Magdalena SŁABA: Exercises in presence  or Tolkien-themed Trip of 2016 (part III)

Exercises in presence
or Tolkien-themed Trip of 2016 (part III)

Photo of Magdalena SŁABA

Magdalena SŁABA

Varsovian, lawyer, trip lover, big fan of Tolkien and his works, enthusiast of classical music, cinephile.

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Having experienced all that, how to visit Edinburgh?

Perhaps like that.

Once a group photo has been made under the castle hill you need to climb it and to find a bar serving fish’n’chips and cider. When I went out, with my stomach full after a good meal in a completely empty venue, I passed by a bagpiper in a green kilt playing in the street, focusing his attention on a little girl enchanted by his music and interest in her.

Continue to the Royal Mile, the street in the Old Town stretched between the Castle and Holyrood Palace, and buy there an elegant cashmere scarf. It was so nice to pick and choose from the local handicraft while being told properties of cashmere by a lady of Hindu looks speaking English that I could easily understand!

Go across the bridge with a splendid view on the city, make a short stop at the foot of Walter Scott monument and enter the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption to close the day with thanksgiving during the evening mass.

Then you need to go back to the coach admiring Arthur’s Seat on the way and accepting with regret that it is too far and too little time to see the monument of the Polish bear Wojtek.

And is that it?

Well, not really.

We cannot forget to visit the restaurant where J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter’s adventures. The Elephant House on George IV Bridge serves good coffee which is not surprising when the shift manager is Polish! Many writers do their job in such places. They put their laptops on tables and write within the buzz of voices and coffee machines. As far as I know, Jo Nesbø’s books are written in restaurants. There must be something important in this, but so far I have not been able to find out what it is. Probably the authors are extraverts and they charge their personal batteries from having other people around. As we learn from Tolkien’s biography by Carpenter, he liked to write at home, usually at night, because during the day he was a very busy man. He used a typewriter or a pen and the so called Oxford paper: university exam sheets.


.What we also must remember is Bobby the dog from the former Franciscan monastery. This lovely skye terrier spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner John Gray. He has his own tombstone there, with sticks, balls, toys and other gifts piled up by visitors. Next to Bobby’s Bar nearby there is his statue as well. His nose has a golden shine since it has been polished by thousands of hands. Some dogs like being stroked on their noses…

After a while I got back to the cemetery. Close to Bobby’s tomb there are graves of his owner (”even in his ashes most beloved”) and of James Brown Sexton, the man who took care of him when he guarded the late owner’s place of burial. Gray died in 1858, Brown in 1868. Greyfriars Bobby passed away on 14th Jan. 1872 at the age of 16. ”LET HIS LOYALTY AND DEVOTION BE A LESSON TO US ALL” is engraved on the tombstone fixed there in 1981. Do not be surprised if you see a homeless man with a dog on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh. Dogs are angels’ next of kin…

Has Tolkien ever visited Edinburgh? Yes, for instance in early April 1949 he took part in an academic conference that he refers to in a letter of 4th May of that year. Yet on 5th April 1949 C. S. Lewis wrote in a letter that Tolkien had gone to Edinburgh to give a series of lectures. Maybe then Tolkien did not want to admit his role of a lecturer? Many years later, in the summer of 1973, only two months before his death, he travelled to the capital of Scotland with his daughter Priscilla to receive an honorary doctorate of literature. They stayed in Invertiel Hotel at Blacket Place and were guests of Angus McIntosh, Tolkien’s former student.

Tolkien visited Scotland many times, nevertheless, as he admitted, he never went north from the Tay, which is just a little to the north of St. Andrews.

On Mon. 9th May we crossed the bridge on Firth of Forth.

There are three very tall bridges on Firth of Forth which separates Edinburgh from Fife and is the river Forth’s estuary. On our right hand side there was the red railway Forth Bridge open in 1890 and on the opposite side there were pylons of a newly constructed bridge, whereas the one that we crossed was the Forth Road. It is a very impressive bridge, 156 metres high. The sun shone and ahead of us lay the road to St. Andrews.

This is an exquisite university town situated on the seafront. There were no clouds in the blue sky. Dazzled by the sunshine and cooled by the strong wind we passed from the ruins of the Catholic cathedral devastated during the Reformation to another ruins, the remains of a castle.

