Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Sarehole Mill Cafe, Hall Green, Birmingham

This childhood haunt of J. R. R. Tolkien does not have a large cafĂ©, but that it entirely part of it's charm. It's just a small room in the old Miller's cottage serving light refreshments - meaning, of course, cakes and biscuits. If you were a local, this would be a lovely regular haunt. Despite the everpresent rumble of traffic on the Cole Bank Road, this really is a little oasis of rural peace. There's limited seating, but sit outside in the courtyard and soak up the romantic ambience of industrial Birmingham before traffic and suburbs*. The pot of tea was tasty enough - no standout brands for either tea of coffee but at less than 2 quid for either, who cares? Drinkable, refreshing and cheap enough to tempt you back for more.**

In the Cotswolds this place would be prettified beyond belief, groaning with ornamental flower borders and home-made lavender scones and chintzed-up countryside living. Birmingham museums tend to face up to the realities of an industrial past, focusing on more material matters - machines, technology; stuff. There are a few aspects of eye-rolling cheesiness in the form of the Tolkien homages - some 'search for Bilbo' game for the kids, so the magnificent ingenuity of the mechanization of food production is punctuated by pictures of characters from the books. However, it is complemented by some information describing Tolkien's own account of how the Mill and it's surroundings appear in the stories.

He's right, of course. The sprawling industrial suburbs wrecked his rural idyll. But, when you are sitting outside, drinking tea and listening to the sounds of the Mill and the traffic, you realize that this particular destination perfectly epitomises that moment when what was, becomes what is.

*Before, in fact, Birmingham was relatively 'uninhobbited'
**Or, if you like, 'hobbit-forming'

Access: *****

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