Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 7: Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

This is the seventh in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Former cloisters Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Looking over the remains of the former cloisters at Abbey Fields, towards the churchyard of St Nicholas Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Abbey Fields in Kenilworth are a well-loved open space with a lake, adjacent to the thirteenth century parish church of St Nicholas. For centuries this land belonged to St Mary’s Abbey, before it was dissolved in 1538. This abbey gained its status in 1447 having previously been a priory for Augustinian canons.

remains former chapter house Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Remains of former chapter house of St Mary’s Abbey, at Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Today parts of the cloisters remain, as do stones from the former chapter house, and also parts of the gatehouse and arch leading from Abbey Fields into the churchyard.

Remains of arch Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Remains of arch at Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The lake here would have formerly been one of the stew ponds where the monks bred fish for their tables.

lake in Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The lake in Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

When I walk through Abbey Fields, past the cloisters, along beside the Finham Brook, or through the archway into the shady and atmospheric churchyard, I cannot help but think of those former inhabitants, the monks and the abbot, and of their daily ordered existence for so many centuries on this land where I walk.

Poignant feelings arise: an awareness, perhaps, of those who have occupied this same space before us, and who have imprinted upon it their hopes and dreams, their faith and doubt, their joys and sorrows.

Curious incidents have been reported here; both eerie sensations, and sighting of apparitions. You can find out more about these in my book Paranormal Warwickshire, which is coming out in November.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 5: St Mary’s Church Warwick

This is the fifth in my series of glimpses into the pages of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Gothic tower of St Marys Church Warwick at night - photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gothic tower of St Marys Church Warwick at night – photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

St Mary’s Church Warwick stands close to Warwick Castle, at the heart of England’s history. The church foundations date back 900 years, and it is believed a Saxon church stood here before the Norman conquest. The first Norman earl of Warwick began a collegiate foundation here modelled on the cathedrals of St Paul’s, Lincoln, York and Salisbury; and his son completed it in in 1123.

Beauchamp Chapel St Marys Church Warwick - photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary’s Church Warwick – photo credit Jamie Robinson

The church therefore has been a centre of faith for many centuries, and the rich atmosphere within this magnificent building bears testimony to that. St Mary’s holds many treasures, the greatest of which is the elaborate Beauchamp Chapel, commissioned by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick from 1401 to 1439. The chapel today offers us a rare glimpse of medieval splendour, much of which was destroyed in English churches after the Reformation.

Gothic tower St Marys Church Warwick sited over the street photo credit Sheila Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gothic tower of St Mary’s Church Warwick. The earlier tower was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick in 1693. Sir Christopher Wren advised on the best location for the new tower and recommended that it be sited over the street (photo credit Sheila Robinson) Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Around and behind the church building we are drawn into a different world: in the graveyard, many curious tales are told by those who walk among the tombstones.

Gravestone of eight month old Mary Ann in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church Warwick. Curious anecdotes surround this and other graves of children in the south-eastern corner of the graveyard

Check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 1: Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits

This is the first of a series giving you a few tasters from my book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be released by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman cover design. Published Amberley 15 November 2020
Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman cover design. Published Amberley 15 November 2020

Warwickshire is a county steeped in the supernatural, as befits the county of Shakespeare and the many ghosts and spirits that he conjured up in his works. In Paranormal Warwickshire I investigate the rich supernatural heritage of this county at the heart of England in places both grand and everyday, including Guy’s Cliffe, the Saxon Mill, Kenilworth Castle, Warwick Castle, Stoneleigh Abbey, and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, as well as in the towns of Rugby, Nuneaton and Leamington Spa.

When I began my book, I was inspired by the spiritual resonance of so many locations in Shakespeare‘s county of Warwickshire. It seemed entirely appropriate to draw all the stories together through the central theme of Shakespeare’s ghosts and spirits.

Shakespeare’s plays are full of these supernatural encounters and characters. In Julius Caesar, Brutus, tormented by guilt, is haunted by the ghost of murdered Caesar.

Brutus & Caesar's Ghost 1802 Wikimedia commons Shakespeare Julius Caesar SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Painting dated 1802. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

In Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, grief-stricken and betrayed, agonises over whether or not he is visited by the spirit of his father.

