When was the last time you paid attention to weathered statues commemorating citizens from bygone times? (Every town has at least one.)
How often have you checked out local landmarks? (Visiting the museum aged five on a primary school trip doesn’t count.)
It feels great to make time to explore local towns and cities, which is why I collaborated with Visit Derby and partners to make this trip into Nottingham and spend the day there.
I have history with Nottingham. From visiting as a Derby University student back in the halcyon days of the 90s, to living in Nottingham in the noughties and absolutely loving it, I have exceedingly fond memories of this great city.
Nottingham is a cosmopolitan space that continues to evolve and delight. Today it has three Michelin starred restaurants and an additional three eateries that have been recognised by Michelin as having ‘Good Plates’ and Bib Gourmand.
Top Nottingham landmarks include National Justice Museum and Nottingham Castle. I have passed the aforementioned places hundreds of times but never ventured inside.
That changed one sunny Saturday afternoon when I found myself Nottingham bound on the Red Arrow from Derby. trentbarton’s public transport route meant I was door to door (from my Derby home to Upper Parliament Street in the heart of Nottingham city centre) in less than 60 minutes. I do love the Red Arrow, it is quick and easy and it has air con and it has a better interior than some airplanes I’ve been on and I am going to stop writing about the Red Arrow bus because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m writing a bus eulogy because that would be weird. 😊
We had a jam-packed schedule which involved a visit to Nottingham Castle, exploring its cavernous underground caves, then skipping off to National Justice Museum. Here is how I got on.
Day out in Nottingham
We alight the Red Arrow onto Upper Parliament Street and I note that we are a full 45 minutes early for our Nottingham Castle excursion. Whilst looking for a place to grab a cup of coffee, we spy Josephine’s Tea Lounge & Bistro and order a Breakfast Cream Tea instead.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Warm scones, a large latte and a selection of mini pastries are the perfect pick-me-up to set us on our merry way for a busy day ahead. (There is no such thing as Breakfast Cream Tea. I’ve just invented the phrase. Oven warm scones for breakfast sounds good to me.)
Sated with scones and happiness (a blazing sun in a clear blue sky is such a brilliant mood enhancer), we head to the castle.
Basking in the glory of a £30 million revamp, the castle welcomed visitors back this year. This is our first visit and we are keen to see version 2.0 of the castle.
Before our Nottingham Castle Underground Adventure starts, we take a stroll through the beautiful grounds. Our vantage point from the metallic structure titled ‘Castle Ditch’ is phenomenal. Sweeping lush greenery dotted with vibrant pockets of activity from the Hood’s Hideout Adventure Play makes this a place for people of all ages. The outdoor adventure playground is very cool and I immediately understand why the kids love it so much. Set in the dry moat of the Castle, it is filled with wooden huts, play areas and mini Krypton Factor style drawbridges for the little ones. The hidden gem is the part right at the end of Hood’s Hideout, because a dipped area is a place where you can see the Nottingham landscape which is panoramic and spectacular. There’s even a bench where you can sit and enjoy the view. I make a mental note to return with a coffee to be wowed by the view again.
From its Norman beginnings in 1066 to present day, Nottingham Castle is clearly one of the oldest and most impressive landmarks in the city.
We head to the Nottingham Castle Underground Adventure which I find educational and informative. It also gives me the opportunity to get some steps in. We venture deep underground and stories of imprisoned gentry from hundreds of years’ ago fills me with wonder and curiosity.
Nottingham Castle Robin Hood Adventures is digital storytelling at its best. I love the interaction and engagement of this part of the tour that sees us train with Little John using tools similar to a Wii Fit. What is really impressive is the Silver Screen section, where you can watch Robin Hood’s story unfold around the room as you sit entranced by the sheer scale of technology. Actors too, are always on hand to enhance the experience and make us believe ‘The Sheriff is going to visit soon’.
I am a huge fan of Paul Smith. He was one of the inspirations behind me going to London to work in fashion, back in the day. His exhibition “Hello, My Name is Paul Smith” in the Ducal Palace is an homage to the genius and this is one of my favourite parts of the day.
The exhibition is all about Paul Smith’s history giving fashion-forward fans an insight into the way his life unfolded. His debut shop in Byard Lane, Nottingham which measured just 3m x 3m is recreated and packed with items he found inspirational. I find it rather exciting to get a sneak peek into one of the 21st century’s greatest minds and feel inspired to return to my fashion roots (more on that later).
We stop for a spot of al fresco lunch at Nottingham Castle Terrace Café. It is light, airy and spacious inside. And because I am terrified of wasps (I got stung seven times in the space of 30 seconds on my shoulder when I was in my 20s, hence the aversion), we take lunch inside.
We eat our smoked salmon sandwiches in peace, and although we are some distance away from the paying point, waitstaff are attentive throughout our stay. We do venture out on the terrace to sip our drinks, and I realise this is one of the prettiest parts of the castle. Even if you’re not hungry, I recommend you visit the terrace and plant with a cup of coffee if you can.
After lunch we head towards National Justice Museum and visit Weavers Nottingham as I am running low on rum (more on this shop in a standalone post).
National Justice Museum, Nottingham
High Pavement, Nottingham NG1 1HN | 0115 952 0555
Founded in 1993 National Justice Museum is an independent museum in Lace Market. It used to be the site of a former police station, Victorian courtroom and prison. This means people were arrested, tried sentenced and executed here, in this ‘one stop justice stop’. The building is steeped in history, I hadn’t realised it was also a place where people had been executed.
We are firstly booked onto the ‘Trial of the Reform Bill Rioters’, which is a live and interactive courtroom trial. It is brilliant. Those who revolted against the establishment were Reform Bill Rioters, and their public trial is packaged in a 20 minute dramatised that will stay with you weeks later.
Our second booking is for the Georgian Pre-Hanging in the Exercise Yard. We see a gaoler giving a blistering monologue and learn about historical hangings and power politics during his informative, rambunctious talk. Not only is it beguiling, it is also sobering, as we learn about injustices that befell poor souls who were not in a position to help themselves due to impoverishment and a corrupt system. There is an art installation called ‘Witness’ facing the gallows in the prison exercise yard consisting of six giant pillars made from thick twined rope. These giant rope pillars bear witness to the complex history of the National Justice Museum, and again, I find myself thinking of all those people who passed through the front doors and who never made it out.
There is plenty to explore in the museum, from the ‘Punishment’ section with the pillory photo opportunity, to the ‘Transported’ part that is moving and gratitude-inducing all in one hit.
My thoughts of the day
Nottingham Castle is unexpectedly beautiful, because lush greenery aside, it makes you appreciate the history that the building is steeped in – and there is beauty in learning. Medieval alabaster sculptures, intricate lacework and Nottingham – setting the blueprint for publicly owned museums – are just a few thoughts that pepper my mind as I saunter through The Creative Galleries.
I did not expect ‘National Justice Museum’ to leapfrog onto my Top 10 Must-Revisit places in the UK, because it is spectacular. I am telling everyone about it and I am volunteering to be their plus one, because I really want to visit it again. The actors who played the gaoler and barrister made this visit fun, engaging, interactive and above all, as riveting as an episode of Endeavour. (I love Endeavour.) You will experience a range of emotions when visiting National Justice Museum including laughter, joy, thoughtfulness and finally hunger as you spy the Robe Room and its confectionary and coffee offerings.
Upcoming events and exhibitions and tours
“Hello, My Name is Paul Smith” until 20 Feb 2022
STRATA: Layered Histories, Imagined Futures until 10 October 2021
Halloween Fun with Black Knight Historical 29 – 31 October 2021
National Justice Museum:
We Wish You a Merry Murder 27 Nov, 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 Dec 2021
Ghost of the Gaol 16 Oct, 6 & 20 Nov 2021
Condemned: A Halloween special 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30 & 31 October 2021
Kids’ Ghost Hunter Tours 22, 23, 28, 29, 30 and 31 October 2021
Real life Crime Club 11 November 2021
Travel on the day was with trentbarton, who operate a region-wide network of public transport covering destinations including Nottingham, Burton, Chesterfield, Mansfield, East Midlands Designer Outlet and the Peak District.
If you are travelling into Nottingham and seeking an overnight stay, there is a range of accommodation available from The Hart’s Hotel, The Grange Bed & Breakfast, Primrose House and a host of others.
If you do visit any of the places mentioned in this blog, I would love to know how you got on. Thank you to Michelle, Stella and the entire Visit Derby team for the coordination and assistance during my Nottingham excursion.