Nottingham – The Queen of the Midlands

We have finally reached the last stop on our English adventure, rounding out our UK travels with a two-week stay in Scotland before we head back to mainland Europe and the home stretch of our journey!


Nottingham is a 7th-century city in the central area of the English Midlands with its location providing it with great links to many other major English cities. The city’s name derives from a Saxon chieftain with the rather unfortunate name of Snot who once ruled the area, giving the area the name of Snotingaham, or “the homestead of Snot’s people.” Luckily for citizens of the city, the “s” was later dropped, giving the city its current-day name. Later, like Manchester, the city became prosperous due to its booming textile industry, its focus largely being on the production of lace.

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Lace carved into the stone facade of the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery

The city’s fame, however, lies with its connections to the legendary outlaw, Robin Hood. The story’s influence on the city is immediately evident walking through the city, where names of the famous figures from the legend adorn everything from street names to small boutiques and more than a few pubs. The historical authenticity of the story has been debated for hundreds of years, partially due to both “Robin” and “Hood” being common names with many different variations in spelling. The story has been constantly evolving from its inception in the late 13th-century with many different theories on who the actual Robin Hood really was. Though likely just an amalgamation of many different people and myths, the legend of Robin Hood as a champion of the poor and downtrodden who stands up against tyranny is a type of story that will always appeal to those on the lower rungs of society.

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If Robin Hood were a real person and outlaw, upon capture he would have very likely been held in Nottingham Castle before escaping back to Sherwood forest. Nottingham Castle sits on Castle Rock in the middle of the city and was built there because of the promontory’s innate defensibility from possible attackers. The castle, which is little more than a stately residence, has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout history, with the current version dating from the late 19th-century. Little remains of the original castle, but it is still worth a visit, containing an art gallery, the Museum of Nottingham Life, and access to the famous caves that were built below the castle and the rest of the city.

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One of these caves leads directly from Nottingham Castle to the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn, one of the many pubs claiming to be the oldest in Britain with a traceable past of more than 800 years. The inn is literally built into the side of Castle Rock with many of its walls made of the adjoining sandstone.  This helps to give this historical pub a decor unlike any pub I have ever seen. We stopped by the pub for a bite of lunch in the famous Rock Lounge with its massive sandstone chimney that leads up to the castle grounds. When the pub used to be the castle’s brewhouse, the chimney would have been used to lower the grain into the brewery and to move the beer back up to the castle after the process was finished.  The unique history of the pub, combined with its distinctive aesthetic make the pub a must-see on any trip to Nottingham.

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The winding cave passages in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn are just a few of the hundreds that litter Nottingham’s underground. These caves, which are estimated to number somewhere between 500 and 800, means Nottingham has more man-made caves than anywhere else in Britain. Broadmarsh Shopping Center is in the center of the city and serves as the entrance to the award-winning City of Caves attraction. The City of Caves is a guided experience which explores just a few of the caves underneath Nottingham which have been used for the past thousands of years for various purposes, including as a tannery, air raid shelter, gambling den, and home to many of the poorest inhabitants of Nottingham at any given time.

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The other tour we took in Nottingham was the Robin Hood Town Tour in which a man dressed up as Robin Hood and took us around town, both explaining some of the myths and legends surrounding Robin Hood, as well as showing us some of the major sites in the city and explaining their history. We debated on going as we were worried that it was going to be hokey, but in the end, our fears were unfounded. Our guide was enthusiastic and easy-going and we ended up learning a lot of new information about the city.

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The Galleries of Justice Museum

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Nottingham, like Manchester, is a city very much into its sports. The city is home to two very popular football (soccer) clubs, Notts County FC and Nottingham Forest FC. Nottingham Forest is in a higher league than Notts County and has a more successful history, but for the past several seasons they have been simply dreadful. For that reason, I chose to go to a Notts County FC game instead. On the day in question, I went to see them face off against Wycombe Wanders. It was a really good game with a fantastic atmosphere as both teams were vying for promotion and I had a fantastic time watching. I got the added bonus of seeing the famous Adebayo Akinfenwa AKA The Beast who is a bit of a sideshow and a giant of a man with the personality to match. Interestingly, Nottingham is also home to the oldest and best-supported ice hockey teams in the UK. Though we were unable to catch a game, a number of games were played while we were in town and we watched as thousands of fans flooded the streets, all proudly the wearing gear of their hometown team.

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Adebayo “The Beast” Akinfenwa, capable of bench pressing 400+ lbs. or ~2.5 times the body weight of the guy next to him.

There are a number of interesting things to see and do outside of Nottingham as well. Just a few miles outside of the city proper is Sherwood Forest, the world-famous hiding spot of Robin Hood and his merry men. The forest today is a Nature reserve which covers 450 acres of land. Much of this land is filled with ancient towering oak trees, including the Major Oak, a thousand-year-old tree which according to local legend served as a hidey hole for Robin Hood while on the run from the Sheriff of Nottingham. Sadly, with the long winter that hit the UK, much of Sherwood Forest is still void of foliage. On the way back to town, don’t forget to visit the beautiful 12th-century Newstead Abbey which has the ancestral home to the famous English Poet, Lord Byron.

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The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest October 2012 (from Wikipedia, Author: XXLRay)

 

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Nottingham Council House

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Nottingham is a very quaint and charming city that Lauren and I both really enjoyed visiting. The legend of Robin Hood which is so closely tied to it lends a lot of character to the city and its inhabitants and unifies them with a common sense of pride. With its rich and interesting history, its peoples’ endearing love for Robin Hood, and its wealth of things to see and do, Nottingham definitely ranks up there as one of my favorite English cities.

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Tips:

  1. Most buses in the UK take contactless cards or Apple Pay for payment but they do not in Nottingham. Make sure to have exact change to get where you need to go.
  2. Go on an Old Pub Pub Crawl! Along with Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn, Ye Olde Salutation Inn, and The Bell Inn are all near Nottingham city center and are each well over 500 years old. Hit up all three to get a taste of history and a taste of some of the frothy good stuff to go with it!

 

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