Sunday 29 May 2016

Inaugural East Yorkshire Tolkien Tour

After a very grey week the Saturday planned for the inaugural East Yorkshire Tolkien Tour dawned a little brighter and more promising than almost any day for the past week.
[All photos not attributed are (c) 2016 Michael Flowers]
Cow Parsley in the churchyard, Roos - 23 May 2016

I woke at 5.05 without an alarm, and got ready for the day ahead slowly and deliberately.  I set off just after 8.30 am and picked up London-based veteran Jessica outside her hotel.  She informed me she had spent a small fortune on her hotel and train fares, so I thought the ensuing tour had better be good! 
Front of Dennison Centre, formerly Brooklands Officers' Hospital (2014)
Originally, more than 20 people provisionally booked on the day last October, but by the 1st of April many of these had fallen by the wayside.  However, 10 brave souls were still prepared to turn up. 
Western Exterior - 17 officers including Tolkien were hospitalised on the interior on this side of the building
We reached the Humber Bridge Country Park just before 9am, but it wasn't too long before the others arrived. Catherine was probably the first, followed by Elena and Matthew, then Dan and Mary, and Tony and Jenny - who had to actually cross the Humber Bridge to get to us! The sun came out and Dan realised he would need protection from the sun, so he and Mary popped back to their hotel to retrieve it. The others got into their respective cars, and I picked up Mary and Dan outside their hotel. 
South facing exterior - left side contained recuperating officers 

We took the road up towards Cottingham, and followed the signs to the university. Andrew and Sarah were waiting patiently at the University entrance, and I signalled them to join us at the Dennison Centre. This was the site of the Brooklands Officers' Hospital where Tolkien spent almost 22 weeks over two summers in 1917 and 1918. It is an important location for people interested in Tolkien because it was here where the building blocks of his imaginary languages and mythology really began to take shape - the earliest versions of 'The Tale of Tinúviel' and 'The Tale of Turumbar' were written, which are absolutely essential elements of what much later became The Silmarillion.  
Tolkien Plaque on Dennison Centre, Hull
The participants photographed the Tolkien plaque on the right-hand side of the building. It is sited there because it was only the west side of the building which formed part of the hospital. We compared the 1910 Ordnance Survey map with the surviving structure, and noted that the conservatory we could see appeared to be present as early as 1910. We had a look at the trees and realised that the only two which would have been there in Tolkien's time were the mature Oak and the large Cedar tree - both technically in the adjoining property. Before we left we listened to a BBC archive programme featuring Phil Mathison and Dr Rosemary Wall, explaining about the site. You may listen to this programme here:
1910 Ordnance Survey Map showing Brooklands
View of Hornsea Mere, approaching from the south
The next substantial Tolkien location is in Hornsea, so the intention was to drive towards the coast in convoy. Unfortunately, most of the city seemed to be migrating to Wembley, so we soon got separated in the heavier than normal traffic. However, we were able to keep in touch by walkie talkies. The first two cars followed the road into Hornsea nearest the old railway Tolkien would have used, to enjoy the majestic entrance to the attractive town,which also shows Hornsea Mere to best effect on our left, as the road drops towards sea level. The final car was separated from the other two by interfering traffic, so Matthew guided them round the longer wooded route, which sticks much closer to the mere. We left our cars in the Tesco car park whilst provisions were purchased and comfort breaks taken, and we then made the short walk to Station Terrace. Number one is where Edith and her cousin Jennie Grove lodged for a month while Tolkien was based at Hornsea Musketry Camp at nearby Rolston. Many participants took photos of the erroneous blue plaque.
Hornsea Plaque containing at least 2 errors
From Hornsea we began the 30-minute drive to what promised to be the highlight of the trip - a visit to Roos. On the way we passed the site of the musketry camp, but only one building exists which may have been there in Tolkien's time. Unfortunately, many of the buildings which survived as late as the turn of the millennium were finally demolished to make way for some classy holiday homes. On the journey I pointed out any notable landmarks, which included Admiral Storr's Tower at Hilston and Turmar Farm. Eventually, we arrived at Roos, and drove along the edge of the village until we arrived at the church on the far southern side. 
All Saints' Church, Roos - almost obscured by tall umbels 
(c) 2016 Elena Davison
Interior of Roos Church (c) 2016 Andrew Wells

