A Day at Sherwood Forest

Robin Hood and Little John 2+

Last Monday was a Bank Holiday in the UK and Nick and I, with our two daughters, Nicola and Louise, and grandson, Kieran, headed off to Sherwood Forest – about 27 miles away from where we live. Several events and activities are held at Sherwood during the year, some with historical themes, others with environmental or conservational ones. This weekend’s events were all distinctly historical, involving encampments and displays, and a number of short re-enactments from various groups. But I can’t bring myself to write a post about the events without first adding some information about this lovely forest – or what’s left of it – today.

Sherwood Forest is located at Edwinstowe in the county of Nottinghamshire, 17 miles north of Nottingham. It was once an area of woodland and heath that covered 100,000 acres (156 square miles), amounting to one fifth of Nottinghamshire. It was first established as a royal hunting preserve in the 10th century, the remnants of which later became known as Birklands (originally burchlands) – so named after the birch trees growing there.

This map from Wikipedia shows the locations of some of the major royal forests in 13th century England:

Royal.Forests Map

Royal Forests 1327-1336 (names of selected forests). Based on I.G. Simmons’ ‘The Moorlands of England and Wales). Author: Own Work, ISBN 074860

Throughout the centuries, these expanses of forest became dangerous places to enter. Not only were wild boar living in there, but outlaws gathered in their depths to keep out of the way of capture – which would mean hanging, or mutilation of some sort, for their crimes. (The word, ‘outlaw’ is simply derived from the idea of people living ‘outside the law’.)

The Great North Road (the main London-Scotland road) ran through Sherwood Forest and control of it during the Civil War became imperative to both sides. Later, in the 18th and 19th centuries in particular, highwaymen hid in the trees, waiting for travellers and making it a perilous route. (One of the encampments over the weekend belonged to a gang of highwaymen.)

Sherwood Forest is now a 450 acre Country Park, with a fascinating ecosystem – and a host of environmental/protected site designations. It is a Grade 1 site for ancient woodland and heathland, an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) an NRA (National Nature Reserve) and an SAC (Special Area of Conservation). Entry to Sherwood Forest is free, but there is a car parking fee of £3 – which can be reclaimed on purchase in the café or in the visitor centre/gift shop (where you can buy a great bow and arrow to play with or a nice green hat with a feather in it to wear.)

Sherwood Forest is best known for its associations with one of the best known outlaws of medieval times: Robin Hood (or Robin Hode) . . .

Statue of Robin Hood +

Robin Hood/Robert of Loxley was a late-12th century outlaw who ‘robbed the rich to give to the poor’. Actually who this character was has been the subject of many long debates. He has been linked to the Green Man, Jack of the Green and Herne the Hunter (who could be all the same character) amongst others, and I do intend to do a post about all this at some stage. Robin’s story has been changed and added to over the centuries, but the basic storyline stays the same. It has become particularly well-known over the last century due to the many films and TV series about him. At the exit to the Robin Hood Exhibition there is a wall display showing some of these productions:

Film and Tv productions of 'Robin Hood' 3

And these are just a few of the scenes actually inside the Exhibition:

Sherwood attracts between 360, 000 and one million visitors per year, many of them from other countries. Each year, the reserve hosts the week-long Robin Hood Festival – a great event with a really medieval atmosphere and featuring the main characters from the Robin Hood legend. Entertainments include jousters, and players, plus a medieval encampment with jesters, musicians, rat catchers, alchemists and fire eaters.

But visitors also come to Sherwood throughout the year to visit the Forest itself. There are over 900 ‘veteran’ oak trees here, including England’s Tree of the Year for 2014, The Major Oak – which is a pedunculate or English common oak.  Naturally, other species grow here, too – birch being the predominant one. First, here are a few photos of the forest, including some of the many old oaks and some of the wood carvings dotted along the paths. I have to admit that the first tree in the gallery is my favourite. Look at those big, brawny arms – although he is rather two-faced, don’t you think . . . ?

And this is the really ‘Big Man’ of the Forest, The Major Oak:

Major Oak 2 (2) +

According to folklore, the Major Oak was Robin Hood’s principal hideout. It is believed to be between 800 and 1000 years old and since Victorian times its great, heavy boughs have been supported by elaborate scaffolding. Whether or not this tree really would have had a trunk sturdy and wide enough for a man to hide inside in the late 12th/early 13th century is debatable – but hey, this is folklore we’re talking about. There could well have been some oak old enough at the time for Robin to have hidden inside.

I’m told that clones of this awesome tree are being attempted through grafting and acorns are also being grown. Apparently, any saplings produced will be sent to various countries around the world.

Next time, I’ll post some photos of the different historical groups and characters we encountered in Sherwood on Bank Holiday Monday. It was certainly a colourful and entertaining day.

Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre 1

Sherwood Forest visitor centre sign. Author: Marcin Floryan. Creative Commons.

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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48 Responses to A Day at Sherwood Forest

  1. Joy Pixley says:

    What a beautiful and interesting forest! From here it feels like it must be just magical to be there. Those oaks are so old, and so very gnarled — something right out of a fairy tale!

