Sometimes one ends up taking a break somewhere almost at random, or at least because it’s somewhere the trains seem to be running to across Easter weekend. Hence Heather and I found ourselves heading to Nottingham on what turned out to be a gloriously sunny extended weekend.
We headed up from St Pancras (once we’d found the platform, which they seemed to have hidden), a journey only made slightly nervous by the lack of seat reservations displaying on the train until the last moment. Anyway, we were safely and quickly whisked away to the midlands and the land of Robin Hood.
Arriving in Nottingham it took us a little while to leave the station. There’s a curious little character who greets the traveller and attracted a photo, but really it was the architecture of the station itself which caught our eye, channelling our inner Tim Dunn in admiring the light and airy concourse. When we finally did get outside we headed for a pub I remembered being near the station from when I was in Nottingham many years ago. The Vat and Fiddle offered decent beer, and decent enough if simple lunch (and obviously these days is picking up custom from the fancy looking Home Office building just next door).
Fed and watered we started walking up towards the hotel (the station tram stop is annoying round the back, and not at all obvious to visitors). Walking up through town we were struck by the somewhat surprising and interesting architecture of the city. There seemed to be a “look at that” moment at every turn, particularly when reaching the wide open space of Market Square with the impressive domed exchange building rising over it.
After a while we’d climbed the hill, taking a rest at the Hop Merchant (a strange pub, which looks traditional from outside—where we sat—but seems to be trying to blend in some modern trendy indoors). We could watch the trams going by before it was time for a quick stroll along the road to the hotel.
All checked-in we went for a proper look at the Exchange, beneath it’s even more impressive from inside, dome. From there we wandered some more around the town, heading down to the Lace Market. Calling in the Cross Keys for a quick rest we were doing better than the unfortunate guy who fell over the step in. We got further lost in the streets of the city, eventually finding the way to what is essentially the ring road and down towards the canal, where we found a sight immediately evident as a former railway station (now a health club it’s people working up steam on the still evident platforms now).
Having reached it we headed along the canal, a slightly more attractive walk than I recalled, with new flat and office blocks flanking it. There was a goose with goslings, and a different goose that wanted to hiss at Heather; a swan and it’s partner nesting further along. Even the graffiti was quite impressive. After slightly too long we found a pub, and a bridge to get to it, so we could have a little rest.
As dusk fell we wound away from the canal and found ourselves in what at least claims to be the oldest inn in the country, Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem. The pub building itself vanishes back, into caves cut into the rock itself (a common feature of Nottingham), beneath the site of the castle. We found a nice table in one such cave, though later realised it had the “cursed galleon” in it. After dinner there we came out to full dark and a walk back up the road, past the castle, to bed.
When coming into Nottingham on the train the day before we’d noticed we were passing a bunch of lakes quite close to the city. Some investigation revealed these to be part of Attenborough Nature Reserve (opened by the famous David, but named for the old village it is near). Heather got very excited at the thought of a visit so we’d planned one out the night before, and set off to catch a train.
First we caught a tram, smoothly carried through the city and down to the station. Unfortunately, as already mentioned, the station tram stop is in something of a weird place, and coming out we found ourselves actually within the station. That would have been fine but we were being sensible enough to acquire provisions so had to find our way back out past the barriers thanks to some understanding staff. Finally, loaded with drinks and food, it was a short train ride out to near the reserve and then a longer than it needed to be walk (thinks to Google Maps not making it clear the shorter way existed) to nature.
The reserve itself sits around a number of lakes formed from old gravel workings, stretching from the railway line down to the banks of the Trent. There’s a large, attractive visitors centre with a cafe, though we were to learn later that the shop within is a little disappointing, being a bit more generic than one would want—not much about the reserve itself. We headed off to do a loop around, not quite sure which length of loop we would take up, enjoying the glorious sunshine and leisurely stroll.
There were certainly a number of birds to see, it was just a pity that none of them seemed particularly exotic; a selection of geese and ducks and swans, a coot or moorhen or two, but essentially nothing we wouldn’t see back home. There were also a pretty good number of butterflies, flittering among the sun dappled trees and bushes, and a range of friendly dogs out for a walk.
I for some reason slightly prefer rivers to lakes so was pleased to find ourselves wandering alongside the Trent, a couple of boats slowly passing by, and some nice looking houses (and cows) on the far side. As lunch approached we found what must be the only stretch of path without a bench to stop on, having passed many when not wanted. Looking at the maps I realised that we were actually much closer to Beeston Marina than I’d realise the route would take us (I must have walked along this bit of riverside about fifteen years earlier), so we headed to the pub I knew was there. That offered seats, and a pleasant view, and refreshing drinks in the sun (with plenty of opportunity to say hello to more dogs).
