First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The two children came pelting out of the trees near the spanking new Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre, home-made bows in hand. ‘Look!’ shouted the girl in the green peaked hat, and sent her stick arrow flying across the clearing. ‘No, look at me!’ squealed the little boy behind her. He stopped to bend his bow, the string snapped, and his sister fell around in heartless laughter. Robin Hood would have had something to say to her on the subject of looking after the weak and misfortunate, I’m sure.
Whether bold Robyn Hode, the forest outlaw of the early medieval ballads, really existed or not is open to question. He certainly lives on in the imaginations of dozens of kids in Lincoln green hats who were dashing about and shooting the tree trunks in the outskirts of Sherwood. A fair number of them had made it as far as the Major Oak, a colossal veteran with a golden crown that could well be old enough to have dropped an acorn on Robin’s head as he sat at parliament with his Merry Men in its shelter – one of uncountable legends about the greenwood hero.
Once past the Major Oak, the clamour of young voices fell behind. The wide woodland track of Robin Hood Way took us west through the heart of Sherwood Forest, where immensely distorted and swollen old oaks raised arthritic limbs in the shadows. These tremendously characterful trees owe their survival to their imperfections. Had they stood straighter and taller, they would have been cut down for timber long ago. In the carpet of red and gold leaves at their feet grew clusters of fly agaric with white-spotted scarlet caps, fungi so potently psychotropic that even the most reckless outlaw would steer clear of them.
When fugitives from justice such as Robin Hood lived in Sherwood, the Forest was 100 times its current size and covered 150 square miles of country. Nowadays it all fits comfortable into two square miles. Somewhere toward the middle we found the Centre Tree and turned north along a grassy bridleway into Sherwood’s northerly neighbour, Budby Forest. Here the trees opened out into a broad heathland of golden bracken and purple heather.
The track swung south again through a stretch of wood pasture grazed by long-horned cattle with chocolate-brown coats and white streaks up their backs, a stylish combination. We stopped to admire their sleepy stolidity, and reckoned that the Merry Men would have been exceptionally pleased to encounter such slow-moving lunches on the hoof. Hollywood has dandified the doings of such as Robyn Hode, but the life of a Sherwood Forest outlaw must have been pretty tough. You had to take your chances when every man’s hand was against you.
Start: Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre, Edwinstowe, Notts NG21 9RN (OS ref SK 627677)
Getting there: Visitor Centre signed off B6034 just north of Edwinstowe (A6075).
Walk (5 miles, good forest tracks, OS Explorer 149. Online maps and more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Visitor Centre, follow signposted Major Oak walk. Just beyond Major Oak, fork left (not through gate) and follow Robin Hood Way/RHW green arrows. In ¾ mile at Centre Tree, right (607676, ‘public bridleway’) on RHW for 1¼ miles. At crossing with 7-finger post, right (604695, ‘Budby’). In ¾ mile at crossing (616694), right through kissing gate; fork left on grassy bridleway, keeping ahead for 1½ miles to Visitor Centre.
Lunch/Accommodation: Forest Lodge, Edwinstowe, NG21 9QA (01623-824443, forestlodgehotel.co.uk) – friendly, comfortable village stopover
Info: Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre (01623-824643, visitsherwood.co.uk)
experiencenottinghamshire.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk