by Hugh Morris from The Telegraph, August 16, 2017
Like a pumped up wrestler trundling down the ramp, fists pounding his chest with bravado, Nottingham has entered the fray to become the European Capital of Culture 2023.
It may feel a long way off (what about European Capital of Culture 2022? we hear you cry), but bids for the accolade in six years time must be submitted by October, and with Belfast, Dundee, Leeds and Milton Keynes already warming up in their respective corners, Nottingham has a fight on its hands.
So, other than the fact it’s not Milton Keynes, what does the city of Robin Hood have going for it?
1. Robin Hood, of course
Forget that other cities claim the heroic outlaw as their own, Nottingham is the place to go to celebrate Robin Hood, his band of Merry Men and their rejection of a trickle-down economy. Take the Robin Hood Town Tour and lay eyes on the Old County Gaol, stroll down the city’s medieval streets, and marvel at Robin Hood’s likeness in the statue by James Woodford. For the lucky few jetting into the city, they’ll have the honour of negotiating Robin Hood Airport, said to have been used by the loveable rogue to escape the tough justice of the Sheriff of Nottingham*.
*100 per cent not historically accurate
2. A fine, old castle
Which brings us nicely to Nottingham Castle. Perched above the city, a stronghold on this site dates back to the 11th century though what visitors see today - the “ducal mansion” - is mainly from the 17th. Once home to Robin Hood’s arch nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham, today it is home to a museum and art gallery. In the summer, the castle grounds host outdoor theatre, from Peter Pan and Pride and Prejudice to Jane Eyre and Macbeth.
3. An underground maze full of history
It is beneath the castle that Nottingham’s darkest history exists - figuratively and literally. The labyrinth of caves and tunnels beneath the city date back to medieval times but are almost entirely open to exploration. The most famous tunnel - known as Mortimer’s Hole - is carved into the sandstone outcrop beneath the castle and is said to be haunted by the ghost of Sir Roger Mortimer, hung, drawn and quartered in London in 1330 after being captured in Nottingham Castle by men loyal to the murdered Edward II, who used tunnels beneath the fortress to launch their assault. Tours of the caves are essential.
4. A block-rocking music scene
But enough of history and all that, what of the now? Well, Nottingham boasts a host of immensely popular and highly regarded music venues. From Rock City to Stealth, expect some of the world’s biggest artists to grace the stage and/or decks.
5. A three-way argument over the nation's oldest pub
What city doesn’t claim to be home to the nation’s oldest pub? Nottingham is confident Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is the oldest inn in England, dating back 1189. Its claim is certainly helped by its name. Nominative determination at work in medieval times. The pub says it was established the year Richard the Lionheart became king, though documentation on the subject is scarce. Fortunately, doubters can head to Ye Olde Salutation Inn or The Bell Inn, both also in the city and both also with designs on the title of oldest pub in England.
6. A sensational restaurant
With thirst quenched, head to the city’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, Restaurant Sat Bains (and it has two stars), located, incongruously, in an industrial area. Run by the chef of the same name (minus the Restaurant bit), the intimate establishment also has eight rooms for those too weary to make their way home. The Michelin guide praises its “refined, highly original dishes with distinct, carefully balanced flavours”, while the Telegraph’s review says Mr Bains is a “huge talent”. Book well ahead.
7. An escape from the city
“Set in 500 acres of parkland, Grade I-listed, 16th-century Wollaton Hall is the perfect place to spend a hot summer’s day – a slice of Elizabethan elegance and gorgeous countryside just three miles from Nottingham city centre,” writes Oliver Smith, Telegraph Travel online editor and one-time resident of Nottingham. “The hall itself underwent a £9 million restoration in 2007, is open for tours, and houses an excellent Natural History Museum, while beyond its walls lies a sprawling deer park, formal gardens (containing Europe’s oldest cast iron greenhouse) and a picturesque lake.”
8. Perhaps the world's most famous forest
This is where the money’s really at. A place of legend, of mystery, of trees. The 450-acre country park is home to both a fascinating ecosystem and history. It is also particularly proud of its 900 veteran oak trees and its, wait for it, 2014 winner of England’s Tree of the Year, The Major Oak. Once part of the Royal Hunting Forest, the forest has changed with England over the centuries, through medieval times and the Industrial Revolution, to a modern-day adventure playground and city escape.
9. An exquisite lace heritage
Nottingham’s Lace Market is arguably the oldest part of the city (yes, older than the pubs), dating back to the fifth century. A Norman part of town, which arose in the wake of the Norman Conquest, the Lace Market was the administrative home of the city and become integral to trade and commerce in early Nottingham, as evidenced by names such as Fisher Gate and Fletcher Gate.
It was the establishment of a small cotton mill in 1768 which led to the area’s reputation for lace, a trade that by the late 19th century was booming and renowned across the globe. Take the Lace Market Heritage Trail to experience the area fully.
10. An historic cricket ground
Trent Bridge first hosted a test in 1899 when the boys from Australia were in town. Since then it has become a staple venue in the international cricket calendar, as well as hosting Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. The ground itself dates back to the 1830s, though it was first officially recognised in 1841. Check dates for matches, including One Day Internationals and Twenty20s, or visit the shop.
11. Serenity in the city centre
Close to the city centre, Arboretum Park was opened in 1852 and provides a quick and easy escape from Nottingham’s crowded streets and shopping centres. The Grade II-listed site contains about 800 trees, an aviary, formal gardens, a bandstand (where brass band concerts take place most Sundays), and plenty of space for your blanket and picnic basket. It regularly hosts events throughout the year.