It’s ‘Flaming June’ 2014 version and my local running spot at nearby Bestwood comes into its own on these beautiful, sunny and relaxed evenings. Nominated as a country park a good few years ago, it will always be plain old ‘Bestwood’ to me. A stretch of the old Sherwood Forest which lies but a few minutes from where I live, that is satisfyingly accessible.
In truth, I love the place at all times of year. The former royal hunting estate and retreat of many a notable over hundreds of years of history looks gorgeous when coated in a thick layer of snow for instance. Spring has its own translucent green freshness whilst some might say Autumn is the richest time of all with its crispy, golden leaves and paths laden with chestnuts. It’s the dog days of summer that most appeal to me though as I trot along the dry, dusty paths bordered by lush green fields and thick forestry of Oaks, Chestnuts and Birch to name but a few of the ancient trees. I’ve been coming here a long time and I still love it. It is the green lung of the residential suburb where I live.
Within a few moments in this place, I forget the hardships of the day and wind down with copious amounts of invigorating fresh air, the sound of skylarks and lapwings and the sight of an isolated walker or horse rider. The air at this time of year smells sweet and highly scented with the delicate fragrances of the old hedgerows. It is the perfect tonic and antidote to the stresses of the day.
The sun finally sets over Bestwood, it is time to return home.
This is an image sent to me by a visitor to The Tears of a Clown in regard to this article about Bestwood Country Park and Colliery Village in Nottinghamshire in which she has an interest. The image is of the old boiler house which served The Bestwood Lodge, once a fine hunting lodge and now a popular hotel on the edge of the pretty woodlands of the country park. It’s kindly requested that if anyone recalls this building which was demolished around the turn of the 1980s’ and stood on the land where the Fire Station is now situated, would they mind sharing their memories or knowledge about it.
But that is not all.
The visitor who supplied the image for this article pointed out that there appears to be a little more to this fairly ordinary photograph than may at first meet the eye. I too immediately spotted it. For those that are partial to a good mystery, these premises were purported to be haunted. I’ll leave you to look at the image closely…
An emailed conversation with a good friend recently focused my thoughts on the origins of how I began this addiction called ‘running’ many years ago as a twelve-year old with an attitude and an inclination. My friend Margaret and I have shared a few miles on the county’s footpaths and country lanes, we also at one time were part of the Redhill Road Runners club but that’s probably a story for another day. Safe to say, we have both had our share of pleasure, friendship, heartache, frustration and achievement over the years taking part in the sport. did I say sport? Perhaps more a way of life because I find one begins to define oneself as a runner in many ways.
When I think back to when I began running it brings a smile. Not quite into my teens and obviously knowing everything* I was probably kitted out in a pair of Tesco jeans, ‘Tesco Bombers’ as us Levi’s-deprived lads termed them. Completing my running clobber would be an orange Mickey Mouse t-shirt and pair of very flat-soled trainers which had starred in many a school playground twenty-a-side, tennis ball, football match.
Bestwood Colliery Village is a small community in Nottinghamshire that grew around a coal mine. The mine was first sunk in 1875 by the Lancaster family giving the mine its original name of the ‘Lancaster Drift’. To provide for the people coming to work in the mine, the Lancaster’s built sixty-four houses, an Institute, Offices, a school and an Ironworks. Before the colliery the Bestwood area was a peaceful place full of woodland only, with few people living there. There were two mills nearby on the River Lean that housed child workers but very few other people. Up to 2000 men came to work in the mine; many of them came from nearby areas like Arnold and Hucknall. The Colliers Pad, where miners walked to work from Redhill still exists. The winding house that used to lower the men down into the mine still stands. It has a large engine inside which would operate the ‘cage’ lowering miners down below ground. It would also bring the coal to the surface.
The original main street, now called Park Road, looks much the same with rows of miner’s cottages along the street. Small homes that stand back to back with each other. The miners would pay rent to the colliery owners to live in the houses. In the old days there were no buses out of Bestwood. To get to Nottingham a train had to be taken which would take an hour to travel the six miles. The ‘Institute’ is an interesting building. It is now called The Bestwood Hotel but was built as a reading room, a billiard room and a drinking place. Women were not allowed in! It was also used as a morgue following pit accidents.
The children of the village would play games in the surrounding woods. They would go to a favourite place called ‘The Sandholes’ and play ‘whip and top’, hide and seek and rounders. The children would go to Sunday school in the morning and afternoon. On Sunday evening they would go to church too. If they missed church The Reverend Hawthorne would call at their house the next day to find out why! The big treat every year for the children was the visit to Bestwood Lodge. Bestwood Lodge is a large hall which used to be the home of the Duke of St. Albans. Many famous people have visited the Lodge including King Edward VII. Moneyed visitors would come to hunt deer in the Bestwood Estate. Roundabouts and decorated haycarts and wagons would be at the special day. There would be a tea party and music provided by the Bulwell Salvation Army. The people who lived in Bestwood were quite poor and worked very hard. Most of them seemed to have liked living in the village though as there was regular work for the men and the village was surrounded by lovely countryside. Bestwood had most of the things there that people needed and people would not travel outside the village very often. Today parts of Bestwood look are unchanged from those days. There are though lots of new houses making the village much larger. The past is never very far away however in Bestwood Colliery village.
