A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This autumn, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the Northern Midlands including Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Nottingham is a city with both a renowned medieval history and a fine industrial heritage. In its prime, the city was synonymous with bicycles, tobacco and pharmaceuticals. It was also once the lace-capital of the world. In 1813, local industrialist John Levers invented the lace-making machine here. Fearing loss of jobs, this provoked the Luddites to destroy the new machinery two years later. They also burnt down Nottingham Castle! But the lace market went from strength to strength. By 1900, there were 40 mills along Erewash valley including Langley Mill.
But heritage is sometime a sad word. The coal mines that surrounded the city are now closed, as are many of the other industries the city was famous for. Fewkes, one of the last remaining lace factories, closed its doors in 2011. To borrow a saying you sometimes hear locally: “It’s looking a bit black over Bill’s Mother’s”. But there is light. The old Lace Market is in the process of regeneration, as is the canal side area. And the people there are such a resolute, practical and inventive bunch, that the city’s fortunes will soon turn.
The medieval history stems from when Nottingham Castle was constructed on an Anglo-Saxon settlement just after the 1066 Norman conquest. But its world fame derives from its place as the stamping ground of the legendary roguish outlaw Robin Hood. There is plenty of myth, but not much substance. However, a fugitive named Robyn Hod was recorded in the County Rolls of Yorkshire operating just north of Nottinghamshire in 1226. Also, the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham had some basis in fact. One Philip Marc had the role in the early 1200s. Interestingly, he had custody of Sherwood Forest. He was also a man who stirred up plenty of animosity: his name can be found in the Magna Carta, no less, when he was ordered to be banished from the country.
Nottinghamshire really doesn’t make the most of its Robin Hood legacy, which is a real shame, because that’s where its global historic fame stems from. With a little imagination, and some generous investment, it could easily host one of the best attractions in Europe, especially for families. It has to be done right though, to avoid a tacky themepark eyesore. Hmm. Thereby hangs the trick.
Also dating from medieval times, the famous Goose Fair is still held on the Forest Recreation Ground, usually in the first week of October. It is a huge event, reputed to be the largest fair in the UK. Today it largely consists of fairground rides, but just to walk through it is an experience, especially on a cold autumn evening while eating mushy peas and mint sauce, followed by a cock-on-a-stick (!).
There are some great pubs in Nottingham, many with unusual names. The oldest and most famous is the Trip to Jerusalem, hewn into the rock underneath Nottingham Castle and named after the journeys of the medieval Crusaders to the Holy Land.
The city’s football teams are also no stranger to fame. Nottingham Forest once won two Europeans Cups in a row, putting them alongside the continental giants in terms of achievement. Meanwhile, Notts County are the oldest professional team in the world and directly inspired the mighty Juventus of Italy to wear their famous black and white striped kit.
Around the county there are many places of historical interest. Laxton is historically the last open-field village in England. This strange set-up takes us back to the days of medieval feudalism, where some more progressive districts developed a system of everyone having strips of farmable land, then working for the greater good of the community with a co-operative overseen by a local jury. A well-off peasant may have had up to 50 strips scattered around the area, distributed between good and bad land. The woodland forms the boundary. The Laxton Field Jury still meet at the Dovecot Inn. Southwell is famous as the source of Bramley apples, with the original tree still growing. It is also known for a local delicacy called Galette, a sort of mincemeat cake. Wollaton Hall is a fine stately home and good example of Elizabethan architecture.
Nottinghamshire – legendary.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)