Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Nottingham

I’m learning as I go with these Football Tourist Guides: plan parking, pre-book attractions, plan when and where to eat. This all helps with reducing stress. For the trip to Nottingham I had a pretty much to-the-minute schedule. I worked back and figured we needed an 0700 start on Friday.

I could barely move after a two-hour walk round the Great Orme Circular in Llandudno the previous day. I had been told it was flat and it really wasn’t (and you know how I feel about hills; if you need reminding, please refer to Colne and Lincoln). I had also been rushed on the walk, with a lunch reservation to make at the end. It had been a traumatic experience and I was still suffering today. My back ached, my thighs were hardly functioning and my feet were sore. I hoped this wouldn’t hamper my adventures in Nottingham.

We set off at 0715 – not yet in the comfy new car. We managed to get straight off, as we had already sorted fuel for the car and for ourselves.

I rejoined Slimming World this week, so I grazed away on a punnet of cherry tomatoes for breakfast. This weekend was going to be a challenge for my diet but I‘d done my best to plan ahead to avoid too many syns. I had researched pubs to ensure they had SW-friendly options. I resolved to drink Diet Coke occasionally. Instead of ordering two halves on entering a pub, I’d order one. And I’d ruled out a night at Nottingham Beer Festival despite the rare treat of a fest falling in the same town/city as a match (this happened in Leicester once and that was the best onion bhaji I’ve had in my life). And I left the Lucky Orange Aero at home. Surely it wasn’t REALLY my witchcraft that was responsible for Blackpool’s recent run of form…?

It was another beautiful day and I banged on my Blackpool @ Wembley playlist to provide Lee with inspiration for his post-match DJ antics at the Armfield Club after the Preston match.

The journey down the M6 and across was smooth and we were on course to arrive in Nottingham early. As we approached the city, we were greeted by a puzzling sight.

We felt compelled to investigate. Research revealed that this was Ratcliffe Power Station – one of only three coal-fired power stations remaining in the UK. It was certainly a striking vision, dominating the skyline on the road into Nottingham. What happened to the clouds it formed? Does it always rain here or do they move on?

We didn’t make a service station stop so I could avoid the temptation of crisps and chocolate. However this meant that I was very stiff when I attempted to climb out of the car. I felt like an old woman. I blamed that pesky hill entirely but I knew that losing weight – and getting active – would help Future Me feel better physically.

Nottingham Castle

We had parked in the NCP by Nottingham Castle. Whilst I’d ensured our hotel had parking facilities, I’d failed to factor in parking before we got there. We had seen some street parking but there were blue lines and we didn’t know what they meant. We only half paid attention to the prices in this car park, as we’d be paying on our way out and didn’t need to commit to a particular length of stay right at this moment. So we made our way straight towards the Castle.

I was walking very slowly because I was so sore. I’d got my magic heat pad on my back. I first injured my back during a goal celebration at Hartlepool (but what a goal!) and these heat pads help to ease the pain when it flares up. I didn’t enjoy this feeling and wondered if this was what every day would feel like when I’m an old woman.

During lockdown I learned not to be ruled by time. There was no alarm clock – I woke organically every morning – and there was nowhere to be. But yesterday and today were set to strict timetables – which meant time was the dictator – and I was already remembering exactly why I had been so happy to be out of time’s clutches in recent months. Time causes stress. And I don’t want stress in my life.

I hadn’t fully researched Nottingham Castle. All I knew was that there was a Robin Hood Experience here and we needed to learn about Robin on a visit to Nottingham.

After a short wait at the entrance to the Robin Hood Experience, we were greeted by one of the Merry Men, who showed us inside. At the end of the corridor was a lady (Maid Marian, perhaps?) who outlined what we should expect on our visit today.

The main room played a video telling the story of Robin Hood. It explained that Robin had not existed per se but he was a legend, an amalgamation of a number of people, as a symbol of the fight for the poor against the unfair laws under which they struggled to survive. There were also many variations of the story of Robin Hood. It was a fascinating video.

