Tolkien’s Birmingham: A Modern Visit To Moseley Bog

Tolkien’s Birmingham: A Modern Visit To Moseley Bog

The modern Moseley Bog is not, I’m sorry to say, very visitor-friendly when it comes to visitors arriving by motor vehicle. They’re a bit abelist, and expect everybody to walk – a walk that could be some considerable distance for some. There are two (count ’em, two) handicapped spaces in the main parking lot. Everyone else is out of luck.

If you can leave your car at Sarehole Mill and are up to the walk, go back to the roundabout, cross Wake Green Road and continue walking. You’re now on Swanshurst Road. You’ll go three or four blocks until you come to Yardley Wood Road. Turn right, walk another block, and you’ll be at the main entrance.

If you’d prefer to wear out a little less shoe leather, retrace your way up Wake Green Road until you come to Windermere Road.

You’ll find a parking lot, small but probably serviceable most days. There is an entrance across the street, but I’d recommend walking to the main entrance. This entails continuing on foot down Windermere Road a couple of blocks until it merges with Yardley Wood Road, then continuing another block or so until you come to the main entrance.

You will forgive them everything the moment you enter, for almost immediately you’ll come upon a fairy-tale forest clearing where trees rise around you like an evergreen wall. Emerald grass is dotted with bright yellow buttercups. The best months to visit are May through August, when the place is in full bloom. The tree leaves and holly bushes are sufficiently thick to throw a vision of fantasy dreams and a shadowy cloak of mystery over the place.

The water which seeps from the springs in the north of the site has created wet, soggy ground on which a special ‘wet woodland’ habitat has developed. This woodland is the oldest woodland in the reserve and a number of ‘old woodland’ species such as wood horsetail and various sedges can be found here. In the drier areas you can find other old woodland species such as bluebell, wood sorrel and yellow pimpernel.

Moseley Bog

When you cross the clearing, you step into the cool of the forest. The atmosphere darkens in an instant.

The forest is always dark, even on sunny days, sometimes refreshingly so, at other times shadowy and ominous. Under the canopy of leaves and dark branches extending over your head, the entire place seems can seem enchanted, foreboding or both.. Shadows on the bark of the trees evoke ghosts and spirits, witches or wood sprites, orcs and ogres, or Ondine or Russalkae – and who knows what their intentions might be? Was that a creatures in the murky waters – and what kind of creature was it?

Could a marsh wizard be about – or even the marsh queen’s daughter?

Did you remember to carry a fern for protection? Best keep your feet out of reach of green bony hands that could shoot out of the muddy depths at any moment. Best to wear your wellies, and stay, as much as possible on the special raised wooden footpaths to walk on (a recent addition, and a welcome one).

Cross the stream, and patches of light begin to find their way through the endless shadows. You feel freer exploring. If you get tired out from all your exploring, sit down on one of the kindly provided carved logs that serve as benches, and let your imagination take flight for a while.

A TOUCH OF HISTORY

The site also features two burnt mounds dating back to the Bronze Age, approximately 3,000 years ago. The mounds are comprised of piles of cracked stone and the fragments from ancient burnt trees. The theory is that Bronze-age man heated the stones on a fire and poured water over them to create steam for sauna-type bathing. This would have been done within a structure made from wooden poles and animal skins known as a “bender.” Concealed from the prying eyes by the thick canopy of leaves, one can feel the passage and weight of time more acutely than in any other part of the city.

Another two relics of the past that can be found in the Bog area are remnants of Victorian and Edwardian gardens, including garden plants that were popular at the time, and the earthworks of a dam had held the water of Coldbath Brook in place since the 16th century, ensuring a reliable supply of water for Sarehole Mill until the advent of steam-driven pumps in the 19th century made it redundant. Both of add to the effect, bringing the thoughts of all those people who lived here before. Every one of them has a story to tell. Will you be the one to hear them all?

THE TOLKIENS LEAVE SAREHOLE

Tolkien must have heard a fair few, and it must have been hard to keep his mind on his lessons. With all of that so close at hand, he proved himself an apt pupil. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Mabel was a well-read and highly literate woman.  She had a keen interest in botany, all of which she passed on to Ronald, who could read at age four, write at five, and was mastering the rudiments of Latin shortly thereafter. Drawings from this period show studies of trees and leaves, and likely increased his interest in drawing landscapes.

He was home-schooled (a matter of economy, with no money for school tuition and free quality public education still on the horizon). Mabel’s sister Jane, who did have a teaching certificate, a college degree in science and a teaching certificate, assisted Mabel by instructing Ronald in maths. In addition, instructing in chemistry, geology, zoology and basic physics. All were taught at home, with views of Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog all around.

But, as is the way with most idyllic experiences, the time Mabel and the boys spent in Sarehole couldn’t last.

With Jane’s assistance, encouragement and coaching, Ronald gained admittance to King Edward School in downtown Birmingham. With his tuition paid by another sister, he was able to attend. It meant a move closer to town, to a place where Ronald would have the ability to commute each day. In September 1900, they moved to 214 Alcester Road in Moseley.  It was still closer to Sarehole than to downtown Birmingham. It was directly on the tram-route into the city, so Ronald could go to school by tram.

But the tram was noisy and smelly. A few months later, they moved to a house on Westfield Road, in King’s Heath. In 1902, they moved to a house on Oliver Road in north Edgbaston where, as we’ll see next time, 10-year-old Ronald would have his first experience with The Two Towers. .

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.