Thursday, September 20, 2018

Castles in the Sky - Part VII


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New to this blog series?  Get started with Part I - My Secret

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It was my final day in Nottingham and I rose from my schwanky room at a local hotel.  There had been a wedding going on, and it was awfully fun watching the families in the lobby on such a happy day. 

I made my way into the town and smiled.  I was headed up to Portmeirion in Wales to check out the filming location for The Prisoner after this leg and noticed this sign for a restaurant in Nottingham.  It's a sign!  Literally!  I am not a number!  I am a free man!

But I still had one more day in Nottingham.  My agenda included a visit to Nottingham Castle.  This is the bailey and pretty much the only remnants of the structure that would have existed back in Robin Hood's day.    

This is the backside of the bailey, and where the current ticketing office and smaller gift shop is located.

On entering, I stepped into the beautiful castle gardens.

And there was a little homage to my hero.

So, look at the upper right hand side of that picture.  That's where we'ere headed.  The path curved up a hill.  Gardens on my left, castle on my upper left, and this expansive castle green on my right.  So what's the history of this place?

Nottingham Castle was considered one of the finest castles back in the day.  Built by Henry II, Richard the Lionheart would come hang out when he wasn't fighting in the Crusades, Prince John holed up here when he tried to overthrow King Richard, and the only time the castle walls were ever breached was when King Richard came back to claim it from his dumb brother.  It has a darker history, too.  King John hung twenty-four young Welsh hostages (aged 11 - 15) atop the wall to punish the Welsh chieftains for rising against him.  Henry III (the reign in which I set my Robin Hood tale) turned it into a bit of a pleasure palace and would bring his friends out to hunt his deer (he would also make gifts of the trees in Sherwood Forest for said friends' fancy homes.  Unfortunately, no trees for the poor people unless they bought the wood from a royally sanctioned woodcutter.)

Here's what Nottingham Castle used to look like: 

Sadly, it feel into disrepair, and we have this quote:

 When Charles I's head was lopped off, Oliver Cromwell demanded that the castle be destroyed so it wouldn't fall back into Royalist hands.  And his minions set about doing it.  But when Charles II was restored in 1661, the people who destroyed the castle were thrown in jail, and William Cavendish bought it in 1663.  He hated the dusty, musty medieval vibe and decided to turn it into something more French.  He tore down the turrets and the balustrades and replaced it with... a square.  I mean, a highly decorated square, but the building was a brick.

(Not my picture)

I will say, it was an excellent museum.  They had paintings that were some of the finest masterworks I've ever seen.  Sadly, their display on Robin Hood was pretty much an exhibit in the basement aimed at kids.  Really well done, informative, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!  But not exactly what you'd expect.  THAT said, they have announced a new project to build an exhibit that focuses on Robin Hood and I'm so excited!  Here's a great little video that talks about the recent announcement and gives you a look inside:

I apologize I was not able to get any pictures (museums and such), but I DID manage to hit up the gift shop and grabbed a Robin Hood lavender sachet with Nottingham lace and all sorts of books not available in the U.S.

The one thing that I was really interested in checking out was the caves.  SO!  Timeline - Edward the II got stabbed.  Edward III was the king regent, but his mom Queen Isabella was having an affair with this guy named Mortimer.  Edward III decided enough was enough and had Mortimer hauled out of his mom's bed, through the caves, and to the tower of London, where he was hung a month later. 

Note:  Brewhouse Yard Museum Caves and Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn Caves.  There will be a test later if you read the book.

I TOTALLY signed up for the cave tour.

I grabbed a bite to eat on the terrace (lovely ham and cheese sandwich, and a bit of Victoria sponge)

This is all the same patio, just scanning from right to left

At the appointed hour we gathered and descended.

So, in addition to using these caves to kill your mom's lover, they were used to transport beer and went from that very high terrace all the way down to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, where I was the day before and has been serving ale to the castle since the 11th century.

Here's our group descending

And turning around to snap a picture of where we came from.