Unusually, the church was open, so this became our first port of call. We were confronted by some rather extravagantly painted images of religious figures, which seemed eminently suitable for a Roman Catholic Church, rather than the Anglican edifice we were in. The organ seemed amazingly bright, but this had only been restored within the past few weeks. Tony was attracted by some calligraphy in the vestry which listed some of the incumbents of the Parish. This included the use of the ancient family name of Ros, who I believe also maintained property in Helmsley shortly after the Norman Conquest. Catherine made sure we left our mark in the church visitor's book. 
Incumbents of All Saints', Roos (c) 2016 Tony Curtis
'The Problem of Ros'
After the church we walked along the back of Dents Garth. Some of the trees had only just taken on their mantle of fresh green hue after a prolonged, slow, cold spring. However, this also meant that the Cow Parsley, which is usually pretty much past its best by the end of May, was actually at its absolute white frothy perfection. More photographs were taken, and then we ventured inside, following a fairly muddy path to the centre of the small woodland. There is now no actual glade to be seen, but we came to a natural halt in a slightly more open area. The elms which would have been present 99 years ago have largely been replaced by non-native sycamores. Other elements not found in Tolkien included the noisy cawing Rookery and the relatively subtle scent of the Ramsoms, or Wild Garlic. At this point an elderly participant, who seemed to imbue his rendition with real insight read from 'The Song of Beren and Lúthien', which was the most poignant moment of the whole trip. As he intoned the verses he was accompanied by the natural sounds of a Blackcap, and a Song Thrush among other more distant songsters. Then to make the atmosphere even more appropriate Andrew played a short excerpt from the song of the Nightingale on his phone. 
Cow Parsley in Dents Garth (c) 2016 Catherine Thorn
 Cow Parsley in Roos Churchyard
White froth of Cow Parsley under the trees
 Cow Parsley along eastern edge of Dents Garth
 Heraldic Shield of Sykes Family (c) 2016 Elena Davison

On the edge of the church we stopped off at the iron bars and the stairs leading down to the crypt.  At this point I mentioned Beren's symbol which included a hand, and contrasted this with the hand on the Sykes family's heraldic crest.  On the way back we had a look at the three-trunked linden-tree, which was only just bursting into leaf.  We then regrouped to the parking area, and enjoyed our packed lunch on the church wall with the Cow Parsley foaming over the wall behind us.  Just before we left I revealed the hidden Roos Beck, and mentioned the word meaning of Tolkien's Esgalduin, the river in Doriath close to where Beren and Lúthien met in his mythology. 
Three-trunked Linden-tree (Lime) in Roos Churchyard
The hidden Roos Beck
An "awfully treeish" Victorian Gravestone (c) 2016 Elena Davison
Unfortunately, we were running slightly behind schedule, so the visit to Halsham was cancelled.  This was quite a speculative tentative link anyway, but I still mentioned Charles Noad's theory about the mausoleum and Sauron's temple on Numenor.  I believe there are sound reasons Tolkien would have visited this nearby village, but that is explained in another blogpost.

Thirtle Bridge
Mona House, former officers' Mess, Thirtle Bridge
We then drove for less than 10 minutes to the new parking area, created for the lorries carrying the turbine blades.  On the way we passed the site of Tunstall Hall the former HQ of Tolkien's regiment, but didn't dusturb the privacy of the holidaymaker's in the Sand-Le-Mere camp.  At Thirtle Bridge, we could see the site of the Officers' Mess of the former camp now transformed into the more luxurious and extensive Mona House.  We passed the former Cookhouse as we drove towards Withernsea.  On the way we passed the remains of the former tall Black Mill, which 99 years ago marked the scene of a major checkpoint, and a fortified structure with guns searching the skies for incoming zeppelins.  At the apex of the road it was possible to see the Black structure of the mill and the white tower of the lighthouse in the same view.
Barn using the same footprint as the former Cook House
The Black Mill as it looked at its full height
 The greensward behind Withernsea Lighthouse

