Thursday, September 6, 2018

Into the Woods! It's Time to Go! - Part V


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

August 14, 2017, I hopped aboard the new Boeing Dreamliner ready to begin this fantastic journey to seek out Robin Hood.

Fun fact, a family member of mine built this!  Like, if I'm remembering correctly, I think he actually suggested the name...

I've become an expert in finding package sales.  Flight, car, hotel?  You time it right, you can get a business class ticket cheaper than a solitary ticket in cattle class.  And I DEFINITELY lucked out on this trip!

And SERIOUSLY, don't ever fly cattle class to Europe.  I made that mistake once and my knees still hurt.  Imagine the seat in front of you being so close, they have to make it so the tray table can be folded in two so that you don't get bisected when the person in front of you pushes back their chair.  I just looked it up.  The one time I flew cattle class, the seat pitch (distance between rows) was 29".  Seated from my hips to my knees is 26".  Three inches of leg room for eight hours.  Business class becomes almost a health necessity for us tall people.

Also, I think this 1st class sticky toffee pudding was a health necessity, too.

I arrived in London and gave myself a few days to get over the jetlag.  I'll dig in deeper into my London trip in a later London Calling report, but here's the stuff I did that ended up being useful for the book.  

I had the best time crawling around old castle ruins in the Cotswolds.  This is Minister Lovell Hall

It was built in the 1400s, but some of the older tech was still in use.  They didn't have chimneys back in the day, so you'd set a fire in the middle of the room and then have this huge, tall ceiling and the smoke would be drawn out through that teeeny tiiiiny hole at the top.

This is St. John the Baptist church in Burford. Construction began in 1175 and some of the features are still original.

And while not from the 1200s, I was particularly delighted by the kneeling pillows.

So, with my "adjustment days" over, it was time to head on up to Nottingham.  Knowing that I was going to have to get behind the wheel of a wrong-sided car, I decided that London was not the place I wanted to embark on that adventure.  Rather, I decided to take the train up to Nottingham and pick up my car there.

I made my way to the beautiful St. Pancreas Station (which is just across the street from King's Cross, for you Potterheads out there.)

I once took a train up to York the same weekend as the Edinburgh Fringe.  I didn't reserve a seat and I ended up having to stand for almost four hours.  And it was once again August.  And time for the Fringe.  So, I ponied up the cash and opted for first class.

If you buy ahead, it's not that expensive and you get a reserved seat and a free sandwich.

I arrived in Nottingham and the car rental place was right there at the station.  With much trepidation, I climbed behind the wheel.


My mantra just became "Left, Left, stay to the left" every time I entered an intersection... or a roundabout... so many  roundabouts...  "Go left when you turn left.  Go left when you turn right."  I was muttering it aloud to myself the whole time.

Driving a right-hand drive car in a left-side driving world is not impossible.  It's like when you are sitting in the passenger seat and wishing the driver would drive the way you think they should drive.  Except now you have a wheel and pedals in front of you.

I'm not going to say it was fun, but if you've driven the Pacific Coast Highway around Big Sur, you probably have some idea what it's like.  It takes a lot of concentration and every moment, you're pretty much like, "Concentrate or you're gonna die."  But you concentrate.  And you don't die.  And I gotta say, England is great with the road signs.  They make it very clear what you should be doing at any particular moment.  Not fun, but totally doable.  I was very grateful I ordered an automatic instead of a manual shift, though.

ANYHOOGLE.  Fear and white knuckles aside, I headed out of the busy metropolis of Nottingham and into the countryside, finally arriving at my goal...

Sherwood National Forest.

I parked my car and made my way to the front entrance.  Do they know how to make an entrance or what???

Right from the get-go, they completely acknowledged and embraced the reason most of us were here (which ended up not being the case in some other Robin Hood sites... but I get to that later...)

I was greeted by a statue of Robin Hood

And Little John fighting Robin Hood on the bridge

They had the BEST info center.  I mean... Folks who know me well?  This was up there with some of the greats.  And for those who don't know me well?  I LOVE a good museum.  Don't give me any of this highfalutin' touch screens and tech.  I want analog. I want it immersive.  I want it dark and moody and like I'm stepping into the world.  And this, my friends, was a SPECTACULAR museum.

TREES!  ON TEH WALLS!  Because OF COURSE!  And they had the most wonderful, informative signage.  I learned so frickin much!