Our guide was a dapper gentleman dressed in a smart suit and carrying an umbrella.

We descended into... oh jeez... my brain... Mortimer's Hole?  King David's Dungeon?  I can't remember which branch.  I would be a lousy spelunker. 

If I'm remembering correctly, this staircase is where the queen was dragged out.

Torches are dumb!  Light a brassiere!  I mean, a brazier!  One of the big myths is that a torch is useful in a cave.  I mean, better than the dark, but they burn fast and burn everything around them and are smoky and burn your face.  So, far better to carry a lantern or candle or light a campfire in a brazier.

So, we reached halfway, and suddenly found ourselves outside on a ledge overlooking the city.

What were these strange holes in the wall?

It was a dove cote!  Back in the day, WiFi was pretty spotty, so instead, they had trained pigeons.  Half of them knew how to fly to York, half of them knew how to fly to London, and they were dispatched from these little nooks whenever anyone needed to send a message.  Like owl post!  Except for real!  And with doves and pigeons!

We headed back into the system to continue our descent.  Here's a view of the dovecote looking back.

And finally we emerged out a door....

....Oh look!  Right next to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem!

Look at the tip top of the cliff edge and that's Nottingham Castle.  Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is to the left of where I'm standing.

Now, there's another charming little museum at the base called the Museum of Nottingham Life that has rooms set up with local historical items.  Here's a picture from their site.

You can see the outer castle wall.  Now, imagine it's the medieval times and most houses are only one or two stories tall.  I read that the castle wall actually extended 40-feet above this.  Pretty snazzy.

So, the museum is also built into the sandstone caves of castle rock.

These caves were used during WWII as a bomb shelter. 

Little display of ye olde brewhouse

There were warnings in this section not to walk beyond the table because the ceiling in that area might collapse on you.  I appreciated that everyone went, "Cool.  Thanks for the warning."  As opposed to here in America where people would be doing flippin' handstands and shooting selfies as the boulders fell on their heads.

There was a bit of a drizzle, but with lighter crowds, I headed back to the Robin Hood statue and really enjoyed looking at all of the sculptures in the garden.

Now, it says in the ballads that Robin Hood was captured in St. Mary's and then dragged across the street and thrown into an oubliette.  This was generally considered just legend until recently when some archaeologists started digging around the Galleries of Justice (which are located literally across the street from St Mary's) and discovered a frickin' oubliette.  Here's the video:

The tour guide mentioned that the Galleries of Justice (a.k.a. Nottingham Gaol, pronounced "jail") were open and they had a little display on Robin Hood, so I headed over.

I'm not going to lie.  The place made the hair on the back of my arms stand up.  I'm not particularly superstitious and acknowledge I'm not a fan of museums that explore the darker side of human nature, so maybe it was just me, but the whole place gave me the creeps.  I didn't stay too long.  But I did go down four stories beneath the ground to look at the oubliette where Robin potentially, according to the ballads, had been thrown.

On my way out, a list of Nottingham Sheriffs caught my eye.  I was becoming more and more convinced that I wanted to explore the Robin Hood first mentioned in the court rolls around the 1220s.

On this list, there's this guy named Phillip Marc and he was the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and the Royal Forests.  He was not a nice man.

Quick history lesson:  King John was awful.  The barons made him sign the Magna Carta, but when King John refused to honor it, the barons in England rose up against him in a civil war called the First Barons War.  Peace was made, but King John was pissed that his people would fight against him, so he declared a bunch of them outlaws and banished them to Sherwood Forest (which is where the idea of the Merry Men may come from.)  The French decided they needed to come be the parent and invaded England as a peacekeeping force.

So when King John died, his son Henry III promised he'd honor the Magna Carta if the barons helped him throw the French out.  Henry III was a wee little boy, though, when he came to the throne (nine-years-old) and his mom and uncle ran the show until he came of age.  

However, when Henry III came of age, he was a party boy and slacked on the whole upholding the Magna Carta and caused a Second Barons War.

