Additional photos of this 1993 holiday at Robin Hood sites can be found at my Picture Gallery.
On May 15, 1993, I arrived in Nottingham by train from London. (A note to any travellers to the UK, buy a Brit Rail pass. It's a good, inexpensive way to get around the country.)
Looking over my diary, I found I actually did make a few entries during my stay in Nottingham. Some were just notes on Robin Hood research, but a few others helped jogged my memories of the city. I spent three weeks travelling around Britain, and bought a new diary for the trip, but I only made a handful of entries.
Anyway, on the first day, I visited the Tales of Robin Hood. This modern attraction takes you on a ride through the early ballads (with the help of sets, statues, and a nice CD soundtrack in each car). Some of it is gruesome in its accuracy. There are also displays on Robin Hood and his world, sites to test your skill in archery (I'm still an outlaw, it seems. No pardon from the king for me.), a gift stop, restaurant, and so on. I also saw the Herne costume from Robin of Sherwood on display there. Sure, it's modern, it's touristy, but it's still worth a look. [Or was worth a look. Sadly, Tales closed its doors for good in early 2009 - some of the costumes and props have been acquired by the Galleries of Justice attraction.]
Of course, I stopped to check out the Robin Hood statue by the castle. I see the city replaced the missing arrow. (Holt's book shows him shooting an arrowless bow explaining that some local thief had made off with the thing. "The moral of the robber robbed is unintended.") You can tell by the photo what the weather was like during my stay in Nottinghamshire. It rained.
And to top off my first day in Nottinghamshire, I went to the pub -- two pubs to be precise. In a nation filled with historic drinking establishments, two of the finest can be found in Nottingham. (I rarely drink, and I just ordered soft drinks and packets of crisps, potato chips to my fellow North Americans.)
The first was the much-talked about, must-see The Olde Trip to Jerusalem , which claims to be the oldest pub in England. This place is an institution, folks. And even if you're a puritanical teetotaller, you should stop in here for a look!
"The Trip", known as the Pilgrim in the 1550s, claims to have been around in AD 1189. The term "trip" is from the 12th century and refers to the crusaders' rest stop. The oldest part of the pub is carved right into the castle mount, connecting with the old dungeons.
Then, I popped by the new kid on the block -- "The Salutation Inn". The sign outside proclaims the pub was established circa AD 1240, and it's apparently based on an earlier pub from 1210, "Archangel Gabriel Salute to the Virgin Mary." This place has got a fair bit of history too. There are adjacent rooms for the two sides in the British Civil War, the Charles and Cromwell rooms. And both the Roundheads and the Cavaliers did their recruiting in the caves below the pub. And guess what, I ran into an old friend in these caves . Trying to find his way into Nottingham Castle, no doubt.
Of course, Robin might not recognize the place if he did manage to find his way there. On my second day in Nottingham, I stopped by the castle. Unfortunately, the old castle was heavily damaged in the Civil War. (Damn you, Oliver Cromwell!) And it was demolished a few years later. All that remains of the medieval castle is the gatehouse from the early 13th century. Inside that, you'll find a photo of the Sheriff of Nottingham (stop that booing and hissing. He's supposed to be a good guy now.), and a nice assortment of medieval weapons.
The modern day "castle" is a 17th century ducal palace. Inside, there's an art gallery, lots of history on Nottingham, and so forth. I remember watching a short film there with a title like "So, where's the castle?"
In Robin of Sherwood, a standard cliché was for someone to observe "You can't break into Nottingham Castle." Of course, every episode they managed to break in anyway. But now that I've been there, I see just how difficult it would have been to break in. It was guarded on three sides by a cliff face. However, there was one very historical way to break in -- the caves.
In October, 1330, Edward III's buddies snuck into the castle through the caves to capture his mother, Isabella the She-Wolf of France (she's in Braveheart, folks) and her lover, Roger Mortimer. Not exactly the nicest thing for a son to do, but then Mum and Mortimer did have Edward's father, Edward II, deposed and possibly murdered. Anyway, you can tour the caves underneath the castle, but I didn't get a chance to see them.
That's not the only famous bit of history associated with the castle. Richard the Lionhearted seiged the place for a few days in 1194, just to prove that he had truly returned from imprisonment. The castle was Richard III's headquarters in that famous 1485 fracas known as the Battle of Bosworth Field. And King Charles I raised his standard against Parliament during the British Civil War at the castle.
Moving on, I had a look at St. Mary's Church. This is where Robin Hood came to pray in the oldest Robin Hood ballad.
And last, but certainly not least, I went to Sherwood Forest.
Contrary to the impression you might get from modern versions of the legend, the forest does not extend right to the castle walls. It was long bus ride from Nottingham. And the forest is a lot smaller than the 30 miles or so that it covered in Robin Hood's day. But still, there's something magical about walking in merry Sherwood. If you'd like to help save Sherwood, check out the Sherwood Initiative.
Click here to see a picture of me by the Major Oak , this grand old oak is said to have been the headquarters of Robin Hood. It's a couple of centuries too young for that, but who cares? It looks like the sort of tree Robin would have shacked up in.
I spent a few hours walking around the forest in the rain with a very heavy suitcase-cum-backpack on my shoulders. But it was worth it. To walk the trails that legends walked. To be in the home of Robin Hood. Well, one of his homes, anyway.
The early ballads also place him in Barnsdale, Yorkshire. I didn't make it out there, but on the train between Nottingham and York, I looked out the window in the direction I thought Barnsdale was in. And once again I thought about my favourite heroes.
There's one last major Robin Hood site I visited, St. Mary's Abbey in York. Well, the ruins of the abbey, anyway. This was the home of the rapacious villain of Robin Hood in one of the earliest ballads, the Gest. The abbot was a bad guy (and the sheriff's brother) in Robin of Sherwood too. But in that show, the abbey was moved to Nottinghamshire. Sadly, the tour guide didn't know of the abbey's connection to Robin Hood.
It was a splendid trip. But of course, there's a lot that I didn't get to see. Like Kirklees, where Robin is said to have died. Or Loxley (both of them) and Wakefield, the birthplaces of Robin. Or Barnsdale (either of them). And I would love to spend more time in Sherwood.
But then, that's what a return visit would be for, wouldn't it?
While I didn't get to see all the Robin Hood sites on my second, third and fourth visits to Robin Hood Country, I did see many more. So read on and find out about my Robin Hood travel adventures in 1999, 2003 and 2006.
Click here to see Robin Hood Locations on Google Maps. I designed this map to showcase some of the sites discussed on this page, as well as others related to the legend. The map is interactive and allows you to zoom in, switch to satellite or Google Earth views. And if you drag the orange figure to the map, you can navigate at street level via Google's 360-degree photos. Many sites are visible from the road.
View Robin Hood Locations in a larger map
Text copyright, © Allen W. Wright, 1997 - 2009.