There’s no getting away from it, Nottinghamshire will forever be associated with bow and arrow wielding men in green tights, but trust us, there’s far more to this East Midlands county than Robin Hood.
Sherwood Forest – Robin Hood ground zero – is the best place to immerse yourself in the enduring legend of the heroic outlaw and his merry men. And hey, if you feel the need to slip on some headphones and blast Brian Adams while you wander the forest, we promise not to judge you… As long as you promise to explore the historic mansions, abbeys, pubs and pumphouses that make up our top 10 historic sites in Nottinghamshire.
A stunning mansion of spectacular proportions, Nottingham’s Wollaton Hall is one of the country’s finest listed Elizabethan buildings as well as the largest dedicated natural history museum in the county. Designed by architect Robert Smythson for the industrialist Sir Francis Willoughby and his family in the 1580s, Wollaton is often regarded as a classic ‘prodigy house’, a term used to describe “noble palaces of an awesome scale”, typically built by wealthy families between 1570-1620.
Wollaton is worth visiting for its stunning Elizabethan architecture alone but there’s plenty to see and do on the site, including an impressive Natural History Museum, Nottingham Industrial Museum and the Steam Engine House. We also recommend a stroll through the Grade II listed walled garden.
Several pubs claim to be the oldest in England but Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham has a better claim to the honour than most. The site of the pub is said to date back to 1189, although many sources claim a later date, and the oldest parts of the existing building date to the early 17th century. However true Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’s claim to fame is, it’s an undeniably characterful old pub with plenty of historic value.
Designed by William Adams Nicholson together with the Reverend John T. Becher, a pioneer of workhouse and prison reform, the Workhouse in Southwell was considered a prototype of the 19th-century workhouse. As such, it was a pioneering building that began to realise some of the principles associated with the new Poor Law of 1834.
As you might expect from a 19th-century workhouse, it’s an austere building. The design was influenced by prison architecture and visitors will get a sense of the harsh conditions faced by inmates thanks to an engaging interactive tour that tells the story of the facility from the perspective of those who lived and worked there.
4. Rufford Abbey
Set in 150 acres of attractive park and woodland on the fringes of Robin Hood country, Rufford Abbey is a country estate with deeper historical roots than most. The original Cistercian abbey was founded on the site by Gilbert de Gant, on 12 July 1147, and populated with Cistercian monks from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, the Abbey was converted into a country estate, but its partial remains were incorporated into the grand Tudor mansion and what survives of the abbey provides one of the country’s finest examples of Cistercian architecture. The atmospheric 12th-century ruins include a cellar and monks refectory that offer some sense of what life would have been like for the monks that lived and worked here 900 years ago.
5. Newstead Abbey
Set in a glorious landscape of gardens and parkland in the heart of Nottinghamshire, Newstead Abbey began as a 12th-century Augustinian priory but is perhaps best known as the ancestral home of Lord Byron, at least until debts forced him to sell the estate, which had belonged to the Byron family since 1540, in 1817.
Despite his inglorious departure from Newstead and the fact that he only spent one year in full-time residence at the property, the old house and monastic ruins made a deep impression on the young Byron, and his poetic style certainly chimes with the gothic romance of the site. In particular, the west front presents a stunning monastic façade. Amid the labyrinthine warren of rooms in the main house, you’ll find Byron’s bedchamber, with his own pistol laid out on a night table beside his gilded bed.
6. Clumber Park
A beautiful 3,800-acre expanse of parkland, heath and woods near Worksop, Clumber Park was once the estate of the Dukes of Newcastle. While the house was demolished in 1938, many original Clumber Park estate features survive, including the Victorian chapel, a Gothic Revival ‘mini-cathedral’, stable yard and garages, ornate entrance lodges and a lovely series of glasshouses, including a palm house, vineries and a working apiary.
This picturesque and expansive National Trust park makes for a wonderful day out filled with an abundance of splendid landscapes – make sure you take in the gorgeous serpentine lake – and fascinating historic features.
7. Newark Air Museum
Located on part of the former World War Two airfield of RAF Winthorpe, close to the Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire border, the Newark Air Museum is a must-visit for anyone with an interest in the history of aviation. This haven for aeronautical aficionados is home to an impressively diverse collection of more than 90 aircraft and cockpit sections that collectively give a pretty comprehensive overview of aviation history.
Among the most prized aircraft on display at Newark, you’ll find numerous icons of the Royal Air Force, including a Supermarine Swift, Hawker Sea Hawk, Percival Prentice and a Hawker Hunter, all of which have been classified as National Benchmarks by the National Aviation Heritage Register.
8. Southwell Minster
Otherwise known as the Cathedral of Nottinghamshire, Southwell Minster began life as a Saxon manor in the 10th century before the estate was granted to Oskytel, Archbishop of York in 956, who promptly founded a collegiate church on the site. The first incarnation of the present minster church was built in 1108 by Archbishop Thomas and much of that initial Norman architecture remains today. Indeed, Southwell Minster is considered to be one of the best examples of the Romanesque style in England.
Southwell Minster is particularly treasured for the stunningly precise carving that can be seen throughout, especially on the pulpitum, which features a fantastically complex design, and the 13th-century chapter house, which is festooned with gloriously intricate botanical carving.
9. Papplewick Pumping Station
Designed in the early 1880s to pump a daily supply of millions of gallons of clean fresh water to the swiftly growing population of industrial Nottingham, Papplewick Pumping Station is considered to be the finest working Victorian water pumping station in Britain. It’s also a testament the impressive restoration work carried out by The Papplewick Pumping Station Trust, a registered charity dedicated to the preservation of the Pumping Station, who have managed to revive a proud example of Victorian craftsmanship.
What’s particularly striking about Papplewick Pumping Station is its surprising combination of sturdily efficient Victorian engineering and gorgeously decorative design – complete with stained glass windows, elaborately decorated columns and polished mahogany and brass work. It’s hard to imagine a better example of satisfyingly robust functionality and ornate aesthetic elegance.
10. Sherwood Forest
Is there a more storied forest in the world than Sherwood? As long as the folkloric tale of Robin Hood endures, it seems certain that Sherwood Forest will continue to evoke thrilling associations with a legend that has captured imaginations since the late medieval age. There’s no denying that Sherwood is something of a celebrity among Britain’s forests. Its role as the setting for Robin Hood’s adventures undoubtedly imbue it with a certain magical frisson, but also grant it a unique historical resonance.
The visitor centre is a good place to begin your Sherwood adventure but there are endless ways to experience the forest, including an abundance of walks and trails to suit all interests and energy levels.