An Epic Tour Of My Hometown, Nottingham - Haveyoubeenhere?
It's been a while since my last travel blog and after some consideration, I realised the perfect place to write about would be the place I call home. I mean it's one thing to write about somewhere I've visited on holiday but it's quite another to tell the story of a city in which I've lived all my life.
I want to do this justice because where I live is somewhere special, somewhere full of history, full of life, and most of all it's where my heart is. So please, allow me to take you all on a wonderful journey around the City of Nottingham...
Nottingham, a historical city within a historical country. Famous for its tales of crusading Knights galloping across England's green and pleasant lands. Infamous for its tyrannical Kings and ruthless Queens obsessed with decapitating those who crossed their path. So where does one begin to tell the tale of just one particular city within this vast empire?...
...Home, the only place it could possibly begin...
The south of Nottingham is where I live and is where I've always lived. Chilwell, Beeston, and Attenborough are all little towns or villages within walking distance of each other. These are the places I have lived all my life and I am fortunate enough to have done so. In either one, you'll find your salt-of-the-earth working-class folk, middle-class wanna-be-posh folk, and a handful of the extremes on either end of that spectrum.
As for Me, I'm just a working-class lad who grew up in the 80s on a street in Chilwell where all the neighbours knew one another. Things have changed nowadays and you just don't get streets like that anymore, which is a shame because it was such a great environment to grow up in. My early childhood was spent playing games on the street with all the other kids who lived there, but once I was old enough to venture further out things just got better and better.
Attenborough Nature Reserve is where I’d go swimming in the summer and if winter was cold enough and the shallow waters froze over my friends and I would ride our bikes across the ice. Then there is Beeston, which is where all the shops are. Back in the day, there were a couple of arcades where we’d play video games but the main attraction was a wonderful little pet shop that had all kinds of creatures. The owner was incredibly kind and never moaned when his shop was full-to-bursting with school kids who just wanted to hold the various animals. Over the years Beeston has been transformed and this once enchanting pet shop was just one of many charming little shops that got bulldozed to make way for a giant Tesco supermarket. Before big business took over, Beeston had all sorts of interesting shops but now it just looks like every other town in the UK. Thankfully, however, more and more independent shops are creeping back in and the place is starting to regain its former charm. More recently, Beeston has begun to have some fantastic murals spray-painted around town and this has helped to give the place a well-overdue facelift.
One thing that hasn’t changed is our beloved nature reserve. While I may not go swimming there anymore and I’m probably too fat to risk biking over the ice, I do still visit this wonderful place at least once a week. The birds are so accustomed to having people around they will literally eat from your hand and the fat little robins often follow you along the footpath in the hope you’ll feed them. This is a great place to take your camera too! In the summer the nature reserve is bursting with life and in the winter it’s like you’ve stepped through your wardrobe into Narnia. I've always enjoyed a bit of amateur photography and some of my best photos have been taken here.
Attenborough nature reserve is not just picturesque from the ground, so if you’re lucky enough to own a drone (as I do) you’d be mad not to capture this awe-inspiring place from a birds-eye-view.
Not a bad view, don’t you think? I’m not completely sure I’m allowed to fly over a nature reserve but the birds didn’t seem to mind and quite frankly it’s an opportunity too good to miss.
As you can see from that video, Attenborough nature reserve is quite stunning and the recently built nature centre is great for the kids. Inside the centre you can learn about all the different species that live around the reserve and behind the main building is a nature garden which allows everyone to learn about the natural habitats you’d find in the wild. The centre also offers up some nice warm drinks and snacks which is great if you don’t mind a little extortion.
Although most visitors think it to be true, and it would be quite fitting if it was true, Attenborough Nature Reserve isn’t named after Sir David Attenborough. In fact, the name comes from a completely different family of Attenborough’. However, I get the feeling that everyone just allows this misconception to continue as it adds a bit of gravitas to the place. What’s more, when the nature centre first opened guess who they got to do the official opening?... You guessed it, Sir David Attenborough, himself! Not quite sure how we pulled that off? Maybe the organisers told him they’d named the village after him...? At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter who the place is named after and as the great Billy Shakespear once said...“a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”.
I love this place and whenever I take a walk around here I never forget how lucky I am to have a place like this on my doorstep. Attenborough Nature Reserve is the gift that keeps on giving and every visit offers something new.
Now it's time we leave my stomping ground behind and move a little closer to the center of Nottingham.
Being that Nottingham has so much to offer, I'm going to begin my tour from the outskirts and then we will work our way towards the town center. For our first stop, I'd like to take you on a quick visit to Wollaton Hall. This is another gem tucked away on the edge of town and I'd be absent from my duty as a tour guide if I didn't take you there.
I could bore you all with endless babble, about how the hall was built between 1580 and 1588 by some bloke nobody remembers, or that it was 1st home to a filthily rich family known as the Willoughby' before being passed on to a Baron with twice the wealth. And I could regale you with tales of architecture being shipped over from Italy to please the whims of a certain countess who just had to have them for her gondolas, darling. I could also tell you about how I and a group of my friends took a ton of LSD and walked up to the Hall in the middle of the night, but I don't think it would make much sense...Anyway, I'm not going to do any of that because that's not what Wollaton Hall is about (At least not for me it isn't and this is MY tour!).
Wollaton Hall is a museum with animals so big you wonder how they got them through the door, and others so fascinating you never knew they existed.
Wollaton Hall is home to wild Deer so magnificent you have to pinch yourself to make sure they are real.
Wollaton Hall is the venue of Splendor, a Music Festival which shakes the ground for miles around and gets the whole city dancing and singing as one.
Wollaton Hall is where Batman lives! (It actually was home to Bruce Wayne in Batman, The Dark Knight Rises).
Wollaton Hall is simply a place of wonder and excitement and somewhere I've enjoyed visiting for over 30-years. As a child, I just wanted to see the ginormous ant-farm they had inside the museum. It was encased in a glass dome which allowed you to see everything going on inside. Being that my legs were so small back then and Wollaton Hall is so big, it seemed to take forever just to find this intriguing display and I often wondered if they moved it around on purpose just to build the excitement. Another childhood memory of Wollaton Hall is playing in the woods with my brother, pretending to be commandos with guns made from sticks. Also, in the winter when it snowed enough to settle, we'd take our sleds to the hill at the front of the Hall and zoom all the way to the bottom before trudging back up to do it all over again.
Nowadays I still enjoy visiting the museum but mainly I go there for a peaceful walk around the grounds taking snaps with my camera. Quite often you will see one of the giant Stags just sitting in the middle of the park unfazed by all the people approaching him for a selfie. Personally, I don't fancy a giant antler up the backside so, as much as this may disappoint you, I've not got a selfie to show you all. Nonetheless, I have a few pics from my visits that I hope you all enjoy...
Any tour of Nottingham could never be complete without a visit to Sherwood Forest, after all, it's what Nottingham is most famous for! But before we head off to the woods I feel it's important to introduce some local terminology to help you to blend in.
"Ay up, me'duck!" is a phrase you might hear while visiting Nottingham and it just means "Hello, my friend". Somewhere along the line the words "My Duke" got turned into "Me Duck" and as for the "Ay up" part, well, that's just a bit of a mystery. Just take it as an informal way to greet someone. And if you find yourself feeling a little peckish(Hungry) please be aware that in Nottingham, and only in Nottingham, a bread roll in known as a "cob". So if you don't want to draw attention to yourself as a tourist don't walk into a cafe and ask for a cheese and ham roll. The only time you ask for a roll in Nottingham is if you want a sausage roll. Then, you will either receive a savoury pastry snack or a homosexual encounter, depending on who you ask. Other than this, it's business as usual. You may have to decipher our accent somewhat as a real local person won't pronounce certain letters, for example, when I say Nottingham you will actually hear me say "Nottnum". It's pointless trying to find a formula for our accent as sometimes we will pronounce our Hs and sometimes we won't, so just do the best you can and just try to keep up with the conversation. Oh and one more thing which is quite important. Nottingham has two local football teams, one is called Nottingham Forest and the other is called Notts County. Below you can see a recent picture and a short video taken with my drone of both football stadiums and Nottinghamshire cricket ground.