Hamlet and his father's ghost. Shakespeare's Hamlet. Painting by John Gilbert. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Hamlet and his father’s ghost. Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Painting by John Gilbert. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

In Macbeth , the king of Scotland (whose name many actors are too superstitious to mention), cannot believe he is the only person who sees Banquo’s spirit at the feast…

Ghost Banquo at Feast. Shakespeare's Macbeth. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
The Ghost of Banquo at the Feast. Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Alongside those who witness the apparitions, we have some wonderful sceptical foils or sounding boards. Cassius in Julius Caesar is convinced Brutus’s vision was just the power of his imagination. In Hamlet, Horatio tells his troubled friend that it is but a fantasy. Antigonus in The Winter’s Tale says he has heard but not believed the spirits of the dead may walk again.

And as for spirits, either they are serving the will of the magician Prospero in The Tempest

Prospero, Ariel & Miranda from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Paiting by William Hamilton Image sourced from Wikipedia. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Prospero, Ariel & Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Painting by William Hamilton. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

or setting out, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to accomplish the task of teasing mortals…

Puck a Sprite. Painting by Arthur Rackham. sourced from Wikimedia Commons. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Puck, a Sprite. Painting by Arthur Rackham. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

But in the end, are they but airy nothing, to which the poet’s pen gives a local habitation and a name?

Whether they are purely dramatic devices, or whether Shakespeare himself believed in ghosts and spirits, we cannot definitively say. Scholars and Shakespearean actors and lovers of the Bard differ in their views. But one thing we can say for sure; they fired Shakespeare’s imagination to the highest degree, and he lavished upon them great poetry, humour, playfulness and mischief, the heights of powerful drama, the depths of despair, guilt and existential angst, and his most discerning observations of mental distress.

Throughout my book Paranormal Warwickshire I have used quotes from Shakespeare. In every case I found a quote which I believe resonates with how I feel about the place.

Perhaps Shakespeare would have been surprised to know that four hundred and twenty years into the future, a belief in ghosts and spirits would prevail with such strength in our society. Or perhaps he wouldn’t. He reached to the heart of the human condition, and the emotions and dilemmas he presents are fresh and vivid and relevant to us today. So I confirmed when I toured many places in his county, Warwickshire, and found not only spiritual resonance from the rich stories associated with these places, but many people who have tales to recount, of experiences for which they can find no scientific explanation.

Check out some of my previous posts on the subject of Shakespeare:

Shakespeare and the Plague

The Brightest Heaven of Invention

Our wills and fates

In my next post I will share some photos and discoveries at Warwick Castle.

Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman will be published by Amberley on 15th November 2020. Pre-order now either online or from your local bookstore.

Coming Soon: A New Series of Glimpses from Paranormal Warwickshire

My new book Paranormal Warwickshire will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th Nov 2020.

Paranormal Warwickshire fireside read published Amberley 15 November 2020
Paranormal Warwickshire fireside read published Amberley 15th November 2020

On this blog I will be featuring a series of glimpses into the book, and sharing some of the photos from the book alongside a few tasters from each of the places I have visited.

Warwickshire is a county steeped in the supernatural, as befits the county of Shakespeare and the many ghosts and spirits that he conjured up in his works. In Paranormal Warwickshire I investigate the rich supernatural heritage of this county at the heart of England in places both grand and everyday, including Guy’s Cliffe, the Saxon Mill, Kenilworth Castle, Warwick Castle, Stoneleigh Abbey, and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, as well as in the towns of Rugby, Nuneaton and Leamington Spa.

The series Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire begins on Friday 14th August 2020.

Angel Encounters Mini series Part 4. Unusual Angels – Bikers in Leathers

What do you think modern angels might look like?

Like this?

angel sculpture Lucia Zahara pixabay SC Skillman post Modern Angels
Angel sculpture Brasilia Cathedral courtesy of Lucia Zahara Pixabay free images

Since my last post in this series a reader has given me the story of a modern day angel encounter.

man on motorbike dust whirling up behind him SC Skillman Unusual Angels Bikers in Leathers
Photo by Daniel on Pexels.com

I’m grateful to my author friend Anna Hopkins for giving me this story, passed onto her by the lady vicar who experienced it.

This story took place in the days before mobile phones (rather like my story here in my previous post in this series!)

The lady, whom we shall call Audrey, had accepted two teaching engagements on either side of the Pennines, one for Saturday afternoon and one for Sunday morning.  She was offered accommodation in both places, and decided she’d rather get to her Sunday place on Saturday night, than have to get up early.

So off she set. It was quite late, on a winter day, after a thick snowfall. Then disaster struck. She skidded into a snowdrift.  It was dark and cold and she realised she had no emergency kit. She’d forgotten to bring a blanket, or a hot drink, or anything.

