The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
The central and southern parts of Eriador
Into the Great Sea north of Eryn Vorn
'Golden brown river'
Other names


About this entry:

  • Updated 23 May 2020
  • This entry is complete

River Baranduin

The river called ‘Brandywine’ by the Shire-hobbits

Map of the river Baranduin

An important river that flowed through central Eriador, rising in the northern lake of Nenuial and running southwards and westwards to reach the Sea through a narrow inlet off the southern borders of Lindon. When in flood, the waters of the river ran with a golden brown colour, and this fact gave the river its name, which means 'golden brown river' in Elvish.

The Course of Baranduin

Northward of the lands where the Shire would be founded lay a range of hills surrounding a vast lake known in Elvish as Nenuial, or Lake Evendim, on whose shores the Dúnedain built their city of Annúminas. Out of this lake ran a river that formed the beginnings of Baranduin. At first it ran almost directly eastward toward the North Downs, but after some fifty miles its course turned sharply, and it began to flow towards the south.

For more than a hundred miles, the river ran southward and a little eastward into the heartlands of Eriador. During the Second Age, these were densely forested lands, but by the Third Age these forests had receded and the Shire-hobbits came to settle in the lands beside the river's western banks. These people took the Elvish name Baranduin and simplified it to 'Brandywine', which became the river's usual name along this part of its course.

By the time Baranduin flowed over Sarn Ford at the Shire's southern extent, it was still little more than halfway along its course. By this point, the river had arced toward the southwest, and it continued in this direction (other than a long southern loop near its mouths) for nearly two hundred miles. Along this lower part of its course, Baranduin formed the northern boundary of Minhiriath, the land 'between the rivers' (the other of these rivers being Gwathló on the land's southern border). Baranduin finally reached the Great Sea on the southwestern coasts of Eriador, giving rise to a long narrow firth that ran out past the wooded promontory of Eryn Vorn.

History: The Second Age

Though Baranduin doubtless flowed through Eriador during the First Age, in those days it lay far from the civilised lands of Beleriand, and no mention of the river is found in history until the Second Age. In those times Eriador was mostly peopled by Men, while Elves dwelt in Lindon to the west. The Men of Eriador held the Elves in awe and fear, and they treated Baranduin as a border river, rarely venturing westward across it into the Elvish lands beyond.

Meanwhile the Númenóreans dwelt far away in their island realm for centuries, but eventually began to sail back to Middle-earth and explore its coasts. The Great Captain Aldarion was the first of these to sail southward from Lindon aboard his vessel Númerrámar, and it was he who first charted the shores around the mouths of Baranduin.

More than a thousand years after Aldarion's explorations there was War in Eriador, as Sauron launched his forces westward and occupied much of the land through which Baranduin flowed. Defeat for the Elves seemed inevitable, but Aldarion's descendant Tar-Minastir sent an immense navy to their aid. Sauron retreated in the face of this overwhelming Númenórean force, and the two sides came to battle on Baranduin at the shallows of Sarn Ford. After a bloody confrontation Sauron was defeated, and was forced to escape southwards. Pursued by the Númenóreans, the Dark Lord was ultimately driven from Eriador altogether.

Over the years and centuries that followed, the Númenóreans expanded their presence in Middle-earth. The thick forests that had stood on the banks of Baranduin were cut down, so that all that remained were small isolated woods in a treeless plain. One of these, the Old Forest, stood about halfway along the river's course, and another, Eryn Vorn, lay near its mouths. The Númenóreans of later centuries abandoned the friendship of the Men of Middle-earth, instead demanding tribute and driving them out of their old homes. Many of these fled northward, but they still feared to cross Baranduin into Elvish lands, and took shelter in the woods of Eryn Vorn at Baranduin's mouths.

As the Second Age drew to a close, the Númenóreans who had caused such hardship in Middle-earth brought about their own Downfall far across the Sea. After the Downfall, a new group of Númenóreans came to Middle-earth. These were Elf-friends led by Elendil, who had set sail from doomed Númenor and found themselves driven across the Great Sea to come ashore in Middle-earth.

Elendil and his people founded a new realm in Eriador: Arnor, the North-kingdom of the Dúnedain. This new kingdom encompassed the lands between the Blue and the Misty Mountains, and so Baranduin ran through its central regions. The Dúnedain were said to have built many places along the course of Baranduin in these days, though most of these are lost to history. Elendil made his capital at Annúminas on the shores of Nenuial, Lake Evendim, from which the river Baranduin flowed.

The early years of Arnor saw a great deal of building across the northern lands, especially at the time of the War of the Last Alliance. It was likely1 at this time that the Bridge of Stonebows was made across Baranduin, spanning the river on three great arches. It was here that the East Road, the main east-west thoroughfare of the North-kingdom, made its way across Baranduin.

History: The Early Third Age

In the Second Age, Baranduin had marked the border between the lands of Elves and of Men, but in the Third Age it marked a different border. At this time it lay within the borders of Arnor, separating two regions within that land. To the north and west of the river lay Arthedain, the land of the Kings in which the main cities of the realm were to be found. To the south and east was Cardolan, a land whose western parts fell between the rivers Baranduin and Gwathló farther to the south. Baranduin's status as a border became more important after the year III 861, when the old realm of Arnor was divided, and the river marked the boundary between the newly independent kingdoms of Arthedain and Cardolan.

This state of affairs persisted for centuries, but dangers were arising in the east, and peoples were moving across the lands to escape them. In III 1601 a large group of Halflings, led by the brothers Marcho and Blanco, set out from Bree and crossed the Great Bridge westwards into the open lands beyond. At the time these lands lay within the kingdom of Arthedain, but its King, Argeleb II, granted this land to the Halflings to dwell in. Thus the Shire was founded on the western banks of Baranduin, and the Hobbits of that land changed the river's name, calling it the 'Brandywine'2 (or sometimes simply the 'River').

