12 things to see on the Tolkien Trail in Birmingham, England

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If you’re a fan of Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit or maybe the latest TV series the Rings of Power then perhaps you’ll be inspired to see some of the real life places that inspired the books. (And no, I don’t mean New Zealand. Yes that’s where everyone thinks Hobbiton is but it actually had it’s roots in Birmingham!)

If so then you have to come to the city of Birmingham in England where there’s a Tolkien Trail that you can explore and see some of the locations that were prominent in JRR Tolkien’s, or Ronald as he was known as a child, formative years.

The Tolkien Trail is a collection of sites that are relevant to JRR Tolkien’s life in Birmingham. The area is where much of Tolkien’s early life took place and where many ideas formed that would later come forth in his books!

My daughter and I have been reawakening our love for the Tolkien books and films a lot lately. When I realised that there were a tonne of things to see nearby where my husband and I were recently traveling to we had to go and explore! The Tolkien Trail in Birmingham is an actual thing I didn’t even know existed before this year!

While we didn’t manage to see everything on our short trip (we weren’t too lucky with the weather and then we headed off to see some more Tolkien sites in the Cotswolds) we thoroughly loved all the bits we did see and I’ll be bringing my daughter next time for a nerdy trip! (Actually we have plans for an Oxford Tolkien trip!)

Are you ready for an adventure? ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.

Let’s go!

Sites on the Tolkien Trail in Birmingham

The Sarehole area is the first place we visited on our own Tolkien Trail. I was enamoured by the idea of it being where The Shire was inspired from! There are a few different sites in this area to check out:

Sarehole Mill on the Tolkien Trail in Birmingham

1. Sarehole Mill & Village

The first place to visit for any Tolkien fan when in Birmingham is Sarehole. This is where Tolkien lived as a young boy when he first moved to England from South Africa.

It’s weird to explore this area and think of it as the inspiration for the Shire but apparantly it was!

In the early 1900s when he lived there this area would have been an idyllic village location but as Birmingham has grown over the years it definitely doesn’t have that feel now! The place is full of houses, roads and traffic but there are some clues to the past that you can see.

The first is Sarehole Mill which is an old watermill that would have been active when Ronald was a child. Apparently he would spend his days running around the grounds with his young brother and getting into all sorts of mischief!

There are many stories about this time but I love the one about the miller’s son who chased them away and would earn the nickname ‘the white ogre’!

The mill is open to the public and is free to go around. There’s a small exhibition inside about Tolkien and his past in the area here and you can also go on guided tours of the mill as well.

Don’t miss the small models of the ‘two towers’ that are also on the Tolkien Trail and plenty of carvings of mythical creatures around.

Tolkien exhibits at Sarehole Mill

It’s worth parking up at the mill and then taking a walk to some of the other places on this list – 2, 3 & 4 are all nearby.

2. Tolkien’s Childhood Home

The actual house where Ronald moved to in 1896 and spent many years is still standing in the Sarehole area of Birmingham. It’s just across the road from the mill and you can see it if you’re walking towards Moseley Bog.

I didn’t take a picture as it’s actually a residential house and wanted to respect the privacy of those currently living there but you can see it on Google Streetview above.

You can see how close it was to the mill and the Moseley Bog area and imagine how, when there were less roads, Tolkien would have had this amazing place as his play area! He said these were some of his happiest years and I love that the Shire came from that happy time!

Hungry Hobbit Cafe in Birmingham

Needing second breakfast? If you’re walking past the roundabout near Sarehole Mill check out the cafe called The Hungry Hobbit. It actually says Hungry Hobb now because they had legal battles about the name.

Sign for Moseley Bog Nature reserve

3. Moseley Bog & Joy’s Wood

Again, not far from the mill is the Moseley Bog and Joy’s Wood nature reserve. It’s where Ronald would play with his brother and have many adventures!

When it came to his later writings the bog would show itself as the Old Forest where Tom Bombadil lived!

We only had a short walk around the place as it was cold and raining (welcome to England!) but in summer or on a nice day it would be a great place to have a picnic and really explore.

The Shire Country Park sign in Birmingham

4. The Shire Country Park

Finally in this part of Birmingham, before moving on, we have this country park which has been named after Tolkien’s creation.

In Tolkien’s time it would have been just part of a greater countryside around the village but of course now it’s surrounded by the suburbs of the city.

The country park can be accessed from next to the mill and again would be a great place to enjoy on a warm day! It’s full of nature with a small river running through it.

We’re moving away from the Sarehole area now to Edgbaston which is to the east of the city. Number 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are all in this small area. It’s quite built up and residential but you should still be able to park up on waterworks road and explore.

