Birmingham & Black Country

Hear J R R Tolkien's childhood in a Birmingham audio walk

Sarehole Mill
Image caption The audio walk starts at Sarehole Mill, which was overlooked from Tolkien's bedroom window

Occasional patterns from the light rain are the only thing disturbing the perfect mirror pool surface of the pond at Sarehole Mill in Birmingham.

This is one of the scenes featured in a new J R R Tolkien-inspired audio walk, created by Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

The Rep has created an audio drama, called Light From the Shadows, based on the Lord of the Rings writer's childhood adventures in the streets, fields and woodlands that surround this working watermill in Hall Green.

This, however, is not so much a tour as an audio experience.

With music and an array of voices, the commentary comes together as a patchwork of quotes, thoughts and suggestions covering more than 100 years from Tolkien's time to the present day.

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Media captionMusic and song add to The Rep's JRR Tolkien audio walk

The audio suggests trying to imagine the smell of fresh bread from the mill and hearing footsteps on cobblestones.

Although today's traffic in the background is undeniable, the audio weaves such modern-day details into its narrative.

Irene De Boo, curator manager at the mill, said: "It's not the normal audio tape you get from a museum, it's a dramatic interpretation. People quickly get into it."

She was working on Sunday when the audio walk launched and said about 100 people borrowed the free audio player and headphones in just a few hours.

Image caption The entrance to Moseley Bog is through a maze of houses that ends at Pensby Close

A Light from the Shadows leaflet has also been created with a map to accompany the audio.

It guides me across the meadow behind the mill and past Tolkien's old home, which is almost anonymous.

Following the map I am then taken towards Moseley Bog, as a young boy's voice on the drama adds: "We'll get lost until the city all around us is far far away, a distant memory. That's when anything can happen."

The bog has long been associated with the cult writer; a childhood spent playing in its trees and waters is meant to have greatly influenced Tolkien's writings.

Despite Oxford being his home when The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were written, Ms De Boo says the link with Birmingham was made by Tolkien himself.

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Media captionAn actor voices a dramatic interpretation of JRR Tolkien's life in Birmingham

"He was quoted in his lifetime relating the mill and Moseley Bog as a source of inspiration, down to the buildings and the characters like the 'white ogres' that he called the mill workers that chased him off the land here."

So, to see for myself, I am walking through an unlikely row of retirement bungalows and council low-rise flats, wondering what Tolkien would have made of the hanging baskets and mobility handrails.

Into the bog itself and the audio's claim to help me "get lost" seems all too promising. Four wooden posts are the only welcome, presumably once featuring information, a map, or at least the statement that this is indeed Moseley Bog.

The audio walk tells me to wander through this "old, special place" while actors play Tolkien and his girlfriend exploring the site and developing their relationship.

Image caption In Moseley Bog it is tempting to imagine links to Tolkien's works, like seeing faces in the trees

The audio walk also seems to heighten my appreciation of the natural sights and sounds of the area, including bird song.

As I emerge from the bog in the residential corner of Pensby Close, I feel a similar sensation to the one experienced when coming out of the cinema in the middle of the afternoon.

The sense of having been on a journey to another world is tangible.

It could be the romance of following in a writer's footsteps, the craft of The Rep's audio walk, or the simple pleasure of being utterly alone in a green oasis in the city.

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