Who wouldn’t like to leave behind all the hustle and bustle of the city, enter a place where nature reigns, take out a notebook and let thoughts flow faster than the pen can write them down? There is a place like that in the Second City. You don’t even have to go towards the outskirt: the mysterious corner of inviting greenery, where, with a little imagination, you can experience everything from bliss to premonition and fright – all in the name of writing a good story – is nesting in the middle of Birmingham’s urban network. Welcome to Moseley Bog and Joy’s Wood Nature Reserve.
J. R. R. Tolkien himself said that the small forest around the Bog area inspired The Old Forest in The Lord of Rings. In fact, young Master Tolkien lived on Wake Green Road, which is adjacent to the site, and the Bog had often been his playground. Situated about three miles from the City Centre between Yardley Wood Road and Wake Green Road (B13 9YP is the closest postcode) and very close to the picturesque Sarehole Mill (LINK) the nature reserve is yet another place where Tolkien’s characters come alive – although this time, unlike the Mill, it would be more suitable for Gollum, marsh goblins or Will-o-the-Wisps. In fact, every year in May, during the famous Middle-Earth Weekend, the Shire Productions theatre group stages extracts from the Professor’s works – and you could not find a better place to do it!
The pictures have been taken during the Middle Earth Weekend 2009. The scenes from the Lord of the Rings were performed by Shire Productions.
You can see more photos from the day here (colour) and here (black and white).
People as a source of inspiration
The site was declared a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) on 17th July 1991. Since the 1980s, it has been a site of special scientific interest, mostly thanks to Joy Fifer, a local activist who took part in the ‘Save our Bog’ conservation campaign and helped to save Moseley Bog from another attack of the iron and concrete clutches of urban development. Prior to the campaign, the Bog was even destined to become a landfill site, which would have made walks with the hobbits very ugly and stinky indeed, if at all possible. Indeed, Joy Fifer has been a great inspiration for local activists across the country who have battled for the survival of the cultural heritage of their local neighbourhoods.
However, a curious and observant writer will notice that people have been living in this area for many years, and inspiration can be found even in ancient history. The Bog was once a secondary reservoir to feed the millpond of Sarehole Mill, but in the 1850s, with the advent of steam pumps, it became unnecessary and was drained. Now only Coldbath Brook flows through the place from the nearby Coldbath Pool. When you visit the Bog on a warmer day and are wearing old clothes (the only type you should wear when going to the woodlands!), you can sit on the bridge that crosses it and dip your weary feet in the water – the feeling is simply sensational!
The site also features two burnt mounds dating back to the Bronze Age, which means that people lived in the area at least 3,000 years ago! This makes the Bog an even more special place, where, 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 medieval earthworks of an ancient 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 and the pool was drained. Both of them 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?
Nature as a Source of Inspiration
The best times to visit the Bog are spring and summer, when the place is in full bloom, and when the leaves of the trees and the holly bushes are thick enough to throw a cloak of fantasy and a shade of mystery over the place. As soon as you step over the stile on Yardley Wood Road and walk the somewhat soggy dirt path (better bring good boots or go barefoot!), you enter an almost fairy-tale forest clearing where trees rise around you like the walls of an evergreen house and the emerald grass is dotted with bright yellow buttercups – but this is as far as the ‘Hobbit-land’ extends.
When you cross the clearing, you step into the cool of the forest. The atmosphere darkens in an instant. Even if it is a sunny day, the forest always has its own mood. Under the canopy of leaves and dark branches that extend their wiry fingers over your head, the entire place seems to be full of omens. Shadows play on the bark of the trees, making your imagination run wild. Every shadow is now a ghost, a spirit of the woods – and their intentions are far from good. Who knows what creatures live in the murky waters of the marshes? You’d better not make a wrong step to the side – and so that your feet remain dry and out of reach of any green bony hands that may shoot out of the muddy depths, there are special raised wooden footpaths to walk on.
Cross the stream, pass from the darkness that becomes almost impenetrable at dusk to the patches of light filtered through the leaves… and if you get tired of exploring, you can sit down on one of the kindly provided carved logs that serve as benches, take out your notebook and a sandwich (because, surely, you can’t write a great story on an empty stomach!) and plunge into the unexplored world of your imagination.
Neil Wyatt, Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, said once: “[The Moseley Bog] inspired Tolkien, and it has also inspired local people to stand up for their local green spaces across the country”. I hope it will also inspire you!
P.S. Sometimes you can find kissing Hobbits or snogging Goblins who’ve decided to skip school and are hiding in the darkness of the Bog, but fear not – they are largely harmless. Just don’t make any comments about the fact that the young of the Middle Earth have lost all shame, and you’ll be all right.
Videos on Moseley Bog available online:
The Hobbits’ Home – Moseley Bog in Birmingham
The Hobbit – an affectionate adaption for Middle Earth Weekend, 2012
Birmingham: There and Back Again
Moseley Bog and Sarehole Mill
Grid reference: SP093820
Coordinates: 52°26′10″N 1°51′47″W
National Express West Midlands Bus from City Centre:
No. 2 and No. 3 to Yardley Wood Road, adj. Windemere Road
No. 5 to Sarehole Mill on Cole Bank Road,
No. 6 to South Birmingham College on Stratford Road
National Rail: Hall Green Railway Station
Open: All times