Never, ever, ever, ever call Notts County "Nottingham County" and, likewise, never call Nottingham Forest "Notts Forest". I'm not much of a football fan but I do know that those who are get quite tetchy about that seemingly minor detail. Nonetheless, it's a lesson worth learning and at least now you can say a friendly hello and get a bite to eat, all without upsetting the local football nutcase. Now, let's move on from our lessons in the local dialect and footballing faux-pas before I lose my way.
So where were we...? Oh yes, we were off to the woods!
Sherwood Forest, the home of Robin Hood
In all honesty, Sherwood forest is just a forest. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful place to visit and the Major Oak is a national treasure which has to be seen at least once. But at the end of the day, it is just a walk in the woods and I'd be lying to you and myself if I said any different. However, it is the legend of Robin Hood that makes Sherwood Forest an intrinsic part of our tour and while I may be a little unenthusiastic about the forest itself there are days when special events are held, and on those days you'll be royally entertained by ladies wearing corsets bursting in all the right places and men wearing tights that have no chance of hiding their bows and arrows.
Something that often gets overlooked by those visiting Sherwood Forest is a beautiful church that most people will simply drive past without noticing it on their way home. Being that most people come here in the first place to celebrate the legend of Robin Hood, it's a shame to miss this important part of the story.
Robin Hood and Maid Marion were deeply in love, but like Romeo and Juliet the pair came from different worlds and certain folk just didn't approve. However, the disapproval of others made little difference and Robin would often reassure Marion by telling her, "I'd fight for you, I'd lie for you, I'd walk the wire for you, yeah I'd die for yoooouuu!"...(Sorry, I couldn't help myself). Their romance blossomed and at some point Robin got down on one knee and proposed to Marion. "Oh, Robin", said Marion, "Yes of course I'll marry you, but where could we possibly get married?". In an act as rebellious as it was romantic, Robin placed an arrow on his trusty bow, drew back the string, and said to Marion. "Wherever this arrow lands, that is where we will wed". This was a bit of a gamble on Robin's part. I mean it could have landed anywhere! a boggy marsh, a peasant's back garden, Jesus!, it could have landed in Derby! Fortunately for Marion and Robin, the arrow just so happened to land next to an idyllic church just outside of Sherwood forest. It was here that Maid Marion married her outlaw, Robin Hood.
Maybe this church is meant to be undiscovered and that is why Robin and Marion were able to marry in peace? Maybe this church still has the power to hide in plain sight? Whatever the reason for folk missing out, if you ever visit Sherwood Forest try to remember this romantic piece of the story and make an extra stop on your way home.
For me, the tale of Robin Hood isn't just about Sherwood Forest. It's about his desire to protect the oppressed and his fight against the tyranny of King John. Most of all, it's about the notion that we are invincible if we stand together. Robin Hood, whether myth or martyr, is a legend worth holding onto, and one that is more relevant today than ever before. Of all the things Nottingham is famous for, and there are quite a few, Robin Hood is the thing that I am most proud of.
So now we reach the part of our tour where we enter the heart of Nottingham, get ready to be entertained!
So, you have found yourself in middle England where the only beaches you will find are made of wood and rooted to the forest floor. Yes, we may not have ocean views but who needs them when you have the mighty River Trent to gaze upon. Allow me to spoil you with horrid historical tales of victorian prisons and public hangings, ancient underground caves, and traditional English pubs that have served tepid ale all the way back to the crusading knights of the realm. Hear Ye! Hear Ye! For this is Nottingham!
