The Welsh Roots of Middle-earth: Exploring Tolkien’s Inspirations in Snowdonia

Embark on an enchanting journey through North Wales, a land of myths, mountains, and medieval fortresses, where the magical realms of Middle-earth were brought to life.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s creation of Middle-earth, the fantastical setting of his epic “The Lord of the Rings,” is deeply rooted in various mythologies and languages, with Welsh culture being a significant influence.

Tolkien had been working on translations of medieval Welsh during his time at Oxford. He could differentiate between the dialects of different parts of Wales. In his first O’Donnell Memorial Lecture in 1955, he expressed his great admiration for the beauty of the Welsh language.

“Welsh had a profound impact on Tolkien,” said Carl Phelpstead, a professor of literature who studied Tolkien’s writings. “He was very fond of the sounds and structure of the Welsh language, which can be seen in his composition of Elvish, especially Sindarin.” 

Carl said, “Tolkien admired Welsh for its phonetic beauty and historical depth, he once referred to Welsh as ‘the senior language of the men of Britain.’

Carl pointed out that Tolkien’s academic background in philology and his fascination with Welsh phonology significantly influenced his linguistic creations in Middle- earth. To explore this connection, I embarked on an immersive journey through Snowdonia National Park.

The mythic colours of Snowdonia pervade the landscape of Middle-earth.

The first stop on my journey was in Bangor, a beautiful town in North Wales. While shopping for supplies at the supermarket, I noticed an elderly couple communicating in Welsh, which is something that is hard to see in Cardiff, it really does sound like beautiful Elvish.

Mark was my guide in Snowdonia, a driver for a local tour operator and a fan of the Lord of the Rings films, Mark’s knowledge of the local terrain and Tolkien lore made him an ideal companion for this adventure.

The journey to the summit of Mount Snowdon, known locally as Yr Wyddfa, began at Pen-y-Pass, a popular starting point for many hikers. The crisp morning air was invigorating as I set out on the Pyg Track, one of the most scenic routes to the top.

As we traversed a winding path, a pile of rubble appeared in front of us. It looked very difficult, and I woefully started to climb on my hands and knees. Mark turned back to me and grinned, “Looks like Gandalf didn’t have the easiest time traversing the Shire on his own.”

The rugged peaks of Snowdonia are reminiscent of Tolkien’s Misty Mountains.

“Look at these rolling hills and forests,” Mark said, gesturing to the panorama before us. “It’s not hard to imagine hobbits and elves living in a place like this.”

The scenery became increasingly dramatic, with jagged cliffs and sweeping vistas that seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance., I was looking at these rugged mountains and lush valleys, reminiscent of the Shire and Rivendell.

I was still like a clumsy bear, looking for a place to land between the rugged rocks and sometimes even needing a hand from Mark to pull me across.

As we ascended, I felt us drawing nearer to the mist, like walking through clouds. It’s reminiscent of Bilbo Baggins crossing the Misty Mountains. I began to imagine that I had entered Tolkien’s version of the Odyssey story and, like one of the protagonists, continued to climb to overcome the suffering.

This fantasy gradually inspired me and became my motivation, “maybe I could find the Rings on my journey as well.”

It’s like a place where dwarves keep their treasure.

I paused about halfway up to catch my breath and take in the breathtaking panorama. The emerald, green hills with patches of wildflowers, rolled out beneath me. In the distance, the peaks of the Glyderau range rose majestically against the sky. It was easy to imagine this landscape as part of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, perhaps the Misty Mountains or the rolling plains of Rohan.

“Snowdon has a mythical quality to it,” Carl told me before, “It’s easy to see why Tolkien might draw from places like this to create the dramatic settings of Middle-earth.”

As I continued to climb, the trail became steeper and steeper, requiring more effort with each step, but the thought of reaching the summit kept me going. Along the way, I met fellow hikers, some encouraging each other, others just nodding their heads in recognition of the shared challenge.

But along the way, I’ve grown accustomed to the pace of the climb and have begun to move forward one step at a time, at the moment, I felt like Aragorn, who travelled alone to the Way of the Dead to summon an army of undead; I was full of courage and energy.

Near the top, the trail becomes more rugged. The final climb is over boulders and requires hands and feet to pass safely. The wind grew stronger, adding extra difficulty to the climb but also bringing a refreshing coolness to offset the physical exertion.

After hours of steady climbing, I finally reached the summit of Yr Wyddfa. The view from the top was absolutely spectacular. Standing at 1,085 meters, I could see the entire expanse of Snowdonia National Park laid out before me. The sense of achievement was immense.

Standing at the top of Snowdon, with the wind howling around me and a view of the world beneath me, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe and wonder, much like Tolkien’s characters might have experienced on their epic journeys.

After seeing the monument inscribed at the top of the hill with Yr Wyddfa standing on it, I remembered that Karl had told me that “names like ‘Gondor’ and ‘Lothlórien’ have a distinctly Welsh sound to them, Tolkien’s love for Welsh clearly influenced the creation of these fictional languages.”

On the way down, I thought about Welsh mythology. Carl said the Welsh Story Mabinogion has a connection to the Red Book of West March in The Hobbit. Things such as mysterious forests, powerful warriors, and magical creatures are all represented in Tolkien’s work.”

My visit to Snowdonia National Park was not just a hike through stunning landscapes; it was a pilgrimage into the heart of Tolkien’s inspiration. I gained a deep appreciation of how Welsh culture and the breathtaking beauty of Snowdonia influenced the creation of Middle-earth.

As I revisited “The Lord of the Rings,” I gained a new appreciation for the deep connection between Wales and Tolkien’s legendary world. The landscape of Snowdonia, with its timeless beauty and rich cultural heritage, will forever be intertwined in my mind with the magic of Middle-earth.