As the company of hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin) continued their expedition from Tom Bombadil's house and came to the Barrow Downs, they encountered a Barrow Wight that may have been strengthened by a recent visit of the Witch King of Angmar, Chief of the Nazgul.

From Unfinished Tales, the Hunt for the Ring (here):

The Black Captain did not know whether the Ring was still in the Shire; he had to find out. The Shire was too large for a violent onslaught...; he must use as much stealth and as little terror as he could, and yet also guard the eastern borders. Therefore he sent some of the Riders into the Shire, with orders to disperse while conversing it; and of these Khamul was to find Hobbiton where "Baggins" lived. ... 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.

Is there a timeline in Tolkien's notes to describe how closely in time the Witch King's visitation of the Barrow Downs occurs, in relation to Frodo's visit? The 'near encounters'/'close escapes' of the company of hobbits to the Nazgul is quite intriguing.

2 Answers 2


The quote from The Hunt for the Ring goes on to say 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.

Appendix B gives us a few relevant dates:

September 22nd: The Black Riders reach Sarn Ford at evening; they drive off the guard of Rangers.

September 23rd: Four Riders enter the Shire before dawn. The others pursue the Rangers eastward, and then return to watch the Greenway. A Black Rider comes to Hobbiton at nightfall.

September 28th: The Hobbits captured by a Barrow-wight.

September 30th: Gandalf reaches Bree at night.

The Hunt for the Ring also tells us that the Witch-king was at Sarn Ford during the skirmish:

Some dared to bar the ford, and held it while the day lasted, but at night the Lord of Morgul swept them away.

Since he was fighting the night of the 22nd, the earliest that he can reasonably be expected to visit the Barrow-downs would be on the 23rd, though it might be later if he was involved in chasing rangers or camped at Andreth for any significant amount of time.

After that, he spent "some days" in the downs, which I read as at least three. That puts his departure from the Barrows-downs no earlier than September 26th, two days before the Hobbits passed through.

But he easily could have stayed there longer. At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf had this to say:

'So I stayed there that night, wondering much what had become of the Riders; for only of two had there yet been any news in Bree, it seemed. But in the night we heard more. Five at least came from the west, and they threw down the gates and passed through Bree like a howling wind; and the Bree-folk are still shivering and expecting the end of the world. I got up before dawn and left after them.

'I do not know, but it seems clear to me that this is what happened. Their Captain remained in secret away south of Bree, while two rode ahead through the village, and four more invaded the Shire. But when these were foiled in Bree and at Crickhollow, they returned to their Captain with tidings, and so left the road unguarded for a while, except by their spies. The Captain then sent some eastward straight across country, and he himself with the rest rode along the Road in great wrath.

That puts the Witch-king in the area of the Barrow-downs or Andrath until September 30th, after the Hobbits' journey. Christopher Tolkien identifies the secret location with the camp at Footnote 22 of the Hunt for the Ring, which makes some sense. But the possibility is open that the Witch-king was in the Downs very close to the same time as Frodo.

  • Is the assumption that the Witch King stayed in Andrath (as close to the Barrow downs as he came) or did he actually enter the Barrow downs region itself (is that the 'allowing two days travel' portion)?
    – buck1112
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 3:06
  • 1
    I was assuming that he made camp on the 20th and his travel time to the Downs was negligible. But a more careful reading shows that assumption was wrong, and his visit had to have been later.
    – Nolimon
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 5:44

The Witch-king was there for a few days and left the day before the Hobbits arrived.

The Witch-king was there until the 27th.

[four of the Riders] pursue Rangers along Greenway, and having slain them or driven them off Eastwards, make a camp at Andrath (where the road passes between the Barrowdowns and the South Downs). [The Witch-king] now visits the Barrowdowns and stops there some days (probably until late on 27). This proves a main error, though in fact it was nearly successful, since the Barrowwights are roused, and all things of evil spirit hostile to Elves and Men are on the watch with malice in the Old Forest and on the Barrowdowns. [The other three Black Riders] are left to guard the eastern borders, to watch the Greenway, and guard against Elves or Dunedain coming from eastwards.
Marquette MSS 4/2/36 (The Hunt for the Ring), quoted in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion

The Hobbits got there on the 28th.

September 28: The Hobbits captured by a Barrow-wight. Gandalf reaches Sarn Ford.
The Lord of the Rings - Appendix B - The Tale of Years

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