After our trip to Sherwood forest, it seems fitting that our next stop is Nottingham Castle, home to Robin Hood's arch-enemies, King John, and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Nottingham's grand fortress that has stood through centuries of turmoil, tyranny, and rebellions was originally built on the orders of William the Conqueror. Castle Rock, as it was known back then, began its life in 1068 as a modest wooden garrison. Then, around the time of King Henry II (1154), Nottingham Castle's wooden frame was torn down and rebuilt in stone - Maybe someone read him the tale of the three little pigs? -
After its grandiose reconstruction, Nottingham Castle became "the place to be" for royals and dignitaries. The hunting grounds which surrounded the castle were known as "The King's Larder", which gives you an idea of how entitled they were and the kind of luxury they were accustomed to.
With all this luxury in mind it should come as no surprise that while King Richard I (AKA "the Lionheart") was away on the Third Crusade, Prince John found himself feeling quite at home in Nottingham Castle. As the legend goes, Prince John and his untrusty sidekick(The Sheriff of Nottingham) would play out their final battle against Robin Hood on the grounds of Castle Rock.
It isn't clear who won that battle, or even if the battle actually took place. What is clear, however, is that Robin Hood stole the show and became a symbol of rebellion, immortalised for those who need hope and inspiration in times of oppression.
Nottingham castle is somewhere that every tourist must visit before they leave. To miss out on this would be like climbing Everest and the turning back 20-yards from the summit.
For the past few years the castle has been closed for restorations but it is said they are soon to be finished and the castle will be reopened to visitors in the next few weeks. This is great news, not only because Nottingham castle is a wonderful attraction, but also because it's just in time for this year's beer festival!
Every year the castle grounds become one giant pub and breweries from all over offer up their finest ales. For one reason or another, I have never been to the castle during the beer festival but I've promised myself 2021 is the year! Can't wait for that, and I'll be sure to share it with all my #beersaturday friends.
And now we reach the final part of this epic tour of Nottingham. Well done to those who have come this far, you can consider yourselves honourary citizens. So, without further ado, let me take you to Nottingham City Center where everything comes to life (Even the dead!).
Nottingham's Gallery Of Justice
Welcome to the macabre side of Nottingham where death and punishment are a celebrated part of society.
Taking a walk through the side streets of Nottingham town will eventually lead you to a place known as The Galleries Of Justice. On the doorstep of this government building, jeering crowds would gather in their hundreds. Men, women, and children would all stand together, waiting with anticipation for the spectacle to begin. Finally, the large oak doors would swing open and a hooded figure would be led out and paraded in front of the audience. The noose would then be lowered and tied around the neck of the condemned. A morbid excitement takes hold of the crowd as the slack of the rope is gathered. Then, with a nod from the official, the perpetrator's legs suddenly leave the ground simultaneously triggering the crowd into a chorus of applause.
Pretty dark, right? Well, this kind of thing happened all the way up to 1868, after which hangings were carried out within the prison grounds. Surprisingly, this form of justice carried on all the way up to 1964, and those who visit the Galleries of Justice today can see with their own eye the very gallows that were used inside the prison. Below is a list of some of the people who shared this terrible fate...
Life was very different back then and when you step inside the Galleries of Justice you get a taste of just how different things were. I highly recommend you visit this dark tourist attraction, if only for the paid actors and actresses who guide you around while playing the parts of the Judge, the Prisoner, and the prison officer.
During the tour, not only do you get to sit inside the very courtroom where those listed above were condemned to death but you also get to act out the parts of those who would have been involved. After this, you follow the journey of a real-life prisoner as they spend their final days inside this squalid prison...
Once you have witnessed the tiny prison cells and ghastly torture devices you may conclude that many prisoners would have welcomed the gallows.
I've visited the Galleries of Justice myself and can say the experience was both entertaining and shocking in equal amounts. One of the things that creeped me out the most was when you're shown the prison walls...Scribed into the cold brickwork you can clearly read the names of various prisoners who'd spent time in this terrifying place.
Another worthwhile tourist attraction in the city center is the caves of Nottingham. Over 800 caves have been discovered and each and every one of them was carved by hand.
"If a man is poor he had only to go to Nottingham with a mattock, a shovel, a crow, an iron, a chisel or a mallet, and with such instruments he may play mole and work himself a hole or burrow for his family."
