Tag: Nottingham

Story of the week: Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham

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In Sherwood Forest all paths lead to the Major Oak.

The 900-year-old tree towers over the green shoots of the forest like an elder statesman on the bright spring morning of my visit.

Meanwhile, a crowd of appreciative onlookers snake a meandering trail from the visitors’ centre to gaze upon the place where the Britain’s best-loved outlaw and his band of merry men allegedly made their home.

Sherwood Forest was the largest of 90 royal forests created by William the Conqueror and once covered most of Nottinghamshire north of the River Trent.

From the 12th to 14th century, when the Sheriff of Nottingham enforced a strict forest law to protect the king’s livestock, Sherwood became home to numerous highwaymen.

They hunted for animals and robbed passing travellers along the erstwhile Great North Road — now the present-day A1.

Audio trail

The Major Oak is my starting point today to follow a new interactive audio trail, In the Footsteps of Robin Hood.

It retraces the trail blazed across the Nottinghamshire countryside by the character that has evolved from medieval folk tale to TV action hero via various incarnations on the silver screen.

Joining me to follow in the footsteps of Robin Hood’s is John Charlesworth, an expert in local history, who acted as a consultant to the development of the trail.

“Personally I believe Robin was a real outlaw, not just a fictional character,” says John.

“In the 1220s, a Robert Hod appeared in court in Yorkshire and was made into a fugitive from the law. He is the original Robin Hood.”

The trail is based around seven key sites, forming a triangular route from Sherwood Forest via Nottingham Castle in central Nottingham to Clumber Park near the town of Worksop.

There are also three new walking trails marked off the main route, all of which are designed to help explore the rural reaches of the East Midlands through their connection to the Robin Hood story.

At each of the locations a crossbow-shaped interpretation unit adds context to the truth behind the Robin Hood legend via audio-visual material.

Sound tracks

For the car journey between the sites, you can buy the CD commentary from local tourist offices and check the accompanying map; alternatively download it as a podcast to your iPod and bike your way round following the Sustrans National Cycle Route.

From the Major Oak, John and I retrace our steps through the 450-acre forest, following flower-strewn woodland paths and passing heathlands alive with birdlife.

We emerge from a clearing into the attractive village of Edwinstowe, home to a slew of places to stay and eat on the fringe of Sherwood Forest.

From here we take to the car, driving through the rural heart of Nottinghamshire’s Robin Hood country while John explains how one of the original medieval tales, The Gest of Robin Hood, is the basis for the legend as we know it today.

The fable tells of Robin’s rivalry with the Sheriff, the legend of splitting a silver arrow with his mastery of the longbow and the eventual pardoning by King Edward.

It even includes references to his merry men, including Will Scarlet and Little John, but Friar Tuck and Maid Marian are absent, likely to be latter-day additions as the legend evolved.

Stately home

Heading northeast from Edwinstowe, the next stop is Rufford Abbey, founded in the 12th century by Cistercian monks and later transformed into a country estate for several wealthy local families.

Legends suggest that, while Robin famously robbed the rich and gave to the poor, he had an uneasy relationship with the Church of England and the abbey’s crypt, located in the expansive grounds, still contains ancient manuscripts and tapestries with records from Robin’s day.

The next stop, Clumber Park, was formerly a major deer-hunting park, where Robin would have hunted in defiance of forest law.

The country house was demolished in 1938 but the park remains with its Gothic chapel, wide-open spaces and expansive lake.

As we stroll along a serene avenue, where lime trees sway gently in the breeze, John explains how, before the current hit TV series, the Legend of Robin Hood had been a favourite of cinema audiences.

The American actor Errol Flynn played the outlaw with verve in the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, while a new film, starring Russell Crowe is currently in production.

There was even a 1960’s Canadian cartoon series, Rocket Robin Hood, which finds Robin living on the Sherwood asteroid in outer space.

“For me Errol Flynn portrayed Robin Hood best, with great fencing and a superb musical score, but I do have a sneaking fondness for Robin and Marian (1976), staring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn,” says John.

“It has a more poignant feel, portraying Robin as a man out of his time.”

Evolving story

Our last stop is Cresswell Crags on the trail’s northwest spur, where Robin is alleged to have hidden while fleeing the Sheriff of Nottingham with a bounty on his head.

Under forest law, outlaws could be take dead or alive and Robin would have hidden in the dark, dank chambers of the caves to escape both the Sheriff’s men and locals seeking to betray him for a bag of silver.

Back in Edwinstowe village we end our journey with a stroll around the churchyard of St Mary’s where, according to the legend’s happy ending, Robin and Maid Marian were finally married.

“For me the way Robin reflects our modern-day issues is what makes him such a fascinating character,” says John as we say our farewells.

