Sherwood Forest is probably England’s best known forest
Sherwood is one of England’s oldest Forests
Nearly everybody associates Sherwood Forest with the legend of Robin Hood. It is in fact an ancient royal hunting forest that once covered more than a fifth of Nottinghamshire, in medieval times it was one of the largest hunting forests in England. Only the king was allowed to hunt in the forest unless he granted you special permission, if you were caught poaching you could be hanged.
Today the forest attracts between 360 000 and 1 million tourists a year and is an area of SSSI. It has a wide variety of flora and fauna and contains many oaks that are very old. The most famous is the Major Oak which is over a thousand years old and some believe was a regular hiding place for Robin Hood.
I last visited Sherwood Forest about ten years ago and I must confess I was a little disappointed. I was expecting to see a dense rich woodland with many ancient trees, but most of the trees I walked among were youngish looking silver birch. The old forest did not look very old to me.
I decided it was time to go back and take a fresh look at Sherwood forest. The walk I followed was basically from a Sherwood Forest Walks web site. I tried to do a slightly different route near the end of my walk which I got wrong – but more about that later.
Starting from Ollerton
My walk started at Market street Ollerton. Originally a Rural Village Ollerton’s main industry was hop picking until the early twentieth century when coal mining took over in the region. During my walk I saw many signs of the extensive mining industry which once dominated the region.
Market street is next to the River Maun, and inspite of its heavy industrial history this part of the village still has a rural feel to it. A restful quietness maintains its calm over the narrow streets and open village green beside the river.
I crossed the bridge over the Maun and walked along a closed road to a very different atmosphere. The roundabout at the junction of the A6075 and the A616 was busy with heavy traffic, artic lorries and earth moving trucks thundered around bend, not really taking much notice of a vulnerable walker desperately trying to find a safe moment to cross the road.
I made it across (just about) and soon entered back into the more restful atmosphere of Sherwood heath. This piece of land is sandwiched between the A616 and an old coal mine, which is fenced of with a six-foot rusty mesh fence. The morning was cold and there was a layer of frost on the ground crystallising the ground. Bracken, grass, dead leaves on trees and gorse all had a sugary coating on them, the morning sun from a bright blue sky bounced off of the icing on the heath with a hint of magic about it.
It was a strange mixture mother nature’s early morning beauty hemmed in by the works of modern man – maybe there is a profound statement there!
Into Sherwood Forest Country Park
The path followed the mesh fence around the old coal mine until it brought me to the entrance of Sherwood Forest Country Park. The park felt a poor reflection of its original glory, it is now only 450 acres of mixed woodland with well-managed paths. I followed a path to the old visitors centre which is now closed, although it is still on the O/S maps, surrounded with temporary fencing it looked like it had been closed for some time. There is a new one near the Craft Centre in Edwinstowe managed by the RSPB and Nottinghamshire County Council.
I did enjoy walking through the woods, from the old visitor centre I followed the Robin Hood Way which runs through the centre of the park. There is a real mixture of trees, some ancient oaks looking half dead muddled in with old ash trees and younger silver birch. I am not sure I can really express what I felt as I walked down the wide pathway. Growing up with stories of Robin Hood king of the green wood in my mind. Sherwood Forest has always been a wild place of deep lush green and huge old trees. The woodland I walked through had the marks of being suitably managed and contained. It was enjoyable enough, but it was not the place of my childhood dreams. These days we desperately hang on to the wildlife of our planet – not that we shouldn’t, but it saddens me that we have come to this place where we have to contain and preserve the wildness of mother nature.
This mighty tree is the centre piece of the forest. Like an old man with walking sticks it leans heavily upon props that stop it falling down. The tree is estimated to be over 23 tons, have a girth if 33’/10m and be at least 1,150 years old. This fine old fellow has some stories to tell I am sure. It was quite awesome to stand by something that had lived for so long, its age carried majesty and its size dignity. I would really like to see it in the spring in its kingly robes of green.
King John’s Palace
My path turned south along a fire break in the woods heading towards the A6075. About a mile on the other side of the main road King John’s Palace lies to the west of the path. There was no visible path to the ruins, but I was determined to get a closer look. I found a rough very overgrown ‘almost’ path that led to the field containing the ruins. Fighting my way through brambles and overgrown bushes I came to a broken fence (others had been this way before), climbing over I was in the field. As I walked across to the ruins I was a little apprehensive expecting to be shouted at by a farmer at any moment. Nothing happened, and when I arrived at the ruins it was clear from the information board that this was a regularly visited site.
Only three walls are left of what was once an extensive range of buildings. King John is thought to have stayed here not more than nine nights, so how it ended up being called king john’s palace is a bit if a mystery – or is it? Local marketing maybe?
Finding further evidence of a coal mining legacy
As I continued south along the track I could see two winding towers, these would have stood above the shafts of coal mines. The massive brick building below them with shattered windows spoke eerily of the lost age of this region. Still further south there was Vicar Pond where I stopped for lunch, it was very pleasant sitting in the sun watching the wild fowl even though some saw me as a free lunch opportunity. All around me were the remains of old rail lines which I supposed were used for the mines, many of them had been converted into bike tracks, and for the next part of my journey there was not shortage of cyclists.
Into Sherwood Pines Forest Park
Sherwood Pines Forest Park is, as the name suggests a pine forest that is riddled with cycle paths – and it is well used. Whether that has anything to do with the fact that on the other side of the forest is the Centre Parks Holiday Village I do not know. It is a typical pine forest plantation, lines of massive poles reaching up into the sky with greenery on top, sectioned off into squares by fire breaks containing tracks.
I kept a good eye on my map, walking through these trees. It is easy to take the wrong track in places like this, I have often found in woodland that what is on the map is not quite the same as is on the ground.
I did manage to navigate my way safely through the forest to the borders of the Central Parks complex. I followed a rough dirt road which ran along the side of the fence for over a mile, the fence was over six feet tall with barbed wire on top. Looking at the chalets I was not sure if the fence was to keep people in or out? It certainly did not appeal to me but when I later passed the roadway into the village there were a lot of cars – some folk obviously like it!
Finishing with some bad map reading
I intended to finish my walk through Rufford Country Park because I wanted to take a look at the abbey remains. Sadly I did not pay enough attention to the map and instead of walking through the park I found myself sneaking through a private golf course. For the second time that day I thought I might end up with some guy shouting at me telling me I could not walk here; but no, I made it through to a public footpath with no incident.
From there it was not long before I was back in Ollerton. I had enjoyed the day, Sherwood Forest is worthy of a walk and there are some great old trees. I finished though with mixed feelings about what had become, of this once great forest.
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