In my interview with the team behind Minecraft Middle-earth, I asked founder Nicky Vermeersch if someone could potentially walk across the entire server, following the journey of the Fellowship from beginning to end. After he told me that it wasn’t only possible but many had done so in the past, my quest was set.
Minecraft Middle-earth is one of the biggest building servers to be built in the blocky sandbox. The project currently sits at 29,000 by 30,000 blocks and features almost every iconic location from Tolkien’s world. The map is monumental in size, so first I needed a plan before I set off.
Thankfully, the team over at Minecraft Middle-earth has created a path of footprints across the whole server that charts the journey of the Fellowship. Sometimes the path branches off, representing were the group split up, and you can decide who to follow. Go with Frodo and Sam to Mordor, or Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli through Rohan—it’s up to you.
The server also has a live map, letting players see where they are as they traverse the world. Coupled with this map that shows the path of each member of the Fellowship (courtesy of The Lord of The Rings Project), I could keep track of how far along my quest I was. I also downloaded some server recommended texture packs and made sure to get some Minecraft shaders to see the builds in all their majestic glory (Sonic Ether’s shader was my go-to).
Vermeersch told me that walking the entire journey can take anywhere between five to ten hours, depending on the route you take and how much you dawdle. Considering it took the Fellowship half a year to destroy the one Ring, I thought ten hours seemed doable.
Maps, texture packs, and shaders ready to go, I set off from Bag End and begin following the footprints. Hobbiton is every bit as wholesome as it is in the books and films. I make my way past golden fields and cosy homes, optimistic for the journey ahead; but, as I move beyond the Shire and take my first steps into the Old Forest, I meet my first challenge.
Gandalf wisely tells the hobbits to avoid the roads at all costs because the Ringwraiths, Servants of Darkness, Black Riders, Dark Riders, Nine Riders, Spooky Riders—you get it—want to get their hands on the Ring. Well, it turns out the hobbits did a great job, because tracking their route through forests, across streams, and between tight spaces is quite the task. It’s great to see the server’s footprint guide take details like this into account. It’s more involving and exciting than just following the roads.
After reaching Bree and paying a quick visit to The Prancing Pony, the next destination is Weathertop. Although the group were still avoiding the roads at this point in the story, the terrain between the Shire and Rivendell is relatively flat, with only the occasional mountain, so it doesn’t take long to get across. As I reach Weathertop, it’s been around two hours since I first set off. After Frodo gets stabbed, Arwen shows up, chucks him on her horse, and bolts Rivendell. I don’t have a trusty horse with me, so I have to make the journey on foot—slightly less dramatic.
Our introduction to Rivendell in the films is Frodo waking up after he’s been healed, but in Minecraft Middle-earth you get to experience the route walking into the city, and it’s spectacular. The footprints take you up a mountain and, as you turn an unsuspecting corner, Rivendell is just suddenly there. The Middle-earth builders have done a fantastic job at capturing the city’s majesty. The footprints lead me straight to the opening where the Council of Elrond takes place and, lo and behold, right in the centre is the One Ring, casually sitting there. So, like the tourist I am, I snag a selfie next to it (yes, I’ve been wearing a Frodo Baggins’ Minecraft skin this whole time).
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(Image credit: Mojang)
Middle-earth isn’t the only fantasy setting to get the Minecraft treatment. For more incredible worlds, including Westeros, Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City and more, check out our best Minecraft builds guide.
With The Fellowship fully formed, the next stop on the journey is Moria. After a detour through the snowy mountain where the Fellowship had a spot of bother with an avalanche, I finally arrive at Moria’s west gate. The path into the mines is, of course, blocked, but not for long. All you need to do is type ‘mellon’ (the elvish word for ‘friend’) into the server text chat, answer the riddle, and it opens the gateway to Moria’s depths. If it’s been a while since you had to remember any elvish, or if you’re having any other problems, there are always builders working away who will help you out.
The Middle-earth builders have done an amazing job creating the huge pillared caverns of the mines, and there’s even a guest appearance from everyone’s favourite fiery demon friend, the Balrog. I can’t help but sigh with relief when I exit Moria’s east gate, though. With that creepy underground kingdom behind me, I head towards the golden forest of Lothlórian, beginning what’s one of the best stretches of the entire journey.
I arrive at Caras Galadhon, home of the Elves, just as I hit the four-hour mark. You can go and see Galadriel’s famous silver basin where she freaks out Frodo, and if you stare into the pool for a couple of seconds, the Eye of Sauron will appear and give you a little fight. Best not stick around for too long.
Leaving Caras Galadhon, The Fellowship jumps in a couple of boats and heads downriver towards the Gates of Argonath. At this point, you can walk next to the river all the way, or you can use a mod to get the classic Minecraft rowboat and float down instead. I recommend the rowboat because reaching the two giant monuments as you enter Gondor is a spectacular view from the water. It’s how the incredible sight was meant to be seen.
After a particularly emotional battle at Amon Hen where we all cry over Sean Bean, the Fellowship splits up, and the footprint guide follows suit. After thinking about the locations I want to see, I decide to follow Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli’s journey toward Rohan. Places like the Dead Marshes and parts of Mordor are still in heavy development because building an entire continents takes time, and there are so many cities I want to see are in the opposite direction. Sorry Mordor, maybe another time.
After a quick dip into Fangorn forest, it’s time to see three of Middle-earth’s most iconic locations, and thankfully, they’re all neighbours. Edoras is first, which is in the middle of a huge valley. There’s a charming shabbiness to the city that matches the rugged landscape surrounding it. I then head to Isengard to check out Orthanc, and climbing the fortress to get to the top is quite the climb. I have no idea how Saruman did it. Maybe his wizard powers? A chair lift?
Doubling back on myself slightly, I head to Helm’s Deep and decide to make my entrance a little more dramatic. The Middle-earth server lets you set the time of day and weather to your personal preference, so of course I have to set it to a stormy night. This is where having some downloaded shaders is a great choice, because the atmosphere as I climb up the steps into Helm’s Deep is incredible.
The last place on my list is Minas Tirith, and the final leg of the journey is one of the longest, but relatively smooth. The footprints take you through some of Gondor’s other locations that don’t get a spotlight in the films. The port town Pelargir is one such place, it’s a beautiful city complete with huge ships with billowing white sails. After an hour and a bit of walking through Gondor, I finally reach the city, and it’s so much bigger than I was anticipating.
I have no idea how I would navigate the many streets, corridors, and alleys of Minas Tirith without the footprint guide, and then there are all the different levels. Weaving through the city gives you perspective on how much hard work and love has gone into every block of this build. When I reach the citadel at the very top, I’m around the tenth hour of my journey. To celebrate my epic achievement, I run straight past the white tree to the end of the courtyard and swan dive off the edge.
My journey through Middle-earth has come to an end, but on my quest I saw less than half of what the team has built over the ten years that the server has been active. If you want to dive yourself or see how you can get involved with the project, check out the Minecraft Middle-earth official website and read the FAQ.