“Robin can change with the times but the core of the story remains timeless.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story was first published in Ink in-flight magazines in 2007.

Liked this? Try also Light Night in Nottingham.

Light Night in Nottingham for Rough Guides

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Nottingham hosts its annual Light Night this Friday.

It’s a nigh of public art and illuminations to bring the city to life in midwinter.

I recently had a preview of plans for the night and, over a weekend, discovered why Nottingham should be on your bucket list this year.

Read my article for Rough Guides, Why now is the time to visit Nottingham.

Story of the week: Exploring the art scene of the British Midlands

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The British Midlands is the unlikely setting for a new cultural revolution.

The formerly industrial cities of Nottingham, Leicester and Derby have been slowly re-inventing themselves in recent years with the opening of boutique hotels and chic eateries.

The cultural renaissance comes full circle this year with a triumvirate of new arts hubs to showcase the burgeoning Midlands arts scene.

Derby’s QUAD, the first to open, combines gallery spaces, two independent cinema screens and multi-media facilities.

In April it plays host to the Format’09 International Photography Festival, featuring works by David Lynch and Cindy Sherman.

Leicester’s Curve opened late 2008 and features an innovative ‘inside-out’ design, whereby audience members and actors break down traditional dramatic divisions.

The Light In The Piazza, the European premiere of a romantic musical evoking the glamour of 1950s’ Florence, runs April into May.

The final opening, Nottingham Contemporary [its bookshop pictured above], has been pushed back to September 2009, but exhibitions are currently running in various Nottingham venues as a preview.

The landmark gallery, built at the entrance to Nottingham’s famous Lace Market, will be the largest single gallery space in the East Midlands.

The venues bring outstanding architectural design to the region. They offer a range of facilities to attract internationally renowned artists and encourage local people to get involved with the arts.

Laura Dyer, Executive Director, Arts Council England, East Midlands, said:

“This is one of the most exciting periods for the arts in the region, providing world-class facilities which, together with the region’s existing attractions and strong cultural scene, will put us firmly on the cultural and tourism map.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story was first published in High Life magazine in 2008.

Liked this? Try also Urban Regeneration in Derby.

Story of the week: Changing the cityscape of Nottingham

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The champagne corks will be popping for the launch of the new Eurostar service from London’s St Pancras International station.

But they’ll also be celebrating in Nottingham as the first high-speed service glides out of North London.

The reason? Improved rail connections from the East Midlands mean that the residents of Britain’s seventh richest city can now tuck into a fried breakfast first thing and be sipping a grand crème in the Gare du Nord some four hours and 54 minutes later.

“Being Nottingham born and raised, I’m delighted when I go back home to see the material changes in the city’s infrastructure and transport system,” says Greg Nugent, Head of Marketing for Eurostar.

“When we started to talk about High Speed One, it became obvious how the service could benefit not just London, but the UK as a whole.”

Urban renewal

Nottingham, the city best known as the home of fashion designer Sir Paul Smith and Boots, both of which still have a major presence in the city, has seen major investment in the last few years.

The city blossomed during its industrial heyday of the 1880s with the lace and cotton industries, but was looking tired and run down by the Eighties.

A slew of projects since 1989 have, however, changed the face of the city with the restoration of the Lace Market, now a conservation area to preserve the architectural character, the development of the Nottingham University campus and the inauguration of the National Watersports Centre at Holme Pierrepont.

The installation of the new Nottingham Express Transport (NET) tram system in 2004 has reduced traffic congestion and improved access around the city, now carrying 20,000 people per day.

Today, the ongoing regeneration of the city centre continues apace with major new projects including redevelopment of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, regeneration of the city’s eastern fringe and two new NET Tram routes two to Wilford and Beeston.

“Often commercial property kicks off regeneration but, in the case of Nottingham it was residential property that led the way: apartments were built, bars and restaurant opened and business moved in. The city centre is now home to both the UK head office of Capital One and the global HQ of Experian,” says Tony Pinks, Investment Sales Director for Nottingham-based Lace Market Properties.

“There was no city centre living in Nottingham before 1989. Less than 4,00 people lived in the city but, by 2006, that figures had increased to over 14,000.”

Heading south

One of the biggest initiatives in the city currently is the Southside Regeneration, a 15-year project to regenerate the area immediately south of the Victorian train station.

As a gateway to the city, the station makes for a pretty inauspicious welcome but the scheme aims to transform run-down Victorian warehouses and factories into hotels, offices, a conferences centre and leisure facilities, as well as a slew of residential apartment buildings with a very contemporary feel, plus new tram connections.

As part of this, the first two residential apartment blocks, Summer Leys House and the PictureWorks, will be ready for possession in 2009 with prices ranging from £140,000 for a one-bedroom to £240,000 for a three-bedroom, upper level apartment.

