Daisy Bateman

Saturday, Part One: Hobbiton to Modesto

Yesterday evening we managed, after much perilous negotiation of roundabouts, to ind ourselves lodging at a modest but pleasant B&B on the outskirts of Cambridge. The area was described by both of my guidebooks as an almost overwhelmingly charming Victorian horse-country town, but looked to me more like a modest outer suburb of, say, Baltimore, but with more cows. I have got to start approaching guidebooks with a bit more skepticism.

Our stay included a full New Zealand breakfast, which is a lot like a full English breakfast (fried eggs, fried meat, fried mushrooms, baked tomato) except that the bacon here is more like Canadian bacon, a round piece of lean with a strip of fat around the edges. Also, I found it ironic that, at an establishment with an actual cow in the front yard (it belongs to a neighbor), they would serve you margarine for your toast.

We started early, because we had a lot to do and a long way to go. Around noon yesterday it became clear that we were never going to make both our planned stops in one day, so we chose the caves and put off Hobbiton. Which turned out to have been a good choice, because where yesterday had been gray and rainy, today had turned up bright and clear and cloudless. Perfect weather for tramping around the most famous sheep pasture in New Zealand.

There are, of course, no hobbits in Hobbiton. There are no doors either, or gardens or walls or bridges or buildings. What there is are a number of hobbit holes set into a hillside, a tree, a pond and lots and lots of sheep. It’s lambing season, and every ewe (there’s about six thousand of them on the farm) had a lamb or two with her, some born as recently as yesterday. (Incidentally, I decided that any lamb I saw was being raised for its wool.)

Our guide led us on a thorough tour, pointing out of the places where things used to be with lots of descriptions like “just over by those two lambs there, you can see where the road was.” But that’s okay, because I hadn’t come for what wasn’t there. I came for the hobbit holes, which were.

They had been rebuilt after the original impermenant movie set peices had succumbed to the elements and the resident sheep, and whitewashed to stand out against the green hillside. They were small and round and, even at only a few feet deep, gave off exactly the air of cozy hominess that had always made this imaginary place so appealing. I took more photos than was strictly rational, including one, for no reason, of a hedge. I really have to go and rewatch those movies now.

Side note: Our driver on the shuttle out to the site, a bluff and middle aged Kiwi man, could not have been more pleased to hear that we were from California. He and his wife were actually headed there next week, to go on a four-day cruise to Ensenada, and then up to Modesto.

Oh, how nice, we said.
Modesto? we thought.

It turned out that he was a fan of American muscle cars, and he was picking up a couple of them there to ship back out of Oakland. We wished him luck and said we’d keep an eye out for him when we got back to the Bay Area.

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