She knew there was no way she could move her car. It looked like she was in for a long, cold, dangerous night up in the hills, with all the possibilities of freezing to death – even if she ran the car heater as long as possible. All she could hope for was that someone would come along.  So she shut her eyes and prayed, hard.

Then she heard engine noise behind her, and two great motorbikes drew up.  On those motorbikes were two men, dressed in leathers.  They seemed so big and tall.

Her first thought was, ‘Oh no, now on top of all this I’m going to be mugged!’

They knocked on her window and spoke to her. They never removed their helmets, just got her out of the fix. 

Throughout this incident, she just thought they were bikers.  Once they set her going on the road, she obviously couldn’t stop, so she looked in her rear view mirror to wave at them. But they were gone.  They had come from the same direction as her, and so should have overtaken her. 

They would not have had time to have roared off back the way they came in the few moments it took her to look in her mirror.  Even then she didn’t think anything other than, ‘that’s odd’.  It was only when she arrived at her destination, and recounted the story, that her host said, ‘They must have been angels.’

At which point Audrey put it all together – the size of them, their sudden disappearance – and realised she’d been saved by angels.

I’ve written about angels and supernatural experiences before on this blog. Check out these posts:

Angels and Supernatural Experiences

The Brightest Heaven of Invention

The first three parts of this Angel Encounters series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Also you may like to visit some of the following bloggers to learn more of what different people believe about modern angel encounters:

Modern Day Angels and Miracles

The Angelic Realm

Modern Miracles That Science Can’t Explain

And here is a blog post about an angel who appeared in the Apocrypha:

Tobias and the Angel

What do you think? Do you believe in angels? Do you have a story to tell of an angel encounter? Please share in the comments below!

Angel Encounters Mini Series Part 1. Modern-Day Angel Encounters – With or Without Wings.

What does a modern day angel look like?

Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale in 'Good Omens' by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale in ‘Good Omens’ by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Like the fussy angel played by Michael Sheen in the deliciously funny and clever ‘Good Omens’ by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett?

More, perhaps like this angel depicted by Vincent Van Gogh? 

Figure of an angel, painted in blue, with a disturbing facial expression, by Vincent Van Gogh
Half-Figure of an Angel, After Rembrandt – by Vincent Van Gogh

or maybe like the powerful and moving Knife Angel that appeared at Coventry Cathedral in 2019?

The Knife Angel displayed at Coventry Cathedral in 2019 made of thousands of knives confiscated by police
The Knife Angel at Coventry Cathedral

 

Or perhaps even, the guardian angel Clarence.

guardian-angel-clarence-from-its-a-wonderful-lifeI

We met him in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the TV sitcom Rev, the main character Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) reaches a point where he has been betrayed, lost his church, his self-respect, and his vocation, and feels he has failed all those who believed in and depended on him.

In a state of despair, he goes up a hill carrying the cross intended for the Easter Sunday service. At the top of the hill he meets a homeless man (played by Liam Neeson) who dances and sings with him, knows and understands what’s going on for him, and offers consolation and hope. He transforms how Adam feels about his situation. Then he disappears.

This kind of encounter takes on the shape of what I would call an angel encounter.

This I would define as:  a situation where you are in personal crisis of some kind, and you are helped in a timely manner by a person who appears unexpectedly, transforms your situation, and then disappears quietly. Throughout the encounter, this stranger seems surrounded by an aura of graciousness, gentleness and kindness.

I’m starting a new series of occasional posts here on my blog, entitled:

Angel Encounters.

I know many people hold on to belief in angels  – whether they be guardians, guides, or  protectors – even in this supposedly secular, materialistic society in which we live here in the UK.

In 2019 I attended an author talk as part of the Warwick Words History Festival, held in the church of St Mary Magdalene in Warwick. Author Peter Stanford spoke about his latest book Angels: A Visible and Invisible History 

Cover of Peter Stanford's book Angels A Visible and Invisible History
Cover of Peter Stanford’s book ‘Angels: A Visible and Invisible History’

In this book Peter Stanford gives a history of humankind’s belief in angels, beginning long before the historical origins of the Christian faith, and continuing right up to the present day, with the interest in angels ever popular through folk religion and other spiritual outlooks.

Peter Stanford uncovers much intriguing material, and also includes an examination of the appearance of angels in great art. Throughout he maintains an objective, academic approach which he combines with his own views.

Today, many of those who believe in angels see them as ‘independent agents’, outside traditional faith structures.

