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.
It’s perhaps one of those things than many of us have promised to experience ‘sometime’, rising early and venturing out to a suitable place in order to hear the early morning song of the birds in their own habitat. It’s a fact that many of us have also lay fitfully awake in the dawning hours, listening to the first tentative notes of birdsong that invade our homes, hoping not to hear them. The alarm clock beckoning before long and another trying day ahead.
I first wondered about those first few notes when I was a young boy. The ones that gradually gathered tuneful momentum and confidence through my bedroom window during the ‘wee sma’ hours’. I didn’t know the name of what I was listening to, all I knew was that it it heralded a new day very, very soon. I came to listen for it more and more. My fascination continues for it to this day.
Perhaps this is an appropriate time of the day for you to read this, perhaps it is not, but would you like to join me for a few moments in lovely Sherwood Forest to listen to the sweet bird song of the dawn? Surely in these changing times we still have a few moments for such contemplation?
To enter the Forest, please click on the Song Thrush below.
And now at last the sun
is going down behind the wood,
And I am very happy,
for I know that I’ve been good.
My bed is waiting cool and fresh,
with linen smooth and fair,
And I must off to sleep again,
and not forget my prayer.
I know that, till tomorrow
I shall see the sun arise,
No ugly dream shall fright my mind,
no ugly sight my eyes,
But slumber hold me tightly
till I waken in the dawn,
And hear the thrushes singing
in the lilacs round the lawn.
R. L. Stevenson