29 March 2021

Puzzlewood – Tolkien’s Inspiration for Middle-earth

Puzzlewood – even the name conjures up images of ancient ents, elves, wizards and hobbits.  

You could easily be forgiven for thinking that you were lost somewhere in Middle-earth.  

Indeed John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was fascinated by the place and it is said to be a major stimulus for the imagination of the man who brought us Bilbo, Frodo and Gandalf.
You do not, however, have to be transported to another world to enjoy such Tolkien-esque landscapes for yourself.  Puzzlewood stretches over fourteen acres of the Forest of Dean in the English county of Gloucestershire (pronounced Gloss-ta-shire). Yes, it is even in a shire!

During the early Victorian period a multitude of stone pathways were laid down.  These are now close to hundred years old themselves and add to the feeling that you are in an ancient place. Many of the trees are much older than the pathways and as you walk through the wood you come across bizarre rock formations, hanging bridges and hidden caves.

The geology of Puzzlewood is one of its more interesting features.  Scowles are everywhere – these are cave systems which, over the millennia, have become exposed at the surface.  This was caused by both erosion and uplift and humans have taken advantage of this for millennia – there is evidence of iron ore extraction which predates the Roman invasion of Britain.

The Romans, too, used the area.  In 1848 over three thousand coins, dating back to the time of Valerian, were discovered in a scowle.  Who left them there and why will never be known but once the Romans left the islands of Britain a century later, the area was left to itself and nature soon reclaimed the mine workings. The local people eventually forgot what human activity took place there and the folklore of the place started.

In the Victorian era the landowner laid down the pathways as an interesting diversion for his friends and family.  It opened to the general public almost a century later.  Since then it has remained the same and has attracted visitors in their thousands every year since.  The only nod to our times are the visitor facilities discretely place by the entrance to the wood.

Tolkien was a regular visitor to the Forest of Dean and it was inevitable that he would come across Puzzlewood in all its earthy glory.  You can almost picture him, walking through the wood with ideas racing through his head about Fangorn, Old Forest, Mirkwood and Lothlórien.

The wood has also been used for location filming many times - one of the most recent TV series to film there was the highly successful BBC fantasy adventure Merlin. The Doctor Who episodes The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone, broadcast in 2010 were also filmed on location at Puzzlewood.

A contemporary writer, a certain JK Rowling, is also rumored to have come to Puzzlewood during the time she wrote the Harry Potter series. Although she has never overtly confirmed this, many see Puzzlewood as a direct influence on her concept of the Forbidden Forest.

Whether this is the case or not, Puzzlewood remains one of the UK’s most mysterious, beautiful and inspiring pieces of woodland.

First image Credit Flickr User Trubble