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The Creative Perambulations of Sherwood Forest

8 November 18 words: Dave Wood and Sian Stammers
photos: Jo Wheeler

Back in medieval and early Tudor days, coppers strolled along the official – although often confused and disputed – boundary of Sherwood Forest, checking for robbers and the like. In more recent times, poets, photographers, and sound artists have traced the olde steps, now running through tarmaced ex-mining towns, looking for inspiration on the Creative Perambulations of Sherwood Forest...

There’s something onomatopoeic about the word perambulation; an almost ritualised tour of duty of a particular area of land, marking out a boundary and checking all is well within the space.

Pre-millennium, the last one of Sherwood Forest was 1662; before that, there was a survey in 1609. Imagine the boots stepping out: peram’, peram’, peram’. And bear in mind, the forest wasn’t just trees, it was used for work, home, hunting and industry; especially the cutting of timber for the Civil War.

The ancient border of the forest, now awash with legend and mystery, stretched from south of the city to its west: Bulwell, Bestwood, and up through the county, skirting Mansfield and heading through and around Clumber Park, then down the eastern side and back to the start at Victoria Embankment.

In 2011, I (Dave Wood) reawakened the walk through a grant from the Arts Council and National Lottery. Thanks to Sharon Bosworth, I was able to have a copy of the map translated into modern-day geography, hoping we could traverse the ramble easily and with public participation. After much risk assessing and getting lost en route, we were ready for this gargantuan ramble.

The walk was to be combined with poetry and writing from myself and contributions from others, whether donated or through workshops. I split the route into long and short sections, making it accessible to as many as possible, although there were sections on private land we couldn’t access. Each section began with a poem especially created as a launch, all of which were absorbed into a 18,500-word knockabout saga.

In 2016, through HLF and the hard work of Sian Stammers of LandLiesFallow CIC, the walk was undertaken again and brought further into the digital arena under the name Sherwood Forest on your Doorstep. From 2016 until just earlier this year, the Heritage Lottery Fund (Young Roots) funded and supported the second perambulation project.

We documented the walk in creative ways, involving young people from ex-mining towns along the route in exploring the hidden histories and the natural heritage of their area. From the overlooked hedgerows, to the straggling bits of woodland, they’re all essential for our wildlife and our wellbeing; when they’re ripped up and concreted over, that’s it.  

Sound artist Rebecca Lee, and photographers Jo Wheeler and David Severn, worked closely with the young people and workers from Newstead Village Youth Club as they explored miners’ archives, and recreated scenes from old photos to show the change between then and now. All this is held in an online archive, built by Rebecca Lee, called Sherwood Forest on Your Doorstep. In 2019, Newstead Abbey will be exhibiting large-scale framed photos directed by the young people in Newstead Village, photographed by David Severn.

The perambulations began and ended with a visit to saplings planted from the Major Oak, growing on The Hook, Ilkeston Road, Stapleford and Victoria Embankment. It begins and ends with Sherwood Forest: the divergent landscapes, the communities with still-strong links to mining, the folks who strive behind the scenes to build archives, tell stories, and preserve ancient woodland, like the fabulous Little Oak Plantation, just outside Annesley. We’ve used the technology of our day – sound recordings, photography, social media, a website – to convey a feel of these places and their people, a slice of our time mirroring the written snapshot of 1662 in the quill-pen technology of their day.

We were supported by The Woodland Trust, The Thoroton Society, Newstead Village Youth Club, The Acacia Centre in Annesley and the numerous volunteers and speakers striving to preserve our heritage. And we were very grateful for it.


the braveness of the hours
(created for the tree plantings of the perambulations project)

in the densest of weathers –
may the oak sing
whenever time flexes its elbow room –
let us be there with our picnics
whatever the tree drops
let us tidy our own mess
this shall be its living space
let us bring our voices and chatter
and wish it well
it has a long way to grow

in the braveness of the hours
let the hands rotate slowly
in the fullness of the roots
let us feel our own wakings
make our feet find gentle ways
whatever the tree tells us
we can only wonder at

this shall be the tree's living space
let us bring our voices and chatter
and wish it well
it has a long way to grow

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