“When you get here, you can see the looks on peoples faces of just sheer enjoyment” – Bob Hawtin,’ The Gaffer’
In the midst of a heat wave, sat in the vast yellowing field behind Sarehole Mill, it’s becoming clear just how much work must go into the Middle Earth Festival. Though it reaps all of the benefits of being set in the original inspiration of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, ‘The Gaffer’ Bob Hawtin explains that it also takes a lot of money, support and devotion to bring it to life.
Bob has been the curator of the festival for four years now and acts as the leader of a dedicated group of volunteers who give their time for the sheer love of all things Tolkien. He and his team took up the reins of responsibility when it became too much for the Tolkien Society, who continue to lend their support in other ways.
Middle Earth Festival attracts thousands of people each year, sometimes from as far as America, and gets everyone in the spirit of fun with its costume pageant, craft tent, axe throwing and plenty of exciting stalls. It’s not just the volunteers who show their dedication to the festival Bob tells us, “last year it tipped it down!” says Bob, “But saying that people still turned up in their Bringing Tolkien’s World To Life thousands, I couldn’t believe it”.
Other than the festival, small pockets of unspoilt wilderness and preserved buildings are all that remain from Tolkien’s day and pay homage to our most impressive ex-resident, whose influence has reached across the globe. “This is one thing that’s always frustrated me.” Says Bob “Because this is where Tolkien played as a child, we’ve got something that nobody else has got, and it’s proved that he played here and taunted the millers and everything. We’ve got the site of his childhood… I don’t think this area makes enough of Tolkien”.
Having never heard stories of Tolkien’s youth and his early involvement in the area we were eager to hear more. Bob explained “Along this river there were something like 13 mills in its time, and there were two millers in this one, and a couple in the next one down, and Tolkien and his brother used to go in and taunt them.” he continued “They called this one (at Sarehole Mill) the dark ogre, because they ground all sorts of stuff, and the one further up they nicknamed the white ogre because he would come out with flour and stuff all over him, so that’s where the white and dark ogres comes from”.
Soon we’re joined by a dwarf of Erebor, a Gondorian ranger, an orc and an uruk hai scout who are stopped several times on the short distance to meet us by stunned passers by, they hadn’t expected such an encounter in The Shire, a typically Hobbit inhabited area.
“People have been making costumes for the last year” Bob tells us, and it certainly shows! The attention to detail is incredible, they all look as though they have stepped straight out of the cinema screen and into our world. It becomes such an immersive experience when you are stood face to face with characters you’ve seen in the movies, anyone who has been knows just how thrilling it is.
The Galactic Knights are the non profit organisation who are responsible for those incredible characters who give the festival something truly magical. The organisation travels all over the country supporting charities and helping them to raise money, and they have found a worthy cause here. Without passionate volunteers we wouldn’t have such a fantastic event to look forward to all year long. So don’t be shy this year, get on your costumes and get involved!
“We put on a costume show and mini skirmish for the kids, also an orc camp and living fantasy camp – as opposed to a living history camp…” – Rhys Hennessey / Erebor Dwarf
Middle Earth Festival
1 – 2 Sep
@ Sarehole Mill