However, after a £30million revamp the gates to Nottingham Castle are open once more – offering visitors the chance to hear thrilling tales of Robin Hood and rebellion, explore historic caves, and view art collections and exhibitions inspired by the city’s history.
I had heard mention of the place -– lockdown listening to history podcasts – but the visit brought all those brief snippets together in a fun and factual day trip with my eight-year-old daughter.
The first thing that strikes you before entering is the huge outcrop of sandstone (the rock upon which the castle was originally built by William The Conquerer in 1068) as you approach on Castle Road, riddled with caves and tunnels, long blocked off.
They play a part in the history of the castle, of course, including a daring raid by supporters of the young Edward III to capture the unwanted power behind the throne Roger Mortimer.
“Mortimer’s Hole” as it is now called is off limits at the moment but the cave tour (which we did) does take you into an old wine cellar, kitchen and dungeon (where Scotland’s King David may have been held) carved underground in the sandstone.
Quite remarkable really and certainly worth a look.
The castle – attacked by Richard the Lionheart when it was a stronghold of his brother Prince John, and Richard’s III’s base before setting off to Bosworth – is long gone (apart from the outer walls) and in its place the restored and stunning 17th century Ducal Palace which houses the exhibitions. The city’s links with lace and pottery are well covered though my favourite was the one telling the story of local boy made good Paul Smith, now a world-renowned fashion designer of course.
The Rebellion Gallery was also mighty impressive – huge screens telling stories from the civil war (King James raised his standard there, a significant moment in the start of the conflict), The Luddites who sought to protect the textile industry and Parliamentary Reform, which led to the castle being attacked and set on fire.
The interactive tables were a great way of engaging young and old.
The legend of Nottingham’s most famous export – Robin Hood (there is a great statue outside) – is also brought to life brilliantly in the Adventures Gallery, with huge digital “in the round” storytelling screens and interactive games allowing you to fire digital longbows as you outwit the sheriff, or wield a quarterstaff to spar with Little John in the depths of Sherwood Forest. Great fun.
Younger visitors will also enjoy the great outdoor play area – Hood’s Hideout – built in one of the original castle ditches.