Before heading onwards around our loop we went to look at where the canal meets the river, and Heather got to relive younger years playing lock keeper to help a boat pass from one to the other. Then it was back into the reserve, and on to more swans and geese. We passed by the outskirts of Attenborough village and shortly found ourselves back where we’d started, with the visitors centre and more swans than I’ve ever seen gathered in one place.
At least now we knew the short way back to the station, finally getting a close up view of the parish church we’d seen from varying distances, and a lovely little “fairy tree” outside a cottage nearby. The station amused us with a topiary figure standing on the opposite platform, complete with face mask, while on our side a small child delayed his carer to watch just one more train go by. The last train they got to watch was ours, heading back into Nottingham, with another tram taking us back up to the hotel.
Once we’d rested a bit we went to find some dinner, which proved more difficult than we’d expected. We wandered over most of Nottingham city centre, finding a couple of places full and one which didn’t even acknowledge that we’d come in. Eventually we ended up almost back at the hotel, and the remarkably spacious and available Browns. That saw decent food and cocktails before a delayed zoom quiz and bed.
It is tradition that I (who doesn’t really do breakfast) try to go to breakfast with Heather at least one morning of a break away. It’s also nice for historic reasons when the place we end up is Patisserie Valerie, which in this case sits within the splendid Exchange.
Having broke fast it was a short stroll up to the Victoria Centre. We were only there to gawp at the “Emett Clock”, built by Rowland Emett and also glorying in the name of the Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator! Sadly it wasn’t exactly in working order, all a bit dry and un-chiming while two blokes in hi-vis fiddled in the large metal box at the front, containing the drives and controls.
A bit disappointed we wandered off for more of a look around the edge of the city centre, finding yet more good architecture. The old swimming baths building now forming the front of Victoria Leisure Centre striking us as looking more like an old town hall. There were some impressive school buildings and gothic like flat blocks round the corner too.
Our wanderings made their way back towards the centre proper, with a rest stop in the The Curious Tavern followed by a rather circuitous route around to St Mary’s In The Lace Market. It’s a large and impressive medieval church, the main entrance to its elevated position being dominated by a cross of a war memorial. We were unlucky in not being able to get inside, but could still walk around the exterior—the raised position and style of buildings around reminding me of St Nicholas in Newcastle.
We could get into the next church was moved onto, St Peter’s, again raised up above the square baring its name. Inside some pretty, and surprisingly modern styled, stained glass cast interesting patterns. The slightly modern theme continued with the backdrop to the alter, and funky votive candle holders.
It was about time for another pub, so we walked through the bright sunshine up to another of Nottingham’s ancient hostelries, The Old Salutation Inn. That suited us nicely as, evidenced by the bikes outside, The Sal, as it’s affectionately known, is something of a rock biker’s pub. We were that pleased by this, and the jukebox music, we stayed for a couple before heading over the road to look for the Sheriff.
Nottingham Castle is pretty much anything but a castle these days. Barring the inevitable caves and tunnels in the sandstone outcrop on which it stands, anything verging on the era of Robin Hood is long gone. The walls and prominent gatehouse were subject to much Victorian restoration following the main castle’s civil war razing of whatever ruins were left. A seventeenth century mansion was constructed on top of the hill, itself burned down a couple of centuries later, its shell being restored at the end of the 1800s. It is the bailey and this shell which form the castle today. All quite a lot but not exactly interesting, particularly to the two of us more drawn by actual medieval remains.
We stalked the outside of the castle, taking in the Robin Hood statue and going as far as passing through the gatehouse and exploring the tourist shop, but not venturing further in. Instead we headed up the hill, past some lovely Regency terraces as we found our way to Nottingham Playhouse and Albert Hall. At the juncture of the two sits a large concave mirror, reflecting the buildings and sky around it. Sky Mirror, by Anish Kapoor, draws you into itself, demanding you peer closer and closer until there is nothing but the sky shining back at you—or at least it did on a sunny day!
The Playhouse the mirror sits outside sort of slipped us by but the Albert Hall is an interesting building, looking for all the world like an art gallery more than a conference and concert venue. We left both behind to climb the hill more to Nottingham’s Cathedral, St Barnabus. Designed by Pugin it’s an impressive but not overwhelming size. Inside there is the usual gathering of stained glass and religious statue and carving. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel off to one side does catch the eye though, a riot of decorative colour as Pugin intended.