The Shire had been established on Baranduin's western bank for more than seven centuries when the enterprising Hobbit Gorhendad Oldbuck crossed the River back eastward and founded a colony in a strip of land running along its eastern bank. This was the beginning of Buckland, and as the new Master of this region, Gorhendad adapted the Hobbits' name for the River into his own family name, becoming the first of the Brandybucks.3

The Brandywine Bridge was not the only crossing point on the river for the Hobbits. Twenty miles downriver from the Bridge was Bucklebury Ferry, which connected the Shire's Eastfarthing with the village of Bucklebury in Buckland (the Shire-hobbits were generally shy of using boats, but the Bucklanders were much readier to cross Baranduin's waters). In the year III 2980 a dreadful boating accident occurred on the river, and two Hobbits - Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck - were lost in the waters of Baranduin. Thus their young son Frodo was left orphaned, to be raised by his father's relative Bilbo Baggins in faraway Hobbiton.

On the landward side, away from the river, Buckland was protected by a great Hedge that ran the entire length of the land, so that Buckland lay between Baranduin to the west and the Hedge to the east. The Hedge came down to the river at the southern tip of Buckland, at the place named Haysend. Near this place two lesser rivers joined Baranduin: the Withywindle from beneath the trees of the Old Forest to the northeast, and the Shirebourn from the west. This joint confluence of inrushing waters created a wide marsh, Overbourn Marshes, running along Baranduin's course for several miles.

History: The Later Third Age

The winter of the year III 2911 was remarkably long and cold, so that it came to be known as the Fell Winter. Its frosts caused Baranduin to freeze entirely, an event notable because it allowed White Wolves to come down out of the far North and cross into the Shire. As the Fell Winter gradually thawed, there were terrible floods across Middle-earth. These floods affected Minhiriath, the land that Baranduin bordered to the north, so it seems that the river was one of those that swelled and flooded at this time.

More than a century after the Fell Winter, troubled times descended once again as the War of the Ring drew near. At the bidding of Gandalf, the Rangers set a guard on the Shire, and one of the points they watched was Sarn Ford, the way across Baranduin from the south. Black Riders sent from Mordor did indeed choose this ford as their way into the Shire, but they proved too strong for the defending Rangers, and were able to cross Baranduin and enter the Shire in pursuit of the Ring.

These Nazgûl found their way to Hobbiton, and from there they pursued Frodo the Ring-bearer and his companions across the Eastfarthing until they reached Bucklebury Ferry. There, the Hobbits were able to elude the Black Riders, taking the Ferry across Baranduin and leaving the Riders stranded on the western bank, with no way to cross within twenty miles.4

After their escape, Frodo and his companions were gone from the Shire for more than a year. While they were away, Lotho Sackville-Baggins made himself Chief, and made changes that had an effect on Baranduin. The new mills he built in the Shire polluted the stream of the Water with their filth, which ran down into Baranduin. Meanwhile the Brandywine Bridge, which had stood open to all travellers over the millennia, was closed by strong gates guarding passage across the river at either end. With the return of Frodo Baggins and his companions, Lotho's patron Saruman was defeated and the Shire returned slowly to normal, as did - presumably - the waters of Baranduin.

Into the Fourth Age

We have almost no references to Baranduin after the time of the War of the Ring, though naturally it would have continued its course through Eriador into the Fourth Age and presumably beyond. One passing comment by Gandalf implies that it would be crossed by settlers once again during the early years of that Age. In the new peace of Aragorn Elessar, the Wizard predicted, Men would travel over Baranduin to repopulate the empty lands of Minhiriath to the south of the river.



We don't know exactly when the Bridge of Stonebows (later to be known as the Brandywine Bridge) was made, but we do know that it was the work of the Men of Arnor. At the time of the War of the Last Alliance, in the last years of the Second Age, it's recorded that these Men worked to build roads and bridges for the passage of their armies. This would be seem to be the most probable point in history for the making of the Great Bridge across Baranduin, though it might conceivably have been constructed during the following several centuries.


As the Hobbits did not of course speak English, the name 'Brandywine' actually represents an anglicisation of the new name they gave the river in their own language. This was Branda-nîn, 'border water', but it was commonplace to corrupt this to Bralda-hîm, 'heady ale', hence the English equivalent 'Brandywine'.


As in note 2 above, the Hobbits did not actually use the word 'brandy', so just as 'Brandywine' is an anglicisation, so is 'Brandybuck'. Gorhendad did indeed take the name of the river, but the actual new name of his family was Brandagamba, which translates as 'Marchbuck' (or 'border-buck').


Some sources suggest that the Black Riders were unable to cross the water of Baranduin because the river had an 'Elvish' quality (see Unfinished Tales Part Three IV, The Hunt for the Ring). This reference is not explained, but perhaps relates to its status as a border of the Elves' lands as far back as the Second Age, when even the Men of Middle-earth were reluctant to cross its waters.


About this entry:

  • Updated 23 May 2020
  • This entry is complete

For acknowledgements and references, see the Disclaimer & Bibliography page.

Original content © copyright Mark Fisher 1998, 2000-2001, 2014, 2020. All rights reserved. For conditions of reuse, see the Site FAQ.

Website services kindly sponsored by myDISCprofile, the free online personality test.
Explore the benefits of using a personality profile to discover yourself and make the most of your career.
The Encyclopedia of Arda
The Encyclopedia of Arda
Homepage Search Latest Entries and Updates Random Entry