We were then led through to some interactive games rooms, which were ace. The first was an archery game, which Lee beat me at because I’m rubbish at learning practical skills. Next was a game where we had to use a wooden staff to duel. I figured this was a bit like the VR game Beat Saber – which I smashed the boys at a couple of Christmases ago – so I was confident now. I won this with maximum points, which pleased me. Next up was a Pac-Man style game where you were the bandit and had to grab bags of swag and escape without being caught by the Sheriff’s men. Sadly we didn’t get time to finish this game before we were ushered on to make way for the next group of visitors. Although we had had two goes on the archery, so we couldn’t grumble.

We then found ourselves in the museums and galleries of the Castle, which were a mine of information about Nottingham.

We learned about General Ludd and the Luddites, who smashed advanced machinery that put people out of work.

We learned how few people had the right to vote 200 years ago.

We were introduced to the Sherwood Foresters (what a great name for a regiment) and saw a war trophy that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Real Madrid’s trophy cabinet.

We enjoyed great views of the city from the rooftop cafe (resisting the temptation of the ice cream on sale).

We learned about ‘Britain’s foremost designer’ Paul Smith (born in Beeston, Nottinghamshire).

We learned about Nottingham’s famous lace industry.

Here we admired some beautiful dresses from various periods.

Nottingham was at the centre of the alabaster carving industry. On display were a few rare carvings that survived Henry VIII’s destruction of churches.

And we couldn’t leave without visiting the Robin Hood Statue just outside.

Castle Rock

For years I have been enjoying Castle Rock beer – and visiting the brewery’s pubs. Today I was delighted to spot the Castle Rock after which the brewery was named.

Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem

I do like a uniquely-named pub. There are too many called Cask / Keg & Cask / Cask & Tap / Tap & Spile…you get my drift? It’s hard to remember which is where. But you say ‘Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem’ and you immediately think Nottingham.

This is Nottingham’s most famous pub – and England’s oldest, being in existence since 1189. Pause a moment and let that sink in. 1189.

This multi-roomed pub is attached to Nottingham’s cave network (more of that shortly).

It’s a Greene King pub with an impressive menu and beer range.

I ordered half of the Milestone Black Pearl, which was delicious and easily the best beer of the weekend. Look out for this one.

I had of course studied the menu in advance and knew there were healthier options on here for me. This sort of worked.

The chips, of course, weren’t ideal. And perhaps I should have resisted the beef dripping gravy but BEEF DRIPPING GRAVY! I decided to leave it in the little pan rather than lash it all over everything but I’m not sure that ended up being much healthier, as each chip ended up with 100% gravy coverage. Oh it was lovely. I think dunking is the future.

We found the beer garden on the way out.

City of Caves

Did you know that there are 700 caves underneath Nottingham? Neither did we – and we needed to find out more about this.

We were instructed to download an audio guide to listen to as we walked through the cave network. It was interesting and necessary to provide added detail to that provided on the plaques.

There were many rooms down here, including pub cellars…

…a tannery…

…and an air raid shelter.

All of these caves are man-made. The sandstone is easy to dig out (this could be done with a spoon) but is solid, with impacts – such as bombs – only serving to strengthen the sandstone.

National Justice Museum

We were on a very tight schedule today and headed straight to the National Justice Museum.

At reception we showed our tickets and were provided with a wristband with our convict number on it.

‘You’ll find out what you were convicted of on your way round.’

Ooh this was exciting! The interactivity of these Nottingham museums made learning so much fun.

‘You’ve come at a good time. There’s trials in the courtroom at 2.15pm – and there’s a hanging in the courtyard at 3.15pm.’

Well well well. We never know what we’re going to find on these Football Tourist Guide research missions. We thought we’d never top going on Concorde in Bristol or witnessing the green sawfish in Hull. But a hanging!

We were pretty much by the courtroom anyway, so decided to head straight there for the trials.

The prosecuting lawyer (an actor, for clarity) was already there and he explained that this had formerly been an actual court.

As the crowd began to gather, the first trial began. The majority of us were cast as the jury but a few were chosen to either be put on trial (all for their part in the Reform Bill Riots) or called as witnesses.

We were encouraged to cheer, jeer and heckle – as would have happened back in 1831 – as the trials were taking place. I was pleased to find my jeering of one of the defendants led to his being found guilty.

‘17? He’s never 17. Liar!’

