I’ve been training dogs for over 15 years, mostly the hard and last chance cases. The dogs I work with tend to be aggressive, scared or have unexplainable phobias. Charlie fits all three criteria. I first started working with Charlie several months ago and he was the toughest case I’d ever had. Most dogs, even the most aggressive, love me within 10 minutes, but Charlie hated me. He snarled at me and snapped at me if I got too close. The only way I could even get the leash on him was to distract him with chicken (thank god he was food motivated). Walking him was a trial. He was terrified of cars, buses, people, garbage cans, and his own shadow.
For two weeks I dragged that poor dog around London. Nothing I did seemed to help him relax. Or stop hating me. Charlie had stopped growling at me and had moved on to completely ignoring my presence. One day I decided to give Charlie (and myself) a break and we left the busy streets to walk in the woods. Normally I love walking in the woods, it’s like being in a fairy tale and perfect for day dreaming. But on this day I was miserable. I’d hoped that being away from traffic would make Charlie relax a bit, but no such luck. Also I hadn’t realized tha tthe woods in Hampstead Heath were a lot bigger than the woods nearer to our flat and I promptly got lost.
So there I was still dragging the dog, lost and close to tears, when I noticed a tall vine covered wall. Figuring that no one would randomly build a wall in the middle of the woods I decided to follow it and hope it led me back to civilization. It didn’t take me long to figure out that whatever this wall was surrounding had to be massive,so when I found a set of stairs leading up to an open gate I went up. I hoped that it wasn’t someone’s home but even if it was I would try to slip around the side and back to the street. I was ready for this walk to be over.
When I reached the top of the stairs I stumbled to a halt, mouth agape. Ihad stopped so suddenly that Charlie ran into the back of my leg and gave me a disgusted look (the first time he’d acknowledged me that day). I had stepped into Middle Earth. I stood in a covered walkway overlooking the woods of Hampstead Heath on one side and manicured gardens on the other. The walkway itself was old, covered in vines and with dead leaves blowing here and there, but beautifully designed with carved railings and round towers at each corner. The place had a sort of faded beauty, an air of neglected nobility. My first thought was, “Rivendell!”
I have loved the Lord of the Rings books since I was a child having read all of the books many times, and I love the movies as well. Finding this place was like finding Imladris.
I expected elves to walk by at any moment, but none did. In fact, no one walked by at all. This was something I hadn’t yet experienced in London. There are always people everywhere in London. But I could see benches with plaques reading things like: “Dedicated to Doris, who loved this spot,” so I knew I was in a public place. Having a place like that to myself was a magical experience. I walked up and down every corridor and curved stairwell. As I walked I talked softly to Charlie, telling him the story of the Elves of Rivendell.
Eventually I found a sign giving me information on the place I’d found. It was called the Pergola and Hill Garden. In 1904 the land and stately home called The Hill was purchased by Lord Leverhulme and with landscape architect Thomas Mawson, set about creating the gardens and pergola. Soil needed to raise the grounds to the current level were provided by tunnels being dug for the Northern Line tube station at Hampstead, which was being built at the same time. Lord Leverhulme was actually paid to take the soil, though it was something he needed for his project. Work on the pergola and gardens came to a stop during the Great War, but both were finally completed in 1925, just before Lord Leverhulmes death. The Hill was then purchased by Baron Inverforth,who re-named the house (you guessed it) Inverforth House. By the1960’s both the house, pergola and gardens had fallen into disrepair and the City of London bought the land and set about restoring it.
I tried and failed to see ladies in 1920’s dress strolling along the walkway. All I could see were elves and hobbits and men and dwarves. It was so quiet, with a soft breeze and the sound of bird song. I sat for a time on a bench and let my mind wander. Eventually I took Charlie to the garden and he made a bee-line for a big grassy area. I was about to beg him not to take a dump on the lawn when he surprised me by dropping and rolling. I plopped down next to him, risking him biting my face off, but Charlie just kept rolling around. Slowly, slowly he started rolling closer to me, and soon was right next to me. He shifted around and laid his head in my lap, letting out a sigh of content. For the very first time I was able to pet Charlie and rub his belly. I couldn’t help but think that it was the magic of the elves that brought an understanding between us.
From that moment on Charlie and I have been best buddies. Every time I come in his house he is happy to see me. He walks everywhere with me, never dragging, even when buses or big trucks go by. We visit pubs and he lays quietly under the table. Ironically, Charlie loved my husband the second he met him. All I have to do is mention the name Ewan and Charlie starts doing a full body wiggle.
I can’t say for certain, but I like to imagine that Tolkien was visiting London and decided to take a walk though the woods in Hampstead. When he came upon a tall vine covered wall and a set of stairs, he couldn’t resist going up. And, like me, he stepped into Rivendell.
Sidney Fraser is an American transplanted to a new life in London, where she explores fannish and geeky places, events and creations, which she relates in the continuing True and Proper Adventures of Sidney Fraser.