As Stanford says, People have… believed in angels for millennia… the only difference today is that this reliance on angels as dwellers in time and space is happening outside of organised religion… Angels once… largely belonged in religious narratives and institutions… but… have somehow detached themselves from the declining institutions and are now thriving on their own.

At the end of the book Stanford remarks: I have lost count while researching and writing the book of how many times I have been asked if I “believe” in angels. 

Many other authors too have written on the subject of angels, from a wide variety of viewpoints. A popular author on the subject is Theresa Cheung and I blogged about her book Angel On My Shoulder  on 28 February 2017 

The book is full of authentic first-person accounts. Several things fascinated me about these:

1) I could identify with a number of them from my own experience, though I’ve tended to think of them as synchronicity;
2) Each one had a distinct element of the supernatural;
3) Far than being sentimental, they all demonstrate strength and simplicity.

Several describe sudden and shocking bereavement. In each case the narrator of the story has experienced a compelling supernatural intervention which has totally changed their attitude to the tragedy and to death itself, and has provided the sort of comfort and reassurance that others might achieve only through long-term counselling or psychotherapy.

The author’s stance in relating the stories is measured and balanced. She fully accepts those who take a “reductionist” view of these events and prefer a rational explanation, and she invites us to make up our own minds.

I found the whole book very convincing, not least because of the cumulative effect of so many testimonies from different people unknown to each other, who have all had similar experiences. It had the same effect upon me as another book I’ve reviewed called Miracles by Eric Metaxas.

In her summing up, Teresa Cheung refers to organised religion no longer providing the structure and certainty that it used to (maybe because so many feel it doesn’t meet their needs, and appears irrelevant to their lives). The stories in this book suggest, to one way of thinking, that many may be connecting with “the divine” totally outside the confines of “church” – through angels.

This, interestingly, is the same conclusion that Peter Stanford comes to.

In this occasional series on my blog, I’ll consider modern-day angel encounters.

I’ve written about angels and supernatural experiences before on this blog. Check out these posts:

https://scskillman.com/2017/02/28/angels-and-supernatural-experiences-book-review/

and https://scskillman.com/2018/10/16/the-brightest-heaven-of-invention/

Also you may like to visit some of the following bloggers to learn more of what different people believe about modern angel encounters: http://www.thepsychicwell.com/spirituality/connecting-with-angels-spirit-guides/modern-day-angels-and-miracles/

http://www.crystalwind.ca/angelic-paths/the-angelic-realm/calling-all-angels/angels-and-spiritual-life-things-you-need-to-know

https://www.beliefnet.com/inspiration/7-modern-miracles-that-science-cant-explain.aspx

Next week I’ll start this off with my own story describing an experience which took place several years ago.

What do you think? Do you believe you have a guardian angel?  Have you a story of an “angel encounter”? Do share in the comments below.

Guardian Angel Clarence (played by Henry Travers) with George Bailey (played by James Stewart), in the 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life

 

Cover Reveal: ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ by SC Skillman

I’m delighted to be able to bring you the cover reveal for my new book, Paranormal Warwickshire, which is due to be released by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

PARANORMAL WARWICKSHIRE by SC Skillman
Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

I’ve been looking forward to this for several months, as I wondered which of the photos (taken either by myself, by my son Jamie or my daughter Abigail) would be chosen for the front cover! Would it be the very atmospheric night shot of St Mary’s Warwick against an inky blue sky, the path into the graveyard to the left, and light spilling out from the windows? Would it be that iconic view of Warwick Castle that everyone sees as they cross the bridge into Warwick? Would it be one of our moody images of mysterious Guy’s Cliffe?

Well, now I know, and I’m thrilled with the cover. I hope you too find that it intrigues you, and stirs your imagination.

Warwickshire is a county steeped in the supernatural, as befits the county of Shakespeare and the many ghosts and spirits that he conjured up in his works.

The towns and villages of Warwickshire, its castles, houses, churches, theatres, inns and many other places both grand and everyday have rich and complex stories to tell of paranormal presences.

In this book I investigate the rich supernatural heritage of this county at the heart of England in places such as Guy’s Cliffe House, the Saxon Mill, Kenilworth Castle, Warwick Castle, St Mary’s Church in Warwick, Nash’s House in Stratford-upon- Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Stoneleigh Abbey, as well as in the towns of Rugby, Nuneaton and Leamington Spa.

I explore the spiritual resonance of each location, recounting the tales of paranormal activity associated with it and examining the reasons for this within the history of the place.