It feels a lot different here – much more of an industrial heritage than Sarehole!

5. The Oratory

This is the church that Tolkien’s mother went to when she converted to Catholicism and after they moved to the area.

It’s also where Tolkien and his brother were taken into the guardianship of one of the Father’s there when their mother died. Father Francis Morgan looked after the boys and were lifelong friends.

If you want to visit the inside of this church you can do by appointment – check their website here.

Perrotts Folly Tolkien Trail Birmingham

6. Perrott’s Folly

Perrott’s Folly is one of the two towers on the same road right in the heart of where Tolkien grew up and would have spent time exploring.

Many people say they were perhaps inspiration for some of the many towers that appear in the Lord of The Rings books – perhaps Minas Tirith, Minas Morgul or many others.

I’d actually read somewhere prior to visiting that someone argued that they weren’t inspiration for the towers in the books but on visiting the area they are such iconic landmarks that I really can’t see how to a young boy these would have been amazing aspects of stories he was creating! Just my opinion!

So, back to this one – Perrott’s Folly. It’s a 30m tall tower that was built in 1758 by a local landowner. It fell into disrepair in the 1970s but has since been restored since it’s such a historic site with it’s Tolkien connections.

You can’t visit inside it but you can see it well from the outside.

Edgbaston Waterworks Birmingham Tolkien Trail

7. Edgbaston Waterworks

Just down the road from Perrott’s Folly is the other tower – the old waterworks.

This tower dates a little later, almost 100 years after Perrott’s Folly was built, in 1870. It would have been only around 30 years old when Ronald was stomping around the place!

Nowadays it’s still part of the more modern water authority buildings there and there’s no access for tourists. Again you can see it from the road.

8. 4 Highfield Road

Another of Tolkien’s homes was on Highfield Road. It was where, after his mother died, that he and his brother were lodgers to a Mrs Macsherry. This was also after he had met Edith Bratt, who was to become his future wife. His guardian, Father Morgan had moved the boys here after wanting the relationship to end.

The building has a blue plaque outside showing the historic significance, but it’s now a children’s nursery so not somewhere it’s really appropriate to hang around and take photos of!

9. Plough and Harrow Hotel

So I just mentioned that Tolkien eventually married Edith and this next site on the Tolkien Trail relates to that relationship.

They were married in the Spring of 1916 and, possibly when on embrakation leave, they spent a night at this hotel in June of the same year.

You can actually stay at the hotel as it still functions as one now. Some of the more standard rooms are in a newer extension of the hotel, but some are in the older building like Tolkien would have stayed in.

(Just be aware that despite the old country look of the hotel it’s on a busy road leading into the city centre!)

There’s also a blue plaque here to mark that Tolkien stayed here.

10. King Edwards School

This is the school where Tolkien went to when it was located in New Street – unfortunately not where the building is now.

While the original building, which was designed by the man who designed the Houses of Parliament – Sir Charles Barry, was demolished in the 1930s a small part of a corridor was saved and brought to this new building. It was rebuilt into the school chapel.

You can go on guided tours of the chapel on Fridays at 2pm in term time – you must contact them to check availability.

Tower at Birmingham University

11. University of Birmingham

While Tolkien didn’t go to the University of Birmingham to study, it’s part of the Tolkien Trail because in the First World War it was used as a military hospital.

After Tolkien’s part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 he was brought here and was diagnosed with having trench fever and stayed for 6 weeks to recover.

Interestingly the university also has a tower that could have inspired his stories – the Chamberlain Tower. This one has a clock at the top which is lit in the evening. Perhaps an early idea for the eye of Sauron came from it?

The great hall – the area used as the military hospital is open to the public during office hours.

Birmingham Library

12. Library of Birmingham

Finally we have the Library of Birmingham which is quite a modern building in the centre of the city but does have some connections to Tolkien.

The main one is the blue plaque outside the building which is dedicated to a local surgeon and his name will be familiar to anyone who likes the Lord of The Rings books – Dr J Sampson Gamgee!

It’s thought this is where Tolkien got the idea of Samwise’s name. Some fun facts – the surgeon’s widow lived opposite Tolkien’s aunt so perhaps he heard of him there? Gamgee Tissue is also a local name for cotton wool so definitely a word he’d have heard of.

Will you visit the Tolkien Trail in Birmingham?

I have to say that I was so surprised by the wealth of sites that are around in Birmingham to see. I wish we’d had better weather to enjoy the outdoor bits a little more but hey, that’s England!

What a privilege it was to see the places he grew up and where inspired that wonderful Middle Earth location – The Shire!

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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