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29 March 2016

travel | the single girl's guide to nottingham

*this is going to be a long post, i'm sorry in advance.*

this year is basically my last year to travel a ~lot and see a ~lot before i knuckle down and really start to save hard for this house i've been dreaming about forever. but, because i'm not a bazillionaire, i have to also include short weekenders around the uk in the list of "seeing a lot". so, given the easter break and taking the promised sunshine with a pinch of salt - but as good of a reason as i was going to get, i booked a couple of nights away - by myself - in nottingham. 

here are my top tips for getting the most out of your time in the robin hood country!

walk along the canal

i jumped off the train about midday, and with no map to hand but fuelled by a(nother) large coffee, i headed across the road to the canal walk. i'd had my headphones in while on the train, but yanked them out as soon as it hit the path by the canal, wanting to be able to enjoy all the sights and sounds of this "university town". the canal was full of loud birds chatting to each other and getting in a flap with each other (presumably "that time of the year" for them), and i stood and watched a couple of the local canal boats pass in front of me, casually waving at their neighbours on the water. 

the water was so calm, save for the maniac birds, and the old steamers that passed underneath the bridge as i walked over it, just beyond the bed where it widened up and became a bit more dense with boats and barges. to my right, on the hill, i could see what i assumed was the castle - though it looked more like a manor than anything, but i noticed from the canal the belgian flag flying and half mast, so assumed it was more than a private home; i crossed over the bridge, and headed towards the castle.

check out nottingham castle

once i was sure it was the castle i was at, i joined the line of tourists hanging about the draw-bridge entrance, paid my £6 entrance fee, grabbed a map and headed in. i first wandered the grounds, checking out the plaques and statues in memorium of local soldiers from previous battles, tributes to the stories of robin hood, and read the information boards depicting the great fire that tore through the original nottingham castle, before heading inside and seeing more in the museum within.

there was a great mixture of robin hood themed "history" as well as more "factual" history of nottingham within, with exhibitions of art and history, as well as novelty exhibitions more aimed at the kids and tourists. hey, they have to make money somehow, right? i suppose i was in nottingham for a bit of a break from reality, and i was brought up watching robin hood (men in tights, but still), so i was mostly excited by all the stories of richard the lion heart and the sheriff of nottingham and all those sorts of stories, but found the museum to be quite - well, good. 

and i don't normally like stuff like that, but i found all of the exhibitions really interesting and i actually managed to spend a good hour or so walking the halls, reading all the captions, smiling to myself at all the legendary stories.


get lost and explore the lace market

i didn't really have much of an itinerary while i was there, other than the odd "i want to eat here, i want to see this" type stuff, and i hadn't even looked on the map to see where my hotel was. i was prepared to cab it if i needed to (i didn't), but the point is: i was happy to get lost and see how that went. thankfully, that first day was absolutely glorious, weather-wise, so i had no reason to not be outside and exploring as much as possible. typical brit: sun's out, stay outside.

i wandered into the lace market by accident on the first day, but when i was looking for signs for "things" (as in, local points of interest) i saw one arrow pointing toward the lace market so just kept walking. note: there was no market, it's just an area of town now called the lace market. i expect that once upon a time there ~was a lace market (actually, there's a nightclub called the lace house, so maybe that was it originally) there.

i was walking through the lace market trying to find annie's burger shack, but it just seemed like a very dead commercial area. closed down pubs, parking buildings, student accommodation, and a glorious church i discovered was called st. mary's at the very end of the road i was walking down. the bells were tolling, it must have been about three in the afternoon by that point, but i put my hanger to one side and went for a walk around the church grounds. absolutely beautiful in the warm sun, and with magnolia out it full bloom.

from the corner of the church i could see all the way back to the main drag in one direction, and a whole lot of quiet nothing in another. amazing. eventually i caved, and quick check of the address online told me i'd walked past the diner, so i walked back, and past it again. if you didn't know where to look, you'd miss it. like i obviously did. thus is the lace market: a wonder around every corner!

visit sherwood forest

you'd be a fool to go all the way to nottingham and ~not go to the legendary woods of robin hood and his merry men. that's what i told myself, and that's the fuel i needed to get out of bed while the rain was hammering it down outside and the wind was ripping through the streets. the forest is about an hour out of nottingham centre, so you need to get the 'sherwood arrow' from the victoria coach station. it runs once every hour, even though it's a suburban bun - unlike the 'red arrow' that runs every ten minutes non-stop from notts to derby, and is a proper coach. 

weird, i know. also: i thought the many robin hood puns would tire. they don't. except when you're stressing about how you almost got on a bus to derby because they're all named after bloody arrows. once at the edinstowe stop, it's a short stroll to the visitor's centre. there's an information desk, a souvenir shop, and a restaurant on site, all spread out a bit like a crusaders camp, with a statue of little john and robin in the centre. there's a room playing a video about the forest on loop, which was nice to duck in-and-out of when the rain started to come in hard again. there are a number of walks that visitors can choose to take, from half an hour to up to three, as well as a horse trail, a bike trail, and a doggy trail. some cross paths, some don't, and for a while, i felt like i was the only person out in the woods; it was slightly terrifying.

out on the trails, all signs seem to disappear, and i wasn't keen on getting lost so i walked the shortest trail then came back to the visitor's centre. i cornered around to the major oak - thought to be over 1000 years old, where there were a few men (in tights!) dressed as crusaders re-enacting something or other.. that was about the highlight of the trip to the forest sadly, but i'm still quite glad i went out there. i bought some souvenir fudge too, because: england.

