From fascinating caves to great pubs, find out the best things to do in Nottingham.
Nottingham – land of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest and a football team I have no interest in. Home to a university I never visited. The birthplace of HP Sauce. Yes really.
Oh, but hang on, what’s this. Nottingham: City of Caves? How had I never heard about this before? Earlier this year I visited Cappadocia in Turkey – a land of cave hotels and ancient underground cities, but it turns out there was another underground world just a few hours away by train.
So I hopped on board an East Midlands train from London St Pancras, and within two hours I was in the heart of Nottingham.
Caves… ever lived in one? Probably not, but your ancestors may well have done. Nottingham’s position on Sherwood’s sandstone ridge made it perfect for chipping away and shaping cavernous dwellings. Over the years have had a number of uses: from fully formed homes, jail cells and tanneries to air raid shelters and pubs. I couldn’t believe it when I heard that under the modern city lies a network of over 500 caves dating back to the Dark Ages, some of which were still used right up to the 1940s. Talk about a secret world!
If you read this blog regularly you’ll know dry, boring, stale, museum history just isn’t my thing. Unless I can climb all over it, eat in it, and fall off It, I struggle to really appreciate it. Thankfully, there was plenty to clamber all over in Nottingham…
With only 48 hour there, here’s what cavey joy I squeezed in, and *spoiler alert* – my favourite was the last one…
NOTTINGHAM CASTLE & MORTIMER’S HOLE
When I heard Nottingham had a castle, I was expecting something on par with Windsor or Dover. On arrival I was rather underwhelmed by the building – not being an ancient ruin, but instead a 17th Century mansion used today as a museum and art gallery.
Yet, some of the history I stepped foot in was much older… and that’s where Mortimer’s Hole comes in. I should mention the castle is perched on a 130 ft rock edge, and it’s into this rock that Mortimer’s legendary hold is carved.
The hole is said to be the route Edward III’s troops entered the castle in 1330 to capture Roger de Mortimer. He was suspected of playing a part in the murder of Edward II. It’s also a route they used to deal with Mortimer when they kicked him out of the castle – supposedly throwing him down the hole before dragging him to London. It was fascinating to walk all the way through, touching history and imagining the medieval scandals.
Oh, and it also led to a pub…
Find out more about Nottingham Castle here.
YE OLDE TRIP TO JERUSALEM
1189 AD is marked on the wall of this fascinating pub tucked below the castle – the year Richard the Lionheart ascended the throne. As I learned during my trip to Notts, many streets had pubs on in the olden days, perhaps even 3 or 4… but not in the 1100s! According to the legend, Richard’s crusaders stopped at the inn before travelling to Jerusalem (hence the name).
The inn would have been the brew house for Nottingham castle. As water was so full of disease, people opted to drink ale (very wise!), and the cave’s constant temperature made it the perfect spot for brewing and storing. Venturing into the cellar made it even more real.
A cave that’s also a pub – I thought it was pretty unique, but after trips to a cave restaurant in Mexico, and several cave hotels in Turkey, perhaps I should have been more blasé about the whole thing.
With rooms including the Haunted Snug, Money Bar and the Rock Lounge, this was a pub full of stories. In particular, the Cursed Galleon in the Rock Lounge – an item which cannot be cleaned. According to reports, the last three people who dared to clean it died mysterious and unexpected deaths. These days it is covered in undisturbed dust and cobwebs, and kept in a glass box! Again – very wise…
Find out more about Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem here.
GALLERIES OF JUSTICE MUSEUM
As I was greeted by the Sheriff of Nottingham at the Galleries of Justice, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Over the next hour we put a member of the group on trial for supporting Robin Hood, were reprimanded by a Victorian officer, and spent a few minutes in the dark in an old jail cell.
That’s where the caves come in. Under the elaborate courtroom lie several cells and interlinking cave tunnels. Fascinating again, and the idea of living down there must have been a big deterrent for committing a crime.
My next stop was to a shopping centre, but what on earth could this have to do with caves?!
Find out more about the Galleries of Justice Museum here.
CITY OF CAVES
Does Tigguo Cobauc ring any bells? Translating to ‘Place of Caves’ it sits under Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. I couldn’t help but smile as I saw the sign to shops, restaurants, toilets and caves! I wonder what lies under Westfield?
Mainly used as homes from the 11th Century onwards, these caves were seen as secure and offered protection from the winter cold, maintaining a constant 14 degrees.
During my tour I learned about the disgusting dealings in the caves… from stinking medieval cesspits, to tanneries filled with animal skins and urine (which the leather was soaked in) and ultimately as slums filled with rats, disease and death. It wasn’t a pleasant journey… in fact, after all those stories of squalor, I was ready for a pick me up… PUB?
Find out more about the City of Caves here.
THE HAND AND HEART
And they saved the best until last… or at least the most impressive! From the main road the Hand and Heart looks like any other Victorian pub… but step inside and you’ll find magical cave walls, illuminated by twinkly lights.
It just so happens they also serve epic roast dinners… truly epic. Huge, delicious and in one of the most spectacular dining rooms I’ve ever sat in. For beer drinkers, they also have an award winning selection of real ales.
As I sat devouring a dish of roast lamb with a Yorkshire pudding bigger than my hand, it felt like the perfect way to round off my weekend as a cavegirl.
And with that, it was back on board the train bound for London, wondering whether their were any other underground mysteries lurking close to home.
Find out more about The Hand And Heart here.
So many caves, so little time! Sadly I didn’t manage to visit Malt Cross – one of the last Victorian music halls in Britain, and home to another of Nottingham’s underground worlds. Alongside cave tours, they also have a delicious looking menu and regular events such as art exhibitions, pub quizzes and gin tastings. Next time I’m in the shire, I’ll be sure to squeeze in a visit!
Find out more about Malt Cross here.
Thanks to Experience Nottinghamshire for inviting me to explore their city.