Sherwood Forest Bus Tours: All aboard The Robin Hood Express!
One Thursday last month I was all set, excited and ready for the inaugural Robin Hood Express Sherwood Forest Bus Tour. I knew that this tour would be right up my street, so to speak, taking in Nottinghamshire’s great historic sites and exploring our county’s rich heritage and legendary status along the way and driven in an iconic vintage RouteMaster bus!
It’s not every tour that will show you where Will Scarlett is buried and the place where Robin Hood and Maid Marian married – a ‘fact’ which our knowledgeable guide laughingly told us! And that was the order of the day on this tour: amazing knowledge of the areas we passed through provided by our guide, host and bus conductor Andy Gaunt of Mercian Archaeology, mixed with a great degree of humour.
Like any tour, the people on the bus were in there own groups to start with and didn’t engage with each other beyond a ‘good morning’, smile or nod of the head; by lunchtime the bus was full of laughter and questions for our guide who was happy to sit amongst us all and take us through the changing landscape that we passed from Nottingham city centre and out into the beautiful countryside, all once considered to be Sherwood Forest. Having taken in the rolling hills and wooded area of Blidworth we carried on to our first stop on our journey to Rufford Abbey.
Here we stayed for an hour which was plenty of time to explore the old ruined abbey, the exhibitions housed here and also in our case grab a delicious bacon cob – well this history lark is hard work after all!
Once we were all accounted for and Andy had rung the bell for the off we set out on our travels again and took in another famous landmark, the ford at Rufford Mill. As a child I would stand on the platform here willing cars to fly through the water and spray us all. Times haven’t changed evidently as families lined the bridge as before but this time the looks on the children’s faces were priceless, as let’s face it, it’s not every day that you see a red London bus tackling a ford in the middle of Sherwood Forest!
We quickly realised that as much as we were on a bus tour, learning about the beautiful area we were passing through, we were also very much the centre of attention as we glided through the picturesque villages of Wellow (home to Nottinghamshire’s famous maypole) and also Ollerton and we were met with open mouths and plenty of double takes all adding to the hilarity aboard the Robin Hood Express.
The magnificent Major Oak at Sherwood Forest.
Next stop was Sherwood Forest where again we stopped for another hour, there is so much to see and do here and our guides gave us much insight into the legendary ‘home’ of our most famous son Robin Hood before we set off to see, of course, the Major Oak and perhaps the tea room for a little cake before our adventure carried on into the afternoon.
We then found ourselves in the village of Cuckney situated on the edge of the Welbeck Estate. Here we learnt more about St Mary’s Church, its 12th century origins and its rather grisly offering to history of several hundred skulls, thought to have come from the medieval civil war between Matilda and Steven. These possibly date the church back even earlier than the remaining 12th century architecture which stands today.
Once we’d negotiated a few tight turns and country roads we set out for King John’s Palace at King’s Clipstone. Our trusty bus and driver fearlessly embarked on a little off-roading at this point, entering the very field where the archaeological dig was unfolding. This truly was a magical mystery tour which just kept getting better not to mention surreal.
Off-roading at King John’s Palace, King’s Clipstone.
Andy took the group over to the remains of what Mercian Archaeology have confirmed to have been King John’s Royal hunting palace – Bad King John as you or I might know him – from their many digs with folk eager to discover and learn more about the site. There might only be a remnant of internal walls left now but you can’t help but wonder just what this palace would have been like and with Andy painting a vivid picture for us of the area, the king who commissioned it and just what its purpose was it wasn’t hard to lose yourself in the story.
Our final stop of the day was Newstead Abbey, famously home to Lord Byron but formerly an Augustinian priory. This beautiful abbey was brought to life for us by none other than our driver for the day, Peter Hammond who gave us a fabulous insight into Newstead as a building and also its often infamous inhabitants. Again we found ourselves the centre of attention as our parking spot was right outside the abbey.
Here we had the opportunity to wonder around and take in the stunning garden backdrop rounded off with that last slice of cake before winding our way home, most definitely a little weary but full of the stories that we had learnt along the way.
I felt privileged to have been part of this first Sherwood Forest Bus Tour and just know that this is something that will be a popular attraction for not just tourists but those of us born and bred in Nottingham. For the latter, we might think that we know it all but in reality what we might know is just the surface, the experts at Mercian Archaeology coupled with local historian, Archaeologist and specialist Peter Hammond will blow your mind with all that they know and have to tell you . . . all with a smile and plenty of good cheer!
The next Sherwood Forest Bus Tours will take place on 26th September and 31st October. For more information including upcoming tour dates or to buy tickets visit www.sherwoodbustours.com.