And I should probably say more about it, but I took pictures of the signs to use as research and the information is SO good, you should just read it.  There may be some folks in the future who are doing research on Robin Hood who can't make it out to Sherwood Forest, or some jerk may come along and say the visitor center needs to replace everything with clean, white, modern lines (DON'T DO IT!!!), so read and enjoy these beauties.  Or scroll past quickly and I'll meet you at the bottom.


So, the Romans built a road through Sherwood Forest that became the Great North Road.  There were "dark spots" known on the road where bandits would lie in wait to rob folks.  One of the jobs of the Sheriff's guards was to escort people through the forest.

I mean... COME ON!

So, here's some fantastic information about the history of Robin Hood.

And all of Robin's friends!

Hi, Maid Marian!

We leave the forest and head into Nottingham castle!

 How can you not love this Sheriff of Nottingham??

 And you got to walk across the drawbridge to say hi to the king??

We like to party!

The Death of Robin Hood is in one of the old ballads.  In it, he goes to this prioress for healthcare (save the NHS!) who murders him by over bleeding him.  Weak and dying, he pulls out his bow and tells Little John to bury him wherever his arrow lands.

And there is a grave purportedly to be Robin Hood's outside of this purported abbey.  The marker currently visible was made by the Victorians, but there is record of an older stone that once existed beneath it (but was chipped away by passing travelers who thought it would bring them special strength.)  Now, someone went in and checked to see if there was a body there, and the grave was empty.  It could be there once was a body there and it was stolen at some point over the past 800-years.

But more likely, it was placed there by the ancient church as a phoney.

The grave is too far away for a bow to shoot, much less a bow shot out a window by a guy dying in bed from blood loss.  And there are some records that say the grave was placed by the road so that travelers could see it and all would know Robin Hood was dead and would not trouble them any longer.

Fascinating stuff...


I exited and started to make my way to the Major Oak.  What is the Major Oak?  Oh, you will see, my friends.  In the gift shop, they were selling bows and arrows for kids.  My American maternal instinct kicked in and I was like, "They'll shoot their eyes out!"  But you know what?  No one did.

One of the other really fun things that they had in the shop was Robin Hood hats for just a few pounds.  It was so inexpensive, pretty much every kid in the forest had one, and I LOVED the thought of being little and running around this place.

As I walked, a little kid called, "Look, mummy!  A robin!"

Indeed, we had found robin of Sherwood Forest.  The robin and I sat and had a lovely little chat for a bit and she followed me around for awhile.

Along the path were little fairy houses for the spirits of the forest.  

The era of Robin Hood was a superstitious time.  Folks started thinking werewolves might be real and Sherwood was believed to be haunted.  And if you look at the trees for faces, you can see totally see why...

One of the things that really stuck with me was the undergrowth.  Now, I grew up near the redwood forests, so am no stranger to ferns, but it really struck me how, if you were out here hiding out, these ferns were as tall as a person and you'd have to fight your way through for every step.

(The ground was level.  Picture was taken at eye level.  These ferns stood above my head.)

I finally made my way to the Major Oak.

This tree was about 1000 years old.  It is held up by those sticks because during the Victorian era, people would gather around it and it packed the ground down so hard it did damage to root system.  The branches are heavy and this mighty oak is nearing the end of its natural life (1000 years for an oak is pretty elderly.)

But look at the face on the left side of the tree!

There was some great signage about the Major Oak.

Here's some close ups if you'd like to read:

The Victorians really romanticized Robin Hood after Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe came out.  That book was HUGE.  It was the 50 Shades of its day.  So, the Victorians came up with the thought that this tree was where Robin Hood and his men lived.  Now, this tree would not have been this size in the 1200s or 1300s, but it is fun to imagine.

There is also debate whether Robin Hood ever actually lived in Sherwood Forest.  


A whole trip planned and scheduled and I discovered that I might have been in the wrong corner of the country.  The Robin who lived in 1226 was from Barnsdale (sort of northeast-ish) and there is a Barnsdale Forest.  The earliest ballads of Robin actually place part of the action there and part in Nottingham.  BUT!  The distance between Barnsdale and Nottingham would be a long day's ride, so it's not out of the realm of possibility to think someone might travel between the two.  Sherwood Forest was also a MUCH bigger place back in the day, coming within 200-yards of Nottingham Castle and stretching out until it merged with Barnsdale Forest, so there wasn't exactly a "You Are Here" sign to keep track of where exactly you were among the trees.  In Olde Robin Hood, I mainly stick with Sherwood Forest.  There's enough stuff in there that's different from what we all grew up believing that I decided getting hard core about which trees he was hanging out in didn't buy anyone anything.  But you and I know what actually is going on.  He hung out in both.