    I loved the board with the photos from TVs and movies too. I recognized so many of them! So happy that they included my two favorite bad guys too (Alan Rickman and Richard Armitage). And of course, Captain Picard in the upper right — you can barely see him, but I’d recognize him anywhere. 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, Sherwood would be a great place for you to visit, Joy – being the Robin Hood fan that you are. It does feel quite magical amongst all the old trees but, like other historical sites, it does get a lot of visitors, especially in ‘Events’ days. The poster of all the different films brought a lot of memories back to me, too. 🙂

  2. leggypeggy says:

    Thanks for the lovely outing.

  3. I really do enjoy your posts, they are always fun and informative and what is not to like about Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen…..

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Cameron. I think I grew up loving Robin Hood. My mum always talked about him (more because of Errol Flynn than anything). Then, when I was abut nine or ten, the Richard Green series started on telly (where the song you quoted comes from). When you get up to Hadrian’s Wall, there’s a tree in Sycamore Gap (near the Once Brewed Information Centre) that featured in the Kevin Costner film. The Year 7 kids we took used to go mad to touch it! We always laughed at the fact that Robin was supposed to be on his was from Dover to Nottingham when the tree scene occurs. It was rather a big detour! Anway, there’s lots about Robin at Sherwood Forest to enjoy.

      • Absolutely agree! Dover to Nottingham via Northumbria!!
        My favourite Robin Hood film is the 1939 version with Errol Flynn. Did you know it was the first ever big budget colour movie to be made…! Basil Rathbone as the Sheriff was very dastardly too….!

  4. This is another side of Sherwood forest. Love it. Thanks for the trip.

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Ineke. Sherwood’s a really nice place to walk around. The old oaks are excellent – especially the Major Oak. Hope all is well over there in NZ. I imagine it’s getting quite cold. Winter must be closing in by now, so keep warm.

      • milliethom says:

        I seem to have made a typo with your name, Ineke! Sorry – I’ll edit it out!

      • I would love to visit Sherwood. It is so wonderful that those oaks survive and grow so old. Yes winter is upon us with freezing cold mornings. I always say that winter is better than summer because in winter you can put on another layer but in summer it does not help to take every thing off. Hope you are well too. Summer isn’t it? Do you get rain in summer or only in winter? Enjoy your coming weekend-we have a long weekend(Queens birthday!)

      • milliethom says:

        The weather here hasn’t been at all good yet. It’s been grey and very windy, and much too cold for May-June. Some areas have had really heavy rain – both here and over in France and Germany, where there were floods and lots of damage done. The weather men are forecasting a heatwave for us later this month, but I’ll believe that when it gets here. We often have very cool summers. It all depends on the weather systems coming across the Atlantic. We could have plenty of rain in summer if depressions keep coming in. We just pray for high pressures to settle over us to keep them out.
        Have a great weekend. I imagine it will extend into Monday, as you call it a long weekend. We had one of those last weekend when it was Bank Holiday Monday. No extra days this weekend , though.

      • The weather here is also much like your way of explaining it. Hope for a high to move the wet or cold away! Yes it is Monday. Last long weekend until late Oct.

      • milliethom says:

        Better make the most of it then. 🙂 We have August Bank Holiday next – another extra Monday at the end of August.

  5. draliman says:

    Looks like a great place to visit. I’d love to see some of these places from your posts, but one thing about living in Cornwall – it’s miles from everywhere!

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, Cornwall is a little cut off from the rest of us – which, of course, is all part of its charm (along with all the old Celtic/old British place-names). We’ll enjoy investigating everything next week. 🙂 It’s nine years since Nick and I were down there, and thirteen years for Lou, so we may see a few changes here and there. I hope you manage to visit at least a few places outside of Cornwall in the future, Ali. There are great to see all over the country – and we’re doing our very best to see most of them! 🙂

      • draliman says:

        It’s nice to see pictures of places on blogs like yours, so I can bear them in mind when planning a trip.
        One obvious change you’ll see since your last visit are the hideous roadworks where they’re dualling the A30 at Temple… 😦

      • milliethom says:

        We meet hideous roadworks everywhere but, as long as they don’t hold us up for hours, we grin and bear it. (Well, Nick has the odd rant or two, and I just get on with the book I’m reading.)

  6. Oh Millie, what a lovely outing and so interesting ! Sherwood Forest sounds like a place I would love to visit. The Robin Hood Festival must be great and those trees and the oak, just phenomenal !!! Thanks so much for sharing. x

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Lynne. We intend to go to the Robin Hood Festival this year as it’s while since we did. It’s the first week in August, so we have to remember not to organise anything else. The oaks are really great – all so old (a bit like me, so I’ve got to like them.:) )

  7. r_prab says:

    Ah the place about which I had only heard in the famous Howard Pyle novel! I am thrilled to read about and see the pictures of this forest in real! The trees are so old and the sculptures are so classical! Amazing place, I must say! Thank you for taking us to this trip Millie! 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you for reading, Prabhat. I’ve never read the Howard Pyle book and probably ought to at some stage. I think many people are fascinated by the stories of Robin Hood. Taking from the rich to give to the poor makes him a great hero. Sherwood Forest fits the stories beautifully. At this time it really is ‘the greenwood’ and the old oaks are awe-inspiring. 🙂

  8. Antonia says:

    What a cool place! This is so fascinating. I would love to visit….maybe one day 😀 Thanks for taking us on another adventure!

