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Hidden away on the grounds of the historic St Edward’s Church Stow-on-the-Wold is a mystical doorway that looks like a portal that could transport you to another realm.
With its studded wooden panels flanked by ancient yew trees and an old oil lamp hanging above it, you would be forgiven for mistaking this door for being something born of Middle Earth.
Indeed, there is a local legend that says J. R. R. Tolkien visited this church and the entrance inspired his Doors of Durin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But, how much of this is true? Did this spot in the Cotswolds really inspire part of Tolkien’s legendarium? As a life long Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fan, I just had to check this place out on my recent trip to the Cotswolds.
Here is a complete guide to St Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold and how you can visit this magical yew tree door for yourself!
Table of Contents
- The history of St Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold
- The story behind the magical yew tree door
- Did St Edward’s Church door really inspire Tolkien?
- How to find this magical yew tree door yourself!
- The best time to visit St Edward’s Church & photography tips
- St Edward’s Church Stow-on-the-Wold opening times
- What else is there to see in Stow-on-the-Wold?
- Where to stay in Stow-on-the-Wold
- Places to visit near Stow-on-the-Wold
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The history of St Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold
Like the surrounding area, the parish church of St Edward is of medieval origins and there is evidence to suggest that there has been a holy temple on this site since 708 AD. This is due to the monks of Evesham who used to own the land at that time.
But, a church has been historically recorded here since around 986 AD. The chapel was built from the riches of Stow’s prosperous wool trade from their Cotswolds ‘lion’ sheep.
There has been quite a few debates as to which Edward the church was built for. Some say it was a local hermit of Stow hill called Edward whilst others say it was the Saxon King Edward, son of Alfred the Great. However, most have settled on it being built in honour of Edward the Confessor.
Although not much remains of the original Norman building, the stone church dates back to the 13th century with the tower being built in the 14th.
During the Battle of Stow in the early years of the English Civil War, Parliamentarians sacked the town and held many Royalist prisoners inside the church! You can find a memorial inside for Captain Hastings Keyte of Ebrington.
It has been restored many times since then from the 17th to 19th centuries after it fell into ruin. Finally, it was restored in the Gothic Revival style by JL Pearson in 1847 who also designed Truro Cathedral.
Today, it is a Grade I listed building which means it’s of significant historical importance and interest. It draws many visitors each year, not just for what lies inside its walls. But, for the curious yew tree doorway on its north porch!
The story behind the magical yew tree door
If you walk around the churchyard towards the north porch, you will stumble upon what’s known locally as ‘The Yew Tree door’ or ‘The Hobbit door’.
It’s no secret that the ancient and magical yew trees of Britain have guided us for centuries and are shrouded in an air of mystery.
In fact, you’ll find most ancient yews in churchyards as they have a sacred status. The trees ability to regenerate from “dead wood” represents life, death and resurrection which strongly echoes chapters of Christian texts.
With yews having lifespans of over 3,000 years, who knows how old these trees are that wrap themselves around this doorway? Although it could never be proven, they have surely stood here throughout the town’s most historical moments.
What we do know is that the wooden door was placed between them around the 13th century. It is possible, looking at the stained glass windows above it and the oil lamp, that it was ‘revamped’ in the Gothic Revival style during JL Pearson’s renovations.
Whatever the case, it is just like something from the pages of a fantasy novel! You could almost imagine opening the door and entering the portal into another world.
Many say that that J. R. R. Tolkien was inspired by this door and used it to create the western entrance to the Mines of Moria. But, how much of that is true?
Did St Edward’s Church door really inspire Tolkien?
There is a local legend that says that J. R. R. Tolkien visited Stow-on-the-Wold on his many tours of the Cotswolds while he was an academic at Oxford.
The story goes that he used this very doorway to inspire his Doors of Durin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It isn’t too much of a farfetched theory as the elven doors that are unlocked with riddles also had yew trees that flanked them.
But, unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that this was the case. Tolkien’s sketches of the Doors of Durin look very different and no one, so far, has come forward to confirm it – not even the Tolkien society!
However, it is very well possible that Tolkien did visit Stow-on-the-Wold on one of his many tours of the area.
The Tolkien Society has proven that the nearby Bell Inn of Moreton-in-Marsh was used as inspiration for “The Prancing Pony” in the town of Bree. They even had a special print made for the owners!
Plus, the Four Shire Stone on the A44 was confirmed as inspiration for the “Three-Farthing Stone”. This is mentioned in both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as the boundary marker for The Shire and its four farthings.
