Travelling doesn’t have to mean paying extortionate amounts in plane tickets and struggling with exchange rates. The UK is bursting with beautiful towns, tranquil countryside and rugged coasts and can be just as exciting to explore as foreign shores. In the “Hometown” series some of the Wessex Scene travel writers show us the places they grew up in and tell us why they’re worth a visit!
Nottingham is a city that successfully combines a rich history with being a major commercial centre and cultural capital for the East Midlands. Situated in the dead centre of England, it straddles the River Trent and although not generally considered a major tourist destination, it offers a great deal of historical and cultural heritage to the visitor and the greatest domestic cricket team in England (the author claims not to have bias).
It was founded by the Saxons and settled by the Danes, became a major military centre in the Middle Ages as the backdrop to the legendary deeds of Robin Hood and the more real bloody intrigue of the time. As the city where the English Civil War started, it then was a centre of the textiles industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries before the decline of this after the Second World War. This rich tapestry of history has led to many historical sites in the city and surrounding areas.
Unfortunately, Nottingham Castle was destroyed by Parliamentary forces after the Civil War, leaving gates and walls but not the medieval keep. The replacement building, a 17th century mansion, was burned down by rioters in 1831, and later rebuilt. The mansion houses various museum exhibitions, mixing items of local interest with those from further afield. Military buffs will appreciate the regimental museum for the Sherwood Foresters (alas no longer with us), which is small but a nice diversion. The admittance also includes entry to the Brewhouse Yard museum nearby, a small museum of the city.
However, the greatest museum in Nottingham is undoubtedly the Galleries of Justice. Ironically, given Nottingham’s former reputation in the 80s and 90s (Although ‘Shottingham’ is a semi-affectionate local nickname, it is no longer reflective of the city), the only museum dedicated to crime, justice and punishment through the ages in the country is in Nottingham. With such macabre exhibits as the only set of working gallows in the country, the Victorian era courtroom and a large section on transportation to Australia, this is the ideal place to take people with an unhealthy morbid curiosity. The themed guided tour the author did as a child is a memory that remains with him, 10 years on. It is also possible to get a cheaper joint ticket to the Nottingham Caves. Nottingham has one of the largest networks of catacombs in Europe, with the city centre built on sandstone and dominated by Castle Rock, the crag the castle is sited on.
The city centre is home to three pubs, each claiming to be the oldest in England. All three have a valid claim, but each uses a different measure of age. The Trip to Jerusalem is the best known and most ‘touristy’, but you can’t deny it being one of the most characterful pubs going, built into the catacombs under the castle. There is a model galleon which has never been cleaned, for all who have cleaned it died mysterious deaths within a year. Too spooky. If spooky is your thing, the ghost tour in the city goes round many of these caves and pubs, many of which are allegedly haunted, including apparently by the ghost of Queen Isabella of France after a bloody coup in the castle in 1330.
In terms of cultural sights, the new Nottingham Contemporary gallery, known as the ‘Fag Packet’ locally due to the building looking like a box of cigarettes, has a great deal of modern art on show. The old Lace Market area is currently full of arty things, fancy cafes and shops selling old things. Definitely one for the Avenue Campus or Winchester dweller in your life. There are also several theatres in Nottingham, from the large Theatre Royal to the Lace Market Theatre which showcases a lot of young and local actors.
In October, one of the largest annual fairs comes to Nottingham. The Goose Fair used to be an annual market, but it is now a funfair that takes over the Forest Recreation Ground near the city centre for 5 days of madness. Although rather expensive, it’s a unique experience.
Further afield, you can visit Sherwood Forest in the north of the county and see Major Oak, the ancient tree that Robin Hood’s gang used, according to legend, as a meeting place. The forest overall is good for walkers. Also well worth a visit is Newstead Abbey, the home of the poet Lord Byron. Within the city but away from the centre are also Wollaton Park and Trent Bridge cricket ground. Wollaton Hall was the filming location for Wayne Manor in the batman films and the park boasts a large deer herd. Trent Bridge is one of the most atmospheric sports ground going and it’s worth going to see cricket if you’re into that sort of thing. Literature lovers may like to visit Eastwood and see the museum dedicated to D.H Lawrence, who was from Nottingham and used it as a setting in his work.