We have a well-established love affair with the castles around these isles, between touring around as many as we can in Wales to some of our stop-offs in places like Ludlow and Stafford, so it is no surprise that when we found ourselves in Nottingham we absolutely had to visit the castle. Nottingham Castle sits in a prominent position within the city, a well-fortified position atop the cliffs of Castle Rock now surrounded by urban sprawl and towering buildings that once would have been open land and woodland leading all the way to the River Trent. Thanks to its position within the city there is plenty to see and do beyond the castle too, including some great other historic and mythical places such as the Robin Hood-themed stops and one of the best places to stop for a drink I have ever been to! Nottingham Castle has more to it beyond what you may expect of a castle, with its original keep replaced by a Ducal Mansion which contains awe-inspiring displays of the history of the castle and area beyond. It is a great place to bring the family, get a bit of culture and have some fun - so let's get to it!
Being situated in the heart of a city, it is no surprise that the castle is pretty simple to get to - Nottingham is well connected via the M1 and various A-roads that all snake their way in from the surrounding countryside, so all you need to do is find some parking. If you are looking to just drop in for a quick stop then the Robin Hood Statue Car park is directly outside of Nottingham Castle, but it only has a handful of spaces so arrive early or you may need to look further afield at busier times, other car parks within a short walk include NCP Nottingham Maid Marian Way and NCP Nottingham St James Street to name a few (parking pretty much anywhere within the centre of the city will generally put you no more than a 15-minute walk from the castle). Nottingham train station is a short walk away across the canal and the bus stops are all over the city - not to mention the tram line that can carry you from as far south as Clifton all the way to Hucknall, which can drop you at the Old Market Square, a 5 minute walk.
We will start our journey into Nottingham Castle as we enter through the castle gatehouse - I recommend a tour around the outside as well, but I will touch on that later. As you enter you will be guided into the visitors centre, which is a combination of gift shop and café, buy your tickets at the tills and head into the outer bailey. When we arrived there were expanses of wildflowers as well as perfectly manicured lawns, the outer bailey has a statue of Captain Albert Ball, a 1900s bandstand as well as some impressive views out over Nottingham city. Captain Albert Ball was a First World War infantryman and fighter pilot from Nottingham who, at the time of his death, was the United Kingdom's leading flying ace - he earned many honours throughout his flying career including Distinguished Service Orders, the Military Cross and, posthumously, the Victoria Cross. The bandstand was built to act as a centrepiece of the gardens and would have had a band playing while visitors explored the grounds. For the little ones, the castle's main play area is a great and thematically appropriate structure, a castle in its own right complete with bridges and plenty of activities to keep the little ones entertained.
Travelling inwards from Nottingham Castle's outer bailey you head onwards and upwards to the middle bailey, where you get the first up-close view of the mansion. Not only is the mansion itself a beautifully ornate structure, but it too has a great little loop to walk around, firstly by heading up the stairs and joining the terrace before circling around the outer edge, admiring both the building itself as well as the amazing views now available at the upper viewpoints. Once you are ready to head inside, chose one of the entrances and start navigating the interior. There are a handful of different and varied museum displays and paintings intermixed with history-filled educational areas teaching you all about the region and its history. Before long, you will be at the lowest levels, where you can learn all about the story of Robin Hood as well as play with some of the interactive displays. There is a wealth of things to see and do on offer, enough to satiate those in search of a little history and culture, as well as those wanting to be entertained. Those wanting to see some of the original keep do have the option to see what remains in the Mortimer's Hole tours, these are the only remnants of the original keep that were left behind under the modern mansion.
Beyond the walls, and in the case of the pub we shall be visiting quite literally merged into the walls, there is plenty to see and do. Obviously, Nottingham Castle is within a city so naturally there is plenty of food and shopping options, but more so within the immediate vicinity, there are some things well worth seeing. Walking a lap of the castle is highly recommended, leaving the castle gatehouse and heading down the hill of Castle Road you will almost immediately see the Robin Hood statue - a very popular selfie spot worth snapping a few photos of considering the deep connections with the city. Keep making your way downhill and the cliffs will start to come into view with their many holes, doorways and carved caves before you round the corner of our stop off to grab some refreshments: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. This pub has two main attractions, firstly, it claims to be one of if not the oldest pubs in England dating back to 1189, and secondly the interior of the pub is so characterful, thanks to having been carved into the cliffside! Each room has rough sandstone corners and coves to admire, we had a great time here and even if you're only passing through then I think at least one drink in The Trip is essential. Once you have wet your whistle, leave the pub and continue briefly along the A6005 before joining Peveril Drive to enjoy some of the last bits of the cliffside before ascending the hillside again via Lenton Road with its high sandstone walls - a great little walking route that lets you enjoy the beauty of Nottingham and its Castle to the fullest.
A fortification has existed on site at Nottingham Castle since 1068 by order of William the Conqueror, as a wooden structure which would stand until the reign of King Henry II when it would be replaced with stone. The original design had an upper bailey at the highest point of Castle Rock, a middle bailey which held the royal apartments and then the large outer bailey to the east. The castle sat in a critical location, on the River Trent and near the "Kings Larder" hunting grounds in several Royal Forests, including Sherwood. The castle was occupied during the Third Crusade by supporters of Prince John, thee supporters included the Sheriff of Nottingham - in the legends, the castle forms the site of the final showdown between him and Robin Hood. The rebellion that occupied the castle would be put down after being besieged. In 1330, a coup was organised by King Edward III to take the castle and its occupant Roger Mortimer, a powerful English nobleman who led the Marcher lords in revolt in the Despenser War.
King Edward III made the castle a residence and even held parliaments there, making improvements and additions. It would remain this way until the War of the Roses, where it would once again return to use as a military stronghold. Edward IV, self-proclaimed king of Nottingham would make additional changes including Royal Apartments. By the 17th century, the castle was largely out of use and by the English Civil War it was in a state of partial disrepair and would be razed to prevent its further use.
The modern-day Ducal Mansion would be constructed in place of the old keep as a present to the Duke of Newcastle - the mansion was the finest of its time. Only small aspects of the original keep remain, including the carved-out passages that form Mortimer's Hole. It would be occupied until the Industrial Revolution when it fell out of fashion due to the dwindling state of Nottingham - this would come to a head when, in response to the Duke of Newcastle's opposition to the Reform Bill, the people of Nottingham burned down the mansion. It was from these ruins that the Nottingham Castle Museum was built, as it stands today, with much of the original baileys retained as gardens.
Nottingham Castle is a gem of a site, well preserved and just about resisting the expansion of the city around it, it remains a stunning testament to Nottingham's deep and fascinating history. Not only that, but the operators have done a wonderful job in displaying beautiful pieces of art and telling their stories in a way that is properly engrossing for all ages. As for extras, for those of you looking to extend your day out, Nottingham itself has you covered, with ample shops, eateries and experiences dotted around plus other beautiful pieces of history, such as the old Market Square, you can have a brilliant day in the city or you can head just beyond the city limits to check out the stunning Nottinghamshire countryside, either following the River Trent or perhaps you wish to continue exploring the Robin Hood mythos by venturing out to Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve. Whatever your plans, if you find yourself in Nottingham then its castle is a must-see.