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Places in Middle-earth

Great North-South Road, The

Type: Roads, Lanes, Ways

Region: Other Middle-earth

Other Names
The North-South Road
The Road between the Two Kingdoms
The Road from Arnor to Gondor
The (Great) Royal Road
Names of segments:
Through Eriador:
The Greenway
The (Old) North Road
Through Dunland:
The (Old) South Road (mentioned only in HoME vol 9 and the Atlas of Middle-earth)
Through Rohan and Gondor:
The (Great) West Road
The Great Road
The North-way
the horse-road

Location: The ancient highway linking the Two Kingdoms, from Fornost in Arnor south to Minas Tirith and then Osgiliath in Gondor; built in the Second Age, but the major segment through Dunland (formerly Enedwaith) had fallen into ruin by the end of the Third Age.

Table of Contents:

Eriador (Arnor) Segment
Dunland (Enedwaith) Segment
Rohan (Calenardhon) Segment
Gondor Segment
Eriador (Arnor) Segment
Dunland (Enedwaith) Segment
Rohan (Calenardhon) Segment
Gondor Segment

It [the great West Road] was the great Númenórean road linking the Two Kingdoms, crossing the Isen at the Fords of Isen and the Greyflood at Tharbad and then on northwards to Fornost; elsewhere called the North-South Road. ...

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 2, Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan: Notes, Note 32

... in those days [beginning of the Third Age] the only Númenórean roads were the great road linking Gondor and Arnor, through Calenardhon, then north over the Gwathló at Tharbad, and so at last to Fornost; and the East-West Road from the Grey Havens to Imladris. These roads crossed at a point [Bree] west of Amon Sûl (Weathertop), by Númenórean road-measurements three hundred and ninety-two leagues1 from Osgiliath.... [Author's note.]

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 1, The Disaster of the Gladden Fields: Notes, Note 6

Description: Eriador (Arnor) Segment

Greenway Name in Bree in the later Third Age for the little-used North-South Road, especially the stretch near Bree.

Unfinished Tales, Index

[The Prancing Pony] had been built long ago when the traffic on the roads had been far greater. For Bree stood at an old meeting of ways; another ancient road crossed the East Road just outside the dike at the western end of the village, and in former days Men and other folk of various sorts had travelled much on it. ... But the Northern Lands had long been desolate, and the North Road was now seldom used: it was grass-grown, and the Bree-folk called it the Greenway.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 9, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

Description: Dunland (Enedwaith) Segment

In ancient days the southern and eastern bounds of the North Kingdom had been the Greyflood; the western bounds of the South Kingdom was the Isen. To the land between (the Enedwaith or "middle region") few Númenóreans had ever come, and none had settled there. In the days of the Kings it was ... of little concern to them, except for the patrolling and upkeep of the great Royal Road. This went all the way from Osgiliath and Minas Tirith to Fornost in the far North, crossed the Fords of Isen and passed through Enedwaith, keeping to the higher land in the centre and north-east until it had to descend to the west lands about the lower Greyflood, which it crossed on a raised causeway leading to a great bridge at Tharbad. ... When the days of the Kings ended (1975-2050) and the waning of Gondor began ... the Royal Road was unkept in Enedwaith, and the Bridge of Tharbad becoming ruinous was replaced only by a dangerous ford.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Appendix

Description: Rohan (Calenardhon) Segment

Roads ... The great Númenórean road linking the Two Kingdoms, by Tharbad and the Fords of Isen; called the North-South Road ... and (east of the Fords of Isen) the West Road ...

Unfinished Tales, Index

I [Christopher Tolkien] have thought it desirable to mark in the entire length of the Great Road linking Arnor and Gondor, although its course between Edoras and the Fords of Isen is conjectural....

