, we explore the sites of Tolkien’s childhood in Birmingham. Here we find his boyhood home, his school and his church, and near Sarehole Mill, the idyllic countryside where he is an his brother played. We also visit Moseley Bog, which may be recalled in Tolkien’s description of the Old Forest, where Tom Bombadil lived. Here too, not far from where Tolkien attended school, we find The Ivy Bush and perhaps in the looming skyline of Birmingham see the inspiration for dark towers.

    Finally we arrive in Oxford, Tokien’s home for the better part of his life. Here we enjoy visits to the colleges where he studied and taught as well as other notable landmarks of the city such as the renowned Bodleian Library. Our second seminar evening of the week is passed at the celebrated Eagle and Child pub—the exact location where Tolkien regularly met with The Inklings, a group of writers that included Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and most notably, C.S. Lewis.

    Our final day we travel beyond Oxford itself to explore places in Southern Britain that inspired Tolkien, including the prehistoric barrow of Wayland’s Smithy, the iron-age, hill-top fort of Uffington Castle in the vale of White Horse, and the Roman temple and iron mines at Lydney Park, where Sir Mortimer Wheeler excavated in the 1920s. Tolkien helped interpret some inscriptions found there, and he was influenced by ancient local folklore surrounding the site (which includes a “Dwarf’s Hill”). Our afternoon drive takes us through the picture-perfect Cotswold Villages to the town of Warwick, where we explore the iconic castle that was the inspiration for Tolkien’s magical and ethereal city of the elves.

    Middle-earth is first and foremost the unique creation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s remarkable mind. But he did not invent that magical world out of imagination alone. His inspiration surely draws its roots from the land and traditions of England. Join us on this special journey and you will come as close to Middle-earth as Tolkien himself ever came as living man.

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