Of course, the jury’s out as to whether Robin Hood really existed; and if so, which parts of the story are facts and which of these are fiction. But what we do know categorically, is that popular stories about him were doing the rounds as early as 1261. By the 1400s Robin Hood’s character appeared in theatrical productions and May festivities throughout England; and by the 20th and 21st centuries, Robin Hood has been depicted in books, plays, films – and even celebrated at festivals.
The story has been embellished, but certain commonalities, such as him being a benefactor giving to the poor and leading his band of outlaws, have remained unchanged over the centuries. It is questionable whether Robin Hood ever married the high-born Lady Marion, but we do know that a man by the name of Robert Hood existed in the 13th Century and married a woman named Matilda, possibly the original name for Lady Marion.
The Robin Hood Festival
My own obsession with Robin Hood began when I was a nine-year-old girl. I watched the film, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, close to thirty times and dreamt about one day going to Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood’s heartland. The time finally came a few months ago when I headed up to Nottinghamshire in northeast England to join the annual Robin Hood Festival, now in its 32nd year and celebrated every August. Hosted in Sherwood Forest and in the historic village of Edwinstowe, the Robin Hood Festival attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. Over seven days visitors can enjoy jousting shows, falconry, theatre, forest walks, minstrel performances, magic shows, archery and more.
Our two-day stay in Edwinstowe started with a twilight storytelling walk through Sherwood Forest. Surrounded by beaming children in green hats, we followed a bearded storyteller dressed as a jester. We sat on sheepskin mats beneath ancient oak trees and listened as the animated man told the story of King Richard I (the Lionheart), of the Viking King Ragnar Lothbrok and of Sherwood Forest which was once a Royal Hunting Forest. “The people of Robin Hood’s time believed that woodland spirits resided in these trees,” whispered the jester, pointing to a gigantic oak. “Old people left offerings at tree trunks in the hope of a good harvest.”
Dusk quietly warmed the woodlands with soft pink light and frogs croaked in a nearby meadow. We walked deeper into the forest to another tree where a hooded minstrel entertained us with his flute. The final storyteller was a man dressed in a burgundy robe. We gathered around his lantern and listened. “Robin Hood’s green spirit represents the natural spaces we seek out in this fractured world to find our own peace,” he said. Pointing to a field of ferns he then said, “If you look deep into the forest at twilight, you can still see Robin Hood.”
Today Sherwood Forest is not nearly as vast as it was in yesteryear when it occupied large parts of England. Nevertheless, it remains one of the United Kingdom’s premier nature playgrounds, attracting adventure-seekers from afar. Great expanses of woodlands stretched across Nottinghamshire provide ample trails, which are ideal for mountain biking, hiking and other activities.
First up on our agenda was a round of archery offered by Forest Holidays. My instructor skillfully tilted my hold on the arch and encouraged me to aim slightly above target. Within an hour I was feeling like a true lady of the bow. Next, we headed to GoApe, a treetop obstacle course that forms part of the Sherwood Pines Adventure Centre. After a safety briefing session, we were let loose on the canopy course where we soared high between the tree trunks. Tarzan swings, tightropes, hanging loops, zip-lines and netted bridges were some of the crossings along the way. Three hours later we emerged on the other side having connected with our inner apes. Other activities and facilities offered at the Sherwood Pines Adventure Centre include mountain biking, Segway tours, a mushroom village playground for kids, a Robin Hood hideout and a learning centre.
On my last day in Nottinghamshire, I visited Clumber Park, the most popular leisure ground in the east midlands of England. With over 30 kilometres of marked cycling routes, Clumber Park comprises of glorious farmlands, heaths, woods and lakes. We navigated our way on rented bicycles along dirt tracks and over bridges, ending a perfect morning with lunch at the estate’s outdoor kitchen garden.
To conclude our wondrous visit to Robin Hood territory, we joined the masses back at the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre to revel in a final bout of medieval merriment. Some boys lined up to throw replicated rats through a hoop, others fought one another with wooden swords, while girls wandered through the forest with flowers in their hair. Traders of all walks of life had set up stalls selling everything from pies and pickles to mysterious magic potions. Finally, we gathered around a common for a jousting extravaganza on horseback between the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and a dashing Robin Hood. The crowd cheered as the Green Man trotted away from the victor.
DID YOU KNOW
- Robin Hood Way is a 168km waymarked trail which starts at Nottingham Castle and ends in Edwinstowe. www.robinhoodway.com
- Over time Robin Hood’s legend has been combined with portrayals of the Green Man, a type of woodland spirit with origins in English folklore. He’s known as a guardian of nature’s mysteries, a spiritual go-between joining nature with humankind.
- By Rented Car: The 206km journey from London to Nottingham takes approx. 3 hours.
- By Coach: National Express offers regular and cost-effective coach trips from London to Nottingham. The journey takes 3.5 hours and departs from Victoria Station. www.nationalexpress.com
- By Train: Trainline offers two-hour train journeys from London to Nottingham. www.thetrainline.com
Getting Around Nottinghamshire
- Cloud Cars Taxis: Once in Nottingham, Cloud Cars Taxis is your go-to transport service. They provide in-cab Wi-Fi, facilities for disabled travellers, complimentary water and sweets. www.cloudcarsltd.com
- AAA Taxis: Offering station and airport pickups, AAA Taxis is another excellent option for travel in and around Nottinghamshire. Contact: +44 1623 835656
WHERE TO STAY
Dating back to the 18th Century, the Forest Lodge Hotel offers a variety of guest bedrooms, a cozy pub and restaurant, lounge and beer garden. This 4-star family-owned hotel is situated opposite the Saint Mary’s church where Robin Hood and Lady Marion supposedly got married. It is also a five-minute walk from Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood’s legendary hideout, the Major Oak. www.forestlodgehotel.co.uk
WHAT TO DO
- Archery: Forest Holidays in Sherwood Forest offers guided archery sessions for groups and individuals. www.forestholidays.co.uk
- GoApe: Swing like an ape and glide like a bird at the GoApe treetop adventure course in Sherwood Forest. Contact: +44 8450 949698
- Rock Art Cave Tour: Situated 15km from Edwinstowe, Creswell Crags is home to a historic limestone gorge and a series of caves with drawings from 13 000 years ago. An award-winning visitor centre also brings to life this site’s fascinating history. www.creswell-crags.org.uk
- Clumber Park: This former ducal estate is the most popular visitor’s attraction in the East Midlands. Hire a bicycle from the cycling centre and explore 30km of waymarked trails.
For info on the Robin Hood Festival: www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk
Story By Franki Black