‘One River at a Time!’ – The Multi-Named River Hoarwell

Finally! Our hobbits and Strider are actually doing something! The long walking montage is at an end and they’ve come upon the East Road! Huzzah! Let’s see what they’re up to.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
When last we left our heroes, they were tramping through a valley and walking up a hill. It was some pretty riveting stuff, I can tell you. By this point, it has been six days since they left Weathertop. Frodo is wounded, the pain has grown, but on the up-side, no Nazgul!

When they reached the top of this ridge, they had a great view of the East Road below them. They had been hanging to the south of it, hoping to escape detection. Mission accomplished, so far. They could also see a river, and across the river another river, this one in a stony valley.

The first river as the River Hoarwell. The elves called it Mitheithel, but after it joins the Loudwater, some folk called it the Greyflood, which was a translation from the Sindarin Gwathlo, which meant “shadow” (as is dim light due to cloud cover). Incidentally, “Mitheithel” means “pale grey spring.” Hoarwell means the same thing. This definition was a later addition, as in the original Hobbit, Tolkien wrote that it was red in hue.

After writing Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote a piece called “The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor.” It was sort of a geographical history of the place, and can be found in Unfinished Tales (during the “Battles at the Fords of Isen” chapter).

The Greyflood was the border between the North and South Kingdoms. Later, it was under Gondor, though they didn’t seem to care about it. Its source is in the Misty Mountains, and it flows south through the Ettenmoors, crossing the East Road at the Last Bridge. From there, it’s joined by the Bruinin, flowing from Rivendell. After the confluence, it continues south east, crossing the Greenway just after being joined by the River Glanduin. It then flows through Dunland and Enedwaith, and then into the Sea. Trace it on the map, if you please.

Down the coast from the mouth of the Greyflood was the mouth of the Isen. Between the two rivers “lived a few tribes of ‘Wild Men’, fishers and flowlers, but akin in race and speech to the Druedain of the woods of Anorien.

When the Numenoreans came to Middle-earth, they explored and named the river – “the boats of the adventurers crept silently up in to the unknown land.” The first name they gave it was “River of Shadow.” When they arrived, there were trees everywhere, casting their shadow of the river, which is where they got the name. Soon, however, the Numenorians deforested the entire region. So thorough was their cutting that even by the time of our story (3,000ish years later) the place remained a grassland.

Getting back to the story, Merry asked Strider the name of the other river they could see beyond the first river (Hoarwell/Greyflood/etc). “That is the Loudwater, the Bruinen of Rivendell.” According to Tolkien’s maps, it would be nearly impossible for them to see the Loudwater from the ridge they’re on as it’s 100 miles east. This was a problem which was sort of fixed on subsequent maps, which brought the river about twenty-five miles closer.

In the (incredibly essential) map book Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey, the river was drastically moved to about twenty-seven miles away. This is much more believable. Tolkien knew about the error, but wasn’t incredibly concerned about it. Weirdly, on his early map drafts, the river was about 45 miles away, and it grew more distant with each passing draft. This is not a place where you can say “well, maybe it was a really clear day” or “Merry ate a lot of carrots.”

Again returning to the story, Strider was still unsure how he was going to cross the River Hoarwell. “One river at a time! We shall be fortunate indeed if we do not find the Last Bridge held against us!”

They went into camp that night. It was the 20th day of their journey.

A Few Notes

  • Though it makes little sense to memorize all the names for these rivers, one thing that you should take away from anything that has several names is that it’s an important thing. Take special care when Tolkien changes the name of something. It usually denotes an important event.
  • I’d love to go into more detail about the maps, and I probably will someday. It’s difficult because the early drafts aren’t really available to see, and describing a map is kind of boring. But I’d like to figure out a way to make it all interesting. We’ll see.
Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64 (x-pro)

Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64 (x-pro)

About the Photo
This was taken on a hill overlooking the Columbia River. It’s not the same, really, but it is a “grey river gleaming pale in the thin sunlight.” You know, sorta.


  • Day 73
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 356
  • 104 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,423 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.) In a camp overlooking the Last Bridge. (map)

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3 thoughts on “‘One River at a Time!’ – The Multi-Named River Hoarwell

  1. Rivendell seems to be modelled on Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland: a village in a glacial valley, by a big waterfall, that JRRT visited in 1911.

    The name Bruinen (Loudwater) could also be influenced by French bruit ‘noise’.

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