Robin’s ‘hood: Sherwood Forest

In Con's Corner, England by Con JagerLeave a Comment

BBC Robin Hood portrayed by Jonas Armstrong. Photo credit BBC

BBC Robin Hood portrayed by Jonas Armstrong. Photo credit BBC

Woo hoo, we dodged that malicious Sheriff of Nottingham! A few years back we watched the excellent BBC series “Robin Hood” and loved the contemporary reboot. Not long after, we decided to steal over to the UK and spend some time in the Sherwood Forest area. This was in autumn, such a lovely time of year there: trees glowing red and gold in warm and low sunlight, fallen leaves rustling underfoot one’s hiking boots on the still pleasantly dry ground, the summer crowds gone. Alas, we did not run into Jonas Armstrong portraying Robin nor Friar Tuck or the oft-underexposed Much but on the bright side, the Sheriff and Guy of Gisborne were nowhere to be seen either.

Thinking about Robin stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, I remember seeing a BBC special report on British troops in Afghanistan. Their Base Camp had one of those rigged-up signposts in the middle, boards nailed onto it indicating how far they were from home. Right on top was a large plank with the name “Sherwood Forest” burned into the wood. These troops wore desert fatigues not Lincoln green but I loved the imagery: troops from Sherwood Forest fighting malevolent warlords and giving to the poor what they so desperately need indeed: food, water, shelter – and maybe, finally, peace …. Did you know that in WW2 Britain actually had a Sherwood Foresters regiment? It’s absorbed into another one now but soldiers from the area remain a proud bunch!

Our own much safer Base of Operation near Sherwood was the charming Breadsall Priory, dating back to 1260 and billed as the “oldest Marriott in the World”! It still looks the part: one would almost expect an old Augustinian Abbot to step out and welcome the weary traveler. This now upscale hotel has 12 rooms in the actual old Priory section where we decided to stay for the true experience, rather than in the annex section, well-appointed as those newer rooms undoubtedly are.

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Just off the A61/A38, Derbyshire’s Breadsall is not exactly in the middle of nowhere but sure feels like it, at half an hour’s driving west of Nottingham and just 12 minutes north of Derby. Part of the considerable charm. Tiny Breadsall village has one shop, and in the also tiny nearby Morley in the other direction, the Three Horse Shoes Inn offers a pleasant pub pint and good meals. Sadly, Morley’s “The Retreat” Tea Room has closed, a setback for those of us liking their tea & scones, and we do! Alternatives abound within short distances though; we hardly suffered.

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The Priory itself has a cool pub in the cellar, old stone walls and all, which soon became our evening roost, enjoying its roaring fireplace and welcoming barman. It’s named “Bentley’s”, after Sir John Bentley, owner in the late 1500s after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. There’s an excellent restaurant overlooking the gardens and pretty grounds to stroll through, and two golf courses for those in need of teeing off. Secluded yet civilized, the Priory is a fine central spot from which to explore the many treasures and attractions of the region: Chatsworth House, the Peak District for some great hiking (a future post), Alton Towers, Nottingham – and Sherwood Forest.

Originally, Sherwood Forest covered a quarter of Nottinghamshire’s 800+ square miles. Today, it’s kind of chopped up, a patchwork of small forests but the core part is still there – with the Robin Hood Way long-distance hiking trail going right through it. Starting in Nottingham at the Castle – note the statue of Robin in the front and the even more mysterious legendary Green Man in the back garden – the Way runs 105 miles up to Edwinstowe. We only did a section, the Sherwood bit where you go by Robin’s famous hideout, the Major Oak Tree, “Tree of the Year” in 2014! Now isn’t that amazing – that England actually has a “Tree of the Year”?

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The Major Oak might be as much as 1,000 years old and is named after Mayor Hayman Rooke of the late 1700s, who got into archeology after his military days, finding, studying and writing about the Sherwood Forest area, including many Roman finds. The Major Oak is huge: most of the leaves were gone when we visited, but you can just picture those rascally rebels hiding up there when it’s in full foliage, biding their time between raiding the rich and undermining King John and that Sheriff of his. The Merry Men and their enemies are all gone but the tree lives on, albeit supported by cables and needing close arborist attention and care. Then again, we all need a little help as we age, eh?

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Today, the Sherwood Forest Trust is putting up a mighty fight itself, battling to protect what’s still there and build it back towards a brighter future. Sherwood Forest Country Park is a joy to visit. There’s a welcome centre with a restaurant, café and several art studios and shops. Stroll the easy and level trails then stop for a spot of tea with a tasty Bakewell Cake. Hmm, making you feel a bit peckish? But no budget to fly over and get some just now? How about making this traditional specialty yourself, at home, using one of several BBC Good Food Bakewell Cake recipes! Warning: clicking the link will make you even more peckish!

We spent another excellent day, gorgeous sunlight and all, at Creswell Crags. This limestone gorge with caves everywhere is a treasure trove of finds from ancient life in the area, dating back through the last Ice Age some 50,000 years ago. The Gallery has artifacts like cooking stones, knives, needles and spear tips. Animal remains date back even further, well over 100,000 years, from the Woolly Mammoth (very hairy, big and scary) to, yes, Hippopotamus teeth: Toto, we’re not in Egypt anymore! The Caves have fascinating and cool names, from the Yew Tree Shelter to Mother Grundy’s Parlour to the largest of them all, the – wait for iiit – Robin Hood Cave. And of course there is lots more hiking to be done in the area as well, along pretty paths and fields with rewarding views.

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Pleasantly tired after our outdoorsy escapades, we would retire back to our underground pub at the Priory to have a drink while contemplating life in the Ice Age and under King John’s rule. Robin, Little John and of course Robin’s love Marian live on in our imagination, and Sherwood Forest still brings that imagination to life. So put on your greens and go visit – but leave the bow and arrow at home: I hear the TSA Sheriff will not allow them! He has a point….

DISCLAIMER: My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no clearing streets to get cars and trucks out of the frame, and no Photoshopping. It’s true travel. Note that my opinions and views are not necessarily shared by the company. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine except where credited as noted, as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.

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