If you were able to visit any of your fictional favourite places, where would you go? The land of Narnia? Gotham City? Hogwarts? For me, after the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise, the village of Hobbiton in the Shire would have to be a strong front runner.
Well, I’ve been there and today we went back again.
The sun was sliding low toward Bag End, shadows were gathering about the Party Tree but the Green Dragon was still in full glory.
We had the best weather so far of the whole trip for our return visit to Hobbiton Movie Set. Our first time, a year and a half ago, had been the first tour of the morning. This one was the last tour of the night. The one with the Hobbit Feast attached. Woohoo!
Early on, while we are all waiting for the bus to drive us through the sheep filled farm, we discovered one of Jim’s biggest fears was about to be realized: I was going to be the only one in costume. (His other biggest fear was that he would be the only one NOT in costume.) However, no one turned a hair. The staff is so used to costumes – Harry Potters, Wookies and even Spidermen – that they didn’t even notice until later. A few of our fellow passengers smiled politely but that was about all. The biggest reaction came from a 4 year old girl who was absolutely fascinated by my big feet, to the point she was almost tripped while walking backwards to get a better view.
There was not as much wow factor today – I knew what I would see. Also, as it turned out, many of our fellow visitors were also on their second (or third) visit. And, many of the first timers did not speak English very well and so did not ooo! and aww! when our-trying-to-be-enthusiastic guide told us interesting tidbits.
I was blown away to realize the world owes this amazing tourist facility to a particularly bad New Zealand’s winter. It was part of the deal that after the filming of the LOTR that Peter Jackson, or PJ as the locals call him, was to return the site back to its original pristine condition. They started the process but winter intervened. In the mean time the movie came out and, low and behold, some local nerds recognized the mountains in Hobbiton’s background and went on a pilgrimage. All that was left of Hobbiton by then was white plasterboard in the hills with empty round holes but that didn’t matter.
I suppose it was a little like seeing a pile of rubble and using your imagination to recreate the castle that used to be there. Word got out and hundreds of people visited the site, despite the winter weather. The enterprising farmers knew a gold mine when they saw it and the farm and skeletal set-remains tour began. By the time PJ’s crew came back to finish the clean up, they were politely told to take a hike. The tour was so successful that when PJ himself came back asking to use the farm again to film the Hobbit trilogy he was told ‘yes’ on one condition – instead of polystyrene and plasterboard the site had to be made with real materials that would last for generations. And so it was that what has become one of New Zealand’s biggest drawing tourist sites was made.
According to our guide, a good number of people come to the site who have never read the books and have never seen either LOTR or the Hobbit trilogies (I suppose such people do exist). These people come only to make their friends and relatives back home jealous. Is it working? Are you jealous?
The level of detail in the place is amazing. They even have smoke gently rising from the chimneys rising out of the turf. I was amazed to learn that even the lichen on the fences was added to make the place look well worn and established. The lichen was made with glue, colouring and yogurt. Yes, yogurt!
Winding your way around Hobbiton is truly incredible. Did you know they have homes of various sizes? Some as small as 30% so that when peopled with kids wearing adult hobbit makeup, would make a passing Gandalf look huge. Some at 90% for short actors (I‘ll take one of those). Bag End is the only one that is “normal sized” what ever that is!
Our group took lots of pictures but you could easily tell the big draw was the pull of the taps at Green Dragon Pub. They couldn’t wait to start acting like true hobbits: Drinking and feasting!
I shall be describing the Hobbit Feast in detail on http://www.difoodie.wordpress.com.
At the end of our feasting and drinking, we were all given lanterns to wind our way back over the trails to Hobbiton, just like tipsy hobbits of old. Many of the homes were now lit from within and it was easy to imagine ourselves as tired hobbits passing by the well known circular doors of our fellow villagers, ready to take comfort in our own familiar hobbit beds. It was particularly awe inspiring as some of our crew walked farther ahead and the light of their lanterns bobbed like fireflies along the trails, reflecting in the shimmering black water of the Bywater.
For city dwellers like myself, this almost complete darkness was quite heavenly. The stars in the sky were so bright they almost (almost) overshadowed the magic of the Shire. Even the Milky Way glowed above us in swirling detail.
What about my goal? The one where I was to “learn how to create the type of home I envisioned the first time I laid eyes on Hobbiton?” Well, Jim and I both agreed upon the part of the whole evening we both enjoyed the most. It wasn’t lovely Bag End, it wasn’t the lights on the Bywater, it wasn’t even the sumptuous meal. No, it was after the dinner when we were comfortably full, with flagons of ale by our sides, sitting in over-stuffed chairs in front of a blazing fire. I was reading “Return of the King” (of course) out loud and we both felt so contented and cozy. That is the home I envision and dream of and will try to recreate. Best of all? I’ve already got the life long companion, it shouldn’t be too hard to fix the fireplace at home, and, Lord knows, I’m good at eating and drinking to contentment. All I’ll need is help from you, gentle reader. I shall need cozy books to read aloud that will take our minds on grand adventures while our bodies stay warm and comfortable by the fire. Any suggestions?