David Postings, who works in finance and commutes regularly from London, has already bought the Summer Leys House penthouse off plan. “I spend two to three days per week working in Nottingham and I was looking for more of a base than just another hotel room,” he explains.

Postings spent £250,000 for 900m sq with a terrace, a price he considers competitive given his other home is close to London King’s Cross station.

“This development appealed to me as it right by the station, brand new and high up, so benefiting from good light. And, as it was at a sufficiently early stage, I asked Lace Market Properties to reduce it from three to two bedrooms and increase the area of the living room,” he adds.

“Nottingham felt like a good place to buy with improving infrastructure and a sense of bouncing back after years of decline.”

In the suburbs

But while the city centre appeals to young professionals, families are increasingly heading out to the suburbs with Westbridge, Burton Joyce, Bingham and, in particular, Radcliffe all popular areas to buy.

“Nottingham city is not really aimed at the family market, never has been,” says Lucie Flint, Associate Director of Savills, based in Nottingham.

“In the city it’s only The Park, the area around Nottingham Castle, where a three-bed, modern townhouse starts from £400,000, that attracts families.”

“Most people head for the suburbs, notably the borough of Rushcliffe, where there are good schools, good services in terms of shopping and transport, and plenty of nice places to eat and drink, all within a few miles of the city centre.”

While Flint says Savills are currently flooded with apartments to sell in the city centre, the market in Rushcliffe is particularly vibrant with a good range of properties for couples and families.

A three-bed, detached house in a new development starts from £300,000 while a three-bed family property in a village on the fringe of the city currently sells for around £400,000.

Family home

“With the regeneration of the city, I think the majority of city-centre properties are now almost exclusively for investors, students and young professionals,” agrees Allan Stephens, a marketing professional in the public sector, who moved his family to Nottingham in 1996.

“The majority of people over 30 are moving out into the suburbs, or the Nottinghamshire countryside. The changing nature of available housing and concerns about much-publicised crime problems in the inner city are fuelling this.”

Stephens first moved to Nottingham in 1996, buying a three-bed new development in the suburb of Netherfield for £50,000.

Now married with two young daughters, he recently bought a four-storey, four bedroom family house with a garden in the suburb of Carlton, four miles northeast of the city centre, for £195,000.

“We find a lot of families are moving to Carlton,” he says. “It offers larger properties, good public transport connections to the city and is convenient for a quick escape to the countryside with plenty of parks, zoos and family attractions within a 15-mile radius.

“We’re also now crucially in the catchment area for the well-reputed Carlton-le-Willows secondary school.”

Near neighbour

Shadowing the renaissance of Nottingham is the increasing popularity of the spruced-up market towns around Nottingham as a base for families seeking a more rural environment. Of these, Newark, 25 minutes by train from Nottingham city centre, is proving to be one of the most popular spots to buy.

An attractive market town with a Georgian market square, a 12th century castle and a population of around 40,000, it already boasts a high-speed rail link to London’s King’s Cross station with an hourly service and a journey time of 90 minutes.

With transfer times of just a few minutes on foot from King’s Cross to St Pancras, Newark is also set to benefit from the new Eurostar service.

“Newark is booming with commuters to Nottingham and London, attracted by the character of the place, the transport connections (A1 intersection, GNER East Coast mainline), and good range of facilities with restaurants, the marina and golf courses,” says Richard Watkinson, Partner, Richard Watkinson & Partners.

“Families are particularly attracted to Newark over Grantham or Lincoln as prices still have a competitive edge and there’s a good stock of three and four-bedrooms, detached properties with gardens in residential areas, such as Beacon Hill and Fernwood.”

A three-bedroom detached house in Newark currently sells for around £180,000, an increase from an average of £100,00 five years ago, while a four-bedroom detached house now sells for around £225,000.

Newark’s Northgate train station may be located in one of the least attractive areas of town, but a house within a five-minute walk of the station comes with at a £10,000 premium.

“We looked all over the country but, in the end, we chose Newark for three reasons: it’s an attractive town with the river and the castle, it boasts a great central location with excellent transport connections and proximity to Nottingham and Lincoln, and we could get so much more for our money compared to the southeast,” says Debbie Ferguson, who recently moved from Pirbright, Surrey, to buy a four bedroom detached house with garden in the village of Farndon, two miles from Newark, for £185,000.

Civic pride

Back in Nottingham work is moving on apace to transform the beleaguered train station area and Greg Nugent is increasingly proud of the renaissance of his home town.

“I won’t be surprised if Nottingham sees an influx of European visitors, both for tourism and from a commercial perspective, once the new train services start,” he says.

“After all. Nottingham always did have a very commercial sense to make the most of new opportunities.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story first appeared in the Weekend FT in 2007. Liked this? Try also Urban Regeneration in Derby.