By Priscilla Lister
Robin Hood’s ideals of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, standing up to unjust authority and living in harmony with the land have been glorified countless times in song, book, stage and screen. At least a dozen major films have catapulted this hero into our collective consciousness.
With the latest blockbuster from Ridley Scott, called simply “Robin Hood” and starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, opening in theaters May 14, there will likely be a renewed adulation of the fabled figure.
There is no better place to explore the life of the green-clad outlaw than Nottingham, England, his traditional home. And now, because of the new movie, the region of Nottinghamshire is showcasing its connections to the beloved legend with renewed vigor.
Experience Nottinghamshire, the regional tourism outreach, has put together “The Trail of Robin Hood,” a map and guide to16 sites involved in the mythic story. At many of these locations, ranging from Nottingham Castle and Sherwood Forest to pubs, cathedrals, jails and natural caves, audio units onsite play excerpts from the tales of Robin Hood. The map as well as podcasts of the audio trail are available for download at www.robinhoodbreaks.com.
But did Robin Hood really exist?
“Maybe, but what he means is what’s interesting,” said Rob Lutton, lecturer in medieval history and pathway leader in Robin Hood studies at the University of Nottingham. “What he means changes in time and place.”
Lutton pointed out that a violent outlaw who is essentially morally good has always been an attractive figure.
“He’s all about challenging authority, righting wrongs … he sits between social classes, and the whole green wood thing is forever summer, representing an ideal lost.”
He told us that while there is evidence of an originating figure in the 13th century, the Robin Hood legend was actually born in stories that began around the 1260s. Medieval ballads, notably “A Gest of Robyn Hode” from the early 1300s, began to etch the figure in memory.
Maid Marian wasn’t introduced into the stories until about the 16th century, along with Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and other Merry Men.
Ade Andrews, a local actor who portrays Robin Hood as a heritage ranger for the Sherwood Forest Trust, gave my friends and me a tour of Nottingham’s famous sites that became part of the legend’s stories, including St. Mary’s Church, the city’s oldest and largest dating from the late 1300s and site of a 1450 ballad about Robin and the monk.
Dressed in full costume with longbow and arrows, Andrews told us: “Each age interprets its folklore to express its preoccupations. In medieval times, Robin was merely a cutthroat outlaw but a good man, sticking his finger against unjust authority; by the 16th and 17th centuries, he came to be seen as a displaced nobleman; by Victorian times, when man was lost to the onslaught of industry, he was interpreted as a Green Man, one who laments the loss of the rural idyll. Now in the 21st century, I see Robin Hood as a figurehead of environmental awareness, a symbol of man’s relationship to nature.”
“Sherwood Forest’s great oaks helped built England,” he said. “Sherwood Forest is still one of the best places in the world for ancient oak trees, despite the fact that it’s been decimated.”
The walk through the silver birches and more than 1,000 English red oak trees — most of which are over 500 years old — is an experience full of wonder. The Major Oak may even be 1,200 years old, and it has a diameter of 35 feet with craggy limbs rising 52 feet high
At Sherwood Forest’s Visitor Center, a current exhibit focuses on Robin Hood films, including the new one and some of its props.
At Nottingham Castle, where castles have stood since William the Conqueror built the first one in 1067, another exhibition of props and costumes from the Russell Crowe movie beckons.
Tim Pollard, who has portrayed Robin Hood in Nottingham for 20 years, is also there. Classically costumed for the castle’s film exhibition opening, Pollard agreed that Robin Hood has always been open to reimagining.
“Richard Greene (in the 1950s TV series) portrayed him as a metaphor for the Hollywood guys escaping McCarthyism; Robin Hood in this decade is a man who stands up for what is right — a timeless message,” Pollard said. “The legend can be all things to all people.”
John Charlesworth took us to Clumber Park, one of the oldest woods in Nottinghamshire, as well as St. Mary’s Church in Edwinstowe, where Robin and Marian were thought to have married, and to the fascinating caves of Creswell Crags, where one old hideout is named for Robin Hood.
We also visited the most haunted place in Britain, the Galleries of Justice, the seat of the Sheriff of Nottingham since the early 1300s. Today it is a disturbing museum where the country’s largest collection of crime and punishment artifacts give pause to the jail realities Robin may have faced from his arch nemesis. We toured the City of Caves underneath Nottingham that once led to Nottingham Castle; Rufford Country Park, where the remains of a 12th century abbey are opening for touring ; and Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, also in Nottingham, a classic pub. Called the oldest in Britain, the site dates back to 1189, so Robin may have quaffed a pint here. To complete the experience, we even learned a little archery at the Adrenalin Jungle Activity Center in Sherwood Forest.
IF YOU GO:
For more information: www.visitbritain.us/robinhood.
Fly into London’s Heathrow Airport and rent a car for the three-hour drive to Nottingham, or take the train and rent a car in Nottingham to explore the region. For information: www.visitnottingham.com. If you’d rather not drive yourself, Brookes Chauffeurs in Nottinghamshire can take you on all the Robin Hood tours, even
picking you up at Heathrow: www.brookeschauffers.co.uk.
Ade Andrews is available for private tours: www.bonecorporation.co.uk.
The Adrenaline Jungle offers archery for $30 an hour, as well as paintball, laser tag, quad biking, treasure hunts and more, all in Sherwood Forest: www.adrenalinjungle.com.
The Lace Market Hotel, Nottingham, www.thefinessecollection.com/lacemarket, sits right across the street from the Galleries of Justice. Today a smart townhouse hotel in the center of the city, it used to be where people would rent rooms to watch the public hangings on the steps of the jail. Rates for bed and breakfast range from $115 to $350. Merchant’s restaurant in the hotel is one of the best in the city, a sophisticated space serving modern British food with one of the best cocktail bars in Nottingham. Main courses range from $23 to $43: www.thelacemarkethotel.co.uk.
The Clumber Park Hotel and Spa is a newly remodeled four-star retreat on the edge of Sherwood Forest: www.clumberparkhotel.com.It also features an excellent restaurant with modern British cuisine. Rates for bed and breakfast from $107 to $138. .
My favorite was Langar Hall Country Hotel and Restaurant, 12 miles outside the city of Nottingham. Proprietor, storyteller and the utterly engaging Imogen Howe, whose great-grandmother bought the property in 1860, is a draw by her dowager self, but the property is the essence of bucolic with its lovely grounds and herds of sheep. Its restaurant is one of the best in the entire region: www.langarhall.co.uk. Rates for bed and breakfast range from $190 to $540.
The Walk Cafe, 12 Bridlesmith Walk, Nottingham, is like a European cafe in the heart of the city, offering afternoon tea, lunchtime salads and sandwiches. A la carte main courses range from $5 to $30: www.thewalkcafe.co.uk.
Launay’s in Edwinstowe, across the street from St. Mary’s Church, is a 16th century cottage with a new Orangery and features fresh, locally supplied ingredients fusing modern English and French cuisine; main courses range from about $6 to $30: www.launaysrestaurant.com.uk.
Hart’s, in downtown Nottingham, is fantastic and considered Nottingham’s most successful upmarket restaurant serving modern British cuisine in a stylish atmosphere. Main courses range from $18 to $40 with a daily set menu of three courses for $40: www.hartsnottingham.co.uk.
Langar Hall’s restaurant is worth driving to for afternoon tea or fresh, seasonal, locally sourced, mouthwatering cuisine: www.langarhall.co.uk. Full afternoon tea is $19, with a two-course dinner for $30 and an a la carte menu ranging from $7 to $33.
Priscilla Lister is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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