When you think of Nottinghamshire, in the heart of the England, it’s very likely you will think of its legendary son Robin Hood. I went to the annual Robin Hood Festival to try archery and to see a skirmish between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham next to the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest – the hideout of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. And then I went on a walking tour of Nottingham with Robin Hood himself.
Who was Robin Hood?
It’s not a simple question to answer as there were no eyewitnesses and no-one wrote about meeting him but we do know he was a devout Christian and visited St Mary’s Church in Nottingham. Yet he was an outlaw and the name may have come from “Rob-in-the-hood” meaning a thief wearing a hood to look like a Franciscan friar. He was always a symbol of hope for downtrodden Saxons but as reports mention Robin Hood over many hundreds of years I think we have to accept there was not only one Robin Hood but many creating the legend.
Sherwood Forest was established as a royal hunting preserve in the 10th century and it became home for Robin Hood and his Merry Men in the 1500s. VisitEngland’s Fan in a Van came earlier this year to try archery and the Olympics Torch Relay stopped at the Major Oak on 28 June 2012.
During the Robin Hood Festival I watched Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham fighting, had lunch at the hog roast, listened to traditional musicians, enjoyed jesters and other entertainers, as well as trying archery.
I did a walking tour of Nottingham with Robin Hood and learnt more about the legend and the city. (And that consonants do not feature highly in the local dialect so the city’s name is “No’ing’em”.) From seeing Kevin Costner in the Prince of Thieves you may expect Nottingham Castle to look different than it does but there is another anniversary to celebrate as the Robin Hood statue outside Nottingham Castle reached its 60th birthday in 2012, coinciding with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
There is some stunning architecture as the city’s industrial revolution made it the centre of the world’s lace industry so Victorian buildings were ornate to impress the lace buyers. Sadly though, later architectural development has not been so sympathetic and the city’s nickname, The Queen of The Midlands, is not mentioned as often as it once was. A lot of buildings are boarded up and the main leisure pursuits here are shopping and nights out.
But that doesn’t mean the city has nothing to offer these days, far from it. As well as the Robin Hood connections attracting visitors every year, The Council House at the Market Square is worth seeing as it is constructed of Portland Stone from the same quarry used by Christopher Wren for St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Stop for a drink at the Pitcher & Piano bar and you’ll be in a deconsecrated church with a William Morris stained glass window. The Galleries of Justice Museum in the old courthouse looks interesting and I never knew Nottingham has trams. I also didn’t know Boots the Chemist started in Nottingham, as did John Player Tobacconists and Raleigh bicycles.
England’s oldest pub seems to be a title bandied around far too freely in Nottingham as three pubs try to claim the title. The Bell Inn in the Market Square dates back to 1437, Ye Olde Salutation Inn has 1240 on the wall and Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem displays the date 1189 outside. You would think that made the decision on which was the oldest quite straightforward but ‘Robin Hood’ told us it’s actually the Bell Inn which is on the site of a Carmelite Friary. The Trip, as it’s known locally, is definitely worth a visit though as it’s built into the caves beneath Nottingham Castle. And the local Olde Trip Ale is the drink of choice here.
Reasons to Visit Nottingham Soon
You can meet Robin Hood for walking tours in the city all year round or you might like to follow the Robin Hood Audio Trail, linking 12 locations around Nottinghamshire.
On 6-9 September 2012 there are Heritage Open Days when historic buildings open their doors for behind the scenes tours. 11-13 October 2012 brings the Nottingham Robin Hood Beer Festival to Nottingham Castle. The Robin Hood Game & Country Show is 13-14 October 2012 and 27-28 October 2012 is the Robin Hood Pageant at Nottingham Castle.
Getting There: The train from London to Nottingham is around 2 hours and you can drive from London to Nottingham in around 3 hours.
To help you plan a visit to the area do see the official tourism website: www.experiencenottinghamshire.com.