Only a few minutes later we arrived in Withernsea, and went straight to the Lighthouse museum. I was the first "return ticket" the doorward had accepted so far this year. A few of us ascended the 274 steps, whilst others repaired to the greensward with their refreshing cup of tea and cakes. Others went round the exhibits first, before relaxing on the lawn.
Interior of Withernsea Lighthouse (c) 2016 Tony Curtis

From the lighthouse we walked to the mini roundabout on Queen Street, and gathered adjacent to my old place of work in the mid-to-late-80s. Here, Edith's old lodgings shown in an old postcard photograph were compared with what we could see of this basic footprint in today's Lifeboat cafe. Finally for Withernsea, we headed to the pier castles and down on to the beach, where Edith and Ronald (painfully thin) were photographed by his understudy Huxtable in July 1917.

Edith's lodgings were in second bay window from left of J. Westerdale
Edith's Withersea Lodgings (left) as it looked in 2014
Withernsea 'castles' marking the site of the pier
From Withernsea we drove via Patrington through Easington where Tolkien had lived in a lonely farmhouse and worked on some poems in the winter of 1917/1918. As we left Easington I pointed out the Tower, which was owned by Robert Walker nearly a century ago. He was a major landowner in the area, and may have leased one of his farm properties to the Tolkien family, but so far no definitive proof has been forthcoming. 
The Tower, Easington
On the road to Kilnsea the back of the acoustic sound mirror was glimpsed, and the role of this during WW1 was explained.  Finally, we arrived at the car park at the rear of the Blue Bell.  The tide was quite far out, so it was just possible to see the former sea wall peeping through the incoming waves.  A comparison with how the site looked in 1964 and how it looks now was made - with a great deal of the former Godwin Battery now lying on the beach.  We even walked on the precarious crumbling cliffs of boulder clay to take a closer look at some of the concrete debris scattered on the sand below us.
Gun Emplacement from the Former Godwin Battery 
(c) 2016 Andrew Wells
A new map of Spurn on an interpretation board provided by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust allowed me the opportunity of explaining how Spurn may just possibly have been visited by the future professor.  The plaques on the wall of the Blue Bell (former pub, but now a cafe) were a fine illustration of the destructive power of the North Sea on this vulnerable East Yorkshire coast.  We then, rather Hobbit-like, enjoyed our third lot of refreshments in as many hours by partaking of mainly strawberry ice cream tubs at the cafe.  Whilst Mary and Dan enjoyed another unhurried cup of tea on a bench outside, and Jessica stayed behind to chat, the rest of us trouped a few hundred yards to the sign of the Golden Sands Caravan Park.  This marks the site of the former hospital in which Tolkien is believed to have received treatment during the winter of 1917/18.  This rather  banal anticlimactic moment marked the end of the tour, as everyone returned to their cars for the car sharing back to the various meeting points.

The Godwin Battery Hospital was behind the Golden Beaches sign

I would like to thank all the attendees for their interest, and  the various contributions they all made which added to the success of this long-expected excursion.  Will there ever be a sequel?


Mary McCarthy said...

An excellent and informative day. Roos churchyard was truly magical. many thanks Michael

Michael Flowers said...

Glad it was worth the trip from Birmingham. Thanks for your and Dan's contribution on the day

Catherine Thorn said...

An excellent day, Michael, and I hope that this will be the first tour of many. Indeed something special should be done in May next year to mark the centenary of that special moment which was so pivotal to both the emergence of Tolkien's subcreation and to him and Edith personally.

Michael Flowers said...

Thanks Catherine. That would be rather fitting!

Freyalyn said...

Fascinating. I wish I'd been there.

Michael Flowers said...

It will still be there next year, but it's the centenary, so it may be a little busy!

Anonymous said...

No response, just an impassive-yet-expectant stare.