Unfinished Tales, Introduction

Description: Gondor Segment

The Halifirien was the highest of the beacons ... its outer slopes, especially northwards, were long and nowhere steep.... As they descended the trees became ever more dense, especially along the Mering Stream ... and northwards out into the plain through which the Stream flowed into the Entwash. The great West Road passed through a long cutting in the wood, to avoid the wet land beyond its northern eaves; but this road had been made in ancient days, and after the departure of Isildur no tree was ever felled in the Firien Wood, except only by the Beacon-wardens whose task it was to keep open the great road ...

... the line of the Mering Stream was fortified (between the impassable marshes of its confluence with the Entwash and the bridge where the Road passed westward out of the Firien Wood)...

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 2, Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan: Cirion and Eorl

At its furthest point from the Great Gate of the City, north-eastward, the [Pelennor] wall was four leagues distant, and there from a frowning bank it overlooked the long flats beside the river, and men had made it high and strong; for at that point, upon a walled causeway, the road came in from the fords and bridges of Osgiliath and passed through a guarded gate between embattled towers.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 1, Minas Tirith


[1-2 III, after the Last Alliance:]
After the fall of Sauron, Isildur ... returned to Gondor. ... but the greater part of the army of Arnor returned to Eriador by the Númenórean road from the Fords of Isen to Fornost.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 1, The Disaster of the Gladden Fields

[Early Third Age:]
[Pipe-weed] grows abundantly in Gondor ... From that land it must have been carried up the Greenway [to the Shire] during the long centuries between the coming of Elendil and our own day.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Prologue, Concerning Pipe-weed

History: Eriador (Arnor) Segment

[23 September 3018 III, the Nazgûl arrive in Eriador:]
But the Black Captain established a camp at Andrath, where the Greenway passed in a defile between the Barrow-downs and the South Downs; and from there some others were sent to watch and patrol the eastern borders, while he himself visited the Barrow-downs. In notes on the movements of the Black Riders at that time it is said that the Black Captain stayed there for some days, and the Barrow-wights were roused, and all things of evil spirit, hostile to Elves and Men, were on the watch with malice in the Old Forest and on the Barrow-downs.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 4, The Hunt for the Ring: Other Versions of the Story

[Around the New Year of 3018-3019, Trouble in Bree:]
Things were far from well, [Barliman Butterbur] would say. Business was not even fair, it was downright bad. 'No one comes nigh Bree now from Outside,' he said. 'And the inside folks, they stay at home mostly and keep their doors barred. It all comes of those newcomers and gangrels that began coming up the Greenway last year, as you may remember; but more came later. Some were just poor bodies running away from trouble; but most were bad men, full o' thievery and mischief. And there was trouble right here in Bree, bad trouble. Why, we had a real set-to, and there were some folk killed, killed dead!'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 6, Ch 5, Homeward Bound

[28 October 3019, when Gandalf and the Hobbits reach Bree:]
'But cheer up, Barliman! ... better times are coming. ... there is a king again, Barliman. He will soon be turning his mind this way.

'Then the Greenway will be opened again, and his messengers will come north, and there will be comings and goings, and the evil things will be driven out of the waste-lands.' ...

Mr. Butterbur shook his head. 'If there's a few decent respectable folk on the roads, that won't do no harm,' he said. 'But we don't want no more rabble and ruffians. And we don't want no outsiders at Bree, nor near Bree at all.' ...

'You will be let alone, Barliman,' said Gandalf. 'There is room enough for realms between Isen and Greyflood ... without any one living within many days' ride of Bree. And many folk used to dwell away north, a hundred miles or more from here, at the far end of the Greenway: on the North Downs or by Lake Evendim.'

'Up away by Deadmen's Dike?' said Butterbur, looking even more dubious. 'That's haunted land, they say. None but a robber would go there.'

'The Rangers go there,' said Gandalf. 'Deadmen's Dike, you say. So it has been called for long years; but its right name, Barliman, is Fornost Erain, Norbury of the Kings. And the King will come there again one day; and then you'll have some fair folk riding through.'

