Disclaimer: The places and historical events referred to belong to the Tolkien estate. However, the 'modern' characters are mine!

Esgaroth High School trip to Minas Tirith

8th June.

We've just left, waving goodbye to our parents who don't look very depressed to be seeing us off. But we're not depressed to be going either, so I guess it all works out.

We've been told to keep a journal of the trip. Great. Okay, then, here we are on the bus heading south. It's seven in the morning and Esgaroth and the Mountain are receding into the distance (receding, that's a good word. Though it describes my Dad's hair better than the fact the Mountain's getting smaller …) Everyone's excited, we've heard so much about Minas Tirith in history lessons and that.

Time for a quick revision of history of Minas Tirith, then. The city was founded by King Anárion way way back in the Second Age as Minas Anor (meaning Tower of the Sun), but it was destroyed in the big war at the beginning of the Third Age. King Ostoher rebuilt it a few hundred years later and then it was rebuilt and destroyed again fairly regularly for a few thousand years. At some stage they renamed it Minas Tirith (the Tower of Guard), and it was an outpost of Gondor, ruled by the Ruling Stewards, for years and years and years. At the beginning of the Fourth Age King Elessar arrived and since then it's been the capital of the whole country, and apparently there are lots of things to see - and we're going to see them!

Well, here we are heading south on the New Road. It's not new at all, but when they built it it was a big thing, linking the Lake and the old forest with the south. The forest is mostly gone, there's just more trees here than in most places. Apparently Elves used to live here, but whoever believes those old tales! We're going to do half the journey today and half tomorrow, and we're stopping tonight at Caer Rhov in a hotel.

9th June.

Slept well, nice breakfast, and we're starting to see interesting things now. In the East we can just about see the start of the mountains round the National Park of Mordor (where we're going on a trip later in the week to see the volcanic deposits) and in the west everything's green. That's Rohan, which is one of those places belonging to the Crown but which likes to think itself important enough to be independent. It used to be, I think, had its own king and everything, but when the line died out the Queen at the time took over control and it's stayed that way ever since. The best horses come from Rohan still. My best friend Elanor has a horse from Rohan, but she won't let anyone ride it except her. Cost her parents a fortune.

We're expecting to arrive before dinner. The teachers say that if we get there at the right time we'll see the sunset on the White Tower.

Later: Everyone's started to get excited now as we come up to the Rammas Echor. It's a huge ancient wall, broken in places, but holding up pretty well considering. Once we're inside the wall we're nearly there. Mr Barder's giving us a commentary on the wall. In the big battles just before King Elessar it was broken and burnt down, and rumour has it that after Elessar came to power he got dwarves from the Mountain (our Mountain, that is) and from the Iron Hills to rebuild the wall and the defences. Perhaps it's because of the tales we have in Esgaroth, and the jewels and stuff in the town museum, but I'm always more inclined to believe stories about Dwarves than stories about Elves. My grandfather swears blind he saw a dwarf once, out walking in the hills. Not sure I believe him, but anyway …

Anyway, back to the wall. We've turned along it now. It's really massive, as high as a house. Barder says the Enemy had to use battering rams to get through it (they had battering rams back then?) Bits of the wall have scaffolding on them where it's being repaired. The stones are gigantic too. It's all gigantic. Even our bus looks small.

Now we're driving under the gate. Used to be guarded, but isn't any more because there's no need. And through the front window of the bus we can see the city, towering over the suburbs. It's … nearly half six and the tower is a lovely sort of pink colour, and on the banner flying from the topmost tower the Tree and the Stars are pink too. They're stopping the bus for photos.

I hope those come out okay. Can't get the hang of this camera …

We had a half-hour trip to the hotel, which is outside the city itself. Hotel Mindolluin, it's called, after the mountain. I'm sharing with Ellie, Lucy and Mel, we have a cool view of the city. Tonight we have to get an early night and then tomorrow apparently there's a walking tour of the city.

10th June, evening.

We've collapsed in the room to write up the diaries. We're all completely shattered after trekking around the whole of the city, which is mostly uphill. The teachers wouldn't let us take the tram upwards. Not fair.

We set off early, and the bus dropped us outside the main gate, where we met our guide who was called Morwen Farssen. She had a big red umbrella which we had to look out for if we got lost.

She started by telling us about the Great Gate. It got broken down in the Great War but they rebuilt it after. When a new King or Queen gets crowned they come into the city through the Gate and that's where everyone stands to watch. In the old days there used to be passwords for each gate but they've stopped that now because anyone can come into Minas Tirith. The Gate is decorated in ironwork (dwarvish, apparently), depicting scenes from the Great War. She showed us a little scene that's supposed to be Orodruin erupting, and another one that's supposed to be an unknown rider on a horse saving the city. They think it might be the magician Gandalf, but as he's a myth I kind of doubt that.

