Nottingham is a large, bustling university city in which a wealth of architectural, historical and cultural features exist cheek by jowl with all the elements of a modern, thriving industrial and commercial center. It is therefore an excellent place to break your journey; and it’s well worth taking time to spend more than just a few hours exploring the city as well as its environs.
Dominating the scene is Nottingham Castle, first built by William the Conqueror in 1068, and destroyed, rebuilt and restored many times since. It now houses the Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery. You can also visit the labyrinth of caves and tunnels in the rock beneath it.
Among the many interesting old inns in the city are the old Trip to Jerusalem, said to stand on the site of an old alehouse where Crusaders gathered before journeying to the Holy Land, and the Salutation Inn, built in 1240 as a priory guest house.
Through the centuries, Nottingham has been an important centre for a number of industries and crafts, including lace-making, textile spinning, hosiery, tobacco, and bicycles, all of which are well represented in a wide variety of museums and exhibitions.
On the cultural front, the city has two fine theatres, the modern Nottingham Playhouse and the older Theatre Royal which specializes in opera, ballet and concerts. Southwest of the city is the university and nearby Wollaton Hall, built in the 1580s by Sir Francis Willoughby, and today housing the city’s Natural History Museum.
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From Lincoln the A46, an old Roman road known as the Fosse Way, heads back in a southwesterly direction into Nottinghamshire and leads to Newarkon-Trent.
Newark is noted for its large market square lined with elegant Georgian buildings, as well as its grandiose spired Church of St. Mary Magdalen and the nearby ruins of massive Newark Castle, which suffered three prolonged sieges during the English Civil War.
At one time the Great North Road (the A1) passed straight through the center of Newark, and the town became an important staging post for the coaches. There are therefore several attractive old coaching inns, ideal stopping point for a leisurely meal in traditional surroundings.
From Newark, you have a choice of two routes towards the southwest and Nottingham. The longer route follows the A617 west out of Newark, then branches left onto the A612 to Nottingham.
One of the highlights of this route is the small town of Southwell. Here stands the magnificent 12th-14th century Southwell Minster. Carved on the columns of the Chapter House are the unique Leaves of Southwell, immaculately executed stone carvings by an unknown 13th-century sculptor, depicting a variety of foliage, including oak, maple, hawthorn, grape leaves, and even buttercups, all in perfect detail.
Those interested in more recent history can visit the Saracen’s Head Inn, where Charles I surrendered to the Scots in 1646.
The faster route to Nottingham is along the A46, the Fosse Way, which roughly follows the course of the River Trent and runs along the edge of the Vale of Belvoir, with rich agricultural countryside offering scenery not unlike that of the wolds. Once a year, there is a famous meet of the local hunt which departs from Belvoir Castle in search of the fox. The castle is worth visiting. It contains an excellent collection of paintings and some beautiful furniture and tapestries.
Sherwood Forest: No description of Nottingham would be complete without mention of the legendary Robin Hood, the outlaw and master archer who “robbed from the rich to give to the poor.” Statues and images of him are found everywhere, some ancient, some modern: and whether or not he himself actually existed, very real parts of Sherwood Forest, where he is said to have roamed, still survive.
The forest extends well to the north of the city and west of the A614, which runs north to a multiple junction near Ollerton. Just to the west is Edwinstowe, where are the best-preserved sections of the original forest.
From Edwinstowe, you can make a brief diversion north to Thoresby Hall. Standing in nearly 12,500 acres (5,000 ha) of parkland, it is one of the many stately homes which gave the area the nickname of “The Dukeries.”