'Well, that sounds more hopeful, I'll allow,' said Butterbur. 'And it will be good for business, no doubt.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 6, Ch 5, Homeward Bound

History: Dunland (Enedwaith) Segment

[Late Second Age and early Third Age:]
The land ... between the Gwathló and the Isen ... was called Enedwaith ... it ... received no permanent settlements of men of Númenórean origin. But the great North-South Road, which was the chief route of communication between the Two Kingdoms except by sea, ran through it from Tharbad to the Fords of Isen.... Before the decay of the North Kingdom and the disasters that befell Gondor, indeed until the coming of the Great Plague in Third Age 1636, both kingdoms shared an interest in this region, and together built and maintained the Bridge of Tharbad and the long causeways that carried the road to it on either side of the Gwathló and Mitheithel across the fens in the plains of Minhiriath and Enedwaith. A considerable garrison of soldiers, mariners and engineers had been kept there until the seventeenth century of the Third Age. But from then onwards the region fell quickly into decay; and long before the time of The Lord of the Rings had gone back into wild fenlands.

Unfinished Tales, Part 2, Ch 4, Appendix D, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn: The Port of Lond Daer

[July-October 3018, Boromir's trip from Minas Tirith to Rivendell:]
When Boromir made his great journey from Gondor to Rivendell -- the courage and hardihood required is not fully recognized in the narrative -- the North-South Road no longer existed except for the crumbling remains of the causeways, by which a hazardous approach to Tharbad might be achieved, only to find ruins on dwindling mounds, and a dangerous ford formed by the ruins of the bridge, impassable if the river had not been there slow and shallow -- but wide.

Unfinished Tales, Part 2, Ch 4, Appendix D, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn: The Port of Lond Daer

[18-22 September 3018, the Nazgûl ride from Isengard to the Shire:]
[Said Gollum,] "Spare me! ... West through the Gap of Rohan yonder, and then north and a little west, until the next great river bars the way; the Greyflood it is called. Thence from the crossing at Tharbad the old road will lead you to the borders. 'The Shire,' they call it. ...

"Goods came to [Saruman] from that land down the road. Spare me, Lord! Indeed I will say naught of our meeting to any that live." ...

Now [the Lord of the Nazgûl] divided his company into four pairs ... but he himself went ahead with the swiftest pair. Thus they passed west out of Rohan, and explored the desolation of Enedwaith, and came at last to Tharbad. Thence they rode through Minhiriath, and even though they were not yet assembled a rumour of dread spread about them.... But some fugitives on the road they captured; and ... two proved to be spies and servants of Saruman. One of them had been used much in the traffic between Isengard and the Shire, and ... he had charts prepared by Saruman which clearly depicted and described the Shire. These the Nazgûl took, and then sent him on to Bree to continue spying; but warned him that he was now in the service of Mordor, and that if ever he tried to return to Isengard they would slay him with torture.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 4, The Hunt for the Ring: Of the Journey of the Black Riders

[November-December 3018:]
The hobbits had been nearly two months in the House of Elrond ... when the scouts began to return. Some had gone ... west, and ... had searched the lands far down the Greyflood, as far as Tharbad, where the old North Road crossed the river by a ruined town.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 3, The Ring Goes South

[28 August - 22 September 3019, Saruman travels to the Shire:]
A note that [JRR Tolkien] pencilled against the episode in a copy of the First Edition is interesting:

Saruman turned back into Dunland on Aug. 28. He then made for the old South Road and then went north over the Greyflood at Tharbad, and thence NW. to Sarn Ford, and so into the Shire and to Hobbiton on Sept. 22: a journey of about 460 [miles] in 25 days. He thus averaged about 18 miles a day -- evidently hastening as well as he could. He had thus only 38 days in which to work his mischief in the Shire; but much of it had already been done by the ruffians according to his orders -- already planned and issued before the sack of Isengard.