But, in all seriousness, throughout this performance we were learning about real people and what really happened to them. And it was harrowing. Young men were sentenced to death or transported to Australia.

Once the trials were over, we explored more of the museum. In the Punishment section, we found exactly what we had been found guilty of. I was convict number C1-569.

I’ll confess I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t been convicted of witchcraft, as I had been on two previous occasions: at Blackpool Tower Dungeon and Warwick Castle Dungeon.

Lee was convict number B3-567.

Next we headed down to Nottingham County Gaol. This had been so horrific that it was closed down by the Victorians.

The female prisoners were all housed together in one cell. And this was their tiny exercise yard.

Next it was time for the public hanging. These were historically held on the steps at the front, as hanging was a public spectacle, attracting crowds of 10,000. But today’s hanging was to take place in the men’s exercise yard.

Surely I’d be hanged for witchcraft here? There was no way I was going to get away with it in a place like this. But no. It was Lee who was selected by the hangman for execution today.

You’ll have to watch the accompanying Football Tourist Guide video at the end of this post to find out what became of him.

Finally we entered the Transportation section, where we learned about the lives of convicts who were transported to Australia. This is something I was aware had happened, but never considered what it entailed.

Premier Inn

Now it was time to check into our hotel for the night. It had free parking, which I knew because I had researched it. What we hadn’t researched was the cost of parking at the multi storey, where we’d ended up paying £18 for seven hours parking, which was the same as it would have been for 24 hours. We continue to learn.

Anyway, here we were at Premier Inn. You know what you’re getting with a Premier Inn, right? It will be a nice, clean, quiet purple room and you’ll get a good night’s sleep – guaranteed or your money back.

Well this one was different. We thought it looked nicer and shinier and more modern than usual. But – what was this in tea corner?

Little chocolates! Squee!

And a choice of teas: English Breakfast, Peppermint and Earl Grey.

I was confused by some little pods and wondered for a minute if they might be honey for the tea. Surely that would take the biscuit (there were no biscuits). It was only then that I spotted the NESPRESSO MACHINE!

Blimey – talk about surpassing our expectations.

We quickly unpacked as I realised that our next port of call was half an hour’s walk away – and we had a table reservation in half an hour. Well there’s no rest for the wicked!

In the lift, we learned that Premier Plus rooms were a thing and realised that we must be in one of those. I hadn’t realised I’d booked one – and it wasn’t expensive, so I wasn’t complaining. It was quite the little treat.

As we were now running slightly behind schedule, Lee suggested we hop on scooters to transport us more quickly. I was in quick march mood and – despite thinking this was a good idea – the risk averse side of me won out, realising that any delay faffing with scooters would make us much later if we couldn’t get them working. So on we marched, past the dead rat by the side of Sainsbury’s, down the canal past the ducks…

…and up into the heart of Nottingham City Centre.

Peggy’s Skylight

I was hot and thirsty and in need of a sit down when we arrived here. Peggy’s is a jazz club (nice) serving Middle Eastern cuisine. We were here tonight to see a Brazilian band called Sambossa.

This was one of those random places that occasionally leap out at me from a map. So many times on holiday I’ve seen jazz clubs but I’ve only ever been in one (I think) during the Birmingham Jazz Festival. Peggy’s seemed like the perfect place to chill after a hectic day touristing (not sure if that’s a word but it is now).

It was table service only here and, with no beer menu in sight, it took a lot of drilling to finally unearth the Castle Rock Harvest Pale. You can’t go wrong with one of those.

Karen soon joined us and we settled back in the best seats in the house, fully intent on enjoying the next 90 minutes.

The food was messy (dripping in oil) but delicious.

The band were great too, entertaining us for over an hour. I spent much of the session trying to figure out who the drummer reminded me of and I settled for a cross between Data and Didier Deschamps.

The band were also happy to chat to Lee for the accompanying video to this article (see below).

I know you’re missing the toilet action so don’t worry – here it is.

Unusual door lock mechanism

Glory Holes

This place was next door and it demanded further investigation. We interrogated the man on the door and learned that this was basically rude crazy golf. Yeah – we’d give that a go.