Paranormal Warwickshire takes the reader into the world of ghosts and spirits in the county, following their footsteps into the unknown. These tales of haunted places, supernatural happenings and shadowy presences will delight the ghost hunters, and fascinate and intrigue everybody who knows Warwickshire.

I hope that whets your appetite for the book; and don’t forget to get your pre-order in! You can choose Amazon UK or Amazon US or Waterstones or Amberley’s own website. But as an alternative, as a tribute to Warwickshire, may I encourage you to order from our lovely indie bookshops, Warwick Books or Kenilworth Books.

Enchantment in the Natural World in this Time of Lockdown

As the days of the lockdown pass, I’m becoming more aware of a new and powerful sense of renewal in the natural world.

Not only have I noticed this on my daily walks but I am hearing it from other people too.

“It’s like going back 50 years. Everyone is so much more ‘together’ and more friendly.”

“The sky is much bluer, the water in the River Avon is much clearer. The birdsong is outstanding.”

“Air quality has improved. There are no longer any chem-trails from planes flying over.”

I myself on my walks feel that nature is much brighter and more intense and more abundant than I have ever known before.

The light keeps shining on delicate buds and new baby leaf sprays about to burst open. The green is rich, the white is intense. It is all very spiritual.

I find myself being constantly ‘surprised.’ As I returned home from one walk, everything became more golden and more green until it was almost overwhelming.

Nature has flourished because human activity has been subdued.

This isn’t just the open countryside, it’s the pockets of green and the pathways and small areas of parkland nestled in between and alongside houses and canal and roads.

This is how it appears to me because we are all slowing down, the streets are quiet, we are not all engaging in frenzied activity and chasing achievement and Doing and Aquiring Things as we normally do.

“May this heal us from the sickness that brings death to the body; may this heal us from the sickness that brings death to the soul.”

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 19: North Island, New Zealand: Enchantment and Delight for ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Fans: Matamata and Hobbiton

This is the nineteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the third of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We set off from Paihia early in the morning and drove south through a landscape of velvety green hills uninterrupted by hedges or fences, dotted with a wide variety of trees, and occasionally by pretty white bargeboard houses in gardens. It felt as if we were surrounded by JRR Tolkien‘s hobbit country all the time: The Shire, that pastoral idyll which the hobbits called home. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for Hobbiton.

Further along in our journey we entered a region of verdant forest packed with trees so diverse and so attractively interspersed with giant tree ferns that they seemed planted by design.

arriving in Matamata close to the Hobbiton film set

When we arrived in Matamata we immediately saw the welcoming sign and those of us who have loved the world of Middle Earth for so long at once felt a sense of high excitement.

excitement at arriving in Matamata

Even the local visitor information centre has been turned into a nostalgic homestead reminiscent of the hobbits’ innocent world.

The visitor information centre in Matamata

And yet, as we were to discover again and again throughout our stay in Matamata and our visit to Hobbiton, you don’t even need to have read the books or have seen the films to be thrilled by what has been done here to recreate this romantic vision of pre-industrial rural England.

This of course was what inspired JRR Tolkien. The irony is that he was influenced by the countryside between Birmingham and Warwick, in the UK, and by Sarehole Mill – and his vision of Mordor came from the industrial wastes he found. So Tolkien’s inspiration is very close to where I live. But I went halfway across the world to find it recreated here in New Zealand!

Upon entering the visitor information centre we found a sculpture of Tolkien’s most insightful creation: the tragic and chilling figure of Gollum, who had, long before, been known as Smeagol, one of the river folk, until he came into possession of the One Ring, and had been enslaved and possessed by his lust for ‘the Precious’. The One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The sculpture of Gollum in the visitor information centre at Matamata

I can imagine Matamata itself was an unassuming little ‘one-horse settlement’ before Peter Jackson found his ideal location for the Hobbiton film set nearby. It is astonishing to reflect upon the power of an iconic fantasy epic to catch the imagination of millions and transform the fortunes of one small town.

We had dinner at a restaurant called The Redoubt which had, along with the town of Matamata, ‘fully embraced its Middle Earth credentials’! (a phrase borrowed from the Matamata section in the Lonely Planet Guide for New Zealand).

The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata

The menu and decor were based around characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“Sneaky little hobbitses” – Gollum’s well-known catchphrase, up on the wall of The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

We had a delightful meal in The Redoubt and it built up our excitement at the prospect of visiting Hobbiton the next day. It was also an opportunity to sample a range of New Zealand red wines!

Inside the Redoubt Bar and Eatery in Hobbiton

Early the next morning we arrived at The Shires Rest, a short distance outside Matamata, to join our tour of Hobbiton, led by a young man called James, who was, appropriately enough, English.