The cathedral was founded in 1158 where a Romanic church had once stood. The construction took over a century. The ruins that these days barely suggest the scale of the original building are surrounded by a graveyard with very old tombstones. Among them are those marking the graves of clan chiefs like Norman MacLeod (The Wicked Man) or renowned golfers Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris. In 1559 during the Scottish Reformation the church was deprived of its altars and pictures, in 1561 it was abandoned to fall into ruin.

The place evoked memories of my last year’s visit in Glastonbury – the huge temple there had a comparably miserable end for a similar reason, only in different time. From a bird’s eye view they resemble each other (Glastonbury used to be on the seashore as well, there is one symbolic grave there – of Arthur and Guinevere). I think every building falls apart in its own special way and has an indestructible core. That is why all ruins are to some extent similar to one another, just like human skulls and bones.

The ruins in St. Andrews may be a clear sign of omnipresent and irreversible enthropy or one can associate them with a natural sculpture, as if it was caused by some mysterious force to grow and merge into the landscape, united with sea, sky, sun, clouds and marine birds. They seem more alive now in the state of decay and maybe in this shape they tell more about the human being than the whole anthropology.


One more thing that reminded me of Glastonbury there was that in the latter place I had eaten delicious ginger and honey ice cream, while in St. Andrews I devoured an equally tasty tuna sandwich, under the watchful eye of a big seagull which managed to get some bread from me. My great appetite for tuna sandwiches at the seashore dates back to a certain visit in Blankenberge resort in Belgium. So in a sense places on the map are marked with tastes and smells, too. Rituals to stop the swift flow of time…

I used the break to go back to the cathedral, finishing my sandwich. I took one of the three main streets and passed by a bar where Kate is said to have met William. The Duchess of Cambridge, that is to say.

Tolkien was in St Andrews for the first time in 1910 or 1911 to visit his aunt Jane Neave, his mother’s younger sister. He then drew the landscape of St. Andrews from Kinkell Brake, dated 1910 or 1911. I admit I looked for the drawing, but I could not find it anywhere. Perhaps it is somewhere in Bodleian Library in Oxford, yet I find it unlikely it has been reproduced in print. Tolkien visited St. Andrews again in 1912, probably some time around Easter or in summer, and wrote the first version of the poem The Horns of Ylmir. It compares the ocean to music, which somehow corresponds with the myth of the world creation from The Silmarillion.

Aunt Jane was a remarkable figure. She was one of the few academically educated women of her times. She taught geometry to Ronald and Hilary. Hammond and Scull wrote in Reader’s Guide that the school that she administered (already being a widow at the time) was attended by daughters of James and Ellen Brookes-Smith. It was them who organized the memorable climbing in the Swiss Alps in the summer of 1911, where Ronald had a few adventures, some of them even dramatic, such as falling rocks. That excursion is where the sources lie of Rivendell Valley and Gandalf. The Brookes-Smiths ran Phoenix Farm, Gedling, in Nottinghamshire, where aunt Jane and Ronald’s brother Hilary were employed. Hilary stayed there for the rest of his life, whereas Jane moved to Dormston and took up work at a farm at a street named… Bag End! There in 1937 her nephew gave her a copy of The Hobbit that had just appeared on the market. Towards the end of her life she lived in a caravan at Phoenix Farm and then in Wales with her younger cousin. Because of a suggestion from her Tolkien published The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Jane got a copy just a few months prior to her death.

On 8th March 1939 Tolkien gave the eleventh Andrew Lang lecture at University of St. Andrews. The series of lectures named after a respected folklore specialist deserved Tolkien’s participation. It was ”On Fairy Stories” which we know now as an essay. There is a large passage devoted to this in the exceptionally praiseworthy The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide. Reader’s Guide by Hammond and Scull.

Galadhorn, delighted with his visit at the bookstore where he was served tea in a cup from Bolesławiec and where he bought an illustrated book on William Morris, took us to the Old Course, one of the world’s oldest golf courses. Lo and behold, the Greenfields where Bullroarer a.k.a. Bandobras Took fought with Golfimbul, the king of the goblins! In the first chapter of The Hobbit Gandalf talking to the dwarves praises the natural heroism of Bilbo and recalls this family story just after Bag End’s owner has passed out upon hearing the ultimate aim of the journey to the Mountain. Bullroarer, who was large enough to ride a horse, charged at Golfimbul and knocked off his head with a club. The head flew through the air for 100 yards and stuck in a rabbit hole – which is fairly easy for me to believe in since there are lots of rabbit holes in St. Andrews. Thus the battle was won and it is said that this is how the game of golf was invented. By the way, Golfimbul was the first name created by Tolkien for a creature living in Middle-earth.