— Anon 1870
According to Wikipedia, pottery found in these caves dates as far back as 1270 and they have been inhabited all the way up to 1845 when the St. Mary's Inclosure Act banned the renting of cellars and caves as homes for the poor. Since then these caves have been used for business purposes and also as air-raid shelters during WWII.
You can take a guided tour of the caves for under £10 per person which isn't a bad deal in my opinion. It's going to be quite an experience and give you a true idea of Nottingham's unique history.
Now that's quite enough about the dead, let's turn our attention to the living!
No doubt, most visitors will come to Nottingham during the summer. If so, you will find out I actually lied when I said that you won't find a beach, because in actual fact that is one of the main attractions. Every summer for the past 10-or-so-years Nottingham has built a fake beach inside Nottingham town square. There are bars, games, live music stands, and tons of food wagons ready to empty your wallet. Besides the overpriced food, it really is a great place to spend the day. Everyone is smiling, the kids are all having fun splashing around in the fountain or playing on "the beach", and the parents can relax with a nice cold drink while listening to some live music.
Of course, this is the UK and our summers just don't last long enough. But, alas! Fear not my friends, for once the beach is safely packed away it isn't long before the Christmas market comes to town, and what a fantastic place it is to be! Ice bars with seats actually made of ice! An outdoor ice rink for all the family to show just how clumsy they are. Food stores selling everything from German sausages to pulled pork cobs. Amazing live bands and fairground rides for the kids. Hey, it's all ridiculously overpriced but who cares, IT'S CHRISTMAS!!!
If you're in town through the winter and have the chance to visit you really won't regret it. The Christmas market runs all the way past New Year and being in this great atmosphere during the midnight countdown on New Year's eve is simply magical. Hundreds, if not thousands of families all gathered together singing in the new year. You don't get much better than that.
While we're on the subject of singing, let me tell you that Nottingham is renowned for its talented music artists and live music venues, Rock City being our jewel in Nottingham's musical crown. For those of you coming here without children, you would be crazy not to find out who is playing at Rock City. The ticket prices are cheap as chips and the bands that play here will blow your mind. Rock City has had everyone from Cypress Hill to Greta Van Fleet and this intimate venue never fails to get the crowd jumping.
For those of you who desire a more up-market style of entertainment, Nottingham is home to The Theatre Royal. This place is pure class and attracts millions of visitors year after year.
And for all you Pop music lovers out there, Nottingham Ice Arena hosts some world-class artists too. There aren't many parents in Nottingham who haven't taken their children to see Disney on Ice or to watch Little Mix perform a live show. The Ice Arena is also home to The Nottingham Panthers, our local Ice hockey team. I've been to watch the Panthers once and have to say it was a great experience. Their main rival is the Sheffield Stealers and on the occasions these two teams meet you will be lucky to find a ticket.
If, however, the big stage is not your thing or you simply want a cheaper alternative, Nottingham's nightlife is well known throughout England. There are just as many pubs and bars as there are shops in the city center. We've got comedy clubs, night clubs, karaoke bars, wine bars, vodka bars, all-you-can-eat buffets, Michelin star restaurants...the list is endless!
For those of you who enjoy a beer, Nottingham has some of the best pubs around and it also has some of the oldest(I wasn't joking when I said they used to serve ale to crusading knights you know).
One of my favourite places to drink is a place called Canal House. This beautiful pub sits by the canal side and actually has part of the canal running inside the pub(You literally have to walk over a little bridge to get to the bar). Canal House also boasts beers from all around the world so there is something here for everyone's taste.
My friends from the #beersaturday community would absolutely love this place and if any of them ever visit the UK it would be my pleasure to take them there.
So my friends, with your bellies full of beer and good food you can all make your way back home. It's been an absolute pleasure to write about where I live and put into words and pictures what really makes Nottingham great. I hope someday you are lucky enough to visit and also hope this guided tour has given you an idea of what's in store if you ever do.
Peace and love to you all and thank you for visiting my page. From me and from the city of Nottingham, goodbye!
All images and videos in this blog without source are my own.