LIVING headed to Nottinghamshire in search of the legend of Robin Hood, and for some good old outdoors family fun
When you think of Sherwood Forest, you can’t help but think of the legendary outlaw Robin Hood. A character that has long been associated with English folklore, but is much more of an international celebrity nowadays. Countless pieces of literature, cartoons, children’s books, and a couple of star-studded Hollywood blockbusters have all added fuel to his fame over the years. But this guy just keeps on packing a punch – most recently as the subject of a new Robin Hood film by acclaimed director Otto Bathurst (Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror) last year.
Being famous for centuries has obviously led to quite a fanbase for the elusive Prince of Thieves. For decades tourists have flocked to Nottinghamshire from across the globe in search of him and his merry men. So it seemed there was no time like the present for LIVING to uncover the legend. And that’s just what we did. We were invited by Visit Nottinghamshire to spend three days on a Robin Hood themed break in Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest.
I remember spending lots of time in forests as a child, and enjoying every single visit very much, but I don’t think you ever truly appreciate their splendour until you grow up. And the 420-acre Sherwood Forest on the edge of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire is particularly special. There is, of course, the historic connection to Robin Hood, but it’s also home to the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve and hundreds of veteran oak trees including England’s Tree of the Year 2014 and Robin Hood’s principle hideout, The Major Oak.
We were lucky enough to visit during its annual Major Oak Woodland Festival, a chance to celebrate the forest and all its cultural riches – and appreciate the ancient oak trees, some of which are over 500 years of age. The Major Oak is accessed via a short trail (about a 15-minute walk) from the visitor centre. There’s plenty to experience along the way but the distinct shape and far reaching branches of the oak at the bottom of the trail is the true sight to behold. Why is it so major? Well, aside from being the biggest oak tree in the country, it’s thought to be anywhere between 800 to 1100 years old, weigh 23 tonnes and spreads out 28 meters. And its trunk has a circumference of 11 meters! That’s pretty major. Plus legend has it that the major oak was a favourite hangout for Robin Hood and his gang so it’s well worth a visit. The festival has loads of activities for children and a lot of magic and charm bring the woodland to life. Stalls showcasing the wood crafts from furniture to toys, demonstrations, and characters reenacting folktales make it a brilliant family day out.
Outside of the festival, Sherwood Forest has cycling and walking trails for all levels and abilities and great children’s activity hunts including the opportunity to spot the big man in tights himself. There’s also a lovely cafe in the visitors centre to grab a spot of lunch or refreshments.
Close by the Sherwood Pines Forest Park is another green space well known for its cycling routes though the trees. Here you can also try your hand at Go Ape, walking wooden ramps and bridges through the tree tops just like Robin Hood. There’s also a less daring option with Nets Kingdom, great for children. You’re still 30 feet above the forest floor but netted walkways keep you enclosed and inflatable balls and slides all add to the fun. A brilliant activity to do as a family and it’s also very good exercise!
You can stay grounded with a variety of other adventure play areas dotted around too and we would encourage you to try out a Forest Activity Bag from the information centre. It’s packed with forest explorer equipment and instructions for getting the most out of your visit – from spotting wildlife and flora and fauna to forest management. There is also a cafe on site for refreshments.
The Ploughman’s Cottage
Our home for the weekend was a lovely cosy cottage close to Mansfield and Sherwood Forest called The Ploughman’s Cottage. It was part of the Bridleways Guest House and holiday homes, and only about a 10 minute drive from the forest.
The cottage is quietly tucked away behind the main guest house, it’s peaceful and has great facilities. There are two good-sized bedrooms, one with a double bed and the other with twin beds, so it’s the perfect size and very comfortable for a family to stay in. Beautifully decorated and spotlessly clean with its own little garden and barbecue area outside; it’s a lovely place to retreat to after a busy day of exploring. And as a family, it makes so much difference to have your own space to spread out! The cottage is self catering but you can also opt to have breakfast cooked in the main house every morning.
Owner Emyr was very welcoming and was happy to guide and advise us on the activities in the area. He also pointed us in the direction of a short walk along a gravel trail behind the accommodation which led to an impressive lake. This was a lovely walk one evening for some fresh air.
Having a car to travel from place to place is recommended. We took a ride into Nottingham City Centre don one of the days.
We met energetic tour guide Ezekial Bone outside of the Nottingham Contemporary dressed as the outlaw himself – sword, horn and all. He gave us a snapshot of his brand new tour that he hopes to launch for the summer holidays – Robin Hood and The Monk. We walked from the museum up to St Mary’s Church learning about legend, ballads and tales of old. Ezekial gives an exhilarating performance that has buckets of history and knowledge but is told in a fun and captivating way with plenty of theatrics thrown in. This is great fun for adults and children alike, and it’s easy to see how Ezekial is a multi-award winning guide, in fact he recently picked up the Guided Tour of the Year 2018.
Another great activity for families while you are in Nottingham city is the Stonebridge City Farm where you can pet and feed farm animals like baby goats, lambs and a giant pig, as well as watching hens and turkeys roam freely. There is also a barn where you can hold some of the smaller animals like rabbits and guinea pigs for a nominal donation.
You can also enjoy a pony ride through the woods to experience how Hood and his merry men would have moved around the forests. We would highly recommend Derbyshire Pony Trekking, they were brilliant with children and have horses for all. It’s suitable for complete beginners as lead reins will be used.
Where to dine
The area has some fabulous eateries whether you want to dine in traditional places or try out a more modern dining scene. Forest Lodge is a multi-award winning pub in a charming 18th century coaching inn near Sherwood Forest. There is a cosy bar boasting an open fire and exposed timber beams, and a beautiful restaurant, once a stable, which offers fine dining.
Son of Steak is an airy, rustic-industrial eatery offering steaks fit for Robin Hood himself and a variety of other delicious dishes. It’s the new destination in Nottingham for great steak without the fuss, based on Trinity Square in the Nottingham city centre. The meat is exclusively reared on hand-picked British and Irish farms.
The Fox and Hounds is a family-owned traditional British country pub serving homecooked British food and World Tapas. They also stock a great range of traditional cask ales, fine lagers and excellent wine.
And you simply must stop off for some uber-posh fish and chips at George’s Great British Kitchen in Nottingham. The restaurant is based inside a listed building which gives it an even more spectacular feel and is spread over two floors. The food is yummy.
We went to Nottinghamshire in search of Robin Hood and we came away with wonderful family memories. Going back to nature and enjoying the great outdoors as a family is a real treat.
A stay in the Ploughman’s Cottage at Bridleways costs from £120 per night. www.stayatbridleways.co.uk. A 1-hour horse ride costs from £28 per person: www.derbyshire-pony-trekking.co.uk.
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