Gilfalma Ashbourne recently invited us to visit her recently opened Mainland parcel, Woods of Whimsy. Within it, she has created a garden setting with something of a Middle Earth setting that stirs in one or two other influences to create a space of natural beauty ripe for exploration and photography.
The Woods of Whimsy, a Tolkien inspired land, mixes virtual gardening with a love of magic and the divine. Here paths meander through waterfalls, threading ancient ruins with a verdant splendour.
– Woods of Whimsy description
Bordered by water on two sides and high cliffs on the other two, this is a place that blends the space between these borders to create an environment that is richly evocative. Fronting the high cliffs, the parcel’s uplands step gently down to the lowlands then in turn eases into a cypress-laden swampland that is fed by a stream that also tumbles from the uplands. To the east, the boundary to the parcel is marked by a river-like body of water which, together with a curtain of trees. makes for a natural border between the woods and the neighbouring region.
Sitting within the lowlands and nestled between stream and river, are the ruins of a church, an overgrown graveyard beside it. Forming the parcel’s landing point, the ruins don’t immediately feel particularly Tolkien-esque – but first looks can be deceptive when taken as a part of the whole.
Beyond the walls of this ruin, a number of grassy paths run outwards through the trees, one to a riverside conservatory, another passing along the curtain of trees and river border to reach an ancient rotunda by way of a camp site. The third points the way towards the inland corner of the parcel, and it is here that things become more Middle-Earth in nature.
This last path itself further splits in to three a short walk from the old church, the rightmost arm of which climbs by way of slope and stair to reach arches and gardens that might be taken for outlying areas of Rivendell.
Rich in statues (one of which is very Entish in nature) and the remnants of statues, the climb gives the setting a feeling of great age, so much so, that the presence of these gardens and structures perfectly enfolds the old church and the gazebos below, making them very much a part of the landscape; even the Roman temple located at the end of a further branching of the path sits within the elvish nature of the climb.
Waterfalls tumble from numerous points in the cliffs, filling pools. These are again fully in keeping with the elvish feel to the region – the elvish love of water being well established in Tolkien’s lore. Follow two of the upper reaches of the paths climbing and winding over the highlands, and it is possible to find your way down to one of the most iconic elements of Middle Earth, and the starting point for his published tales: a hole in the ground, one dressed entirely in keeping with the opening of The Hobbit.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hold, and that means comfort.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937
This is not the only hole in the ground within the parcel; another of the ground-level paths offers a route to where a tunnel leads into the roots of the high cliffs, and a realm that brings forth a more dwarfish feel to the setting – one that at its entrance has an echo of Middle Earth: a cobweb and a spider.
True, it’s not a spider to match those found in Mirkwood, but it’s hard not to see it and think of that part of Bilbo Baggins’ journey to the lonely Mountain. Connected by these tunnels are a number of chambers, one of which in particular carries a motif from another modern fantasy epic: G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
All of this barely scratches the surface of all that is to be found within the Woods of Whimsy with its places to sit, blending of themes, multiplicity of paths and trails that give the parcel a sense of size beyond its boundaries – and the feeling that somewhere, perhaps, up in the hills and among the cliffs there just might be a path leading down into Rivendell proper. Most definitely a much-see destination for all virtual travellers.
- Wood of Whimsy (Thirlmire, rated Moderate)