A hunt for mushrooms in one of the most bountiful, and dangerous, locations near The Shire.
Distance: 9.5 miles
Difficulty: Mostly flat walking
Dangers: Disappearing paths, cranky trees, wild creatures
There are a hundred reasons not to venture into the Old Forest. Wolves. Huorns. Paths that shift their course from one day to the next. This ancient, brooding woodland is home to many, many dangers.
On the other hand, there are also mushrooms.
For obvious reasons, little foraging occurs within the Old Forest and this means that rare fungal treats such as Tawny Grisette, Man of Númenor and Wizard’s Nose can be found in abundance.
The walk starts at Crickhollow where one can peruse the small exhibition detailing Frodo’s stealthy escape from the Shire. The exhibit emphasises the starring role of Fredegar Bolger, the ‘tenth member of the Fellowship’, who stayed behind to head off pursuit. Coincidentally, the exhibition is also maintained and curated by Fredegar Bolger.
Suitably enlightened, leave Fredegar a small deposit to borrow the key to the gate under the High Hay and head east along the road. The road dips into a tunnel under the magnificent hedge that was planted to protect Buckland from the incursions of the Old Forest.
When you reach the gate at the end of the tunnel please check the time. It is imperative that you are back in the Shire by dusk, as the Bounders will be unwilling to come in and rescue irresponsible walkers.
Once through the gate, follow the path to Bonfire Glade (2) where hobbits burned trees as a warning to the Old Forest. In season (which runs from Thrimidge to Afterlithe) both green and red fire morels can be found growing amongst the ashes. A rare treat indeed!
If the trees are in a benign mood a path should lead deeper into the forest. Follow this eastwards, avoiding any downhill side-routes which could lead you to Old Man Willow (3). Mushrooms can be found anywhere along this path, and by now your foraging basket should be the envy of the Shire.
There is just one viewpoint in the Old Forest, and fortunately this is accessible to the day tripper. The path climbs up and around Bald Hill (4). From the top, which is clear of trees, take a look south to the Withywindle and then turn east to steal a glimpse of the Barrow-downs. Even for a Took, seeing these places from a distance is the recommended option.
I outlined some of the hazards at the start of the walk, but there is one more danger I hesitate to mention.
Deep in the Old Forest, with crooked trees looming on all sides, I fancied I heard a disturbing sound. Worse, it seemed as if it were following me as I hastened along the path. Everywhere I turned I heard it, sometimes faint, but then suddenly loud and close at hand.
Even now, back in my own bed, I sometimes hear it. It is a voice, eerie in the night, and I will never forget the maddening words it intones. “Hey dol! Merry dol!” it chants. “Ring a dong dillo!”
Lock the gate tight when you return to the Shire, and check it thrice. Some people are best kept on the other side of a very large hedge.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Everard’s opinions of Tom Bombadil are his own, and do not reflect those of Kai Greenwood.