Living and hiking the literary heritage of Tolkien

Looking at the Reichenbach Falls and the mountains above it comes with a small sense of triumph – I have hiked over them to reach Grindelwald on one hike and more recently Chaltenbrunnen, the reddish Hochmoor (or upland moor) at 1875m.

The landscape is awe-inspiring here and, of course, more so as you venture up. The literary heritage that the Swiss Alps have acquired is not really a surprise – beautiful landscapes produce beautiful art. Being such a bookish person, it’s probably also expected that as I learn more about the echoes of my surroundings in literature, I love the mountains here that little bit more.

J.R.R. Tolkien came to Switzerland in 1911, aged nineteen and about to start his first term at Oxford. “On foot with a heavy pack”, he set off with a group about the same size as that in The Hobbit and walked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and Mürren.

The group then went northeast to Grindelwald and Meiringen, south east through the Grimsel Pass, and then south west by the Aletsch glacier in the direction of the Matterhorn, arriving finally at Sion in the Valais canton.

I took the opposite direction of Tolkien for only a portion of the way – from Meiringen to Grindelwald, then Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen and Mürren – but there are still overlaps.

 Switzerland's Misty Mountains (photo credit to Iain, my companion on a rare social hike)
Switzerland’s Misty Mountains (photo credit to Iain, my companion on a rare social hike)

Like so many others, we both looked at the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Tolkien went on to use these mountains as inspiration for The Misty Mountains in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (among other components of his legendarium).

Tolkien is also thought to have based Rivendell on Lauterbrunnen. It makes sense, walking through these places. Especially when coming from a slightly-less-than-sublime part of England.

 Walking down into the Lauterbrunnen valley from Grindelwald
Walking down into the Lauterbrunnen valley from Grindelwald

Thinking about the inspiration that Tolkien found here in the Alps reminds me to set aside time for writing. This isn’t because I want to follow in Tolkien’s literary footsteps, it’s rather so I can document my experiences and create something out of them. It doesn’t have to change the world, it just needs to be written.

Memories are wonderful furniture for a mind, but they don’t leave a physical mark. Maybe one of the obligations of having beautiful memories is to share them with others.