So, what's actually in the Magna Carta that had people so het up about?  A bunch of it relates to limiting the Sheriff's power.  There are sixty-three clauses and twenty-seven of them are about addressing the medieval version of police brutality.  In fact, Sheriff Phillip Marc was so hated, he specifically was called out by name as someone that King John needed to get rid of in order to be in compliance.  But he didn't.  And the guy stuck around to right about the same time Robin Hood came into the scene.

It's kind of strange writing about these men, because we came across this scroll of our family genealogy and as Maury Povich would say, "SURPRISE!  You're the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather."

Yep.  King Henry III?  King John?  Thems my family.  Sorry everyone.

It is strange living, literally, half a world away and finding yourself standing in a place someone whose DNA created you once stood.  To look at the same buildings he and she were looking at 1000-years ago.  These aren't just stories.  These are the stories of my family.  These are the people who had to happen in order for me to exist.

It's odd.

So, my day in (S)Nottingham was drawing to a close.  There were some sprinkles and I tried to find a place that was selling an umbrella, or at least a cool Nottingham sweatshirt.

And that's when I stumbled on The Robin Hood Experience.

Okay, at first blush, it seemed like this quiet little storefront.

And it was this decorated four or five story townhouse where you climbed to the top and then popped into each of the rooms for a little multimedia show on Robin Hood.

It was absolutely glorious and I wish you were all there to experience with me because I cannot even begin to capture how unabashedly happy this place made me.

As Charles Phoenix would say, "I KNOW!"  They used the same sort of technology as Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion to have characters bring the story to life.

You know I love a good museum.  And, sure, some things might have been delightfully low tech.

(Disney's Robin is on a bender)

But this was a frickin' well-curated museum.

And as I left?  They even had a room where a kind man dressed as Robin Hood handed me a bow and arrow and told me to shoot at the target as many times as I liked (before then leaving because he wisely knew I would probably shoot out both our eyes.)

But this is where I suddenly realized what Robin Hood was about.

The only reason we even have a clue about Robin Hood was because people told his story through whatever means they had available, and they did so because his story resonated with them.  He was not a fancy man.  No monks were illuminating his ballads in their monasteries.   People shared his story verbally around fires and festivals because it meant something.  And the couple that owned this museum?  (I had a lovely chat with one of the owners in the gift shop)  They loved Robin Hood and put this all together and ran this place (I think I was the only visitor) because they were passionate about it.  I had been combing the city looking for information on the Nottinghams's most famous celebrity.  I found tons about my royal relatives and clergy and lawmakers and "important" folks.  But it was in this teeny, tiny little building hidden away from the bustling crowds, I found all of the information I was looking for.  Just regular people, trying to tell a man's story.

And here ends my journey.

As I write this final sentence, Olde Robin Hood should be now be live and available for any owls awake at midnight looking for something to read.

I've been looking at this bulletin board for almost two years.  I'll be taking it down as soon as I press publish on this post.  It changed immensely from the inspirational images I had when I began to where I am now.  I have my pennant from New York, a map of Nottingham and Sherwood, my sachet from Nottingham, a pressed penny and card from Sherwood Forest, a battered postcard from St. Mary's that I bought for a £1 donation at a little side table.  I only have to sell four copies of Olde Robin Hood to cover the cost of that postcard!  

Two years.

Quite a ways from that first stroll through Chelsea where I got the spark of an idea to a journey that would lead me halfway around the globe to stand where my ancestors stood.   

I find it sort of fitting that fancy people weren't interested in this story.  I shopped this book around to agents and publishers and found, even with everything I've accomplished, the only doors open to me are those that involve me telling this story directly to you.  

Kind of like how this story has always existed.  


Who knows... maybe it's terrible.  You release a book out into the wild and hope it isn't bad.  I could have spent the next twenty years of my life writing it.  Every time I turned around, the story became deeper.  

But here's the story if you would like to read it.  

It's about a poor man that history tried to forget, but somehow he did something that touched so many hearts, his life has lasted 800-years.  And I'm proud to add my voice to that echo to keep his story going on.



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