  9. Pingback: Echoes of my Neighbourhood: Welcome to the Greenwood | The Storyteller's Abode

  10. inesephoto says:

    What an amazing day! The Major Oak is my favorite.

  11. Susan Langer says:

    Very fascinating. As a child, I always thought it was mythical until I was older and could read about it. 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      I’m not really surprised at that, Susan. The stories are rather like fairy tales, so Sherwood could well have been a mythical place, too. But it’s very real, even though it’s fragmented today. It covered a very large area in the 12th century, and bands of outlaws could easily have their camps in there. 🙂

  12. Texan Fenris says:

    Hey there – lovely little bit of history on such a rich place. I was actually one of the reenactors (I was portraying a merry (wo)man) – so I’m looking forward to seeing your take on the event, and maybe catch sight of some photos of my friends?

  13. milliethom says:

    Thank you, Texan Fenris (Fascinating name. Are you very wolf-like – and are you from Texas?) I’m also wondering which reenactment group you were in. From your comment, you are a woman, but dressed as a man in Sherwood? That’s part-guess, of course, because we saw a few women dressed as men but not the other way around, especially in the king John camp and the Scots’ camp. Whichever group you were with, we thoroughly enjoyed the day and loved the reenacted scenes. It’s a big ‘well done and thank you’ to all of you.
    I’m in Cornwall now, but hope to do the second part of my post in the next day or two. 🙂

    • Texan Fenris says:

      Ha, glad you like my name. I’m indeed a native Texan, but I’m very interested in my heritage, which is primarily Scandinavian, and so I just added the Fenris for vanity’s sake.
      I was with Crusade – we had both the king’s men and merry men in our camp (funny to have John ignoring Robin Hood sitting a few yards away). It was a fun show to do, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      • milliethom says:

        Ah, so you’re a Viking at heart! Now, /Vikings are my favourite thing to talk about, as I write about them. 😀Anyway, I noticed a few women in John’s camp, but the only one I spotted who was dressed as a man was the one who had an exciting set-to with an axe-wielding madman. Was that you? If it was, you certainly put up a good fight.
        I’m down in Cornwalll this week, but I still intend to get my post up tomorrow night. That’s for connecting with me, and I wish you all the best in the quest to investigate your ancestry. There are lots of Viking reenactment groups about. I follow a couple of them on Twitter and have been to see several of their events. The last one was in May at Corfe Castle in Dorset. But I love enactments from any historical period. Have fun with yours. 😀

  14. irinadim says:

    So thrilling to visit Sherwood Forest through your fascinating post, Millie. Those old gnarled oak trees look quite spooky… I remember Danny Kay as Robin Hood sitting in a tree and singing… my favourite Robin Hood movie. What an exciting day you had there with your family! 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      I remember Danny Kaye as Robin, too. He played the part in his usual jovial way, and of course, couldn’t resist the odd song or two. He had a lovely voice, though. The story of Robin Hood appeals to most people’s imaginations, I think.
      I’m away from home this week, Irina. We’re down in Cornwall until next weekend, so I’ll be reading some posts after that. Our days are too packed at the moment to do anything much at all on my blog. I’ll be going home with enough photos and information for at least a dozen more posts!
      Thank you for liking my post about Sherwood Forest. It’s a lovely place to visit. 🙂

      • irinadim says:

        Hello Millie! You must have come back by now. I haven’t done much on WordPress lately, too busy following our politicians on their election campaign. We’re voting on 2 July. And Britain is voting on 23 June for In or Out of Europe. I was shocked this morning to hear of the violent assassination of the young pro-Europe woman… I think I’ll stop following the news after our elections. Then I’ll have more time to visit WordPress. Have a lovely weekend. 🙂

  15. The major oak is truly amazing. I’ll have to share this with a friend from Spain who spent time here with a family as an exchange student during in his senior year of high school. Thank you, Millie. I will put this on my list of places to visit when next in England. Clare

    • milliethom says:

      It’s a great old tree, that’s for sure, but think if the scaffolding were taken down, those huge boughs would break off. It certainly draws a lot of people to Sherwood – along with the story of Robin Hood, of course.
      Hope all is well with you, Clare. I’m away in Cornwall this week, but will visit your blog once I get home next weekend. Time is very short when I’m on holiday. We’re out so much I haven’t time to look at my blog on most days.

  16. cynthiamvoss says:

    This is so much fun! I used to love everything about Robin Hood when I was a teenager. I think I was inspired by his rebellious nature 😆 What I would have given to visit Sherwood Forest!

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