In Search of Robin Hood, Nottinghamshire

29 10 2006

It had been a cold night inside the tent but I managed a few good hours of sleep in the early hours of the day. This would probably be the last camping trip until I resume the same at Easter next year. I camped at a pleasant and new campsite at New Hall Farm. The current owner of the farm is the fourth generation in a line of farmers cultivating the lands around here. There is a herd of cattle in a field nearby. He used to grow wheat in some of the fields but he has stopped that now. In the spirit of diversification, this year he and his wife have started this campsite. It is situated on a hill and overlooks much of the surrounding landscape. On a clear day, I am told, one can see Lincoln Cathedral. This morning I found the farmer mopping and cleaning the toilets. When I told him that I had been to the Workhouse yesterday, he jokingly said “I thought this was the workhouse”.

Yesterday on my way to Southwell, I did some walking along the Robin Hood Way. This is a long distance path that covers a great deal of Nottinghamshire, which in its turn used to be covered by the Sherwood Forest. Today I dedicated myself to walking this path in the hope of meeting Robin Hood.

Passing through some woods

Passing through some woods

As always, it happened that I was overambitious and overzealous in my attempt to cover a lot of ground in one day. The extra hour that the day afforded went off in an extra hour of sleep. As always, the planned route could not be adhered to strictly. I had to take some diversion in Blidworth Woods where some paths had been closed due to a weekend race. The plan to return to Nottingham by afternoon failed, which means that I have to make another trip to the city in the coming weekends. The time to cover the planned distance had been underestimated but there is no regret. If I have been slow it is only because the landscape was worth it.

Much of this path passes through open fields and farmland. It is hardly likely that Robin Hood would have used such terrain as his hiding place or such routes for escape. Of course, we are many centuries behind and the landscape has undoubtedly changed. I passed one of the highest points of the path where a sign proclaimed that the Robin Hood Way was opened in 1985. It runs for 105 miles from Nottingham Castle to Edwinstowe Church. Soon after, I passed a hill named after the hero but this is only a modern name that has no basis in the legend. I passed the village of Oxton without even stopping to see much of it. When I finally arrived at Blidworth, I knew that I wasn’t going to find Robin Hood in the 21st century. The trail had gone cold long ago.

Beware of Bull!

Beware of Bull!

In Blidworth, I began to first sense the modern presence of Robin Hood. The locals appear to patronise and embrace the hero and his exploits. Gates and fences are decorated with the arrow of Robin Hood. Roads are lined with decorative posts placed with arrow heads at the top. These posts serve no other purpose than claim an association with the hero. There are businesses that ride on the popularity of the local legend. One such is the Nottingham Property Services that has for its logo a portrait of Robin Hood in his boyish cap and taking aim with his bow and arrow.

Today’s walk has been annoying for one particular reason: cobwebs. For some reason, cobwebs are everywhere. Grass blades are linked by a carpeting network of cobwebs. Where paths are narrow, cobwebs easily span them. A few hours of walking are enough to be covered in strands of these silver strings. They are so strong that it’s difficult to brush them off. Worse still were those cases when I was walking on a tarmac road and yet found new webs across my face, on my arms and shoulders. Sometimes spiders themselves get on for a comfortable ride. Whatever be the situation they are spinning all the time.

Yet another point of interest on a country walk is the antics of pheasants. These harmless birds can sometimes give you the fright of your life. They are most comfortable on the ground. They have not developed the love for flight. If they see you at a distance they will run, not fly. Flight comes with great effort for them. More often, they hide in tall grass or bushes in the vain hope that you will not spot them. They do this even if you are staring right at them a few feet away. Suddenly, they go into panic mode and take flight. Their wings take great effort to get the heavy bodies in air. Their noisy call is full of alarm. It you had not spotted them, they will make you jump out of your skin.

The third item of note in today’s walk was the following sign:

To Wind Turbines
In Eakring &

I would have thought it is a good thing to invest in renewable energy sources. But local people have local reasons for opposing something. They do not see the bigger picture. This is the case with most people. We are only concerned with what affects us directly, and what affects us now.

Through these parts passes bus route 33, named “Sherwood Arrow”, again inspired by Robin Hood. This is the bus I used yesterday and today. This evening I waited for this bus once more at Farnsfield. It was already dark by 5 pm. I had to wait an hour for the bus at 1807 hours. I still had to catch another bus from Nottingham to Luton later in the day. While waiting at Farnsfield bus stop I read this hand-written note pinned to the notice board:

I am trying to get a better
bus service for Farnsfield as
the current bus only runs every
hour – but doesn’t always turn up.
Please sign below if you agree -
we could do with a bus every 30 min.
- Mrs. R. Shaw 59 Alexander Rd F.Field
D. Keeton

Waiting for the bus

Waiting for the bus

Here is a strange situation. Although I am all for an increase in public investment and better bus services to villages, I couldn’t of course sign this note without a personal experience. But an experience is ill desired at this point. It is no fun being stranded in a village without accommodation on a cold night in November. In my opinion, Farnsfield is in a much better position than many other villages I have visited. One recent example is the village of Lawshall in Suffolk. Who takes public transport in the villages, anyway? Only the retired and elderly, children sometimes and occasionally tourists like me. Therefore I am not surprised that only one more person has signed this notice and it looks suspiciously in the same hand.

When I finally returned to Nottingham it was close to 7 pm. I spotted a pub named “Robin Hood”. The hero’s fame is not confined to the boundaries of the forest or his county. I have seen some months ago a pub of the same name in Tring in Hertfordshire. Thus my search of Robin Hood has been successful in a small way. I did not intend to find him and meet him in the woods. The real search lies in our understanding of the hero, the legacy of the legend and the reasons for his persistent presence so many centuries later.


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