Tag: Robin Hood

How to spend a spooky Halloween weekend in haunted Nottingham

Nottingham is home to some of Britain’s most haunted buildings.

I spent an autumnal weekend in the East Midlands city to get a feel for its dark-tourism heritage on a Halloween assignment for the Daily Mail travel section.

My feature was published at the weekend and here’s a taster:

The whole city, first founded by the Anglo-Saxons, is built on a sandstone bedrock, leaving a labyrinthine system of 800 man-made caves deep under the modern cityscape.

Folk tales of use as makeshift prisons and torture chambers lurk in the darkest corners.

“Rebellious Nottingham has lots of dark stories,” says tourist guide Keri Usherwood.

“From Robin Hood to the Lace Market Luddites of the 19thcentury textile trade, these stories help us make sense of our place in the world today.”

But the spookiest place in Nottingham is an ancient pub with a dark history.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem dates from 1189 and is said to be the oldest pub in England. It was a staging point for medieval pilgrims seeking refreshment and built into the castle cliff face.

Taking a seat in the upstairs Rock Lounge with pint of Olde Trip best bitter, I’m joined by landlord Karl Gibson, who has experienced regular paranormal activity since taking over in 2012.

“I’ve come to respect the history of both the pub and the city,” says Karl. “When I’m here alone, I feel these walls are telling me something.”

Read the full story via Daily Mail travel, Discovering the haunted joys of Nottingham.

More information Visit Nottinghamshire www.visit-nottinghamshire.co.uk.

Robin Hood: how to follow the legend around Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Robin Hood is making a comeback.

The latest take on the folk tale hits cinema screens this winter (November 23).

It’s a darker, more adventure-based retelling of the traditional story, starring The Kingsman‘s Taron Egerton in the lead role and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The film comes off the back of the opening of the new Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre, a new £5m facility in partnership with the RSPB, which opens to the public late August this year.

We had a preview, writing an article for a forthcoming issue of Family Traveller magazine. We also visited Creswell Crags, where Robin Hood is alleged to have hidden in the Ice Age caves [pictured above].

Local history expert John Charlesworth told us how the Robin Hood story has always 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 the last film, starring Russell Crowe as the man in Lincoln green was released in 2010.

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

Read more in the autumn issue of Family Traveller magazine.

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


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.

Story of the week: Following the Robin Hood trail around Nottingham


* This week Sherwood’s Major Oak [pictured above] was named England’s Tree of the Year by the Woodland Trust. It goes on to compete in the European Tree of the Year contest in February 2015. Here’s a story about my visit to Sherwood Forest a few years back.

The Sheriff of Nottingham has changed a fair bit since Robin Hood’s day.

Granting me an audience on an autumnal evening at Nottingham Castle, the Sheriff arrives in a flowing, medieval skirt and answers to the name of Jeannie. It’s enough to make Keith Allen, who plays the Sheriff in the TV series, turn to drink. She says:

“I used to watch Robin Hood films on a Saturday morning and he became my childhood hero – as he is to many people from Nottingham.”

“We are proud of Robin and refute age-old suggestions that he was, in fact, a Yorkshireman,” says Jeannie Packer, whose role as Sheriff is purely symbolic and who works as an elected city councillor by day.

Folk hero

With the return of the popular BBC TV series, I’ve come to Nottingham for an exclusive preview of two accompanying attractions: an exhibition at Nottingham Castle, Robin Hood Up Close, and an interactive audio trail, In the Footsteps of Robin Hood, which retraces the trail blazed across Nottinghamshire by Britain’s favourite outlaw.

The former is a walk-through tour of sets, costumes and scenery from the TV series which devotees will love. Screens display interviews with cast members, while props are dotted throughout the exhibition’s three rooms upstairs in this magnificent 17th-century ducal mansion, built on the site of the original medieval castle.

Afterwards, I explored the manicured grounds and admired the dramatic statue of Robin, bow drawn, which stands just outside the castle walls. But I was keen to get under the skin of the legend, whose story remains shrouded in mystery and folklore.

With commentary available to be downloaded to mp3 players or on CD, and an accompanying map, the new audio trail is designed to be self-guided. But to gather an even deeper insight I set out with John Charlesworth, a self-styled heritage interpreter who acted as a consultant on the venture.

Audio trail 

From Nottingham Castle at the far south of the trail, we head first for the pretty village of Edwinstone, the hub for visitors to Sherwood Forest, and home to the Church of St Mary where, according to legend, Robin and Maid Marian were finally married.

The village is a haven for Robin Hood fans with pubs, restaurants and guesthouses all trading on its close association with the legend.

John and I follow a tree-shrouded path from the edge of the village into Sherwood Forest itself, passing a small visitors’ centre in a clearing, before delving deeper into 450-acre forest in search of the famous Major Oak, believed to be Robin’s former hideout.

As we walk on woodland paths over pine combs and chestnuts, John tells me that the first written references to Robin Hood date back to six medieval tales recorded at the end of the 15th Century, although minstrels were singing tales of Robin for several centuries beforehand.

“We set out to evoke the legend to give people a flavour of Sherwood and explore some of the myths around Robin Hood,” he explains.

“He was essentially a highwayman, waylaying people on the Great North Road, the modern-day A1, but his infamy has changed with the times.”

Following the 50-mile trail takes us to seven key sites overall.

Each of the locations boasts a crossbow-shaped interpretation unit. Made out of carved wood into which a screen is set, these interactive units complement the audio commentary with a brief televisual synopsis touching on a particular aspect of the Robin Hood story.

The whole trail is best tackled by car but none of the main sites are more than half a mile from the Sustrans National Cycle Route.

Country estate 

Driving northwest from Edwinstowe village, Rufford Abbey, an English Heritage property, is an imposing country mansion surrounded by verdant woodland.

One of the triangle of primary sites, I find the candlelit remains of the 12th-century Cistercian monastery in the grounds, with its ancient manuscripts and medieval tapestries, an atmospheric backdrop to learn about Robin’s antagonistic relationship with the Church.

From here we head north to another location, Clumber Park, a sprawling National Trust property and formerly a major deer-hunting park. Robin would have hunted for food here, defying the forest law enforced from the 12th to 14th century.

But instead of wild beats, I find an oasis of tranquility with a walk around the huge lake, a stroll along the sweeping avenue of lime trees and a moment’s contemplation in the tiny Gothic chapel.

Dark dungeons

Finally, Cresswell Crags, located on the trail’s northwest spur, is not only home to the only ice-age cave art found in the UK, but also caves where Robin is alleged to have hidden while fleeing the Sheriff of Nottingham with a bounty hanging over him.

The caves are the now domain of archaeologists, but I still get a sense of feeling like a fugitive, hiding in the dank chambers with rats scurrying around my feet, before climbing back in the car to return to castle.

“What I like most about Robin is the way that the legend can be adapted to reflect the social issues of the times without damaging the core of the story,” says John.

Back at the castle, I’ve survived my encounter with the Sheriff without being flung in the dungeons.

But, as I take my leave, she fixes me with a steely gaze. “I think this new trail will finally lay to rest the claims that Robin Hood was from Yorkshire,” she says.

“Robin Hood is Nottingham and Nottingham is Robin Hood.”


Experience Nottinghamshire

Sherwood Forest’s Major Oak named tree of the year

* This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2007. Liked this? Try also Reading up on D H Lawrence around Nottingham.

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