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Walking Middle-earth: Combe and Midgewater

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Everard Took continues his adventures beyond the borders of the Shire, with a trip to a village outside of Bree. He’s still not found his notebook, and he is not impressed by the local tavern, but as always he is moved by the beauty of Middle-earth.

Kai Greenwood ( @LostDunedan )

A visit to a little-known village in Bree-land and the notorious Midgewater Marshes.

  • Distance: 5  miles
  • Difficulty: Easy – assuming you keep your boots out of the bog
  • Dangers: Quickmud, mosquitos, and poor quality ale

Map of the Midgewater Marshes

Combe is a small village tucked into a fold of the Bree hills. I’ve always liked the place because it reminds me of Woodhall, back in Woody End, especially after sunset. When a village is hemmed in by forest, the nights are especially dark. Every hearth is stoked bright, and every conversation drops to a whisper. The trees are always listening.

In daylight though, Combe reveals its true treasure: its craftsfolk. This walk visits some of the natural resources that the locals turn into products that grace markets in Bree and beyond. 

Before we begin, a word of advice. This route is best enjoyed in the early morning – pre-dawn – for reasons I will reveal later…

Start at the Combe and Wattle inn, which is by far the least memorable drinking establishment I have ever visited. And I’ve visited a lot. It’s so forgettable that I’ve even forgotten the name… Is it the Combe and Wattle, or the Wattle and Combe? 

Whatever, walk east across the north road and along the lane between the fields (1), noting the mix of hobbit and big folk housing that is characteristic of Bree-land. 

Carved owlThe road soon enters the Chetwood, and here (2) you will find Lobo’s Lumberyard. This business is the source of many of the carved wooden animals you will find on sale in Bree. Lobo does a decent owl, though his ‘toadstools’ are clearly a species of mushroom, as any hobbit could have told him if he’d thought to ask…

Turn south when you spy a sunken road (3). This is the Saltway, which leads directly into the northernmost reaches of the Midgewater Marshes. 

‘The Midgewater Marshes!’ you cry. ‘Has Everard finally spilled the last crumbs of his sanity?’ No, brave traveller. Trust old Everard. I’m no Sackville-Baggins! Turn up your collar, pull down your hat, and stride on through the Saltway. ‘Why is this holloway called the Saltway?’ you ask. Once again I implore you to trust your guide. All will be revealed.

The Saltway emerges on the slope of a low hillside, and if you’ve timed your walk well, you will see the Marshes in a new light (literally). At dawn, the sun rises over the Weather Hills and the black waters turn silver, reflecting shimmers of life as midge swarms rise like wizard smoke. 

Who would have thought that nasty little bugs could be so beautiful? It is a wonderful sight that makes the early start worth the trouble, in this hobbit’s learned, but humble opinion! The patterns the midges trace are mesmeric, but do not linger too long because the bastards soon start to bite. Loop quickly back to the west, noting the low, rectangular walls in the water (4). These are not the foundations of buildings, but the answer to the riddle of the Saltway.

Swan salt cellarYou see, the water here is brine, and long ago men realised that evaporating it left behind a fine source of table salt. These salt pans are ancient, but others are worked to this day, filling the salt cellars on every table of the Shire, as well as preserving our fish and ham.

Leave the marshes and insects behind, and continue west across Combe Commons to rejoin the Bree-Archet road. On your return to Combe consider investing in one of the intricate salt cellars sold by several artisans in the village. Carved from local crystal rock, the swan designs are especially delightful.


P.s. There is still no sign of my lost notebook, although new evidence has arisen that I hesitate to share, as I would hate to be branded a finger-pointer. Needs must, however.

On a recent return to the Prancing Pony, whilst Barliman’s back was turned, I stole a glance at the register of guests on the date I last saw my notebook. One name stood out. On the night I stayed in Bree, so too did a Mister S. Sackville-Baggins…

Kai GreenwoodRead more at www.kaigreenwood.com

Twitter: @LostDunedan

Text and Maps © Kai Greenwood 2022

The post Walking Middle-earth: Combe and Midgewater appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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