Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire is the last surviving tract of primeval forest in England. In medieval times it was a royal hunting forest – the shire or sher wood of Nottinghamshire – and it became the setting for the legend of Robin Hood. Other attractions around the fringes of the forest are Clumber Park, Rufford Abbey, and the village of Southwell near Newark. The forest surrounds the village of Edwinstone, where they relentlessly market the Robin Hood link. (As they need to – it was a mining village until 2014, when Thoresby Colliery closed.) There are various themed events here especially in school holidays, and visitor facilities. Most visitors come on day-trips: if you plan to stay over and have your own transport, Southwell or Newark are better bases.
When the last Ice Age ended around 10,000 BCE, Northern Europe became blanketed by forest. Early inhabitants gradually cleared areas for agriculture, and in England this process was well advanced by Norman times. When the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, only about a quarter of Nottinghamshire was still covered by forest and heath. In the following centuries this dwindled further, so the Sherwood Forest we see today is just a remnant called Birklands & Bilhaugh. This medieval forest wasn’t a wilderness. It contained areas of open heath, royal game reserves, and woodlands harvested for timber, fuel, and acorns for pigs. People lived there, few of them outlaws, and major routes criss-crossed the forest.
Elsewhere in England the ancient forests were entirely cleared away. New forests were created, from Norman times up to the present day, but they could not re-create the original eco-system. Sherwood Forest is therefore an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), NNR (National Nature Reserve) and SAC (Special Area of Conservation), jointly managed by Nottinghamshire County Council and the Forestry Commission. Its most striking features are the ancient oaks, some of them perhaps 1000 years old. These have a strange “blasted” appearance, as fungal infection has caused their tops to die back, and some limbs are propped up, like unsteady dowager duchesses, to put off the day when they keel over.
About a mile west of the main stand of forest, Thynghowe has recently been identified as a meeting place during the Danelaw era, 9th to 11th C.
Robin Hood is a completely fictional character, but he is one of the most powerful, enduring legends of England. It’s because of Robin, rather than some ancient trees, that up to a million people visit Sherwood Forest each year. See under Robin Hood for a summary of how the legend arose sometime in the 13th C, and the main Wikipedia entry for a fuller discussion. His forest companions are equally fictional. However The Sheriff of Nottingham was, and is, a real official, but nowadays his or her duties are mainly ceremonial.
The forest is best accessed via the Visitor Centre off B6034 just north of the village of Edwinstowe. Most visitors day-trip by car. From Yorkshire, follow A1 south to A614 (signed “Nottingham”) and follow this to Ollerton. From the south, either leave A1 at Grantham and follow A52 east then A6097 north; or leave M1 at Leicester and take A46 north then A6097 & A614.
The forest is free but it costs £3 to park at the Centre, £5 when events are on. Considering walking in from nearby, eg the village, but please take care to avoid inconveniencing residents.
By bus: the Stagecoach Sherwood Arrow runs from Nottingham Victoria Bus Station, dropping off at the Visitor Centre and at Edwinstowe village. It takes an hour, and runs hourly Mon-Sat and every two hours Sundays.
From Worksop and Retford the Sherwood Arrow runs to Ollerton, change there for the Nottingham Arrow to Edwinstowe. Every two hours Mon-Sat, only two buses on Sunday.
Some Arrows don’t stop at the Visitor Centre, get off in Edwinstowe and walk 5-10 minutes. There are no National Express coaches through the village: their nearest stop is Newark, but Nottingham is better connected.
By train: Mansfield station 7 miles away has a train every 30 mins from Nottingham, taking 30 mins, alternate trains continue to Worksop. From Mansfield take bus 14 or 15 (every 30 mins Mon-Sat, hourly Sun) to Edwinstowe, 30 mins. Newark Northgate has better mainline train services but lacks bus connections to the forest.
By air: the nearest major airport, with good connections across West Europe, is EMA IATA East Midlands Airport about 35 miles south-west. But if you’re hiring a car from the airport, there’s a wide choice including BHX IATA Birmingham, MAN IATA Manchester, and the London airports.
Edwinstowe is a small place so walking is the method of choice. Local taxi services will take you further, but ask for a quote before travelling. Those staying at Center Parcs can hire bikes there.
Start at the new Visitor Centre, opened in Aug 2018, then stroll through the forest at least as far as the Major Oak. After that, maybe see the events at Edwinstowe, but a lot of them are tacky, catchpenny merchandising. Further out are Clumber Park and Rufford Abbey.
