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Dates
Planted sometime between III 2340 and c. III 29001
Location
Running along the eastern border of Buckland, from the Brandywine Bridge in the north to Haysend in the south
Origins
Set by the Bucklanders to protect themselves from the Old Forest to the east
Race
Culture
Meaning
A 'hay' in this context is a boundary hedge or fence
Other names

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  • Updated 1 December 2022
  • This entry is complete

High Hay

The great fence that ran between Buckland and the Old Forest

Map of the High Hay

The Shire-hobbits crossed the river Brandywine and settled its eastern banks in the year III 2340 (or 740 by the Shire-reckoning; that is, about seven centuries before the War of the Ring). There they founded Buckland, a narrow stretch of land running between the Brandywine to the west and the trees of the Old Forest to the east. These early Bucklanders soon discovered that the trees of the forest to the east were far from ordinary. They could move at times, and whisper to one another, and they held a deep hatred for the Hobbits who had settled on the edge of their domain.2

To protect themselves from the forest, the Bucklanders planted a great Hedge that ran from the northern end of their land to its southern tip, a distance of some twenty miles. This was the High Hay (a hay being an old word for a boundary fence or hedge), though it was more commonly referred to simply as 'the Hedge'. The High Hay began in the north near the Brandywine Bridge, and there the Bucklanders made a guarded gate on the road, the North Gate of Buckland. From this gate, the Hedge ran eastward and southward, passing around the villages of Newbury and Crickhollow, before turning to run directly toward the south. It eventually reached the banks of the Brandywine again at a place that came to be known as Haysend.

We are not told exactly when the High Hay was put in place, but it would presumably have been created relatively soon after Buckland was settled. Over the generations that followed, the Hobbits of Buckland tended and maintained their defensive Hedge, and it grew tall and thick. In at least one place (a little northward of the village of Crickhollow) the Hobbits created a way through the High Hay: a brick-lined tunnel guarded by a locked gate that passed under the Hedge and emerged on the forest side.

Even with the High Hay in place, the trees of the Old Forest remained a threat, and at one time, they moved right against the Hedge. The Hobbits retaliated by cutting back the trees and burning a long strip of land eastward of the Hedge. They gathered the felled trees in a glade within the Old Forest and created a great bonfire. This Bonfire Glade remained clear long afterward, and the trees of the Old Forest drew back from the High Hay, though their hatred of the Hobbits grew even fiercer.

At the end of the Third Age, a stretch of open land still remained between the High Hay and the Old Forest, running for about a hundred yards between the Hedge and the trees. The people of Buckland would still at times pass through the Hedge,3 but the danger of the forest was no longer immediate. The Old Forest remained perilous, however, to those who chose to travel beyond the High Hay and into the dark woods beyond. Seeking a secret way out of the Shire, Frodo Baggins and his companions did just this as they began their journey to Rivendell. They were drawn in and captured by Old Man Willow, and very nearly became the first victims of the Old Forest in generations. Their quest would have come to an early end if not for the timely arrival of Tom Bombadil, a power greater even than the old evil of the forest.


Notes

1

We do not have a precise date for the creation of the High Hay, but III 2340 marked the founding of Buckland, so it cannot have existed before that date. In practice, the Bucklanders seem to have lived for some time without any protection on their eastern border before planting the Hedge.

We have two hints about the age of the High Hay: The Fellowship of the Ring I 5 (A Conspiracy Unmasked) states that it was planted 'many generations ago', and in the following chapter Merry Brandybuck describes events involving the Hedge as happening 'long ago'. These are hardly precise dates, but they point to the High Hay being at least a century old or so at the end of the Third Age, and possibly rather older still.

2

Unknown to the Hobbits, the dark will behind the Old Forest originated with Old Man Willow, an ancient tree that lived in the depths of the wood beside the river Withywindle. This dark willow hated all beings that were not rooted in the earth, and so caused what harm he could to the Bucklanders. It may be that this hatred had been unwittingly worsened by the Bucklanders themselves, if the founders of the land had felled any of the trees of the Old Forest. Indeed, it is not impossible that the forest had originally grown all the way to the banks of the Brandywine (as it still did in the south) and was cut back to open Buckland for settlement. If so, that would certainly help to explain the special hatred of the trees for the people of Buckland.

3

Merry Brandybuck stated that he had occasionally passed beyond the High Hay, and the existence of a gate leading beneath the Hedge shows that he was by no means the only one to do so. We're not told what the Hobbits were doing beyond the protection of the High Hay, but presumably they were patrolling and cutting back any trees that ventured too close to the border of Buckland.

Indexes:

About this entry:

  • Updated 1 December 2022
  • This entry is complete

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