Robin Hood: A Personal Journey

Once More in Robin Hood Country (2006)

by Allen W. Wright

Burned out and the documentary

For a complete photo record of this trip - including pictures of the 2006 Robin Hood Festival, Sherwood at dawn and the village of Edwinstowe, check out the Once More in Robin Hood Country section of my Picture Gallery.

As happens with a lot of webmasters, my website had burned me out. I'd run the site for nearly a decade. In that time, I've often had students demand - not ask - that I drop what I'm doing and answer their questions by 3:30 pm. I've had many visitors come by and tell me how they used the information on my site for projects that they got money for, while running the site usually costs me money. Oh, and there was the nagging sense that I've turned my writing career -- I have a journalism degree amongst the pieces of paper on my wall -- into a mere hobby. So, I was feeling pretty unappreciated at the beginning of 2006.

Then Tiger Aspect started producing a new Robin Hood television series to be shown on BBC One. Much like the successful revival of Doctor Who, this new Robin Hood series was accompanied by a promotional documentary. Jonathan Ross's World of Robin Hood, a 60-minute documentary, was produced by Hot Sauce Productions and hosted by the company's owner, Jonathan Ross (a name which will be far more familiar to British visitors than my fellow North Americans). [Oddly, it aired the day after the first episode of the programme it was supposed to promote.] In late June 2006, the documentary's producer contacted me requesting my involvement. While I may have been a bit tired of my website, I was happy to pitch in.

The last time I participated in a documentary, it was filmed in my apartment. This time, they were willing to pay me to fly to England and conduct the interview in Sherwood Forest. It's rare that my efforts on this site have come with a reward. The production crew paid for my flight and a few days expenses, and I contributed some money to extend my visit to a much-needed transatlantic holiday.

Nottingham and the Galleries of Justice

My plane arrived at Heathrow on the night of July 29, 2006 and I spent the first couple of days of my vacation in London. About the only notable Robin Hood thing from that time was seeing the portrait of Henry Hastings, the Elizabethan earl of Huntingdon, in the White Tower of the Tower of London. On the morning of Tuesday, August 1, I took the train (my favourite way to travel) up to Nottingham.

After dropping my suitcase and backpack off at the lockers of the Broadmarsh bus station, I spent a few hours exploring Nottingham. Having been to the city on many occasions before, I spent my time at the one major tourist attraction that I've missed on previous visits - the Galleries of Justice. The Galleries is located in Nottingham's historic Lace Market and is just across the street from St. Mary's Church (which is apparently where Robin went to mass in the early ballad Robin Hood and the Monk).

The focus of the Galleries is post-medieval, but even the later history of the criminal justice system can appeal to those who study outlaw legends. I took part in a tour of the old cells, learning about the lives -- and deaths -- of prisoners in centuries past. The tour includes a visit to the Victorian courtroom and a chance to re-enact an actual trial. There were no children on the tour, and so most people seemed reluctant to volunteer. Not me -- I relished playing the judge, and ad-libbed the line from the Errol Flynn film about finding the sentence far too lenient. 

After the Galleries, I sped through the rest of the city (which I have visited before). I checked out the gift shop at the Tales of Robin Hood, which I think has suffered in the legend's lean years as it hardly seemed restocked since my last visit. Perhaps the new BBC series will inspire new products for them to stock. [In fact, The Tales of Robin Hood closed its doors in 2009. Initially some of its times went to the Galleries of Justice, and now some are at the new Robin Hood Experience.] I also stopped by the Robin Hood statue outside the castle, and popped into the Trip to Jerusalem for a drink and a bite to eat. Then I dashed back to Broadmarsh station, picked up my bags and hot-footed it over to the Victoria Bus Station. There I took the Sherwood Arrow to Edwinstowe and Sherwood Forest.

Edwinstowe and Sherwood Forest

Of course, I've been to Edwinstowe, the small village just a few minutes from the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre, on my previous visits to the forest. But this time, I spent my nights in the village at a pleasant inn / B&B called the Black Swan. It was enjoyable stay, with interesting conversations in the pub (including a drunken Irishman warning me that a tsunami was destined to destroy Toronto) and hearty breakfast including (by my request) vegetarian "sausages". I had more time to stroll the streets of Edwinstowe, checking out the various stores and restaurants that bore Robin Hood's name -- including a shop that appears to offer a line of lingere named for Maid Marian.

Then I popped into the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre to experience a tiny bit of their annual Robin Hood Festival. I also met up with fellow webmaster Charlotte who runs a site devoted to Robin Hood film and television. Afterwards, I strolled through the forest an encountered the group of re-enactors camped across from the famous Major Oak. I sat down and had an enjoyably long chat with them. In particular, I discussed the nature of legends with puppeteer Simon Cuerden and made a mental note to check out his puppet adaptation of Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne the next day.

