Sarehole was the small hamlet that J.R.R. Tolkien grew up in between 1896 and 1900; it is now part of the city of Birmingham. It is south of the City Centre and about a mile west of the A34, the Straftord Road, and is on the border between Hall Green and Moseley.
The fields that Tolkien would have known have been built on; however the mill survives and is now a museum. So does 5 Gracewell, the house that he, his mother and brother lived in during their time there. The floodplain to the north and south of Sarehole Mill remains through being unsuitable for building. The River Cole is prone to flash floods and the ground is simply too wet.
Just to the west of 5 Gracewell is Moseley Bog, now a Local Nature Reserve (LNR), which has free access for the general public. Though the Dell, which is just north of the house, has been fenced off by Birmingham City Council because of safety fears.
The River Cole and Moseley Bog are looked after by Birmingham City Council, through their Ranger Service. The Rangers who work in this area are the Mill Stream Rangers.
Following contact with Steve McCabe, the Local MP for the area, the Tolkien Society become involved with an ongoing project to establish an Linear Park along the River Cole. This project was initially proposed by various local groups and has the backing, in principle, of Birmingham City Council.
It has also been proposed that a visitor centre for the park should be built on Brown Land near to Sarehole Mill. (Brown Land is land which has previously been developed, but has no current buildings.) This location was suggested because it is central to several features of the park and its proximity to the Tolkien connection.
Proposed names for the park are The Tolkien Country Park or The Tolkien Park, to celebrate Tolkien's connection with the area. Since the Tolkien Society has an ongoing project to create a Tolkien Centre it has been suggested that the visitor centre should be The Tolkien Centre. An alternative name is The Sarehole Centre.
Like any big project the Tolkien Park won't happen overnight. A lot of money is required to build a Visitor Centre; there are other things like planning permission and land ownership issues, not to mention running costs and staffing. However, all the initial groups remain committed to creating the park.
Currently, environmentally friendly designs are being investigated. There are particular benefits from an environmental design: not least the grants that are available for construction and the potential lower running costs, plus the interest such a design would create in its own right. However, the major reason for wishing to create an environmentally sound building is that we believe that Tolkien would approve of it and if we were to create a centre that carried his name and which did not use environmental principles we would be failing him.
Following the initial Tolkien Park proposal several meeting took place between the interested parties. At one of these meetings it was suggested that an event should be held at Sarehole Mill to promote the concept of the Park and the associated centre. The first event was in 2000 and Fun at Mill was born; since then it has never looked back. It has grown larger and larger each year and even rain, some of it torrential, has not been able to dampen the enthusiasm of the participants or the general public.
Very quickly the Tolkien Weekend ceased to be a vehicle to solely promote the Tolkien Park and has taken on a life of its own. It now promotes Tolkien and his early inspiration, together with the rural life that existed at Sarehole during his time there.