But speaking of finding one's self among the trees...  the crowds were starting to build around the Major Oak, so I decided to seek out some of the quiet and solitude of the forest, and take the long way around to the front entrance.

Well, it was most definitely the long way.

I once went to a travel class on how to get around the UK, and the one thing they emphasized over and over again is not to underestimate the elements.  You think you're in a nice little field.  You think the sky is blue.  Suddenly, there's some drizzle.  Except it is quite a bit more than drizzle and the field you're standing in is mud with no rock beneath it and you're up to your ankles...  I mean... not on this trip.  But you'd think I'd learn.

But what was supposed to just be a simple stroll turned into this rather... long... walk.  March?  Forced march?  And it began to rain.

But I have to say, at about an hour or so, the rain cleared out and... my... 

It was just magic.

So, one of the age old rights in England is that you are allowed to cut across a private field.  Once a year, people walk across the countryside to maintain these ancient footpaths.  Now, one of the problems is that people traipsing in and out of your fenced land can mean that your sheep get out, so there are gates like this, where you can climb up and over.  So, I figure, "Heck!  Let's do this!"

There were signs to beware of cows.  I was like, "Pshaw.  Cows."  And headed in.

I suddenly found myself in a field of heather...


It was gorgeous.  And it just went on and on and on.  But along the way, I passed by some of the biggest cow patties / meadow muffins I'd ever seen.  And I thought to myself, "Self?  Maybe you don't need to walk across the field to get to the other side."

One of the rather cool things is that Sherwood Forest parks management realized that you have to clear out some undergrowth in order to keep a forest healthy.  But rather than having folks come through with saws and bobcats, they released these cows into the wild.  And they. Ate. Everything.  Note the horns.  Note the fence.  I had been inside there.  And you can't quite tell the scale, but I'm 5'8 and probably came up to their shoulder.

I found my way back to a path and passed by a couple more awesome trees.

 This is me, hours into being lost.  I'm still having the best time.

And I should note, I never really got LOST lost.  There were well tended paths and such.  It was just that none of them seemed to lead to the entrance.

But still, I was seeing all sorts of loveliness that all those people who decided to hang out at the ice cream hut were missing.

I liked this stump someone assembled.  It reminded me of my sister's shitzhus.

Look at this guy's arms!  Imagine coming on this tree in the middle of a fog!

But eventually, all roads lead back to the Major Oak.

And I TOTALLY ordered myself a soft serving ice cream cone for the walk back to the front gate.  On they way, I also stopped by the gift shop... and the cafe for some coffee... There was a restaurant I would have ate in, but a wedding was going on.  Can you image?  Getting married in Sherwood Forest?!  Why are we not all getting married in Sherwood Forest???

I bought a pen for my nephew and entirely too many books for myself.  I'm STILL kicking myself I didn't buy a mug.  Darn that whole "gotta fit everything into your bag" thing.

And for those of you unfamiliar with how I write, one of my favorite things to do is to create a "dream board" of my project.  The mind likes to create connections between things, so having a cork board with inspirational images is a great way to get grounded when I'm sitting down to work on something.  So, these have been hanging on my cork board for the past year.  A postcard of the forest.

In the corner is a penny I pressed in the exhibit.  And then this was the very last notecard of this image, which is an image taken from the "Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" by Howard Pyle, written in 1883.

I also bought myself a keychain made of a bit of wood burned with an image of Robin Hood.  I carried it around for awhile, but then got scared it might get damaged, so later hung it from my Christmas tree.  I'd take a picture, but it's in a box.  And I'm not allowed to get out my Christmas stuff until September 12th.

All in all, it was a GLORIOUS day.  There are places in corners of the globe that just take your breath away.  The redwood forests of California.  The Grand Canyon.  And I gotta say... Sherwood forest.  If you have a chance, it is just... I don't know how else to describe it beyond magical.   There is a spirit there... a loveliness.  I look forward to the day that I can go back.

But until then, the day was growing long and I needed to go find out where this hotel I was staying at was located.

I walked out to my car, and lying there on top of the roof was the perfect twig of oak leaves, as if a gift.

Tune in next week for Part VI - Not in Snottingham

Complete List
Part I - My Secret
Part VI - Not in Snottingham
Part VII - Castles in the Sky

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