Then we went into the city and started climbing. The annoying thing is that it's not built so as you go straight up steps or something and through each gate (there's seven of them), you have to go round each circle practically, and up. As we climbed and went through each gate the houses got nicer and she kept stopping to explain things and tell us about things - that was where so-and-so lived, that's the flat belonging to this film star or that singer. Took lots of photos but I think they'll all look the same really when they're developed. We stopped longest at the Houses of Healing. These are in the third circle from the top, really old buildings with gardens and a terrace looking east. There's a great view of the National Park. In the entrance way there's a plaque that says, "The hands of a king are the hands of a healer, and thus shall the rightful king be known." All the monarchs of Gondor have to take lessons so they can heal if they have to, but Morwen said that in the old days it was true, and King Elessar came here and healed people after battles. The quote's supposed to be from a wise-woman called Ioreth. We saw rooms that are set up like they used to be, and they told us about herbs that can be used as medicine. We had our lunches in the garden, and there's another plaque that says "Here Prince Faramir of Ithilien met the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, Third Age 3019." Dunno who they were, but it sounds like it might be romantic.

After lunch we carried on climbing. Up and up and up. Some of the boys got left behind sneaking off for a cigarette. Eventually, following the red umbrella, we got to the top and went into the throne room.

This was actually worth the climb. Thank Eru. A huge long room, great high ceiling, and pillars of stone figures all down the sides. Morwen said that they were old kings, and at the end were Elendil and some guy called Gil-galad, who was supposed to be Elvish. Together apparently they overthrew Evil, millennia ago. There was a stone chair on top of some steps and another stone chair, but without the fancy decorations, on the bottom step. Morwen explained that when there was the long gap between King Eärnur and Elessar, Gondor was ruled by men called Stewards, and they sat on the boring chair and not the throne. They had a rod and not the Sceptre as the sign of their power, but the original rod got broken in the great War by the very last Ruling Steward. Nowadays, of course, the Stewards get chosen by us when we're old enough to vote.

After the throne room we went to see the royal jewels - the Sceptre of Annúminas, which is ancient and missing a few of the stones at the top, and the crown - doesn't look very comfortable, a bit top-heavy. Has these silver wings on the side. The monarchs don't wear the thing except at their coronations, and I'm not surprised. Then there's a ring like two entwined serpents, but the detail's really faded. It's kept in a special case with hardly any light and Morwen told us it was something like five Ages old. That makes it ten thousand years old, at least. The Kings say that originally it was a ring given to a man called Barahir, who was a chieftain in the days before the Kings, by an Elf-king called Finrod. At least I think that was it. Of course you have to believe in Elves to believe that. The story gets even more unbelievable, though, because apparently Barahir gave the ring to his son Beren, who met and fell in love with an Elf and they had adventures and eventually had children from who the Kings nowadays are descended. Hmmm. Well, it's romantic anyway, and the ring might have been impressive once. Now it's just old.

The last thing with the jewels was the sword Andúril. Beautiful thing if you like weapons. Engraved with these runes and it had a scabbard in gold and silver. It was Elessar's sword and he actually used it in battles. Now it's stuck in a case forever, which is kind of sad. We wanted to take pictures but Morwen said we weren't allowed to. Spoilsport.

We got the rest of the afternoon free and had to be back at the Gate by five, so we went shopping. Nice jewellery here. Bought Mum's birthday present and some postcards, which we wrote on some steps before heading off back to the Great Gate.

11th June, evening.

Today was National Park Day. We got in the bus and drove for a couple of hours before arriving at the first thing you're supposed to see, which is this pile of rubble that was once a tower. Apparently. You're supposed to be able to tell the stones are carved and everything. Once, the tower, if it was a tower, was like the opposite of Minas Tirith. They made a pair. Except this one was the tower of the Moon, or something. It was a bit dull really. Then we got back on the bus and drove into the park.

You don't really think of the National Park as a desert, but it is. Mostly black and miserable. As we drove along the road towards Orodruin, Mr Barder gave us a lecture on how it used to be even worse, dryer and dustier. Yeah, right. There used to be these huge cracks and things in the ground. They don't think Mordor was ever really inhabited, though apparently bones have been found in a few places and people reckon there could have been expeditions here. The legends all say that Mordor was where the Big Bad Evil hung out, but the thing about legends is that generally they're just stories made up. I'd bundle that one with the Gandalf tales (like, they say he was reborn), and the ones about Elves.

We got out of the bus under the foot of Orodruin and we all looked up and took pictures of the smoke wisping out of the top. It's supposed to be a dormant volcano, and the smoke is just dust. Mr Barder said that Orodruin is the old Gondorian word for Mount Doom, which sounds a bit, well, doomful. When it last erupted it covered all of Mordor in lava and killed all the plants, and there were earthquakes right up to Ithilien. That was just before Elessar came to the throne, so we're talking two Ages. They know the date because of special tests they can do.

We got the cable car that runs most of the way up the mountain and went inside the big tunnel that's just under the summit. It looks way too neat to be natural, but I guess it has to be - nobody could have carved this out of rock. It's fenced off before you get to this kind of platform, bit like a diving board, that juts out over spiky rocks, and you can see some light coming in through the top. Really cool, actually. More legend: if there was a Big Bad, he built it. Elanor says there's a story about the mountain and some sort of necklace, or something; it got thrown in and that's why it erupted. She reads some odd stuff.

Then we got the cable car back down, and drove back to Minas Tirith stopping off at Ithilien on the way. It's like a big garden, with trees and rivers and stuff, but we only got to see the famous waterfall because there wasn't time for more. It's a shame, I wanted to see inside the Steward's big summer house built nearby.

Got to go now, we're going to the opera (bo-ring, I bet). Something about this Beren and his wife, the ones I mentioned yesterday.

12th June.

We're on a boat going down the Anduin towards Pelargir. Bit tired today. The opera was better than we expected. Mel cried. The story was silly but dead romantic - there's this man who gets lost and wanders into a forest, where he sees a girl dancing and falls in love with her. Follows her around for a bit and finally gets to talk to her, and finds she's an Elf princess. They go to her father and he asks if he can marry her, but her father, who's an Elf king and really powerful, says no. Unless he can bring back a jewel from the crown of the Evil Overlord type - I got a bit lost here. So the man, who's called Beren, goes off to find the jewel and the princess follows him, and they have an adventure and get the jewel - she sings a song to send the Overlord to sleep, which was really pretty - but the jewel gets bitten off and eaten by a wolf.

Then it gets depressing and people die, but eventually they meet again and live happily ever after. Anyway it was all right; the costumes were lovely.

So here we are floating down the Anduin. We won't get as far as Pelargir because it's a long long way, but this bit's pretty and it's nice to be on the river. The guide's telling us all how Elessar sailed up the river to Minas Tirith to save it from a siege. There are some tourists from Near Harad taking photographs of each other and chattering away; I remember Barder saying how the Haradrim actually fought against Gondor once, I wonder if they remember that too? Not that it matters or anything, we've been allies for over an Age now. It's pretty cool out here on the river - the sun's shining, the scenery's pretty. We're trying to get a tan before going back north but I think it's probably too late. Pity. There are loads of really big mountains down here. We're used to the Mountain, but there's only the one and then the hills which are near Mirkwood. The White Mountains are HUGE. Like, really HUGE. You can ski in the winter too, as well as sunbathe in the summer. I might move here when I'm grown up and get a job. Esgaroth's nice, but it seems so small now. Nothing going on. I suppose it's the same if you live in Edoras, or Bree, or anywhere in between. Especially if you live in Bree - some of my friends went on the exchange to Bree last year and said that apart from it being miles and miles to go, because you have to go around the Misty Mountains in the winter, there's nothing happening out West. And they've got even sillier legends than us, about little people with hairy feet or something like that. Daft.

Ooh, we're turning around and we're heading back. You can see the White Tower round the bend, glittering in the sun; the silver bits on the flags are shining. I should finish the film in my camera really.

Later: We're packing because we're leaving tomorrow morning for the journey home. It's been great. Really great. Okay, so bits of it were boring, but on the whole - excellent. And I guess I don't care which bits of the stories are legend and which are history, because it's all so exciting. I wish the King was as interesting as Elessar was. Part of me wishes the stories about Elves were true too. Elanor says they are b

That was Miss Casket banging on the door, we've got to sleep.

14th June, back in Esgaroth

To conclude, then. Excellent trip, nice places, I want to live in Minas Tirith. Preferably two Ages ago so I could see what it used to be like. But it was really really good - thanks to the teachers (do I get a good mark now?) And I've gone and got History of the Fourth Age out of the library, but it's a bit big.

Esgaroth is sooooo small.

Beth Frainsson
Class 9R
Esgaroth High School
14th June, Fifth Age 2436

Good work. Lively, detailed write-up of the trip. Glad you enjoyed it. You may be interested to learn that one of my very distant ancestors claimed to have killed a dragon over the Lake - do you think that is also a legend? Tell me what you think if you get through the Fourth Age book.


G. Barder