Then I wandered around the trees at dusk, trying to catch glimpses of the sunset. In my wanderings, I came across the late night ghost walk led by a storyteller named Allan a Dale (although I suspect that's not his real name.)

In Sherwood, about the break of day

The greatest thing in staying at Edwinstowe is that I could wake up very early and head into Sherwood Forest before sunrise. I was able to see, to use the line from Alfred Noyes's poem, Sherwood about the break of day. I'm not a religious or spiritual person -- and so I can't say it was transformative or awakening. But seeing the golden shafts of light break through shine through the leaves? That was beautiful. I passed by the Major Oak and saw a medieval cart standing by, and the tents of the still-sleeping performers that I had spoken to the day before. With few people around, it was nice to wander the through the woods lost in my thoughts and imagination. I never did see the dappled deer that some have, sadly. I did stumble across - an hour ot two later - a sign warning me of possible death if I continued towards an army testing site ahead. It wasn't so much that I was lost as I didn't care. I had a vague sense of where I was going, and that's all I really needed or wanted that morning.

The Robin Hood Festival

Eventually, I made it onto the road and walked back to Edwinstowe for a quick breakfast, and then back to the forest - now bustling with people for the Robin Hood Festival. The hubs of activity were the Visitor Centre, a nearby open air theatre and the Major Oak itself. There were storytellers talking of silver arrows and great adventures, jugglers and the like. The Major Oak had various medieval personages - including Dr. John Greene the Alchemist, Grunal the Moneylender, the Ratcatcher and his wife, a minstrel duo named Hautbois. All ready to banter with the punters. And yes, there was an archery range where I proved yet again I wouldn't pass muster with the Merry Men. And I managed - along with many children - to catch a performance of Simon Cuerden aka Perrots Puppets adaptation of the Gisborne ballad. It was a big hit.

It was exactly the kind of festival where you'd expect Robin Hood to turn up in disguise, pull a fast one on the sheriff and rescue one of the Merry Men. Of course, Robin was there. I was greeted by a few people who said they were Robin Hood, but I was having too much fun to ask for ID.

The interview and the joust

The video room at the Visitor Centre was showing an exclusive sneak preview of the new Robin Hood TV series -- the one which the documentary would promote. It sapped my early enthusiasm for the TV series.

Next up was the interview -- not with the famous Jonathan Ross, presenter of the documentary - but his pleasant and gracious producer. I was asked not to talk about the Robin Hood of my generation -- Robin of Sherwood -- which was too close a competitor that they didn't want praise from fans (although actors from that television series appeared in the documentary). Oddly, I probably talked the most about the 1950s Richard Greene series. I explained the political and social issues of the show, and sure enough the documentary aired my comments broken up by the very clips I specified. It was one of my few appearances in the final documentary.

After the interview, I accompanied the camera crew to the jousting arena, where they filmed the Legends Medieval Stunt Team. Those of you familiar with the Medieval Times dinner theatre would have a good idea of what to expect. Robin and his Merry Men (including Maid Marian) jousted with the sheriff and his lackies. It was fun, choregraphed action with dollops of wit for both adults and children.

The next day, I did another pre-dawn walk through the forest - to see the sun come up in Sherwood Forest. I also strolled through Edwinstowe which was setting up for its own village festival. Then I boarded the bus back to Nottingham and went on to visit London and Canterbury which included meeting up with friends from previous visits to Robin Hood Country.

The last visit to Robin Hood Country ... for now

The next year, I returned to the United Kingdom for a Robin Hood conference. But this time it was held in Wales. After checking in at Cardiff, we headed for the remote Gregynog - a hilltop retreat, safe from the severe flooding of 2007.

I didn't get to Robin Hood Country this time. Well, not quite. After the conference, I did visit Caerphilly Castle, not far from Cardiff. Several years later this castle would double as Nottingham Castle in the Doctor Who episode Robot of Sherwood.

I'd like to return to Nottingham, Sherwood and Yorkshire sometime. These places have changed since I was last there. The Tales of Robin Hood is now more. But Sherwood Forest got a new and different Visitor Centre in 2018. The castle was also closed in 2018 -- to undergo two years of construction that is supposed to transform it into a "world-class" tourist site.

That I'd like to see. And maybe I shall ... some day.

Meanwhile, head on to the last section as I explore why I made all these trips ... why do I like Robin Hood?

Click here to see Robin Hood Locations on Google Maps. I designed this map to showcase some of the sites discussed on this page, as well as others related to the legend. The map is interactive and allows you to zoom in, switch to satellite or Google Earth views. And if you drag the orange figure to the map, you can navigate at street level via Google's 360-degree photos. Many sites are visible from the road.

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This page is a part of Robin Hood -- Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood