The Ancient Defenses of Amon Sul (Day 47)

Camera: Holga 120N Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 (x-pro as C-41)

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 (x-pro as C-41)

The Micro-Fellowship now reaches the top of the ridge and finds “the remains of green-grown walls and dikes,” as well as other ancient ruins.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p184 50th Anniv. Ed.)
These dikes, as I’ve talked about before, were built about 1600 years before Strider and the hobbits found them atop the Weather Hills. They were not dikes in the watery sense, but built as defenses – breastworks, escarpments, works, whatever you want to call them.

They were built out of stone and were clearly more of a line of defense than a fort, though the main structure on Weathertop itself was probably just that during the war against the Witch-king of Angmar. Though formidable, the defenses didn’t work in the end.

The Weather Hills form a line facing northeast, conveniently toward Angmar. What was incredibly inconvenient was that Weathertop, the prize sought by the Witch-king (and by others before him), anchored the right flank. It was the extreme right, with nothing protecting it on that side.

Here’s a map of the area.

Tolkien gives no details on the assault, but it can easily be imagined that the forces of Angmar mostly ignored the defenses on the left of Weathertop. Perhaps there was a feint here and there along the line, but it would have been much more advantageous to simply assail the defenses of Weathertop.

But not that this would be easy. The East Road runs along the southern base of Weathertop. If held by Angmar’s column, the attack itself could have been made from the south, even though they were originally coming from the north. Scaling the heights would have been a huge problem. The East Road climbs to just over 600 feet above sea level. The summit, where Amon Sul and the Palantir resided, was around 1000 feet. The climb, while only 400 feet in altitude, would have been a rough one.

However it happened, Amon Sul, Weathertop, fell in 1409 of the Third Age (it’s now 3018). Over those 1600 years, the dikes have deteriorated, the buildings made ruins.

A Few Notes:

  • Discovering old breastworks and defenses is really a bit of fun. In the States, the earliest of these dates from the late Civil War (1864, typically). Around Richmond and Petersburg, they’re the most prevalent, and incredibly interesting to come across while tramping through the woods.
  • In Washington (state), we have one place, San Juan Island, that has an earthen redoubt constructed in the 1850s for the so-called Pig War. This was when we nearly went to war with England (on the eve of our own Civil War) over a wandering and hungry pig. Seriously. I did a write up about it in my Civil War blog a few years back.
  • In America, we don’t have ancient European things like this, but we like to pretend that we do. (Also here.)
  • Back in Washington, we do have eskers, which appear to be like escarpments, but were actually formed by glaciers. Both words come from the Old Irish word “escir,” which means “a ridge between two plains.” Mostly, they’re smaller rocks piled on top of each other in an incredibly long line (we’re talking miles and miles). These date to maybe 20,000ish years ago. I don’t talk about it much here, but I have absolutely fallen in love with Washington’s glacial history.

The book The Atlas of Middle-Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad and Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey were both incredibly helpful here.

About the Photo

You’d think I’d have photographs of eskirs, huh? They’re not exactly easy to photograph, though I’m going to try again this spring. Instead, we have another photo from atop Rocky Mountain National. The elevation is obviously way off, but I think this captures how the Weather Hills might have looked at their summit.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 226
  • 15 miles to Weathertop Summit
  • 234 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,553 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Now atop a ridge (the Weather Hills) leading to Weathertop.(map)