After paying our £12 entry fee, we were shown to a seated area. I surveyed the drinks menu and was intrigued by the Hoola Hooch. I used to drink Hooch in my early drinking days but I’d never seen that flavour before (passion fruit and mango). Sadly this was out of stock, so I plumped for this instead.

We had updated Karen on our adventures so far.

‘Ooh look – there’s your dead rat from earlier!’

We remarked that it was almost Dead Bod like. I didn’t think I’d be buying a Dead Rat t-shirt though.

It was an hour before we finally got to play golf. It was fun – and some of the holes were tricky.

If there’s a dinosaur, I’ll find it.

We got stuck behind a group who were clearly enjoying themselves but also taking their time, so we ended up overtaking them and missing out a couple of holes to avoid being in there all night.

I didn’t find it particularly x-rated but there was one hole that was gross so we rushed through quickly. I started with two holes-in-one (hole-in-ones?) but went on to finish last. Lee won.

Now it was time for Lee to head back to the room to get started on the video, while Karen and I checked out a few pubs.

Keans Head

This Castle Rock pub was our favourite on our last crawl of Nottingham, so we felt compelled to return.

As we entered, the aroma of Indian street food had me immediately enquiring after a menu. I wasn’t even hungry but boy this place smelled incredible.

‘Don’t do it!’

I knew this could hamper my progress in my first week back on Slimming World. I read the menu but that nagging voice wouldn’t permit me to order anything. Go me!

Of course beer doesn’t count. Well it does but again I only had a half (of the strongest ABV on the cask list shh!).

It would have been nice to stay here but I wanted to try some new pubs tonight as part of a research mission. We had loads on the map, including two next door to each other. In the full knowledge that pubs don’t always stay open until their advertised closing time these days, two together seemed a good bet.

On arrival on Bridlesmith Walk, one bar seemed a bit loud (yes I’m middle aged now, what of it?), so we opted for the quieter one so we could continue our conversation in relative peace.

The Kilpin Beer Cafe

The welcome here wasn’t the warmest, as the barmaid neither greeted us nor uttered a word during our beer-ordering transaction. I could see why everyone was next door.

I had a half of the Black Iris Rise & Shine. I’m getting used to coffee stouts and porters now, despite not being a coffee drinker. They delight my palate more than a lot of pale ales.

There was an upstairs so we went and sat up there.

Junkyard Bottle Shop & Pour House

We soon found ourselves in the loud place next door. It was rocking and there was a DJ on.

‘Look Jane – they’ve got Fierce Beer on. You’ve got to have one of those as you’re wearing your Fierce t-shirt.’

Karen had a point. Plus I don’t need asking twice to drink Fierce Beer. They’re my favourite brewery.

We found a conservatory type smoking area out the back which was a little quieter but also a little nippy but we sat here for our first drink. We wouldn’t be leaving this place and it was open until 0100 so we could finally sit down and settle for longer than we had anywhere else.

When we ventured back into the warm, we found a table nestled next to the fridges. Ohh the fridges! This is where nights can start to get messy…

My eyes were almost immediately drawn to this little beauty, which I’ve been hunting down for months, having been told it tastes like lebkuchen.

It had that strong imperial porter taste but with strong Christmas spices in there too. I wouldn’t say it tasted of lebkuchen – perhaps more boozy Christmas pudding? – but this is definitely a Christmas beer. Also definitely a ‘last beer of the night.’ I savoured this until it was time to retire to bed.

I enquired of the barman the taxi situation in Nottingham at the moment. He shook his head slowly and advised we head into town. We made our way towards the station and picked up a taxi there. There was no way I was walking back down the canal and past Dead Rat in the dark. After dispatching Karen safely at her hotel, I was soon back at my Premier Inn.

I had no trouble finding my room tonight. Whilst my bones had found walking easier with exercise and alcohol as the night progressed, we were of course in the room that involved the most walking: on the top floor, right at the end of the corridor.

I’d expected Lee to be working on his video still but I suppose it was 0115 and he was fast asleep.

I hadn’t set an alarm for the following morning. I’d deliberately packed all our touristy stuff into Friday to free up Saturday to spend in the pub with pals – many of whom I had barely seen (if at all) in the last two years.