That was it for churches so after a rest at the hotel back at the bottom of the hill, we headed into town in search of more pubs. The Bell Inn is another old one, with a sprawling feel to it. It was a bit chaotic when we found it, the bar being a bit slow and for some reason some of the gents shut off with stools. Still, it was good enough beer before we wandered some more. The Pit And Pendulum was more exciting, a gothic themed pub that seems to be decorated as if it’s Halloween all year round. They had some good music on too. The only tricky thing was finding the toilets, which it turned out are through a well concealed door hidden in a bookcase pattern wallpapered wall!
It was by then getting late, and thoughts turned to dinner. We knew where we wanted to be for that (organised for once), and so it was back up the hill and past the cathedral to the Hand & Heart. Another pub with sandstone caves sitting behind it, dining is within those atmospherically lit caverns. The food was also good, and the staff friendly. The perfectly sensible unisex toilets did seem to cause some consternation among fellow diners though—people are peculiar. We on the other hand were well fed and watered and happily off to bed.
Heather actually persuaded me to breakfast a second day, wandering down in the continuing sunshine to a Cafe Nero for a slightly lighter start. Then it was off to main roads and the remnants of the demolished and being rebuilt shopping centre to find a badly signposted and bit dingy entrance to the City of Caves.
I’ve already mentioned several caves dug into the sandstone under Nottingham and basically they are everywhere. The sandstone is soft enough to be easily dug by hand yet retains its strength, allowing caves to be formed wherever needed. This has happened probably since the foundation of the city, earlier caves being replaced by later ones. Sometimes used for living they were more often used for storage or industry—a cave a few meters below ground makes an excellent beer cellar. While hundreds lie beneath the surface, some used, some preserved, some filled with concrete, and some lost, not many are actually viewable. City of Caves takes a handful of preserved caves, buried beneath what was the Broad Marsh shopping centre and opens them for viewing. Here a number of caves have been joined, as part of the attraction, in the past, or even as air raid shelters. There are former beer cellars and a tannery, plus a varied collection of other spaces. It’s interesting, if a little repetitive—there is only so much an essentially empty cave can look different from the one before. Perhaps the most eerie thing is the concrete slab of the (former) shopping centre spanning above the caves, giving at times the illusion of being supported by very little.
We came back out of the darkness and into sunlight again, wandering through its warmth enjoying the sight of the city before stopping for a rest at the Angel Microbrewery. That turned out to be disappointing—no sign of beer making and not even one of their own on the bar. The outside courtyard was nice enough though, and we couldn’t stop long because we had a feline lunch appointment.
Kitty Cafe is, as the name suggests, one of a growing number of cat cafes (this is one of a chain of about four in various midlands cities). Lunch with the cats we know to be attractive, having experienced it before, so we couldn’t resist this one. The first thing one notices on arrival is how large the venue is. There are two good sized rooms and a pretty large, on display kitchen—easily room enough to accommodate two or three of their smaller kin. That does seem to detract a bit, not helped by the slightly conveyor belt like welcome (though service then became something of a snails pace once seated). The food was good enough, and there were cats to be found, though we had to go looking for them—and when found most were fairly disinterested. It was enjoyable, but not a patch on the beloved Mog on the Tyne.
The cats were left behind and we returned to the Old Bell. It had looked a decent enough place to watch football, and so it sort of was. At least there was a big screen, though it was very quiet—I may have startled a few people when Bruno scored a last minute winner! Heather endured that with a drink and something to read, and was rewarded by our dumping whatever we were carrying in the hotel and heading for that activity no holiday is complete without—crazy golf!
Lost City Adventure Golf offers two 18-hole indoor courses. Obviously we played them both. The courses are well presented and varied, and make for a pretty enjoyable game. The only complaint is the last hole on both is one of those “win a free game” challenges, so you don’t really get to play more than one stroke on it, hit the hole or not, which is pretty anti-climatic if the score is tight! Still, the drinks are nice too.
We had a bit of time for rest before finding some food. There was again some debate but we’d been gravitating towards Indian since we arrived, and so ended up just down the road from the hotel at MemSaab, and were very glad we did. The food was excellent and service attentive without being overbearing. All in a nice, modern feeling environment. It’s actually a pity they’re so far away from home! We slept well having been filled there.
We had a final half a day or so left in pleasant Nottingham, so pottered around a bit, beginning in a different Cafe Nero followed by an early morning visit to a Wetherspoons (once we’d decided on the right one—Nottingham seems to be rivalling Newcastle for sheer number).
Then it was off to the hotel to get bags, which we then dragged halfway across Nottingham to a Vegan chocolate shop with our friend Faith in mind. That did put us down sort of near the canal at least, so we wandered along and sat in the Waterfront enjoying drinks in the sun until it was time for the train back home.
Lots and lost of photos were taken.