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Places to Visit in North Nottingham

18 October 20 words: Rebecca Buck
illustrations: K Kamminga

For anyone who grew up in the city and its suburbs, north Nottinghamshire was either where you sometimes ventured to feed the ducks in Rufford, or to perhaps explore the patchy remains of Sherwood Forest, communing with Robin and his Merry Men. In fact, to many city-dwellers, it is defined by its coalfield status, an imaginary wasteland of former mining towns. But North Nottinghamshire, centred around Worksop and Retford, has always had more to offer and, lately, is undergoing a renaissance. The 2020 pandemic-induced rediscovery of the day trip or overnight stay close to home make this the perfect time to venture up the M1...

Newcomers to the city, like students, will still be told by many natives that there’s not much point heading north. Why not go west to the Peak District instead? But they’re mistaken. Whether you seek the refined heritage of a country estate, the folklore of Robin Hood and the Green Man, or wish to journey back to the Ice Age artists who left their mark here, North Notts is a place of stories, a place to imagine. And it’s less than an hour’s drive from the city centre. 

George Buchanan is the Chair of the North Notts Place Board, a collaboration of local organisations created to breathe new life into the north of the county, as well as owner and project manager at Hodsock Priory, a beautiful wedding venue known for its February display of snowdrops. In his mind North Notts is “the perfect day out.” Forget the coal mines for a moment, this area, a good chunk of it known as ‘the Dukeries’ due to the presence of several ducal estates, used to be a “billionaire’s playground, where visitors can be Dukes and Duchesses for the day.” It is, George confirms, “a romantic landscape.” 

Nicola Doughty, who looks after PR and comms for the Welbeck Estate, one of those ducal estates that so defined the area in the past, describes the region as “home to some of the best artisan food producers, great art, history and museums.” Sherwood Forest may be diminished (although don’t overlook the RSPB visitor centre) but there is a lot more to this part of the county. Welbeck itself, seat of the Dukes of Portland, is home to an artisan food community and a thriving group of artists and makers. There are regular high profile art exhibitions in The Harley Gallery, and historical treasures on display in The Portland Collection Museum. The Harley Shop sells a wide range of handcrafted pieces made on the estate, or if it’s food or drink that lures you, you can take world-class courses at The School of Artisan Food, which scooped the title of Best British Cookery School in the Food and Drink Awards. You’ll also find Welbeck Bakehouse, Welbeck Abbey Brewery and Stichelton Dairy on the estate – and their products available in Welbeck Farm Shop. Welbeck has even opened cottages and barns on the estate as holiday rentals, if you fancy a night away. 

If you’re not looking to cook your own supper, George Buchanan can recommend several great pubs. The Sun Inn at Everton near Retford, The Greendale Oak near Cuckney and The Boat at Hayton are all high on the list. Maybe break away from the traditional pubs and try Piccolo Espresso Bar in Worksop, or perhaps one of three ice cream parlours – long established Thaymar or newcomers Cow Shack and Manor Farm. At Manor Farm you’ll also find Airbnb accommodation, or, at Holbeck, you’ll find Browns, a stunning boutique bed and breakfast and holder of a 5 star Gold Award from Visit England. 

If history and heritage are your thing, this is the perfect place. Rufford Abbey and Clumber Park both offer aristocratic histories in beautiful parkland. If you want to travel back further in time, Creswell Crags, an unexpectedly stunning limestone gorge right on the Derbyshire border, is honeycombed with caves which were once home to prehistoric hunter gatherers, who left behind Britain’s only Ice Age cave art, over 12,000 years old. The engravings can be seen on cave tours at the site, which also has a cave full of mysterious post-medieval Witch Marks, put there to ward against unknown evils, and a museum of artefacts found on the site including hyena skulls, flint tools, and hippo jaws. 

North Notts is not just about days out to museums and parks, and pub lunches in the countryside. There are some brilliant retail therapy opportunities. In Retford, The Barrister in Wonderland is an independent children’s bookshop featuring an upside-down tea party on the ceiling; a step through the door is a leap into a world of magic and imagination, making the shop a worthy destination in its own right, just one of many independent shops in this busy market town. Over in Worksop, one highlight is Carlton House Vintage, a three-storey emporium of arts, crafts, vintage clothing and jewellery, a tea room, traditional sweet shop, salvaged furniture and more, all in a Grade II listed building right near the station. It is also home to the Vegan Friendly Soap Shop, a brilliant independent business selling planet-, skin-and-nose-friendly soap products that look good enough to eat. 

Helen Saville, owner of The Barrister in Wonderland, loves Retford. It is, she says “a pretty and welcoming market town, with great places to eat, the majestic King’s Park, and gorgeous canal walks.” Indeed, many locals were once visitors, who discovered the area and chose not to leave. 

George Buchanan sums it up: It’s a place of “breathing space, with friendly people, where it’s easy to park and everything is great value.” He describes one of its qualities as “manoeuvrability.” He says “it’s not overcrowded like Cornwall but a day trip, or short break, here can rival any in Europe.”

There is a very long list of ‘things to do in North Notts’ that merit research before you hop on a train. Mentions should also go to Bassetlaw Museum, Mr Straw’s House, Mattersey Priory ruins, and the profoundly moving National Holocaust Centre and Museum. You can walk the Robin Hood Way, experience a host of exciting outdoor activities and hide in the trees like Will Scarlett and Little John at Sherwood Pines, or relax at Ye Olde Bell Hotel and Spa. And more. 

There really is something for everyone, and it’ll take you less than an hour to get there. 

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