Nottingham is basking in the afterglow of the latest tribute to a surly sheriff and the twang of Robin Hood’s bow. The capital of the east Midlands is packed with interest for the weekend visit on the trail of the mythic archer.
This don’t-miss list of six includes an awfully old Inn, some very new public transport, world class cinema-going and some of the best shopping in Britain. Picture, Nottingham Castle, by Gareth Huw Davies.
The door of the graceful old city centre property on Low Pavement, the perfect location for the next Jane Austen movie, stood wide open and welcoming. Then I realized Willoughby House, dating from 1735, and one of the best of Nottingham’s many fine of 17th and 18th century homes, was a shop.
Nottingham-based fashion designer Paul Smith turned this, quintessentially English town house into his flagship outlet in 2005, and made an excellent job of it. It’s wonderfully restrained, with only a small outside sign to tell you it’s a store. The clothing range is set out tastefully on tables throughout the five-floor listed building. You can wander through the house inspecting the couture, while you admire the original plasterwork, paneling , fireplaces and chandeliers. It’s one of many individual, independent shops in central Nottingham.
Richard the Lionheart’s crusaders, staying at Nottingham Castle just up the hill, would call in the Trip To Jerusalem hostelry just before they set off to try to free the Holy Land. Their custom gives real meaning to the saying ‘one for the road.’ One of Britain’s oldest pubs, it is believed to have opened in 1189, built, cramped and narrow, into the bottom of Castle Rock. I sat in one of the higgledy-piggledy rooms, under a gently ticking clock , and enjoyed the deep centuries-old slumber. Above me were photographs of celebrity visitors such as actress Mai Wong, here quite recently (by the standards of this place), in 1933. They serve hearty pub food, fit for departing crusaders. The beer is good, even if it now has to come all the way from Suffolk. It’s brewed by Greene King, the pub’s new owners.
I was standing on Nottingham’s grand Market Square, in front of the city’s smaller version of the London Eye, and the imposing 1929 Council House, when I heard a new, proud and very Continental sound. It was the bell of Nottingham’s very own tram. Launched in 2004, this bold, green investment. is paying off as a visitor attraction, as well as useful car-reducing public transport.
It start at the railway station, threads through the city’s hilly centre, past the little warren of pedestrianised shopping streets, and out to the suburbs as far as Hucknall, where the poet Byron is buried in Saint Mary’s Magdalene churchyard.
Buy a £2.70 go anywhere ticket on the tram (good for buses too).
Continuing the literary theme, why not visit nearby Eastwood where the writer DH Lawrence lived,
My ceiling- to- roof bedroom window opened onto the hotel’s secret garden, just below the ramparts of Nottingham Castle, overlooking leafy avenues far below. Hart’s Hotel has to be the quietest place in central Nottingham. It’s one of a batch of first-rate boutique hotels in the city (www.Nottinghamcitybreaks.com). There’s a touch of California or southern Spain in the light curving exterior of the architect-designed building. Genuine 21st Century Nottingham, it opened in 2002
Inside, lots of bright modern art, and trim furnishing. Rooms are simple, but with classy details such as goose down pillows and duvets, Egyptian cotton bed linen bedding, and a Bose sound system. There s a cosy bar, a one person gym, and staff who remember your name.
Hart’s Restaurant (20 yards away), is one of best in the city. They do a theatre package, with in the nearby Nottingham Playhouse and Theatre Royal. 0115 988 1900. Double room £120
I’d dined in the excellent World Service restaurant in Newdigate House, in a quiet little cobbled street backwater. The man who introduced celery to Britain lived here. Marshall de Tallard, defeated French commander at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, and surely the most pampered prisoner of war we have ever put up, found the plant growing locally.
Celery didn’t feature on my visit, but the gourmet aristocrat would have approved of the graceful décor, the ceiling tapestries and vases and statuettes in little niches – ‘individually made items of furniture and unusual artifacts from the world’. There’s a comfy bar where I enjoyed the house cocktail – vanilla rum, Cointreau,
lemon juice and sugar syrup -and chose from a menu of ‘modern British’ dishes. My Nottinghamshire pork fillet , crispy chorizo tortellini, smoked bacon, tomato and tarragon sauce was splendid. This place is further proof of how well you can eat out in British cities at well below London prices. (3 course lunch from £16.50)
Independent cinemas are as important as good old-fashioned bakers and real ale pubs. Nottingham’s four screen Broadway Cinema has reached the very top ranking, alongside famous picture houses in Paris and Los Angeles, in a survey run by Total Film magazine, It chose the cinema as one of ten in the world to provide a ‘unique cinematic experience’. The Broadway’s bragging rights come from their new fourth screen, which showcases new art house movies and independent films from round the world. Local fashion guru Paul Smith designed its 35 double ‘love seats’, in chocolate, multi-colour stripe fabric, and put together a wall of photographs of the stars. If those snuggly seats weren’t enough, the cinema supports its ‘linger longer’ ethos with good beer, and free WiFi, in the bar