A walk in the local Sherwood Forest this week set me pondering the age-old story of the Nottingham outlaw and the legends surrounding his associated characters and places. I’ve touched on the story previously in articles featuring St. James Church at Papplewick and Sherwood Forest itself but I hopefully have a different slant to offer within this piece.
Sherwood Forest was enjoying a day’s respite from the regular reign of late on Monday, the high clouds finally clearing to offer fresh sunlight dappled through the old oaks, the rays searing into the clearings amongst the trees. Many visitors only appear to consider the Major Oak as worth seeing and truly it is a tremendous sight, but within a few minutes one can be in seclusion within the boundaries of the 450-acre former Royal hunting park.
Being a busy visitor centre much visited by tourists necessarily affects the amount of wildlife in the Forest but there are still compensations along the many pleasant paths through trees. Out in the Forest today were dozens of different fungi carpeting the ground and felled trees. A close up study of the ancient oaks is also quite a wonder. As I walked the gunshot fire of squirrels dropping acorns from the tall boughs onto the otherwise silent woodland floors. It was against this backdrop that I considered this story of the world-renowned outlaw of Sherwood Forest.
North Nottinghamshire still remains an area of more than average forestry. Some of it no longer deciduous but still attractive in its own way. This is especially so when requiring a part canopy against the elements on a wet day’s walking. It was on just such a day recently that I found myself walking with a friend in the local Thieves Wood and Harlow Wood. It’s in the latter that the site of a legendary Robin Hood story can be found.
Wet days can sometimes bring their compensations ironically and so it was today for a series of inclement days had seen the formerly dried up waters of Fountaindale gurgling and flowing busily. The ballad of Robin and the Curtail Flyer documents the first meeting of Robin Hood and Friar Tuck at Fountaindale. It’s a story that has been enacted many times for Hollywood and television. One legend has it that Robin had a resting place near the dale whilst the Friar may have either been from Nearby Newstead Abbey or possibly a smaller Abbey at Fountaindale. Robin had the reputation as the best bowman in England and had heard that the Friar was his match and more. When searching for and finding Friar Tuck at Fountaindale, Robin Hood demanded that the Friar carry him across the water. Tuck duly and obediently acceded to Robin’s demand only to drop him in half way across. Stories record that within humiliated, a fierce fight ensued before the two became friends after gaining mutual respect with Tuck joining Robin Hood’s band of men.
Another interesting side story from the area describes Sir Walter Scott writing parts of his famous ‘Ivanhoe’ epic at nearby Fountain Dale House. Scott referred to the area as ‘Copmanhurst’.
An excellent video account of one man’s visit to Will Scarlet’s grave
At nearby Blidworth lies what is reputed to be the grave of another of that band, Will Scarlet. The Church of St Mary of the Purification on the main street houses a curious monument to the rear which was not originally a gravestone but rather the original apex from the tower of the church. There are no markings on the stone but generations of local people have passed down the legend that Will Scarlet was buried against the back of the church. Who really knows? As with all stories related within the legendary story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men one has to use one’s imagination. Certainly though if there is any accuracy in the stories, the area of Nottinghamshire containing Sherwood Forest, Fountaindale and Blidworth would present a worthy epicentre of its activities.
A few miles north of the city of Nottingham deep in Robin Hood Country lies the village of Blidworth, a former mining area and celebrated as reputedly owning the burial place of one Will Scarlett. Debate will no doubt always surround the legendary outlaw but what isn’t in doubt is the enviable geographical position of the slightly comically named Blidworth Bottoms nearby which houses the attractive Fox and Hounds pub.
As one might imagine, Blidworth Bottoms nestles at the foot of a steep hill from Blidworth up above. A farm or two, a few private homes and the public house comprise much of what this little niche of Nottinghamshire has to offer – and that is just the very appeal of it.
Just south of the Fox and Hounds lies Blidworth Woods, a beautiful, undulating woodland with waymarked trails for those keen on taking the air in pleasant surroundings. Over the past few years more than a whiff of scandal has been attached to Blidworth Woods due to it being a notorious meeting place for those of a, shall we say more adventurous sexual appetite. An increased police presence has partly altered this state of affairs, locals state. I don’t particularly want to dwell on this issue too much apart from to say that running and walking in those woods is something I have done for many a year and that I hope others are afforded the opportunity to do that unhindered and without embarrassment too.
The Fox and Hounds is a white-painted former farm house that sits very cosily at the foot of a hill and directly opposite a junction of a partly single-track tree-shrouded country lane. It is a charming drive through the woods from the direction of the old Victorian Papplewick Pumping Station. Although being situated a few miles north of the large Nottinghamshire suburb of Arnold, it still remains only ten minutes drive away. The origins of the building go back as far as the early Nineteenth century though the exact date it became a public house is unknown. The interior of the pub has some interesting paintings and photographs around the walls which date it back as a pub to at least 1910.
Perhaps the first thing that one notes when entering the Fox and Hounds is the compact cosiness of the pub. It retains the warmth and welcome of a nice old country drinking place and immediately feels welcoming. That feeling is certainly exacerbated by the pleasant and very friendly staff who offer a genuinely warm welcome and polite and attentive service. Likewise the whole pub has a friendly ambiance due to a nice mixture of friendly locals and visitors from further afield alike. The interior has a wrap-around lounge and eating area to the right-hand side of the pub and small public bar to the left. In comparatively recent times an outside deck has been built on the left-hand side which offers a pleasant view over the rolling fields
I first visited the Fox and Hounds some thirty years ago. I liked it then though the pub – like many others was quite different in appearance in those days with smaller rooms and the accent being on drinking rather eating as was the order of the day. It was a perennial favourite of mums and dads with it’s swingpark outside – the archetypal place where kids could be brought, given a bottle of lemonade and packet of crisps and left to play whilst mum and dad got on with the job of relaxing for an hour or two on a warm, balmy Sunday evening.
Times and tastes change of course but happily the Fox and Hounds has moved forward with a respect to the old pub as it was and is very much unspoilt. it is still a treat to visit there. In these pieces about pubs I tend to steer away from reviewing drinks, menus and meals as there are many sites that deal with those things primarily. I will offer an important point though as it’s usually to eat when I visit, that the food is home cooked on the premises – a claim that cannot be made by too many pubs these days. I never fail to enjoy my meals there which are offered up in very ample servings. To be recommended. At the same this is not a pub that discourages drinkers to the inclusion of diners. One feels perfectly at ease just taking a pint or two in there.
So there we go then, the Fox and Hounds at Blidworth Bottoms. It can be approached from either the main A60 or A614 roads or pleasantly through the woods from the direction of Ravenshead. I’ll leave you to check your road maps. I think you will be glad you did.