The golf course borders with picturesque coastline, so we ran to watch the ebb, then with sea salt in our hair off we went to Glamis. This might have not happened at all, because our guide wanted to visit Scone instead, yet he eventually bowed to pressure from us ladies and felt fully satisfied afterwards.

Glamis is a grandiose castle that has belonged to the earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne for over 700 years. It was a home of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother, also Princess Margaret was born there. Sir John Lyon was given the title of thane of Glamis in 1372 by king Robert II, the first king of the House of Stewart. Sir John married princess Johanna, the daughter of Robert II. The L-shaped castle built of pink sandstone has been erected on the foundations of the former hunting lodge.

The Scottish king Malcolm died in Glamis in 1034 and was succeded by Duncan, a son of his elder sister. Duncan was killed, probably in battle, by his cousin named Macbeth, the son of Malcolm’s younger sister. The story inspired Shakespeare, but he confused the epochs. In the 11th century the masters of Glamis had not bore the title of a thane yet, but maybe this makes the prophecy of the Three Witches open to even more interpretations.

Can Glamis by connected with Tolkien anyhow? Of course, as everything else! If the castle is featured in Macbeth, then the forest that surrounds it is… Birnam Wood. Professor could not forgive Shakespeare that the trees marching to the battlefield turned out to be soldiers covered with green branches and twigs (as if it was a scene from an American war movie). He was so concerned with the trivialization of a folk tale that he invented the ents!

We were guided by a dignified elderly lady named Lynn, who led us through halls and rooms filled with beautiful furniture, pictures, knick-knacks and other works of art. She added some ghost tales, i.e. in the crypt she told us about a thane of Glamis who so much loved playing cards that he took up the challenge of playing against the devil, had no luck and was walled up alive or another one about a miserable noblewoman praying in the chapel.

That is one of the greatest private chapels in Northern Europe, created by a Dutch artist Jacob de Wet). Lynn showed us there a small, but impressive painting depicting Maria Magdalena meeting Jesus resurrected, dressed as a gardener, with a hat on his head. All over the world there are only five paintings with a similar motif.

I was moved by what I saw in the parts of the castle that commemorate the Queen Mother. She is on many portraits and family photographs, even in the stable there is an exhibition devoted to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (played by Helena Bonham-Carter in The King’s Speech). Her doll house, the coronation retinue reconstructed of hundreds of small figurines and even… her passport with a precise description: HEIGHT: 5 FEET 2 INCHES, FOREHEAD: REGULAR, EYES: BLUE, NOSE: REGULAR, LIPS: REGULAR, CHIN: ROUND, HAIR: DARK BROWN, COMPLEXION: FRESH, FACE: ROUND, DISCTINCTIVE MARKS: NONE, NATIONALITY: BRITISH BORN SUBJECT.

The castle is surrounded by many square miles of a nice park with lots of old trees and wild animals. I sipped a small coffee, then went to look at the castle from the main path leading to it and took a walk through the park. Then I had to regenerate before the long way to Carlisle.

My fatigue was recompensed by an excellent high and spacious Travelodge hotel room with a big window that I shared with Ola, as in Falkirk. She went to exchange gossips over a pint of beer and I decided to sit on my bed (I had drawn an extra) and watch a Richard Attenborough film about bioluminescence, most notably about fireflies. That somehow added even more Tolkien to my mood. Falling asleep near the window I could watch the moon in the cloudless sky.

Tue. 10th May had a picnic opening. We ate big breakfast in Dodd Wood at Bassenthwaite Lake, next to Mirehouse manor. A streamlet whispering and a forest growing nearby made a scenery for… a solitary sheep painted in flowers! Using byways (because of roadworks) we were entering the Lakeland or the Land of the Poets. The road was so steep uphill that our Baby vehicle weighed down with luggage, trophies and souvenirs had to take three breaks to regain its breath. The last of those was on Kirkstone Pass (1,489 feet high) with a magnificent view and howling winds. There is an inn there, which was established in 1496.

We went down the slope and landed softly in Bowness-on-Windermere, in the heart of England’s biggest national park, where we found a conspicuous resort with white bungalows at a lake traversed by cabin cruisers. All visitors in Bowness sooner or later get in the Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit salesroom. She was one of the most famous inhabitants of Lake District. The others were the so called Lake Poets of English Romantic period: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Dorothy Wordsworth and Charles Lamb. They all were inspired by the local vistas of hills, valleys and lakes. Their poetry praises natural bonds between people and the natural world.