discover local specialities

before heading out to notts i had taken a lot of recommendations on board. from locals, from day trippers, and from small businesses online who pop up whenever they see their local tags trending on twitter. two of the local businesses i was keen to check out during the weekend were 200 degrees coffee roasters, and the nottingham doughnut company. i love trying local coffee roasts when i'm visiting new towns, so was pleased as punch when i stumbled across 200 degs. i'd seen their logo all over town (clearly they supply all the local businesses!), but i'd yet to find their ~actual cafe (and school! their barista academy is right upstairs in the cafe!). 

so when i did - and when i noted the homer simpson drooling meme on their sandwich board, i knew it'd be the place for me! the cafe was heaving when i popped in at about four in the afternoon, and with good reason. i stood and watched the baristas make coffee after coffee while i waited for mine, each time with nothing less than a perfected technique, time and time again. it tasted pretty damn good too.

sadly for me though, by the time i'd found #doughnotts (geddit) and their awesome doughnut window, they'd shut. i since found out that they close when they sell out for the day - which makes total sense, as what's the point of staying open if there's nothing to sell? digging deeper still, it looks like that day (easter saturday) had been their busiest day ever, selling 2000 handmade doughnuts in less than six hours. i never stood a chance really; they were closed for easter on sunday when i left too.

on my travels to find these two places, i discovered a bunch of others i quite liked the look of, and would definitely try if i was there longer. the fox cafe's menu appeared completely vegetarian but quaint and pokey, just off the main shopping strip, and the pudding pantry on the way to the coach station really caught my eye too. it was open fairly early, leading me to believe they serve more than ~just puddings, but the afternoon teas they were advertising looked deeeelicious.

eat and drink a lot

as i say, i was keen to check out annie's burger shack, as it had come high recommended by a number of people. it's the only one of its kind in the uk, so i was intrigued to see if this notts institution was as good as everyone made it out to be, or whether they were just trying to hold on to some home town pride now that they have just about every other burger brand opening up shop in the city now. turns out, they have every right to take pride in it - it's not just hype.

despite not being able to find it for love nor money, it was heaving. as a "party of one" i was easily placed though, and within moments i had been placed with a great view of the room, and a chocolate milkshake on its way. the staff were top notch. their menu is ~excessive; there's a burger done every which way - even ways you'd never dream of ('the elvis' has a beef patty with peanut butter and jam on it), and the choice of sides doesn't disappoint either. i went for the south (or north?) carolina in the end: beef paddy with 18 hour pulled pork with crispy onion and red leicester cheese, with a side of wedges. curve ball, but i fancied something different. well, i couldn't finish it, despite my best efforts.

the staff were super nice, very attentive, and not once gave me the pity eyes for dining alone. the meal (burger, wedges and chocolate milkshake) cost no more than £15, which is pretty good considering the size of the thing. perhaps it's because i was full of beer from earlier in the day when i'd been turned away from my hotel as it was too early to check in and so headed to the nearest pub i could find: room with a brew, on derby road. craft beer and book puns? you had me at hoppy potter and the goblet of ale.

another pub i would have liked to check out on my travels is the trip to jerusalem inn - a.k.a the oldest pub in england. it's built out of the castle walls, and has been there since 1189ad! sadly, it's all a bit tourist-trappy now, but i wish i'd grabbed a half pint in there at one point - just to say i had. instead, on my return from the forest i wandered into a restaurant i'd walked past that morning, and one i've seen reviewed a million and one times online, but never had the chance to get to myself until now: turtle bay.

oh how i love me some carribbean food! i was shown straight away to a seat, again being alone had made being seated so much easier than normal, and talked through the specials. it was happy hour - hooray! i was worried about drinking alone, but the wait staff were very sure that it wasn't pathetic at all to drink by yourself, and if nothing else, if you can't drink alone on a bank holiday weekend, well when can you? i was peckish for sure, but wanted a bit of everything so i ordered a few starters instead of a main. i went for the chilli and mango squid and the jerk chicken wings, with a side of sweet potato fries. oh, and two (two!) strawberry mojitos, because: happy hour! 

the food and drinks were delivered in under fifteen minutes, and i was done eating within another twenty. i was barely in the restaurant forty minutes until i was back out into the day, wondering how on earth service can be that efficient (and excellent, again) outside of the capital, but they can't quite manage it inside. very strange indeed. after both annie's (friday) and turtle bay (saturday) i was finished for the rest of the day, able to only eat light meals or snacks later in the evening. a shame, as there were a number of other restaurants i'd wanted to try, namely junkyard (beers and brunch), inferno (all the pizza), and spanky van dykes (cocktails and burger) after great recommendations on twitter for all three.

always look up

it's easy to forget to look where you're going when you're looking where you're going. keeping your eyes on your phone or on a map or directly in front of you to make sure you don't walk into a pole is all well and good, but you miss the best stuff. wandering around nottingham with my eyes to the sky meant i got to see some great buildings and intricate details and bright colours that many of my friends who follow my social channels who have ~lived in nottingham had never noticed before.

i was getting comment after comment on my photos "it was never that pretty when i lived there", "i know where that is but i've never noticed that building before", "i walked past that all the time but i didn't know it was a blah blah" - i mean, i was there for 48 hours and it's the first thing i noticed, right? always look up, it's where the best things are. i do this whenever i'm somewhere new, because i literally don't want to miss a thing.

thanks for sticking with me until the end of this long post! tell me, have you been to nottingham? what are your top tips for things to see and do in this pretty city, and, did you ever get "the rainbow one"!?