Geek pilgrimage

In my last blog post I wrote about the metaphorical musings inspired by watching (or reading) Lord of the Rings. It was while I was writing that piece that I started to wonder when, and why, my understanding of the stories had shifted from imaginative fiction to allegorical meditation? Thinking back, I realised that it changed when I visited the filmset of Hobbiton in New Zealand.

Glasgow to Hobbiton

In 2013 my family went on a five week holiday to New Zealand to visit relatives and see the sights. It was our big, family, once-in-a-lifetime-kinda-thing, holiday. Schools, colleges, work, family and money all aligned to see us travel from Glasgow to Auckland, Whangaparoera, Bay of Islands and (I’m not making this up) Big Manly Beach! The trip was a chance to relax from a stressful few years, and spend some time thinking about what the future might hold.

We’d be given a car to travel about in, and while driving from Auckland to Rotorua we decided (sort of at the last minute) to detour and visit Hobbiton. I wasn’t too keen: even less when I discovered that it would cost us over £100 as a family to get the tour!

But, as we sat at the reception waiting for the buses to take us to the movie set, I was surprised to feel the excitement inside me starting to build.


When the production company filming Lord of the Rings built the Hobbiton set for ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ they did so on a sheep farm in the middle of New Zealand’s north island. The New Zealand army helped build the road and the set, and filming took place over about 3 months in 1999/2000 (in what was New Zealand’s summer). After filming was finished, the idea was that everything was to be ripped out and the farmland returned to its original state. However, the restoration work was delayed (from what I remember the guide said, it was by bad weather) and the farmer noticed that local folks wanted to come up and have a look round the old set. After the LotR films were released proper tours started. When the set was rebuilt for the filming of the Hobbit, it was left standing and re-opened as a tourist attraction: Hobbiton. In what I thought was a nice touch, they rebuilt the Green Dragon after it was burnt down for the ‘Scourging of the Shire‘ scene (seen by Frodo in Galadriel’s mirror), even although it wasn’t needed for the Hobbit movie

A flagon in the Dragon

A bus took us from the main offices and car park to the film set itself (hidden behind some low hills) and when we got there I was soooo excited. Frustration at the £100+ evaporated.

Here was the cutting the Gandalf rode through in LotR. Here was the Party Tree. Here was Sam Gamgee’s house. Here was the Green Door and the ‘Party Business’ sign.

Ale keg in the Green Dragon
Ale taps in the Green Dragon, Hobbiton. Steve Ford

Close to the Party Tree is the fence Bilbo jumps over as he goes on this Unexpected Journey. I stood there wondering about what choices I should be making: I knew that something had to change – I just didn’t know what.

I was excited (actually giddy would be a better word) drinking a flagon of beer in The Green Dragon.





So what changed

Before I visited Hobbiton, the images and places of Tolkien’s world existed only my imagination. But now, I had been to Middle Earth, I’d touched the fences and walked through the doors of that world. The fictional tale had shifted from a fantasy to a reality: albeit that shift had happened through a ‘reality’ that was created, built and constructed by a film crew. But that construction was carefully crafted to look, sound, smell, feel and even taste (the beer) like it was really part of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. If Descartes‘ (“Ego cogito, ergo sum”) ‘thinking’ made him ‘am’, as a statement of him being ‘real’, then surely experiencing Middle Earth with all five senses makes it real to me.

This is why the metaphorical truths, hidden in the subtext (for me at least, even if not deliberately put there by Tolkien), are now alive. And real.


Many of the worlds religions have (or have had) as a key principle ‘pilgrimage’. Perhaps the most famous is the Islamic Hajj to the Kabba in Mecca. In Christianity, pilgrimage became less popular after the Reformation in the 1500, but has begun to make a resurgence in recent decades: for example the number of people completing the famous Camino de Santiago  has risen from about 2500 in 1986 to over 300000 in 2017. There are even new pilgrim routes in Scotland related to ancient Scottish, or Celtic, saints.

I try and take some regular time each year to walk a wee pilgrimage. It has all the elements you need – effort, hassle, trouble, cost, sore feet, tired limbs, smelly socks, craving for a decent coffee(!) – to keep it as far away from a holiday as possible. But in that knackered state, touching the stones that some folks see as sacred or holy, brings the truth of the Created Universe flooding inwards.

Perhaps, for you, there is no spiritual aspect to life, or the universe: maybe your thoughts lead you to conclude that ‘what is’ is ‘what is experienced’. But don’t let yourself by stuck with just the quantifiable! Touch the sacred – even if you know it might be a fantasy (like Hobbiton), and draw from the metaphorical understanding of others, new truths that only you can sense.

For me, I metaphorically pushed ajar this gate and in doing so opened a deeper truth than just the words in a sentence.

Bag End and The Gate!
The Gate at Bag End before Bilbo’s 111th birthday. Steve Ford



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