Around 1000 we headed across to the Beefeater for breakfast. There was a good continental buffet here as well as a full cooked breakfast offering. Conscious of my diet (despite the beer last night), I selected one slice of wholemeal bread for toasting and a fat-free natural Greek yoghurt to accompany my cooked breakfast.

Note no sausage or black pudding. And I didn’t eat the hash browns.

Fellows Morton & Clayton

This has long since been the Nottingham Pub of Choice. It was already heaving by the time I arrived at 1115. As luck would have it, James was in at the bar and kindly bought me a pint of Blue Monkey BG Sips.

It was lovely to see such a huge group of friends back together in a pub pre-match again. They had travelled from London, Walsall, Yorkshire and even further afield to be here today. I can’t remember the last time so many of us had been together at an away match. Quite possibly it was pre-Homecoming.

Ian enthused about his ropemaking handiwork appearing in Emmerdale this week; Houstie was on top form and seemed to have recovered from the long walk I’d made us both endure in the rain in Hull; Mark was excited about wintering in Gran Canaria; and I made some new friends in here too. Oh and not forgetting Paul’s story about being presented with his Dulwich Hamlet season ticket by ‘their Jimmy Armfield’, club ambassador Peter Crouch.

I was presented with a half of Titanic Iceberg (‘that goes down easy haha!’) before Houstie (having finally mastered the app) offered to buy me a drink. Now it’s not an easy task ordering cask on an app. We asked our amazing barman (who was run off his feet serving behind the bar AND providing table service) who deciphered it for us and the options ‘Cask 3’ and ‘Option 5’ (or something) translated to a pint of Blue Monkey Primate. Of course it did!

All too soon it was time for the long walk to The City Ground (turn right at Hooters, past Meadow Lane and across the bridge). As I was walking slowly anyway, I accompanied John who told me all about his recent replacement hip replacement. Who knew that concrete hips were a thing?

Nottingham Forest v Blackpool

Of course that was the end of our frivolous enjoyment for the weekend.

On entering the ground the concourse was packed and I struggled to locate the Ladies. I eventually did before joining a queue for the refreshment kiosk. The adjacent queue seemed shorter, so I switched queues. Which is always a fatal error. It seemed everyone in front of me was now ordering beer for someone in the queue I had just left. Grr.

At length I finally got my hands on two bottles of water before making my way to my seat. There was some sort of hold up getting into the stand. Finally almost there, I passed my ticket to the nearest steward and asked where my seat was. He responded with no words. I wondered if he worked in Kilpin.

I retrieved my ticket, declaring him no use, and tried my luck with the next steward.

‘It’s down there somewhere in the middle.’

I made my way in the direction she had pointed, only to find gridlock again. What was going on here?

‘They’re turning everyone back.’

What? That was ridiculous. I was growing frustrated. I pleaded with a steward.

‘They’re turning us back. Where am I supposed to go?’

‘Over there where there are empty seats.’

‘Well how do I get there?’

The steward shrugged and couldn’t have been less interested.

I made my way back onto the concourse fighting back tears. All I wanted was to sit in a seat I’d paid for and watch a game of football. It shouldn’t be this hard!

I made my way back round the concourse to the furthest possible exit and made my way up into the quieter stand, where I found a seat on the front row of the back section. It was a good seat but I’d paid £2 extra to sit in the adjacent block behind the goal. I was upset and furious. It took me until half time to calm down. I couldn’t settle down and enjoy the match at all.

We lost 2-1. Bowler whipped some great crosses over. Jez scored to make it two in two, so hopefully he’s going to be prolific again now. Stewart got injured again. It was a good even battle. A draw would have been a fair result. But we lost and that was that.

The atmosphere had been great though. Again the travelling Tangerine Army sang for 90 minutes. Again the roar when Forest scored surpassed anything I’ve ever heard at any other football ground.

And I confess I did have a chuckle at spotting these in the Ladies.

We traipsed back to the car, stopped off somewhere diet-friendly in Derby on the way home for some food…

Healthy option.

…and were home around 2200. Exhausted.

And that, dear reader, was Nottingham. We learned a lot in this university city and had a lot of fun doing so.

Here’s the video of our adventures.

Next up: Reading (via Newbury).