My Memories of Bestwood as a boy
I never lived in Bestwood but as a boy would play long days in the woods with my friends from Redhill and Arnold. We would take the walk up Colliers Pad and play all day in the woods making dens, climbing trees, and collecting chestnuts and conkers. The Game Keeper lived at Alexandra Lodges in the middle of the woods. Whenever he would see us boys he would shoo us off by pointing his shotgun at us! We would run away but always come back the next day!
I remember the first day my friends and I ‘discovered’ Bestwood Colliery Village. We had walked further than usual and saw the small cottages of the village in the distance. Going on to explore we passed the old pit gates, (the mine was still open). The first thing I noticed was a ‘pit pony’ tied up to one of the cottage’s front door knockers! The village looked so different to what we boys knew. We all lived with our families in comparatively new and smart semi-detached houses provided by the council but these little homes looked very odd. They were tiny and the bricks they were built from were blackened by years of standing near the mine.
I loved Bestwood as a boy and still do. It was a huge big playground for we boys and after playing there most of the day we would head home for Redhill in near darkness with the owls in the trees hooting. Once along Colliers Pad we would see the street lights of Redhill beckoning and warm homes and teas to come. Nowadays I still go there but I see very few people enjoying the woods. It’s very quiet. I often wish some of the kids nowadays would have the fun I did there as a youngster as it was a place where dreams were made and friendships bonded. It still looks very similar to when I was a boy and it will always have a special place in my heart.
Bestwood Country park stretches 650 acres and is part of the original Sherwood Forest. It lies around five miles north of Nottingham and is accessible by city transport buses. It is also walkable from the Robin Hood Line train. Towards the Arnold/ Mansfield road side of the park is situated The Bestwood Lodge Hotel which is on the edge of the woodland. A decent meal or a drink in extremely civilised surroundings are available in the historic old building.
Meeting my friend at Bestwood Lodge today for an arranged walk with a park ranger was such a good idea. We met after nine-thirty and joined ranger, John and another walker an hour later, prepared to learn something new about the park we have used and loved so much over the years.
But a few minutes into the walk, we saw the rare black Hebridean Sheep which are kept in one of Bestwood’s ancient flower meadows. This particular meadow was described to us as resembling one from 200 years ago in its native flora and fauna.
Woodland management is a huge task in Bestwood. To preserve the natural vegetation of the woods – that of mainly Birch and oak trees, patches of sycamore are routinely cleared to allow the former to grow. As in most areas of nature, a natural balance is sought and it is felt that the sycamore offers too dense a shade in the woodland for the oak and birch saplings to flourish. This in turns affects the type of wildlife that exists happily in this area of the old Sherwood Forest, and has done for many hundreds of years.
All around the park there are piles of logs where trees have been cleared or pruned. It had always crossed my mind what happened to the wood and I found out today. Much of the material is left on the woodland floor for invertebrates to live in and for fungi to grow amongst. The deeper the pile of wood the better apparently for some creatures. Some of the wood is however sold as firewood. Something I will be availing myself of, partly to contribute to Bestwood and partly as there is something somehow satisfying about burning fuel gathered from my own community putting something back at the same time.
We observed young yew saplings which have been introduced to the woodland. Yew is one of the oldest trees this country has and can grow for up to a thousand years it is said. There is some confusion as to why Yew is often seen within churchyards. Our ranger’s opinion was that the yew offers extremely good waterproof cover due to its shape, and that pagan worship was held underneath the bows of the trees. The Christian churches were then built on these same plots after their introduction, therefore the yew being a common churchyard sight. Another strong theory is that Yews were planted by decree to supply wood for longbows for forest folk. The yew possesses bright red berries which are attractive to birds, it is however extremely poisonous to humans.
Finally our walk ended where we had begun, at the old winding house. This building was part of the original Bestwood Colliery which stopped producing coal in the 1960’s. Some form of maintenance work however carried on into the 1980’s. The winding house which contained the steam engine that powered the ‘cage’ that took the colliers down the shaft to the coal seams below has a team of enthusiasts who help preserve this unique building. In the past week it has been reported that a lottery grant of £1m has been won by the council to develop it. There will be lifts and visits possible to the coal face below, together with a tea room which is sure to be popular.
One wonders about the future of Bestwood and hopes that it remains the unspoilt haven of history and tranquility that it is now. The ranger’s opinion is that perhaps the winding house may end up as something of a ‘honey pot’ for visitors and yet those of us that seek more solitude and peace within the park will still use the majority of the wider area. I hope and believe so.
Bestwood Country Park (or as we say around these parts, ‘up Bestwood’) for me however remains Nottinghamshire’s best kept secret for the moment.