I’m ashamed to say that I can count on one hand the total number of times I’ve travelled further North than Cambridge- two weeks in the Lake District for a show I was performing in, a weekend in Derby aged 11, and a couple of visits to my G-Ma’s family in Birmingham around the same time. Let’s face it guys, that’s pretty pitiful considering I’ve lived in this green and pleasant land for too many years than I care to mention, and doubley so considering I’ve explored countries on the whole other side of the planet. My only consolation to this severely lacklustre knowledge of my own fair country, is the fact that I’m confident I’m not the only person to be in this situation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for exploring your Colombias and your Croatias as often as possible but when two of my good pals moved to the city of Nottingham a month or so ago, I pretty much leapt at the chance not only to visit them, but also to see a bit of what Robin Hood’s old stomping ground has to offer. Ooddelally oodelally golly what a day.
What actually is Nottingham??
Stupid question. It’s clearly a city in England. But in my ignorant Southerner way, I’ve always classed Nottingham as ‘up North’ though technically it’s actually part of the East Midlands, i.e. The Middle of the Country, so apologies to any true Notts-folk who are offended by the Northern assumption. Most people will recognise Nottingham for it’s part in the legend of Robin Hood (you know, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor); who knows what percentage of the stories are true, but I’d like to think there’s at least a smidgen of accuracy to them as Robin Hood sounds like a bloody brilliant kind of guy in my opinion, whether in cartoon fox or Kevin Costner form. The city of Nottingham would definitely like to believe Mr Hood was a real guy, and nowadays there’s a ginormous statue of him outside Nottingham Castle, as well as references to the tales all across the city, like Maid Marion Way, the area of Sherwood or The Loxley pub.
Who’s in the hood? ROBIN HOOD!
The city grew over time, with a few things (like Nottingham’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, built circa 1189), remaining the same. Crazily, the whole place is built on top of a network of man-made caves which were carved into the soft sandstone and used for all manner of things, from breweries and tanneries, to slums for the poor and eventually air-raid shelters. Once the Industrial Revolution came around, the city really began to prosper- mainly because of the textile industry, and the trading of lace in particular meant big business for those involved.
On the National Express…
As anyone residing in England will know, the trains are highly unreliable and highly overpriced and basically to be avoided at all costs!!! Your sanity depends on it, or at least mine does anyway. So instead of getting the train from London to Nottingham, which costs minimum around £60 ONE WAY, we went for a good old fashioned National Express coach for £9 instead. It might take longer, but it was also pretty much a no-brainer, let’s face it.
I’ve only ever got coaches when going to or from airports in the middle of the night, so this journey which would take upwards of three hours was a slightly different kettle of fish in terms of length of time on board. We met at Victoria Station, stocked up on way too many snacks than is necessary for three and a half hours, and proceeded to the Victoria coach station down the road, to find the entire place absolutely rammed with people. Turns out coaches are way more popular on a Saturday morning than at midnight.
Things took a slight turn for the worse when it became apparent that the only spot on the coach where we would all be able to sit together as our little group of five old friends catching up, was right at the back, adjacent to the toilet. Now. Good on coaches for having toilet facilities. But let me tell you something; the extreme pungency of the general vicinity of the toilet area made me feel at times as if I was travelling inside an actual moving sewer, which isn’t an experience I’d be up for reliving, although saying that I still would rather pay £9 than £60 for a journey so it’s all swings and roundabouts really, isn’t it? The question is- cheapskate or genius?? YOU DECIDE!
Despite the lack of clean oxygen on the coach, the mood remained jolly for the entire three and a half hour journey, with the lady in front of us having a whale of a time listening to two of my pals sing songs from Rent in the style of cats, (she genuinely was cracking up at the whole rendition), and all of us imagining how brilliant life would be were we to star in that brilliant daytime reality TV show, Coach Trip. What a dream.
Once our jolly coach driver had deposited us near the train station, it was time to walk up through the city centre in search of doughnuts. True fact. But not just any doughnuts, oh no siree.