Sauron Defeated - The End of the Third Age, HoME Vol 9, Ch 9, The Scouring of the Shire

History: Rohan (Calenardhon) Segment

[2510 III, at time of the Gift of Cirion and the Oath of Eorl:]
It was agreed also that the Great Road which had formerly run through Anórien and Calenardhon to Athrad Angren (the Fords of Isen), and thence northwards on its way to Arnor, should be open to all travellers of either people without hindrance in time of peace, and its maintenance should from the Mering Stream to the Fords of Isen be in the care of the Éothéod.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 2, Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan: Cirion and Eorl

[2758, Invasion of Rohan from West and East:]
... Rohan was again invaded from the East, and the Dunlendings seeing their chance came over the Isen ... Wulf was their leader. ...

The Rohirrim were defeated and their land was overrun.... Helm was driven back with great loss from the Crossings of Isen ... Wulf took Edoras and sat in Meduseld and called himself king.

The Return of the King, LoTR Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: The House of Eorl

[Spring 2759, when Gondor sends aid after the Invasion of Rohan from West and East:]
Soon after the winter broke. ... there came help at last from Gondor, by the roads both east and west of the mountains. Before the year (2759) was ended the Dunlendings were driven out....

The Return of the King, LoTR Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: The House of Eorl

[25 February-2 March 3019: the Battles of the Fords of Isen:]
Elfhelm had been riding in haste along the horse-road from Edoras, leading four companies in answer to Théodred's summons; he was expecting battle, but not yet.... But near the junction of the horse-road with the road down from the Deeping his outriders on the right flank reported that two wolfriders had been seen abroad on the fields. Sensing that things were amiss, he ... rode with all speed towards the Fords. The horse-road turned north-west after its meeting with the Deeping-road, but again bent sharply west when level with the Fords, which it approached by a straight path of some two miles long. Elfhelm thus heard and saw nothing of the fighting between the retreating garrison and the Uruks south of the Fords. The sun had sunk and light was failing when he drew near the last bend in the road, and there encountered some horses running wild and a few fugitives who told him of the disaster. Though his men and horses were now weary he rode as fast as he could along the straight, and as he came in sight of the east bank he ordered his companies to charge.

Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen

History: Gondor Segment

[13 March 3019 III, as the Pelennor is overrun:]
Away to the eastward the distant fires flickered; and now ... they crept across the plain. ... Then from many points little rivers of red flame came hurrying on ... converging towards the line of the broad road that led from the City-gate to Osgiliath.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 4, The Siege of Gondor

[14 March 3019: the Ride of the Rohirrim to the Battle of the Pelennor:]
[The Rohirrim] were less than a day's ride from the out-walls of Minas Tirith that encircled the townlands. Scouts had been sent ahead. Some had not returned. Others hastening back had reported that the road was held in force against them. A host of the enemy was encamped upon it, three miles west of Amon Dîn, and some strength of men was already thrusting along the road and was no more than three leagues away. Orcs were roving in the hills and woods along the roadside.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 5, The Ride of the Rohirrim

[16-17 March 3019, the Rohirrim rout Sauron's forces from Anórien:]
But the main strength of the Rohirrim that remained horsed and able to fight, some three thousand under the command of Elfhelm, should waylay the West Road against the enemy that was in Anórien.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 9, The Last Debate

[Mid-year's Day 3019, the wedding of Elessar and Arwen:]
Upon the very Eve of Midsummer, when the sky was blue as sapphire and white stars opened in the East, but the West was still golden and the air was cool and fragrant, the riders came down the North-way to the gates of Minas Tirith. ... last came Master Elrond, mighty among Elves and Men, bearing the sceptre of Annúminas, and beside him upon a grey palfrey rode Arwen his daughter, Evenstar of her people.

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 6, Ch 5, The Steward and the King


[A league is approximately three miles.]

Contributors: Elena Tiriel 23Sep04, 5Jan05, 14Feb05

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