- 1 Sherwood Forest Country Park (Visitor Centre), Edwinstowe NG21 9RN (off B6034 just north of village), ☎ . Apr-Oct 10:00-17:00, Nov-Mar 10:00-16:30. Can get very busy but includes an interesting display about the forest's history and ecosystem. Café and toilets here. Dogs welcome. Forest is free, but parking is £4 (RSPB members free), more for events.
- 2 The Major Oak. About ½ mile from the Centre along a well-marked, wheelchair accessible track. The Major Oak is the oldest of the 900+ ancient oaks here and could well be 1000 years old. (So in Robin Hood's time it was small and insignificant, the obvious meeting point was at Thynghowe.) This part of the forest can be busy but carry on to find quiet glades and mysterious paths.
- 3 St Mary's Church, Church St Edwinstowe NG21 9QA, ☎ . Generally open daytime. Dates from 1185 so hundreds of forest dwellers have been baptised, married and buried here. Inevitably it’s touted as the place where Robin Hood and Maid Marian got married, but since she only showed up in legend 300 years later, she sure kept him waiting.
- 4 Clumber Park, Worksop S80 3AZ (near jcn of A1, A57 and A614, follow signs), ☎ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Park open dawn to dusk, facilities mostly 10 am – 4 pm daily. Run by the National Trust, this extensive park has an elegant serpentine lake. Formerly the home of the Dukes of Newcastle, but the mansion fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1938. The 1889 Church of St Mary (not to be confused with the one in Edwinstowe) remains in use and is a Grade I listed building in Gothic Revival style. Adult £4, child £2, NT members free.
- 5 Rufford Abbey (Rufford Park), Ollerton NG22 9DF (about 3 miles south of Edwinstowe), ☎ . Daily 10 to 5. Ruins of Cistercian Abbey, and part-ruined part-restored mansion house, set in an extensive park. Free, but parking is £3, and £5 for events..
- Sherwood Pines, Edwinstowe NG21 9JL (off B6030 near Kings Clipstone), ☎ . Daily from 8 am, to 6 pm (Oct-Mar) and 10 pm (Apr-Sep). Run by the Forestry Commission. You can "Go Ape" (yes, that’s what they call it) on a harness and swing around a large assault course suspended in the treetops. The adventure playground for kids is also excellent if you're taking a family. Sherwood Pines also host "Forest Live" rock concerts, check their website. Parking £2 one hour, £4 two hours, £6 all day.
- Amen Corner Karting has a 550 m pro-kart circuit and two fun tracks.
Don’t bother, it’s mostly tat.
There are cafes at the Sherwood Forest Visitor centre, at Rufford Park and at Clumber Park. On Edwinstone High Street, find one Indian and two Chinese take-aways. The pubs listed below under “Drink” also do decent bar food.
As a mining village, Edwinstowe was well supplied with pubs. These are dwindling as drinking habits change but in summer 2018 the following were still in business:
- The Forest Lodge at the main crossroads
- The Manvers Arms 400 yards west down Mansfield Rd
- The Royal Oak at the main crossroads
- The Black Swan just south of crossroads on High Street
- Hammer & Wedge off the left of the bottom of High Street
Although there are various B&Bs dotted around the village the Youth Hostel is probably the best deal in terms of value-for-money and facilities.
- YHA Sherwood Forest, Forest Corner (at Church Street) Edwinstowe NG21 9RN (opposite Visitor Centre), ☎ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Clean & friendly Youth Hostel in modern red-brick building. Room for 48, family bunk rooms available. Adults from £15. Often block-booked for school parties & similar.
- 1 Center Parcs, Sherwood Forest Holiday Village NG22 9DN (a mile south of Edwinstowe), ☎ . Holiday village. It contains a domed faux-tropical swimming pool with chutes and a wave machine, as well as a lake for sailing and windsurfing. Prices in the stores in the holiday village are a lot higher than at the Co-op in Edwinstowe village.
- 2 Sherwood Castle Holiday Forest, Rufford Lane Newark NG22 9DG, ☎ . Log cabins with activities eg archery. Cheaper and quieter than Center Parcs nearby.
- 3 Sherwood Forest Holiday Park, Gorsethorpe Lane NG21 9HW (3 km west of Edwinstowe), ☎ . Campsite & caravan park on riverbank.
Southwell is a charming small town near Newark, with a Minster, and Victorian workhouse. The garden of the Bramley Apple Pub is said to be the origin of the Bramley Apple. The town is set in attractive bucolic countryside.
Newark is a traditional English market town with an important role in the Civil War – King Charles I surrendered at Southwell. See the castle and museum, and look out for events at the Showground. Other historic centres within an hour or two’s drive are Lincoln and York.