Doughnotts is the name of the brilliant establishment we were about to set foot in, located on the Old Market Square so smack bang in the centre of everything. Apparently there can be a queue snaking out of the actual door for these sugary delights, although on the day in question we were lucky that the line wasn’t quite as long as that. Praise the lord because those doughnuts were the absolute bomb, and addition to this each one is approximately the size of a small island. Freshly baked on site and with a decent vegan selection as well if you’re that way inclined, I am a true fan of this place nowadays and strongly recommend the peanut butter and jam flavour, btw.
Behold!! The Victorian Gothic architecture of Nottingham city centre!!!
The buildings around Nottingham are a right bunch of stunners, and as the city centre is on the small side, it’s easy to have a little walk around and take it all in within one afternoon. The sudden regeneration of the city during the Victorian era was all down to the Industrial Revolution, when mills, mines and factories provided ginormous pots of money for the city to make use of…so although the roads are still mapped out on top of Nottingham’s original Medieval blueprint, there is a massively high concentration of grand Victorian Gothic buildings standing majestically like ornate chess pieces on top of that. Pretty awesome if you ask me, and giving the city centre a uniquely 19th century vibe. Good on you, Nottingham architects.
Jazz, cocktails and cups of tea
After a classic cuppa followed by a glass of wine (as you do), plus a guided tour of our pals’ new gaff, it was time to head out for dinner and a casual cocktail back in the centre of town. Good times guys, as this is not like London Town oh no- it takes a mere 8 minutes by bus to get from the Sherwood neighbourhood to the city centre, which is basically a dream compared to London life, where it can take upwards of an hour to get from zone 3 to 1. MENTAL MADNESS. No wonder these guys moved to Nottingham.
First stop was a lovely jubbly pub which did downright delicious food and had a beaut view of the castle walls and Robin Hood himself, in all his statue-y glory (we also got a fabulous view of a casual drug deal taking place by the Medieval walls, so it really was prime location for all sorts of entertainment). After a standard picture with the main man Mr Hood, we ventured onwards to a bar called The Pelican which featured a beaut little live jazz band and a magnificent selection of cocktails. How very classy.
By the time midnight came around we pretty much decided to make like Cinderella and hurry the heck home, opting for a cup of tea in our PJs instead of a third cocktail. Turns out a big part of being 29 years old is experiencing a serious decline in your once strong ability to stay up till 5am, or even have more than two drinks in a night- but pals, I don’t see that as a bad thing as it just leaves more room for other opportunities in life…in this case, some classic card games (including a brilliant one called Coup), which allowed for a whole load of laughter. As awesome as The Pelican is, it’s just not a card games and tea environment, is it!? Man I love being all rock and roll and 29.
The pretty old Lace Market
The next morning, after recovering from our two cocktails and eight games of Coup, we headed back in to town to stroll around the city’s historic Lace Market. And what a beautiful location it is, too!
Back during the days of the British Empire, Lace Market was considered to be at the centre of the entire world’s lace trade, and walking through the streets of striking red brick Victorian warehouses (especially on a quiet Sunday morning), felt a bit like stepping through a time portal into the lacey days of yore. Glorious! A street of Georgian townhouses runs next to St Mary’s church, the largest Medieval building in the city, so it’s not all Victorian splendour round these parts but is definitely worth a wander for the full on picturesqueness of it all.
Believe it or not pals, there is an actual period in time which is 100% factually called ‘Canal Mania.’ This was during the late 1700s and early 1800s, when all of a sudden the country was gripped with an overwhelming desire to carve watery pathways through any flat patch of land in Britain, mainly to speed up the transportation of goods like coal. Nottingham, being a key player in the old Industrial Revolution (that old chestnut again), was well up for having a canal of its own, and these days it’s a right lovely place for a good stroll on a Summer’s day.
Although we didn’t spend a whole lot of time down at the canal, I’d just like to point out that there’s a pub not far from the railway station which has the canal actually running through it. If that’s not a good enough reason to visit a pub, or the city of Nottingham itself, then I don’t know what is.
- Trains run direct from London St Pancras to Nottingham, with a journey time of 1 hour 40 minutes and costing around £60 each way (although advance tickets are available for cheaper, normally around half the price.)
- National Express coaches run from London Victoria Coach Station to Nottingham Station Street, with a total journey time of around 3 and a half hours, and costing normally around £10 each way (give or take a few pounds, dependent on how many seats remain)