Everybody’s Kung Fu Fighting At Edoras

Aside from the Fields of Pelennor, the LOTR site I most wanted to see was Edoras. For those of you who have not watched the movies more than 8,000 times each (the extended versions, mind you), Edoras was the heart of Rohan, its golden hall built atop a rocky outcropping on a plain surrounded by mountains with a silver river running through it.

Ever since seeing it for the first time in The Two Towers, I’ve been a little obsessed with seeing Mt. Sunday, the location, because it was so perfect for the movie (and true to the books, I think).

It would have been rough getting Skylon out to the site, which is in the middle of nowhere, with a few questionable river fords after all the rain in recent days, so I opted to join a tour.

Expensive, yes, and not my idiom, for certain, but I did have a coupon.

In the end, I was really glad I went (with Hassle Free Tours, if you ever find yourself in Christchurch with a need to get your Rohirrim on). Aside from having a ridiculously large six-wheeled vehicle that forded a river much deeper and swifter than I could have on foot, our guides were equipped with replica weaponry, DVDs and soundtracks, good humor and general patience with the nine of us.

That’s right, fellow LOTR geeks… there were nine of us on the tour! I felt like making a comment about being the Fellowship (or Nazgul) but decided that was just too geeky.

Besides, everyone was probably thinking it already.

And guys, let me tell you something… grow your hair out, get a horse and a spear and a helmet and you’re good to go. Chicks dig Rohirrim. Seven of us on the tour were women. Of the two guys, one twentysomething was there with his mom and the other was a dad there with his twentysomething daughter. The rest of us were single women who’d all read the books and seen the movies and knew the answers to the trivia questions the guides tossed at us.

I’m just sayin’.

After days and days of gray, cold rain in Christchurch, I was a little worried about taking the tour… who wanted to drive four hours to Edoras (and pay big bucks) only to see nothing but mist and fog? Fortunately, as we drove out of Christchurch, the weathers gods, perhaps fearing my wrath, parted the clouds, whisked away the mist and fog and dropped a big yellow sun right in the middle of the blue sky. Perfect.

The drive out took us through farmland and past Mt. Hutt, into high country: empty, rugged, beautiful land populated almost exclusively by sheep and the occasional musterer. We stopped at Lake Clearwater for the fantastic view, then drove up over a hill and there it was…

The first sight of the rocky rise where the set for Edoras once stood gave me goosebumps. Even though the set was long ago dismantled and locked away in container units in Wellington, the site itself is so perfect and so dramatic (and so well known to someone, ahem, who has watched those damn movies way too many times) that I couldn’t help but be moved.

It didn’t hurt that the guides had put the soundtrack to The Two Towers on as we drove, the music swelling just as we crested the hill.

We drove across the valley, passing the spot where Legolas, Aragorn and Gandalf first look at Edoras, then past the flat space near the river where the makeup and prop tents and trailers once stood, forded the river, which was running high and swift, and then parked at the base of Mt. Sunday.

Mt. Sunday, the rocky outcrop on which Edoras was built, got its name, according to our guides, because it was a landmark for all the musterers from surrounding sheep stations who would gather there for services on Sunday. It’s also where they buried many of their faithful sheepdogs, a spot marked with a cairn on the west side of the rise, over which the LOTR people built the watchtower.

Mt. Sunday got its shape from glacial activity, apparently marking the meeting point of two glaciers that carved out the valley.

As Mark, one of our guides was explaining this, Bryce (the other guide) was passing out weapons, asking for volunteers to carry them up. Never have I raised my hand so readily. He offered me Gimli’s axe but I told him I wanted Theoden’s sword, and I got it. Whoo hoo!!

Aside from wanting a Rohan sword while standing in Rohan, I really wanted Theoden’s sword because Bernard Hill, the actor who played him in LOTR, is left-handed and insisted on being left-handed in the movie. Huzzah!

(sidenote… no one wanted Gimli’s axe, so the dad on the tour finally took it. Chicks don’t dig the Dwarves, apparently.)

We walked up to the top of Mt. Sunday, a mere 600 or so meters above sea level, and the views were breathtaking in every direction, including to the northwest where we could see the spot in the nearby mountains that was used as a separate location for the backdrop of Helm’s Deep.

Our group took turns geeking out with the swords and flag of rohan and just soaking in the fantastic views. One of the other women, who was from Switzerland, asked me to take a couple pictures for her with her camera. I said sure, and next thing I know, she’s got Aragorn’s sword and is striking all these kung fu postures.

I asked her if she knew kung fu and she said yes, she’d been doing it for 18 years and was about to open her own school… not for a moment was I surprised she was on the tour.

Our cameras exhausted (really… mine was running low on batteries from all the use, which is why some of the photos have a funky pink tinge), we gathered back at the truck and had a picnic lunch with champagne, even though mead would have been a more appropriate beverage. As we loaded back up for the long drive back to Christchurch, the clouds swooped in and everything turned dull and gray. Somehow I didn’t mind.

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