Miss Potter was a big fan of Herdwick, the local breed of sheep. These days one of the heroes of this land is James Rebanks, a Herdwick sheep breeder and author of a best-selling book on pastoral and farming life. He runs his own Twitter account with ca 85 thousand followers at present.

The name of the lake Windermere bears associations with the deep Kheled-zâram, also called Mirrormere. It is seen behind the Pass of Imladris in Lothlórien, 6th Chapter of Book Two of LotR. It is in Bowness, too, that appears the motif of Hedwig, Harry Potter’s pet owl. Our two Olas had the pleasure to hug the furry inhabitants of The Owl Sanctuary – the birds that, similarly to dogs, like being stroked on the head.

We left Bowness carrying an extra passenger. Galadhorn forgot to take from Poland our mascot Alqua, a swan with a flexible throat and fondness for liquors, so Poicëlle brought a frog named Frogo (the name is a web competition winner) dressed in a nice red waistcoat.

In Blackwell near Bowness, thanks to the precious advice given to us by Art Nouveau specialists Iza and Piotr, the aforementioned couple for whom that was their debut Tolkien-related journey, we were able to visit the absolutely extraordinary Arts & Crafts Movement House. The previous year in Oxford we had heard and talked about William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, whose achievements influenced Tolkien’s artistic taste. In Blackwell we saw the practical realization of Morris’ ideas.

The house has been commissioned by a wealthy brewer from Manchester sir Edward Holt with architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott (1865-1945) and completed by 1900. It is surrounded by terraced gardens created by Thomas Mawson. The interior is entirely genuine. All furniture has been designed by Morris & Co., including the walls decorated with mostly floral ornaments. There is a lot of oak wood there. The house has many bay windows with comfortable coaches next to them and also huge fireplaces framed by slender columns with foliage sculpted in their capitals. For Baillie Scott fireplaces were the substitute for sunlight.

The most beautiful is White Drawing Room, whose big windows face Windermere. You approach it through a long dark corridor. It is as if one side of the house was feminine and the other masculine – or so one is informed by the museum’s folder and map.

For a Tolkienist the White Drawing Room could be a chamber in Rivendell, while the main hall, dining room and minstrels’ gallery would stand for the interiors of Menegroth or Nargothrond. There is some resemblance of the room to another project by Baillie Scott, a lovely tree house designed in 1897 for the Romanian crown princess Marie (he worked for several clients from Central Europe, e.g. Poland, too). The big window gives one the feeling of being on board a ship. The room also has an inglenook, a small recess adjoining a fireplace, a truly wonderful invention. Evenings spent reading in a comfortable armchair next to a source of warmth is a dream of every bookworm. As far as the latter piece of furniture, there was an unusual wooden armchair there, one with a hemispherical back, which looked exceptionally sizeable looked at from anywhere in the room.

The Arts & Crafts movement first emerged and became popular in England, spreading onto Europe and America in the years 1880-1910 and onto Japan in the 20s of the 20th century. It aimed at promoting handicraft in simple forms of folk origin, making references also to mediaeval and romantic traditions. It penetrated almost every field of art and design from decorative art to garden design. The movement was socially aware, too, e.g. anti-modernist, so possibly attractive for Tolkien. As far as art or architecture it involved looking on a man from a hollistic perspective as on an object of creation and the ultimate aim of all creative activities. The everyday access to beauty was supposed to positively influence human relationships and to be a catalyst for self-improvement. At its core was rediscovery of the ethical dimension of art.

Many of these assumptions we find adapted in the houses of hobbits and elves. Beauty is an expression of a man and vice versa, and men are a natural source of art and architecture, not under their influence. I think that Tolkien, perhaps not entirely on purpose, applied the Arts & Crafts rules in literature, both in manner and themes.

The central focus of Arts & Crafts was the house or in more general terms the management and planning of living spaces, so the representatives of the movement were also interested in towns and cities as seen from the humanist point of view. It is not just about the house, what counts as well is its surrounding, which includes the garden.  For Tolkien it was crucial how men and elves shaped the spaces they lived in. It is worthwile to search for such information in his books, for instance to analyse how Shire is organized or to take a closer look at Rivendell, Beleriand, Gondolin, Vinyamar or the underground halls of Menegroth in the kingdom of Thingol and Melian. Each of those places is bound to someone’s dream or an overarching objective of a community.

