The Middle: Adventures in Nottingham

If you put England in a big rectangular box, you may find that Nottingham is pretty much exactly in the centre of this box. Well, maybe after chopping after off some pointy ends… sorry Northumberland, but your north half is history… you too, Cornwall… and take Devon with you… Oh, just go with me on that one.

Just as its geographical location and its decidedly Northern feel* clash a little, does Nottingham clash with itself in terms of architecture. The city seems torn between preserving its medieval heritage with all its Robin Hood romantic, the castle, beautiful old buildings, and strips of cobbled streets, a weak attempt at converting these old buildings into the ubiquitous high-street outlets, and some pretty awful modern architecture – or whatever classified as modern in the 1960s. Visually, it’s just all over the place.

After Nottingham had waved a cold hello at me with rain and a rather dodgy looking subway, I found myself in Market square and suddenly realised what Manchester was missing: a central square! The bad excuse for basically everything that is Piccadilly Gardens, the lovely but out of the way St Ann’s Square, or Exchange Square, the, well, area behind Selfridges which I didn’t even know was considered to be a ‘square’, just don’t make up for the feeling of discovering a city’s central hub, buzzing with busy shoppers and newspaper vendors, showing off a fountain, a memorial or a landmark of some sort (Nottingham chose a big wheel here), trams and buses crossing, often overlooked by some impressive building – in the case of Nottingham the council offices.

Now that I’ve got the moaning out of the way, I can say that I did really enjoy the day in Nottingham, despite having come here on a Monday where the two main museums and galleries (the Castle museum & art gallery and the contemporary art gallery) were closed. Thanks to the magic that is Twitter, I received lots of recommendations from some lovely people (that is you Gem, Neil, Ian, Ian, Helen and Sophie!)

After a stroll around town, I tried to seek shelter from the rain in the Galleries of Justice where I went on a tour around the former courts of justice and the pretty miserable prison (or ‘gaol’ – learned a new word!) which had been in use since the 15th century, including an area of cells called ‘the pits’ – no explanation needed I guess. My navigating skills failed me once again and I got lost on the tour, walking through a maze of fire exit doors in search of a toilet and being too embarrassed to go back to the rest of the group once I had found myself in the foyer of the building. I found comfort in a hot bowl of soup just next door at a former church, which had been converted into a rather nice and incredibly spacious bar, and went on to have a look round the castle area – only to get sucked into Delilah on the way, an absolutely stunning deli (now go and sort out your dirty minds will you?) that is granted to give you a mild  heart attack at the till.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round the castle, talking to a crazy photographer at a bus stop, failing to resist the urge to do a little shopping which then turned into a big shopping, and stuffing my face with incredibly delicious cake at The Walk, a cute little cafe hidden away at the end of some inconspicuous looking tunnel off Bridlesmith Gate, where the pretty waitresses wear white lace pinnies on black tops and chunky pearl necklaces as their uniform. Judging by the international clientele and the number of travel bags, I concluded that the cafe must be listed as one of the top places in Lonely Planet. After a lovely Girl Geek Dinner at Cape bar just round the corner, including pizza followed by even more cake and some great talks, I walked back down the hill to catch the last train back from, uhm, Nomingham to Manchester.

The journey then turned into a bit of an adventure as soon as the conductor announced that our train to Sheffield would have to make a short detour to get around a broken down train on the tracks, which led to my missing the connection to Manchester. After a short moment of panic, the station phoned a taxi for me and two fellow travellers, a cheerful Irish couple on their way to Oldham, and so we ended up on a midnight drive down Snake Pass, whizzing through the fog that seems to never leave the peaks, with the Irish lady happily humming and singing in the back seat.

The castle hill which is covered in holes and caves. Looks very much like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to me!

* Northern feel = awful weather and grey skies.