Friday

Eyewitness Great Britain. Ian talks about Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire


Ian is a British solo traveller. He likes to travel as light as he possibly can when he is on the road, and he loves to take photos as much as he loves to write. Ian admits that he isn’t great with languages but that he is prepared to go right down to the local level when he travels. He compares his travel style with the working style of a “barefoot doctor.” A person who is only trained very basically in medicine, and gets by with a few resources.

Ian is a delight to talk to; he is such a very tolerant and friendly person. I’m so very glad, that he spent so much time, to tell about Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in Great Britain. Enjoy the ride, read his in-depth info about his home region.

THE TOURISTIN: Three words that characterize Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire?

Ian: Undervalued, Heritage, Artistic.

THE TOURISTIN: How do you get around Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire?

Ian: I don't drive, so I'm pretty much reliant on buses, trains, and my own feet. In my part of the region, centred on the cities of Derby & Nottingham and stretching out towards Mansfield and Chesterfield, my local bus company Trent Barton operate a comprehensive service, pretty frequently on most routes (my most useful bus, the Threes from Nottingham to Mansfield, runs every 10 minutes in the daytime, and even every half hour on Sunday evenings). You can buy an all-day ticket (a "Zigzag") for currently £6; I'll often buy one of these on a Saturday and bus-hop to one of the more distant towns and have an explore somewhere new. Including visiting the real ale pubs, yes.

Trent Barton's routes peter out the further East you go, so to get to the Sherwood Forest area I need to catch buses from the Stagecoach group from Mansfield - but from here it's possible to catch buses to places as far as Newark and even Sheffield.

There are a couple of convenient railway lines that pass through the region; one is a local commuter line that runs close to me, going from Nottingham to Worksop. There's nothing specifically notable about Worksop itself (apart from a very good brewery - Grafton Brewing - that have their own pub), but it's a convenient transit point for Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire. Further West there's a line that runs into the Peak District from Derby to Matlock, and between the two is the main inter-city line connecting Nottingham and Sheffield.

It's quite nice to just get out and walk - as an ex-mining area there are a number of old coal mines that have been landscaped and are now country parks, plus many of the mineral railways that served them are now footpaths/cycle paths and plod their way through the surprisingly green countryside.

THE TOURISTIN: What is the best kept secret about Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Ian: See, I could wax lyrical about Sherwood Forest - yes, the very same place of the Robin Hood legend - where one can even visit the Major Oak where the Merry Men allegedly met up, or walk through miles of woodland trails pretending to be a wood-elf, but it's hardly a secret (there's even a CentreParcs there!).

Equally, I'm not far from Derbyshire's Peak District - one of the finest National Parks of England with pretty villages (Castleton, Eyam) and rolling farmland, interspersed with some steep hills/mountains that feel incredibly remote and wild - there's even a major road that was closed many years ago because of continual landslides; it's now a (very wide) footpath and feels pretty eerie. But again, the number of visitors that can be found at some of the gemstone mines around Mam Tor, or buying puddings/tarts in Bakewell, suggests that it's not really a secret!

Maybe it's the countryside in general - who would have thought that somewhere once so industrial and 'busy' could have so many fields and trees?

In fact, though, I'm going to plump for a building which, while not exactly a 'secret', is somewhere where I have the impression people go 'oh, I forgot about that place, always meant to go there'. "Newstead Abbey" is a historic manor house in Central Nottinghamshire - the name comes from it originally being an Augustinian Monastery built in the 12th Century, but after the monastery was 'dissolved' by King Henry VIII, it was given to the Byron family and converted into a country house.

It stayed in the family until the 6th Baron had to sell it in the early 1800s due to mounting debts. After passing through several hands, it was donated to the council in the 1930s, and is now a museum dedicated to how the house looked when it was sold in the 1800s. The grounds of the house are extensive and include some landscaped gardens, woodland, and a small waterfall that it's possible to stand 'behind' and look out through.