The thing boils down to inhabiting a certain place, to be present there. The place is important, because most language describing our lives refers to it, which has been discussed by Father Józef Tischner. Being present is directly connented with mortality. We acknowledge the place that we live in. We save it instead of exploiting it. We accept and await heaven and godly entities as such. We give consent to our existence, as Martin Heidegger claimed in ”Building, Dwelling, Thinking” (I have read about it lately in Inne Przestrzenie, inne miejsca. Mapy i terytoria edited by Dariusz Czaja). Settlement as our most elementary and natural need – so visible in Tolkien’s works! One can say there are no creatures in Middle-earth more settled than men and especially hobbits. On the other hand, what elves see as their permanent settlement is not in Middle-earth, but what lies beyond the Sea. And the two attitudes are ours as well…

Here I discovered a new meaning of the tree motif. Aragorn found in Minas Tirith, hidden from all eyes, the saplings of the White Tree, descendants of Telperion and Laurelin from Valinor (the following line can be drawn: the White Tree of Gondor comes from Nimloth the Fair from Armenelos in Númenor which comes from Celeborn (Galathilion) or the Tree of Tirion on Tol Eressëa, which was created by Yavanna to be like Telperion, the White Tree of Gondor). The tree symbolizes our unbroken presence in this world, despite all the disasters and migration that we have been through in Middle-earth.

I practice my presence in every Quest, in cafes, churches, museums, galleries – everywhere one can dwell somewhat longer to watch, see and feel that the world IS even more than we ARE. It is likely that at some point my presence will be so perfect that I decide to finish travelling…

The house in Blackwell was opened for the public in 2001 and since that time it has held various temporary exhibitions, just as the exhibition of sculptures of Laura Ford ”Seen and Unseen”. In the mediaeval-style main hall used for receiving guests and spending time the artist has set sculptures of knights who seem to have spent a lot of time and money in an inn the previous night. Armoured elven forces of king Thranduil who have drunk too much wine? Some eerie hooded creatures in bedrooms. Besides, a gathering around someone (dead?) lying on the floor of the living room upstairs. A boar smoking a pipe sitting in a wooden armchair in the dining room… A group of little girls in the garden, one squatting on a low wall, another leaning on a tree covering her face as someone playing hide-and-seek – or maybe crying? Near the building a badger clad in rags as a homeless man. By the lake a few… black human-sized cats, walking, some of them keeping their paws on their heads – the group has been called ”Judgement Day”.

Saying goodbye to the beautiful house was difficult. We headed south for the already known hospitable inn. We covered the distance of 600 kms through rain and thick fog. At Waitrose on one of our stopovers I bought the famous baby bottom butter doing miracles on female (male as well?) faces. I had to give it a try. Everything was the same at the hotel except for the fact that this time I got a room on the first floor.

The whole Wed. 11th May was spent on our way back. We hurried to catch the ferry, where we raised a toast, which I took a photo of, with the cider that Galadhorn paid for. Our bus ride might have been like a gallop to Minas Tirith on the back of Shadowfax: we stood still, only the world was spinning madly. There were just a few stopovers, called ”sikundas” by our guide. I could not sleep at night, therefore I saw the sunrise. When we entered Poland on Thu. 12th May our fantastic drivers were replaced at the wheel by their boss. We got to Wrocław at around 9 a.m. and were bidden farewell by Agnieszka and three Olas. It took us another two hours to get to Katowice. I was very glad to be accommodated earlier than expected, but since I had not slept for so long, why sleep at all!czi

First I went to a crêperie, then I saw some more of Katowice (Bree), as far into the city as its market square. I saw on Facebook that Galadhorn had been searching for clear yet theretofore hidden traces of William Morris in the Nikiszowiec district. I bought some cottage cheese I had missed for so long and enriched that with some strawberries. Then the sad news reached me about the death of Maria Czubaszek, a popular satyrist and songwriter. Another similarity to the previous year when Władysław Bartoszewski had passed away…

I spent the time between 10.43 am. and 1.03 p.m. of Fri. 13th May onboard the pendolino train, in a rather noisy wagon. Still nothing was happening.

Well, I was back again!

Magdalena Słaba

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Fot. Magdalena Słaba, tłumaczenie: Juliusz Żebrowski