Tales from the Prancing Pony (2)

Last Update 26 August 1998

All text and images copyright © Gil Williamson 1998

SW from Caradhras





The following excerpts start at the travellers' landfall in Middle Earth. The description of preparations for the voyage, and the voyage itself, are omitted.

The first extract describes their arrival in Greyhaven (Gråhavn).

Greyhaven thumbnail

Greyhaven in 1891 - This is not one of Grimfield's photographs. He plainly found nothing to commend the scene.

Click for a full-sized image


Landfall in Middle Earth was a disappointment. The docks are very far from being picturesque, there was such a haze that we could hardly see beyond the dockside cranes, and the formalities became so extended that it was mid-afternoon before we actually stood on terra firma.

Then began the endless negotiation to which one becomes accustomed in foreign travel. First, we were obliged to find, claim and assemble our scattered belongings from their places on the dock. Then we were required to explain to a skeptical Customs House officer why we were travelling with canoes. "Are not our vessels good enough for you, Sirs?" he rumbled. He was a large man in a blue uniform that had always been too small for him, and was now even less adequate since he had evidently had lunch, which we hadn't. One of our packs had disappeared, and he clearly had no intention of raising the alarm and sending out search parties. The Boy volunteered to hunt for it, as the officer was clearly irritating him a great deal. Then, from a spirit of curiosity, rather than suspicion of our intentions, the Customs officer insisted on disembowelling every item of baggage, inspecting the contents to a terrible extent and asking questions.

"Why do you bring food?"

"We plan to travel where food is unobtainable, and we require it to be compact, long-lasting and light in weight."

"What is this?"

"A patent fishing reel."

"And this?"

"Dubbin for treatment of walking shoes."

"Why?" and so on.

Eventually, he appeared to have exhausted his ability to delay us further, and we plainly had not imported anything illegal. He had tasted various items of food, stared through the Boy's telescope, read, or pretended to read, a paragraph or two of each book and fingered every container for secret compartments.

We re-packed the baggage, finding an oil lamp left over with no place to stow it. At the last minute, the Boy appeared with four dwarves carrying our missing pack, which had been serving as an impromptu sofa at the other end of the dock. The Boy clearly thought the dwarves were part of a circus act, not remembering that they are numerous and do much of the heavy labour in Middle Earth.

Our Customs officer drew a second wind and insisted on subjecting the final item to a further autopsy, taking his time and enjoying every hour he spent on the job. The Bosun, who had consumed so much tobacco in his pipe during our wait that the area was now engulfed in aromatic smoke, whispered to me that a small gift of money might have expedited matters, but I knew better than that. If they make no hint of asking for money, foreign officials are likely to clap you in irons if you offer. This man was plainly on a mission of investigation in which every detail had to be savoured. To discard this mission in favour of mere money would, I am sure, have been an ethical impossibility.

Since we docked no later than eight in the morning, we had hoped to meet with Carlton-Browne (the British Consul in Greyhaven, who had promised to arrange a local guide for the party, further evidence of tacit official sanction for their trip - Ed.), to start on our way and to quit Greyhaven before nightfall, but the delays occasioned by our uniformed friend forced us to store our baggage and canoes at the dock and take lodgings for the night. Arranging temporary storage resulted in further extended negotiation, this time with an officious civilian, and left little time to find lodgings.

Even so, we should have spent longer on the search for accommodation. We chose the hotel Prince Albert for its proximity to the dock, and for its encouragingly anglophile name. Its proximity was not in any doubt, as we were reminded all night by the deafening sounds of delicate cargoes being dropped from a great height into resoundingly empty railway wagons. The "Prince Albert" of its title was, however, not obviously related to the gentle consort of Her Majesty, but presumably to some minor Princeling of Hades. I shall not waste words on a detailed description of our vicissitudes, as I plan, next year, to write a three-volume summary of them. (This seems to be a joke, as I can find no evidence of such a work. - Ed.)

However, should you encounter the Boy, or the Bosun, you may provide yourself with some harmless entertainment by asking them for a description of the Prince Albert's Cockroach and Pussy Cat Pie, or the Prince Albert's Famous Gripewater Beer. You may further irritate them by asking how it feels to sleep on a mattress seemingly filled with pipe-wrenches and damp socks.

Suffice to say that had the hotel paid us five shillings to lodge there, rather than charging us the same, it would still have been outrageously expensive.

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