Not to mention the fact that The Wold was an area in the Kingdom of Rohan which is a place of rolling hills. Similar to The Cotswolds with its gorgeous ‘shiresque’ countryside.
Whether Tolkien was inspired by it or not, the legend doesn’t fail to bring in the crowds. In fact, many make a stop at Stow-on-the-Wold just to visit this Hobbit-like door!
How to find this magical yew tree door yourself!
Whether you wanted to visit for your Instagram feed or just to experience some of Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the UK – you must visit this door in the Cotswolds!
It’s located in the quaint town of Stow-on-the-Wold which is in Gloucestershire perched on top of an 800-foot hill. You can access it on a 15 minute drive from Bourton-on-the-Water and 10 minutes drive from the market town of Moreton-in-Marsh.
When you arrive at Stow, you only need to locate the historic town square and head down Church Street. You’ll see the tower of St Edward’s Church to guide you all over the town.
Once you enter St Edwards churchyard from the Church Street side, take the right-hand path all the way around to the north porch and you’ll find the hobbit door tucked away there.
If you’re heading in from the Church Lane side nearby the old town hall, take a left and follow the path towards the door.
Parking options: Stow-on-the-Wold has plenty of free parking options available around the market square. But, these can fill up quick in summer. If you’re not able to find a spot in the market square head down Digbeth Street near The Porch House and there will be free street parking..
The best time to visit St Edward’s Church & photography tips
The best time to visit St Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold for photos would be in the morning time. Simply due to the fact that the harsh afternoon sun shines on the yew tree door and makes it hard to get good lighting for shots.
But, hey, this is the UK after all. We don’t have sun that often, so you may have nothing to worry about whenever you visit!
It does get quite busy with tour groups, so you may have to queue to get a shot in summer. I would suggest visiting early morning in high season.
Some of the best angles I found were head-on for the doorway and also slightly angled to the left-hand side. That way you get a far better perspective of the archway the door is placed on and yew trees too!
St Edward’s Church Stow-on-the-Wold opening times
The churchyard and the hobbit door of St Edward’s Church can be accessed any time as it’s located on the grounds.
But, if you were curious to take a look inside, the church is open daily for visitors. However, it may be closed during some service times.
What else is there to see in Stow-on-the-Wold?
Stow-on-the-Wold has oodles of history to uncover and so much character! After you’ve made a beeline to the church, make sure you stick around to explore some of the highlights.
Around the market square, you can find some curious spots like the village stocks which still stand here and also the old Town Hall.
If you are into antiques then Stow is a hotbed for them and you’ll love browsing some of the curiosities inside the boutiques. Also, you can pop inside some of the fantastic art galleries.
Huffkins is a delightful café that sits in a wonky building next to the market square or head to The Porch House – England’s oldest inn!
Where to stay in Stow-on-the-Wold
- The Porch House Inn – Why not spend the night at England’s Oldest Inn? It’s a grade I listed building dating from 947 AD and authenticated in the Guinness Book of Records! Inside they have many cosy rooms to book plus a top rated restaurant and bar below! Click to book.
- The Bell & Stuart House is located in a cosy traditional inn with many boutique rooms to offer. It’s elegantly furnished and your rate includes a hearty breakfast in the morning. Again, there is a popular restaurant and bar onsite. Click for rates.
- Number Four at Stow – is an award-winning contemporary boutique hotel which has 18 gorgeous rooms to call home for the night. It’s the perfect place for a weekend break. Click to enquire.
Places to visit near Stow-on-the-Wold
Stow makes a great stop on a Cotswolds road trip as there are so many pretty villages and towns to visit in the area!
Bourton-on-the-Water is known as the Venice of the Cotswolds due to the River Windrush that snakes through the town. You can walk over their famous footbridges, visit the only graded model village in the country, or get lost in their dragon maze!
William Morris once called Bibury “The most beautiful village in England” and it’s easy to see why! You can take a stroll down Arlington Row, the most iconic address in the country that’s featured in British passports.
Chipping Campden is one of the most scenic villages in all of the Cotswolds. Every building is historic. Here you can visit the Old Market Square, St Lawrence’s church, the Cottage Barn and the Almshouses. Or, you can access the beginning and end of the Cotswold Way.
Broadway is also an enchanting gateway that was a favourite of Morris as well. You can explore their ancient high street, visit the George Russel Design Museum or go shopping in the many boutiques.
No visit to the Cotswolds would be complete without a climb up to Broadway Tower! This 18th-century folly was built by Capability Brown and sits in a deer park at over 1000 feet above sea level.