Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nottingham (and Robin Hood)

The weekend began on Saturday, Stephanie and I met at Kings Cross VERY early to catch the train to Nottingham. I had forgotten my pictures so I got some taken in a photo booth and bought a Youth Rail Card, which was technically free because I would have had to pay the same amount (or a few £ more) if I’d not used its discount. We rushed over and got on the train; we talked or tried to nap most of the way there, heading north into the deep beautiful green of the English countryside.

Nottingham
was not too pretty from the train, but once we’d left the station behind and headed into the bustling downtown, it was very different. I had imagined a small town with old houses and a market, but Nottingham in my imagination was not the Nottingham of today! It was just like any other city, except there was a castle on a stone hill, and they use railcars instead of buses! Both of those parts were really cool! We walked by the Fabric and Clothing museum, past the Lace Museum (located a building that was built in the mid-1300s) and walked right up to Nottingham Castle.

Right in front of us was a large statue of a man with a large English bow, the string taught the arrow ready to fly to a target, frozen for all time… Robin Hood! There were placards around about the Sheriff of Nottingham and what he was like, what his job was (to be the king’s representative in the towns he oversaw). The Sheriff was not nobility, nor did he hold claim to a true title; it was an appointment by the local lords to keep the law. Much like today most anyone can be sheriff they just have to lobby for it. There is no real power there; it was more of a figurehead. We walked around the corner (because we were starving) and headed to the Oldest Pub in Great Britain, the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.

The pub was, quite literally, built into the side of the sandstone cliff that the Castle sat on, and was opened in 1189! We entered and chatted with the barman for a while, my first thought was the smell. It smelled like damp earth… not in a bad or overpowering way, but definitely wet sand. It was really cool. The ceilings were low and supported by dark-wood beams, and the rooms were small with uneven floors. It was really a great pub. We ordered a couple of beers, which were EXCELLENT, bought some food, and had a seat by the fire in the front room. We peeled off our layers of coat and scarf and settled in for brunch. Bangers (made with Old Trip ale their distinct brew which was incredible) and Mash, with beer; all in all an excellent, and filling, breakfast. We left feeling quite good about the day so far, a feeling assisted by the beer I must say, and headed into the castle.

We paid the few pounds entrance fee, and wandered the castle grounds for a while, taking pictures and looking out at Nottingham. I usually try and imagine what it would have looked like without the modern landscaping, which this one would have looked really amazing, with Sherwood Forest off to the North. We wandered into the main building (of which there was only one) and looking around didn’t see much about Nottingham, but more about the Medieval time period, the dress the life, and the military history of the soldiers of Nottingham. I was a little disappointed and sleepy wandering the castle, but then we decided to take a tour. For a mere £1 coin Stephanie and I had secured ourselves the best (and cheapest) damn tour we’d have had yet in our days in England. Which we soon found out…

The tour guide was a small man, with a quick speaking manner; he would walk quickly and speak with an air of knowing the history inside and out. We headed around the outer walls of the main building learning about the original owner and how it had been internally reconstructed after the peasants of the town who were angry at the Earl, (I think that’s what he was) burned the residence when he was away, leaving only the shell that stands there today. They were so angry they even destroyed some of the statue of the owner himself on a steed that was well above the entrance. The interesting tour guide then herded us through a locked gate and down into the tunnels and caves below the castle. We walked through the dungeon and into the caves, learning about how the prisoners, being chained to the wall and getting mouldy food and dirty water, were given an added torture… the bakery and kitchens were right near the dungeon, and the smells wafted into the space, so not only did they get to eat crappy food, but they could smell the amazing food being prepared by the chefs. Horrible eh?!

We left the dungeon and headed into a courtyard where the Earl would have welcomed his guests and had them enter the castle, it even had little carriage garages for any coaches that were brought by more distinguished guests. We walked around the wall and down again, this time going deeper into the caves, these were natural formations burrowed out of the sandstone by water travelling through the earth, the caves were really amazing, and if you even brushed the walls with your back you’d be covered in sand… they were very fragile. We headed deep into them, the guide stopping and talking about them and the area. We popped out at the base of the cliff, just past the Ye Olde Trip! Walking back toward the entrance gates we stopped by the Olde Trip and then by the Robin Hood statue. We learned that if a peasant had to stand trial in the times of Robin Hood the punishments laid down by the lords were quite harsh. It was often better for them to go live in the woods then to be punished, and therefore many of them fled into the forest.

After the tour ended with the viewing of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s office (and a funny article hanging from the 1960s about Robin Hood being a Communist and how Americans should be wary about their heroes) we headed back to the train station to go to Derby (pronounced Darby, I don’t know why, so don’t ask). This was when the trouble started…

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