It's not just that the building is old and visually impressive - much of it is still standing, while other parts are in extensive ruin - but its history is equally interesting. It's believed to be haunted - certainly there's stories of people dying in the property - and it's been owned by a couple of 'colourful' people, none more so than the 6th Baron, about whom there are considerable numbers of tales about the scandals and intrigues that followed him. Lord George Gordon Byron was a famous poet, romantic, revolutionary fighter, gambler, womaniser, and traveller; arguably one of the most well-known people in British literary history, and local to the area. He's buried in the church in nearby Hucknall, along with his equally influential daughter (Ada Lovelace - arguably the world's first computer programmer).

Lord Byron isn't the only literary giant from the area; Eastwood (about 8km SW) was the childhood home of DH Lawrence ("this book has a perfectly innocent title but it's obviously all about sex" as one of my school friends described his output), and much of the local area appears in his books under disguised names. So maybe the best kept secret is its creative heritage?

THE TOURISTIN: What is your favourite borough/suburb/area in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and why?

Ian: The thing is, if you discount Nottingham (and while I was originally trying to concentrate on the 20km around Ashfield Borough, leaving the cities of Nottingham and Derby themselves for others to write, I realised that some of the questions would be hard to answer if I did - Mansfield might be an interesting stopover if you had an hour to spend, but in ten years I've never found anything more than an average quality restaurant!), the area I live in is made up of a series of smaller towns and villages; each taken individually not being anything uniquely special but taken as a whole they make for an interesting contrast to the cities.

Probably the area that has the most going for it though, and it just about fits into the covered area, is the town of Matlock Bath. In Victorian times it was a spa resort (hot springs, hence the 'Bath' suffix), and it still has the feel about it of a Victorian seaside resort (although far inland) with a park, a promenade along the River Derwent complete with park and old-fashioned bandstand, cheesy museums, ice-cream stalls, and a couple of amusement arcades. Obviously there's also a good pub (the Fishpond) that does both real ale and have live local bands on.

However, the beauty of Matlock Bath is that it's much more than this - for tourist appeal there's a cable-car up to the Heights of Abraham, one of the higher points in the Peak District and from which you can see how beautiful the area is; while for history and culture buffs the Derwent Valley itself is a World Heritage Site, being a heartland of the early Industrial Revolution and a centre for cotton spinning - Richard Arkwright, born in the Cromford which is the next village down the valley, was a pioneer in the automation in the textile industry and the cotton spinning mills he built and operated are still standing around the Matlock Bath area, in use as offices, museums, or shopping outlets.

Bakewell, one of the towns at the heart of the Peak District and famous for the Bakewell Tart/Pudding, is only 15km up the Derwent, and nearby Matlock is home to a small preserved steam railway. And that's not to mention 'Gulliver's Kingdom' Theme Park - while not a reason for me to visit, it's surely on the list of every local family.

THE TOURISTIN: The best place for a hot chocolate or coffee in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire?

Ian: Hot chocolate is my soft drink of choice in cafés (I hate coffee, even to the extent of hating coffee-flavoured beer - I know, I'm an outlier!), when I'm not on the beer of course!, but in the place I'm going to recommend here I'm actually more likely to try the milkshakes (choose any two from a whole list of flavourings, including chocolate, strawberry, caramel, hazelnut, lime, mango ...).

Up a flight of stairs down a back alley, and not immediately obvious, is the Alley Café, a small, student-oriented, entirely vegetarian café in the centre of Nottingham. They serve sandwiches on a variety of bread types, breakfasts, soups, lunch-sized meals, and home-made desserts. Much of their menu is suitable for vegans, and there's even a good selection of gluten-free choices. They also serve half-decent beer and a small but quirky selection of other alcoholic drinks.

Some evenings they have live music and/or other entertainment, and the café itself is one of the central points of the Nottingham hippie student scene, so it's a good place to meet up with artists and activists.

THE TOURISTIN: What is one restaurant we must try out while in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire?

Ian: Also in the centre of Nottingham, down a side street near the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants at the western end of Parliament Street, is a lovely little Thai restaurant called Chai Yo. While it doesn't look that impressive from the outside, it is, quite probably, the best Thai & SE Asian food outside of the region itself (and better than many of the small eateries within it!). The inside is decorated in authentic, if maybe a tad cheesy, fittings and style, while the food is very well cooked, with the correct level of spices (it's not 'toned-down' too much for Western palates) and the portions are more than satisfying. The starter platter alone is worth visiting for.