The tour bus took us through the rolling hills of the Alexander Farm, a vision of the undulating landscape of young children’s picture books, a perfect setting for the small, round, cheerful hobbits.

On the way James showed video clips of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and also gave us plenty of fascinating facts about the making of the films, how this area came to be chosen as the site for the Hobbiton film-set, and why indeed there now exists here a perfect, robust and well-built rendition of hobbit country, for the delight of many thousands of visitors each year.

AS for Hobbiton itself, we all found it beyond our expectations, so perfectly realised, with exquisite attention to every detail: Bilbo’s sign on the gate announcing ‘No admittance except on party business’; the oak tree above Bag End, the line of washing, the wheelbarrows full of freshly harvested vegetables, the mill and bridge, the party field, Bilbo’s eleventy first birthday cake, the Green Dragon Inn and the tankards of beer.

Throughout Hobbiton we found exquisite English flower varieties, all in top condition. In fact, being here was indeed like being transported into JRR Tolkien’s original vision. It has been said that he wouldn’t have liked the idea of his books being turned into films, as he believed that the power of the imagination must determine how people see the world he created. Nevertheless I feel that he would have been awed by what has been achieved here. Hobbiton lacked only one thing: real life hobbits!

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 18: North Island, New Zealand: Paihia and the Bay of Islands; and Kawakawa and its Famous Hundertwasser Landmark

This is the eighteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the second of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about West Auckland and the spectacular beaches of Karekare and Piha . Today we head north from Auckland and our destination is Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We drove north through a landscape of green hills and trees and bright flowers; the North Island of New Zealand in November reminded me of rural England at its best in spring and summer. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for its idyllic, bucolic Hobbiton.

Stopping on the way at a delightful Honey Centre (New Zealand is famed for its Manuka honey), we arrived at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Paihia.

The holiday park was situated on the bay with tranquil views.

view of the bay from the Top 10 Holiday Park, Paihia
bayside view, Top 10 Holiday Park, Paihia

The following day we planned to cruise around the Bay of Islands. But before that we followed the Waitangi Loop with magnificent views of the Bay. This area is famed for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The two parties to the treaty were the Maori Chiefs and representatives of the British Crown.

We then visited the small town of Kawakawa, a town which celebrates its significance as the “Cultural Junction of the North“. It demonstrates this by ensuring that evidence of artistic inspiration is seen everywhere.

The town is famed for its unusual choice of venue to celebrate artistic genius: the public toilets designed by the Austrian designer, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. These toilets are on the tourist route and a visit there is mandatory!

After our visit to Kawakawa, we returned to Paihia, to stroll around the town. This very tourist-conscious community and its architecture reminded me of a film-set: hotels, motels and architect-designed houses nestled among restaurants, bistros and boutiques. We were struck by the church which is to be found here, looking incongruous amongst all the contemporary residences: St Paul’s Anglican Church, which was constructed of Kawakawa stone in 1925, on the site of the original mission church.

Properties in Paihia
view of Paihia village

I was interested to find a gravestone in the graveyard behind the church, inscribed to Ngaurupa Te Ngawa Korokoro with an epitaph in the Maori language. As we left the graveyard, we found that a large bottle of water was provided with a request for visitors to wash their hands on leaving the Rupa (graveyard) as a mark of respect to a sacred place.

Maori gravestone in graveyard of St Paul’s Anglican Church, built in 1925 on the site of the original mission church in Paihia

Inside the church I found a prayer-poem for those afflicted by earthquakes. I hope you can read it here.

Later we set off to board a cruise launch for a cruise around the Bay of Islands. But before we embarked, we looked around a fascinating exhibition in the visitor centre which told us that Russell, the small town across the bay from Paihia on Tapeka Point, was once known as ‘the Hell Hole of the Pacific’ because the sailors who docked there rampaged in it, until the missionaries came to sort them out!

Distant view of the Bay of Islands.

As we cruised round the Bay of Islands the weather was breezy and cool, and the captain told us he would only go out to the Hole in the Rock (Motukokako) if the weather conditions made it safe.

In fact we did go there, but were unable to sail right through the hole in the rock out to the waters of the South Pacific beyond as they were too turbulent.

The boat stopped as those on board took the oportunity to photograph this natural wonder, with the waves of the South Pacific crashing against it.

During the cruise we saw dolphins playing in the water around us. Truly a enchanting way to experience the Bay of Islands in this understandably very popular tourist destination.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.