A feather in the cap for Nottingham

Venue: Nottingham
Date: 18 Jan 2013

It’s famous for Sherwood Forest and home of the legendary outlaw Robin Hood, but what else does Nottingham have to offer? Carrie Martindale took a shot at finding out during our first Reader Club trip of 2013.

I am flabbergasted. I never thought I would see a party of group organisers performing the Tango, let alone the Gangnam Style dance routine on a Reader Club trip, but on my recent jaunt to Nottingham that’s exactly what happened.

Gangnam aside, this was a very slick operation from Experience Nottinghamshire and the Nottingham Playhouse. The day went by without a hitch (or so it appeared to me), and we were even well fortified mid-way with a piping hot meal (wine optional) at lunchtime, and an ice cream (reminiscent of one’s youth) during the interval of Robin Hood & the Babes in The Wood. Cheers Nottingham!

Accompanied by my trusty band of merry men (and women), our day began at Nottingham Castle. This impressive edifice isn’t actually a castle; it’s a 17th century mansion built on the site of the original medieval stronghold, of which only the keep remains.

Old Masters and new exhibitions at Nottingham Castle

Now used as a venue for a multitude of festivals throughout the year, the building is also home to a museum, the exhibitions at which change every eight to ten weeks. Currently on display is a selection of lace (of which the region is also associated), including some work by the fashion designer Mary Portas. Personally, I was blown away by the magnificent Long Gallery (which I understand can be hired out for events), a Victorian room lined wall-to-wall with Old Masters from the museum’s collection.

The venue also boasts a labyrinth of manmade caves and tunnels dating back to the medieval times. Guided tours take in the subterranean passages and promise a suitably gruesome and intriguing history of the shafts. And on the top side, there are far-reaching views of the county from the ‘battlements’.

“It’s been a most interesting fam trip. I never realised how much there is to see at Nottingham Castle. Wollaton Hall had some amazing views from the promenade and Newstead Abbey, home of Byron, was absolutely fascinating and we had a wonderful guide. I’ve really enjoyed the day.” - Ken Harrison, The Country Travellers, Longsdon, Staffordshire

The Dark Knight rises... a visit to Wollaton Hall

A short (three-mile) coach ride and we were at the imposing Elizabethan mansion Wollaton Hall and Park. The exterior might be familiar to those Batman fans amongst you; the hall was used as Wayne Manor in the latest film in the franchise, The Dark Knight Rises.

Our guide gave us a whistle-stop tour of the building including the Tudor kitchens and the Prospect Room. Be warned though, the steep climb up to the upper levels of the house is not suitable for those with mobility issues. However, if you can manage the climb, then you will be rewarded for your effort with panoramic views of the surrounding Deer Park from the promenade.

In the Tudor kitchens, we were given a flavour of the Elizabethan nobleman’s diet from our guide Gwyn. I’m not sure I could have survived without vegetables - which were apparently beneath them - and I’m not sure I fancy painting my teeth black in order to mimic said nobleperson either. Great fun historical facts though.

Onwards, and our next stop was the very Gothic looking Newstead Abbey, ancestral home to the infamous romantic poet Lord Byron. As our guide Heidi eloquently put it: “There are many stories that I could tell you, but I will have to restrain myself... and you can always come back if you’d like to hear them”. I will suffice to say that the abbey was an eccentric bachelor residence, and that it was home to a throng of Byron’s strange pets – including giant tortoises and a tame bear.

Heidi told us a delightful anecdote about how Byron would go out in a boat on his lake, accompanied by his Newfoundland dog. He would then pretend to fall in the water and drown, to which the dog would jump in and rescue him. The dog’s brass collar was on display amongst a plethora of personal items including Byron’s boxing gloves, and other sporting effects. I heard a couple of the group organisers ask Heidi personally if she could conduct a tour, so she obviously struck a chord with them.

Oh no he isn’t – time for panto fun!

After lunch, we were treated to seats at a performance of the latest panto at the Playhouse Theatre which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The show was in keeping with the Hood-centricity of the region, and Robin Hood & the Babes in the Wood written by veteran Kenneth Alan Taylor (who also plays the Dame) was on the menu.

It was during this colourful extravaganza that I was witness to the Gangnam Style display performed by the auditorium, including some of our very own group travel organisers. That notwithstanding, Robin Hood was a text book example of how great a pantomime can be, with fun for all the family including water pistols, rude jokes, double entendre, off-the-cuff banter with the audience, and some impressive song and dance routines.

“The pantomime was really lovely - funny, enjoyable and for the whole family. Matt and I were going for it - Gangnam Style!” - Deana Bell, Land Registry Sports and Social Club, Loughborough 

After the show readers were treated to a backstage tour by Giles Croft, the theatre’s artistic director. The Playhouse is a producing theatre, and as such has full production departments, including a paint shop, wardrobe, props department and workshops.

We were privy to a very ‘inside’ tradition when we stepped out onto the stage of the Playhouse. There were a few members of the production staff sat in the audience who, we were told by Giles, were in the process of rehearsing a skit version of the pantomime, which they would then perform in front of the rest of the theatre staff (including the actors) in the next few days. You just don’t find things like this out unless you do a backstage tour – what a gem (although it left me wishing that I could be a fly on the wall when that little production went ahead). Anyhow, I would highly recommend a tour at the theatre, alongside a show, and it’s priced very reasonably at £2.50 a head (minimum of ten, maximum of 25 people).

A real feather in the cap for Nottinghamshire; hopefully this Reader Club day should inspire some group visits that will be the stuff of legends to come.

Useful contacts:

Experience Nottinghamshire:
0115-962 8312

Nottingham Playhouse:
0115-947 4361 (Heather Perkins)

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