THE TOURISTIN: Where would we meet you on weekends?

Ian: In the pub.

I'm a particular fan of real ale / craft beer, and there are no shortage of places in the area that serve a good pint. My favourite pub is called The Lincolnshire Poacher, in Nottingham City Centre (and conveniently on my bus route home), which has up to 13 real ales on offer at any one time, plus a good selection of bottled beers and whiskies. It also serves food.

Nearer home, there's a two-roomed pub just outside the Mansfield ring road called The Brown Cow - it's the 'home' pub to a small brewery called Raw, and usually has five or six good beers on tap.

To be fair though, I could be anywhere in the area, depending on how the mood takes me!

THE TOURISTIN: Do you have a favourite museum/gallery we all have to visit when in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire?

Ian: This is a tough one, since either I've been to them so often that I'm bored, or I've never been as they don't interest me! Notable in the area include the Nottingham Caves in Nottingham city centre, where you see the passageways in the caves below the city and what they've been used for in history (including habitation, tanning, and as an air raid shelter); the Tramway Museum in the Derbyshire village of Crich, which has on display all manner of old trams and other rail vehicles, and often has 'themed' events where everything is decked out in period decor (e.g. Edwardian); the Nottingham Contemporary modern art gallery near Nottingham railway station that often has interesting modern art exhibits (there's also the related Hopkinson Art Centre which has a good café and where you can meet hyper-local artists, photographers, and other creative types); and any number of places near Edwinstowe in the heart of Sherwood Forest that cater to the Robin Hood crowd (want to marry in the same church as Robin Hood and Maid Marian? It is possible: St Mary's Church Edwinstowe).

I'd say the most interesting though is this: In Nottingham city centre there are the Galleries of Justice. This is a museum housed in the old court and jail building, that's dedicated to all things crime & punishment. It's a 'guided tour' museum in part, but all that means is that the museum is divided into 'sections', and in some of these sections you have a 'guide' who tells you more about the subject matter. It's also all very interactive - you're given a 'name' token at the start, of someone real who was charged with an offence and punished, and along the way you see what they were accused of and what happened to them.

The tour starts in the old courtroom where you'll often be able to pretend to be a judge or accused prisoner, then moves on to a Victorian workhouse, a medieval jail, a representation of a ship used for transportation to Australia, and even 'the condemned cell' for those about to be executed. It's a fascinating overview of crime and justice over the years.

THE TOURISTIN: What are some of your favourite places to shop for A) groceries and B) clothes?

Ian: Ah, I'm a simple, every day, cheap chap. I shop for groceries in one of the local supermarkets (Kirkby-in-Ashfield or Sutton-in-Ashfield), and most of my clothes come from Primark.

That said, there is a funky clothes shop in Matlock Bath, near the Fishpond pub, that sells ethnic/hippie type clothes and bags: Equatorial - very tie-dye and 'socially conscious' - that's always good for a browse.

For beer, there's Hops in a Bottle - a shop in Mansfield that sells bottles of beer from all manner of local breweries, and some from further afield (especially Sheffield, Stoke-on-Trent, and parts of West Yorkshire). The lady who runs it is also very knowledgeable about beers in general, so if there's something you fancy, she'll probably be able to recommend something.

THE TOURISTIN: What souvenir shall we bring back from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire?

Ian: Ah, what the heck. Buy an 'Ay Up Mi Duck' Nottinghamshire accent tea-towel or mug, or Robin Hood associated plastic sword or bow & arrow. I mean, you could buy a ceramic commemorative plate of one of the local coal mines like I did within a couple of months of moving here, but that's much less fun.

THE TOURISTIN: Thank you so much Ian, always happy to talk to you. Safe travels.

If you would like to hear more from Ian, you should be able to catch him on Twitter @RTWBarefoot and read his blog.

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Greetings stranger. I always try to be myself and to be a tourist as often as I can. I would love to get in contact with lots of hard travelling tourists who love to be out and about as much as I do. I am looking forward to all your comments. Thanks so much in advance.