One hundred years ago Edith Tolkien sang and danced for her husband in a “hemlock glade” at or near Roos in East Yorkshire. Unfortunately, unless some more information becomes available we cannot be sure of the precise date, but examination of the flora Tolkien mentions suggests a date in May or very early June 1917. Tolkien refers to the understory in the glade as ‘hemlock’, but it is much more likely that the plant he was referring to is commonly known as Cow Parsley. You may read more about the various members of the umbellifer family and their flowering times here.
I am aware that my latest blog post may be a little controversial, but before anyone rushes to condemn it out-of-hand, please either obtain an OS Explorer map of East Yorkshire (292), or use the StreetMap I’ve included on this blog. From this you should be able to see that what is now the B1242 heads from Thirtle Bridge in the top left hand corner of the map south-east down towards Withernsea. Edith’s lodgings are in the bottom right-hand corner of the map. The proximity of the massive white structure of Withernsea Lighthouse to Edith’s lodgings is evident on the map.
Tourism is an important source of income for any city, region, or country. It was estimated that in 2013 tourism was “worth £106bn to England’s economy”(1). It should therefore come as no surprise that there is such a thing as a Tolkien tourist industry. For several decades Tolkien’s readers have been making private pilgrimages to Oxford; posing for photographs outside one of his residences; visiting the various colleges at which he studied, or where he later became a tutor and lecturer; paying their respects at his graveside, or even dropping in to ‘The Eagle and Child,’ one of his favourite pubs, for a drink. The tourist industry is now galvanising its resources and offering dedicated Tolkien Tours. In April this year Birmingham produced a new Tolkien Trail leaflet, which recommends visits to Sarehole Mill, Moseley Bog, the houses where Tolkien once lived, and the places he worshipped. This is an invaluable resource for those wishing to visit all the genuine sites associated with Tolkien in the area in which he grew up. However, a more pernicious aspect of tourism is also beginning to rear its head; locations which have only a tangential Tolkien connection, or in extreme cases with absolutely no link to the author are attempting to jump on the tourist bandwagon.
The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
[The Fellowship of the Ring, ‘A Knife in the Dark’, p. 191]
My travels up and down the Oloremalle this week have been quite busy! On ‘my day’ job front we are on stage rehearsing the opening two productions of the 2014 Glyndebourne Festival – Der Rosenkavalier (Strauss) and Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky) with the opening Festival weekend looming in middle May (when yours truly puts on his DJ (tuxedo for Americans!) and spends the summer thanking, and thanking and thanking all of the supporters who make the Glyndebourne Festival possible). There is nothing like being on a train from Brighton at 1am in your DJ and I-pad!
There is a small village in the heart of Ohio — I don’t know its name — but it has a connection to J.R.R. Tolkien and it was, in fact, the complete inspiration for Middle-earth. Don’t believe me? Just wait — one day that village will have a Tolkien festival, local taverns will name themselves for Tolkien place-names, and the county tour books will mention that Tolkien once mailed a letter that was received by a friend of a friend who had a connection to someone in or near Ohio sometime in the late 1950s.