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Old 09-13-2004, 06:50 AM   #14
Bêthberry
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Join Date: May 2002
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Bêthberry is a guest of Elrond in Rivendell.Bêthberry is a guest of Elrond in Rivendell.Bêthberry is a guest of Elrond in Rivendell.
Boots Many meetings

Well, it was not quite Rivendell, but I did for the first time set eyes upon the land that Tolkien loved so much, and I walked some of the streets and trod on some of the paths he did. And I was accompanied by a fellowship of Downers who made the visit all the more fun and delightful.

I met first in London, for the first time, Squatter, who guided my family and me around the British Museum and its monoliths of Egyptian stone and Sutton Hoo relics. We retired to a pub where he had first met Estelyn, a pub which has now seen three inaugural Barrow Downs meetings and so is on its way to becoming a real BD tradition. Squatter in real life is larger than his character here, a looming presence of wit, generosity, courtesy, a mind easily at home with any topic of conversation and a sensibility of charm and devilish good humour. We parted from my family and then met Esty in the most romantic of dark dens, Gordon's Bar.

There, amidst candle-lit, emptied bottles of wine, with the stone walls of the underground cavern sweating soot from the candles, we talked and talked. Squatter has said you could imagine Faggin there; I thought of all the Cornish smugglers bringing in port and sherry to be stored there away from the above ground authorities. In the dark, we could barely see each other except through flickering glimpses, yet what did it matter, having forged our friendship through chat and posts.

Estelyn is as vivacious and gregarious as one would expect from her posts here, an enthusiastic conversationalist who would put MeriSue in her place with the twinkling of an eye. And her eyes do twinkle! We met for the first time as old friends. Well, not that we are old, but that we had already had much shared between us. Alas that English pubs have such early closing hours. Had Squatter not had to catch a midnight train back to his home town before it turned into a pumpkin, we would have explored the night life of London further.

Estelyn went on to her quilting conference in Birmingham, where she followed a few sites of the Tolkien trail there where Sarehole once stood, while Squatter joined us for a second day of London haunts. It had to be something medieval; we choose the Tower of London, a splendidly preserved palace, but not the largest keep of the land. Here William the Conqueror build The White Tower, which with a fair bit of extravagant imagination on my part I could transform into something ressembling Tolkien's fortresses. Dinner was not medieval, but firey Indian. Another patron, across the restaurant from us, set up a bit of an entertainment that would have done Fawlty Towers justice. Poor Manuel!

The grandest adventure we reserved for Oxford. It was not a visit as daring and romantic as Squatter's first recorded escapade of midnight trespass into the gravesite, but it had its charms and special moments. All those scenes of Gwaihir rescuing Gandalf and Sam and Frodo were put in perspective when I saw the sign outside the Eagle and Child (called affectionately the Bird and Baby by the Inklings). The Rabbit Room, yellow-painted walls and midbrown wood, uneven floors and irregular walls, holds not just photographs of the Inklings but a framed scroll which they all signed testifying to their time there, Tolkien identifying himself as the father of the above named Christopher Tolkien. Squatter brought out his beloved first editions with their marvellous maps and glorious covers--books which attracted the attention of the Spanish Tolkien fans who had also journied there. Squatter shared his books with them and of course we shared internet sites. A pity it was that none of us was wearing a Barrow Downs tee shirt, but one cannot foresee all events.

We then took off for the gravesite, walking past the first of Tolkien's houses in Oxford (rather small and nondescriipt) and St. Aloysius Church (Tolkien's parish church), which we would have entered but a wedding was in process. We arrived at the cemetary just as the Spanish fans came up behind us! It is easy to find and almost overgrown with rosemary (that's for remembrance), roses, and other smaller plants. Both the headstone and the granite border bear reminders of other visits, fans leaving behind rosaries, cards, bracelets, small mementoes and tokens of respect. Tolkien's son Michael is buried a little off to one side from his parents. The names Luthien and Beren still stand out.

From there we caught a plebian form of transportation, a city bus, to High Street, which we walked up, passed Merton College and the Bodleian, to the Botanical Gardens, where we found the pinus nigra by which Tolkien stood in the last photograph taken of him. Rather unimaginatively, the three of us crowded around for the obligatory photograph of us touching it. It is a huge tree, spreading taller and wider than it did in that photograph and looking nothing like the shape of pine trees I am used to in my country. We departed after Squatter struck a pose at the foot of the tree which marked a perfect example of the way his imagination revisits sites and places.

All of this activity on a hot day generated a great deal of thirst. We repaired once again to the Bird and Baby, where my husband joined us. This time we did not run into any Tolkien fans and I was insensed that a mug with the pub's crest on it cost twenty English pounds, a sum I was not willing to part with.

On then to the Mitre, which Tolkien had favoured for dinner, a more stolid and less quaint pub than the B & B. The food was solid but excellent pub faire, made all the more convivial for Estelyn's and Squatter's company. We slowly wound our way down the streets of Oxford, still a medieval city in many ways, towards the train station, lingering along alley ways and in front of buildings in the warm summer night. The train carried us through the dark to end our day; we bid a hurried and quick farewell to Squatter at his stop and then completed our return to London.

One last night there and we spent it with Estelyn once again, meeting at the crypt under St. Martin's in the Field and then to dinner in a quiet corner where we could simply enjoy some last time together. It is possible that not all our conversation turned on Tolkien. We returned to Gordon's Bar for final departing pictures and then with melancholy excitement said our farewells.

My family and I then flew west and who can say that we Downers shall not meet again within the circles of the world?
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Last edited by Bêthberry; 09-18-2006 at 12:52 PM.
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