I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published August 10th 2014
Follow the adventures of the legendary outlaw
The Robin Hood Trail incorporates 16 locations across Nottinghamshire which are associated with the famous outlaw. Each location has a unique story to reveal about the legend of Robin Hood and its place in actual history. Among the locations are places where Robin and his gang lived, battled, and died. There are six medieval tales still extant which detail the legend of Robin Hood. Historical court records from the Middle Ages reveal that 'Robin Hood' was a common moniker given to outlaws by clerks of the courts. Before the name passed into legend, it has been suggested that it actually belonged to a real outlaw who lived in the early thirteenth century.
The trail covers a wide geographic area ranging from Nottingham to Newark, Southwell, and just outside Worksop. The trail can be cycled, but it's perhaps more convenient and time-efficient to drive. A sat-nav guide is downloadable, as well as an accompanying audio commentary. There is no specific order in which to visit the locations and it often takes more than one day to complete the entire trail.
The following overview will detail 6 of the 16 locations on the trail, beginning in Nottingham. See Part 2 for the rest of the locations.
Medieval wall of the castle. Photo by Erin Connelly
In the legend, Nottingham is home to Robin Hood's arch nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. In Robin Hood's day, Nottingham Castle was a major royal castle - one of the largest in the country at the time. It was strategically placed near the Trent Bridge and a road leading to the north, which made it a dangerous crossroads for any passing outlaws. Today, only the foundation and gate remain from the original medieval fortress. A seventeenth century mansion, which is now a museum, sits on top of the original castle site.
Attached to the castle foundation is a pub which claims to be the 'oldest inn in England'. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem dates to 1189. It is thought to have been a meeting point for soldiers before they departed for the Third Crusade. In some interpretations of the legends, Robin Hood is imagined to have been a solider in the Crusades.
In its own right, the pub is worth a visit. The building is constructed into the limestone outcropping where the medieval castle used to be and the pub still retains its cave-like interior. The site also has a number of antique pieces of intrigue, including a 'pregnancy chair' and a 'cursed galleon ship', as well as reasonably priced traditional English food.
In medieval times the Sheriff enforced law and order in Nottinghamshire from the Galleries of Justice, which was known as the Shire Hall. It was here that the accused would appear in court and justice would be administered. Today, it is a museum with several different exhibitions dedicated to the history of law enforcement.
Across the street from the Galleries of Justice is St Mary's Church, which also features in one of the medieval tales of Robin Hood. In the tale (Robin Hood and the Monk), Robin is said to be praying in the church when he is attacked by the Sheriff and his men.
Sherwood Forest in medieval times covered a much larger area than it does today, which made it an ideal hiding place for wanted men. In the medieval tales it is said that the Sheriff can only find Robin's camp when he is lured there by Robin himself. It is also in this forest that Robin and his men are said to have raided passing wealthy travellers in order to aid the poor. The visitor's centre in Sherwood Forest is located in an area which contains around one thousand of the forest's most ancient oaks, the most famous of which is the Major Oak - the meeting place of Robin and his gang of outlaws.
The audio commentary states that Robin Hood would still recognize Southwell Minster if he saw it today, as it is one of the most 'perfectly preserved Norman churches in England'. The first church on the site was built in 956, while the current building dates to the twelfth century. Although an Anglican minster, its connections with the Robin Hood trail are decidedly pagan in origin. The faces of green men are found in the medieval chapter house, which has been interpreted by some as reflection of a time when nature possessed spiritual properties. In some of the medieval tales, there is a strong connection between the man in green and his forest home.
Newark Castle, situated on the River Trent, is the only surviving medieval castle in Nottinghamshire. The castle was badly damaged during the Civil War and only one wall and some partial ruins are standing today. The castle is significant to the tale of Robin Hood as the place where the evil Prince John died, possibly by the hand of Robin and his men. If the legends are true, Prince John was poisoned by Friar Tuck in revenge for killing Maid Marian. Historical accounts state that Prince John died of dysentery after a long period of domestic conflict.
The above locations represent nearly half of the places to visit on the trail. Other sites include, the Thieves' Wood, King John's Palace, Will Scarlet's grave, and Edwinstowe (where Robin Hood and Maid Marian are said to have been married), which will be discussed in a future article.