Going Underground: Explore Nottingham’s Top Ten Caves
Sometimes the most captivating features of a place are not those which stand out immediately, and you have to delve a little deeper to discover the best secrets. Of any city in Britain, this is perhaps most true of Nottingham and its vast underground network of caves. Under our city streets lies a subterranean world full of stories, history and intrigue – but it is only in the past few decades that they have been given the spotlight for exploration.
Owing to the sandstone foundations under our feet, from its emergence as a settlement in the 7th century, Nottingham earned the name Tigguo Cobauc, meaning Place of Caves in Old Brythonic. Ripe for the making of tunnels, the soft rock was carved away to create countless man-made caves and passages which through the centuries have been used as homes, storerooms, dungeons, tanneries, hideouts, and dozens of other uses.
Today over 700 caves have been mapped out under the streets of our city, some accessible and others lost to the city’s development. To coincide with the Festival of Archaeology 2017, which runs throughout July, we’ve compiled a comprehensive selection of Nottingham’s hidden gems so you can explore the caves and discover the fascinating underground history of our city.
Nottingham’s prime destination to learn about the cave system is of course at City of Caves in the Broadmarsh Centre, which is a great experience for families or those new to the city. Along with detailing the history Broadmarsh and Lace Market area, you can hear about the many purposes of the caves, including their industrial, domestic, and more illicit uses, you can have a proper explore and discover how the system was first built and evolved throughout the centuries. Audio tours are available throughout the day, or if you fancy a more in depth experience book onto a guided performance tour with Archie and Annie the archaeologists!
One of Nottingham’s most extraordinary historical haunts is the National Justice Museum, the city’s old gaol and courts which date back to the 15th century. Also known as Shire Hall, the museum features a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions detailing the history of crime and punishment throughout the centuries. Feel the fear of thousands before you as you descend into the depths of the prison and explore the cells beneath and hear the stories of the condemned. Medieval banquets, dramatic trials and murder mystery nights are just some of the events that take place, along with an excellent educational programme for schools.
THE WELBECK ESTATE
Nottingham has its fair share of characters who went against the grain, and when it comes to eccentricity, the richer they are the more elaborate their whims. William Cavendish, The 5th Duke of Portland, inherited the grand estate of Welbeck in North Nottinghamshire in 1854. Making the most of the new-fangled industrial inventions of the 19th century, he made extensive renovations throughout the estate which included a gasworks, one of the grandest riding houses in the world and 22 acre kitchen gardens. Over time however his tendency for isolation grew, and he ordered an extensive network of underground tunnels to be built, which allowed him to travel his estate undetected. The tunnels spread as far as Worksop a mile away, were painted pink and wide enough for two horse and carriages to travel side by side. It is said the duke also built manholes throughout the estate and would pop up to surprise his staff and spy on their work.
In keeping with their mysterious creator’s style, The Welbeck Tunnels are unfortunately not open to the public, but there is a whole host of interesting things happening throughout the estate. The School Of Artisan Food, The Harley Gallery and The Welbeck Farm Shop make a great afternoon visit. Until the 30th September you can also get a glimpse at the miniature portraits the Duke was so fond of collecting at the Hidden From View exhibition.
If you’re visiting Welbeck, quick hop over the road to Creswell Crags really is a must! Take a walk around the serene and atmospheric lake to explore this extraordinary limestone gauge, pocketed with curious caves set within the craggy cliffs. The site was one of the most northerly places visited by ice age man and was integral in teaching us about this significant period of human evolution during the most harsh of conditions. Hyena, woolly rhinoceros and mammoth remains have been found in the area, along with early tools. Within the heritage centre you can gain access to the craggy caves, hear more about Life in the Ice Age and see the UK’s only Ice Age rock art, which dates back an incredible 13,000 years!
Coming up this month, visit Mother Grundy’s Festival of Folklore to hear stories of the witch that lived in the crags, get involved in workshops and activities, and meet folk musicians and re-enactors.
Okay, so these ancient remains weren’t found in Nottinghamshire, but playing host to this world exclusive Dinosaurs of China exhibition in our own Natural History Museum is certainly worth a mention. Showcasing some of the latest findings in Chinese palaeontology, it’s not only fossils, skeletons and bones that are on display, but also some preserved skin and feathers, which document the evolution of dinosaur into bird. Towering at the height of three double decker buses it is the Mamenchisaurus which steals the show, but species such as the Gigantoraptor, the largest feathered dinosaur to be discovered, have been integral to our modern understanding of dinosaurs.
The exhibition extends to Lakeside Arts Centre where other specimens are displayed and a programme of dinosaur related activities are happening throughout the exhibition. Don’t forget to check out these special offers on accommodation and dining too!
Having been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the past 8 centuries, Nottingham Castle sadly no longer resembles the medieval fortress it once was. However, if you’re looking for that lovely ancient timeworn aesthetic, it is the rock on which the castle stands that will tickle your fancy. Like much of the city, the sandstone foundations beneath our streets have been carved out to create secret tunnels, and these are stories indeed well preserved! The most extensive tunnel, Mortimer’s Hole, was named after usurper to the throne Sir Roger Mortimer, who was captured in the night and dragged to his death by King Edward III’s men. Tours of the Castle caves happen daily so we won’t mention anymore, but this is an attraction you can’t visit Nottingham without seeing!
Check out this awesome digital fly through of the Castle’s Mortimer’s Hole!
Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem is one of the country’s oldest inns and another staple spot on Nottingham’s ‘Must See’ list. This legendary pub is known throughout the country – but don’t expect a tacky tourist trap when you arrive. Despite its wide reputation, the ‘Trip is mostly frequented by locals wanting a pint of crisp Nottingham ale and a friendly atmosphere. Built into the cliffside, the pub consists of several cosy rooms and nooks carved right out of the rock, filled with antiques and ornaments such as the ‘Cursed Galleon’. The cave network extends under the pub and landlord Karl has been known to take punters on tours to the caves beneath which once held the castle dungeon and a cockfighting pit.
The Malt Cross not only boasts the splendour of Victorian architecture, but beneath its floors lie long forgotten caves, now converted into a most unique space to host poetry nights, gin tastings and other events! Builders renovating the caves for public access in 2014 discovered fake walls, a concealed room, and a secret passage leading to an 800 year old cave. Thought to be connected to nearby caves of a medieval Carmelite monastery, the spaces were once used for storage of beer.
The Malt Cross’s rich history as a music hall is reflected in its unique architecture, which features iron pillars, a mezzanine balcony level, and arched glass ceiling said to be held together by glue!
Tours of The Malt Cross caves are available Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays
DANIEL IN THE LION’S DEN & THE PARK TUNNEL
Deep in Nottingham’s prestigious Park Estate, nearby the castle, lies perhaps Nottingham’s most elaborate cave and a work of art sadly unseen by most inhabitants of the city. Built under the instruction of one Alderman Thomas Herbert, these treasures were initially built as stone follies, intended to show off the wealth and taste of this wealthy 19th century landowner. Dating back over 150 years, the tunnels featured unusual scenes etched into the rock, including pictorial carvings of the Bible story ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’, exotic plants, sphinxes and other unusual creatures. While the tunnels are not open for public viewing, the nearby Park Tunnel is another example of tunnelling within the area.
Each year Trent Peak and Archaeology invites members of the public to become archaeologists and help excavate the grounds of Nottingham Castle. A great hands on experience, during this unique event you can help dig the trenches for excavation, clean and identify finds and hear about what has been discovered in the past at this historic site. Available as short activities for families or, if you’d like to really get stuck in, you can get involved in the annual training programme which takes place between July and August. Who knows what treasure you might unearth!