on May 4, 2011
Having lived close to Nottingham for a few years now, one attraction which seems to stand out is the Nottingham Caves. As you drive into Nottingham you cannot but fail to notice that the town is situated on sandstone, and the prominence of caves are apparent in the Castle area and Brewers Yard. The part I never fully understood was the shop front within the 1970s shopping arcade known as the Broadmarsh advertising the city caves and yet seemed to sell nothing but miniscule rock trinkets, but which in fact is the modern façade built on top of several hundred years of Nottingham history. The Broadmarsh shopping centre in itself is one of those modern buildings that were dreamt about in the late 1960s to help revolutionise town centres. Now granted I wasn't about for the early 1960s but looking at the Broadmarsh centre today it is hard to believe that the 1968 vision was to cement in the medieval caves to build this modern shopping centre above. Thankfully, historical societies intervened and as such residents and visitors to Nottingham can still go underground and experience Nottingham from centuries ago - in this part of town at any rate. The attraction of the City of Caves has been affiliated with the Galleries of Justice, and until recently it was possible to buy joint tickets. Recently that is no longer the case and a ticket to the City of caves attraction will set you back around £5.50 for an adult ticket with concessions costing £4.25 and family tickets also available. We arrived just a couple of minutes before the tour was due to depart, on a Sunday afternoon. Closing time is 430pm with the final tour departing 30 minutes before that. Personally I do not recommend that as I really don't think it gives ample time, although the 330pm tour gives an hour, which is reasonable. You are given a brief introduction to the geology of Nottingham and encouraged to wear a hard hat before descending the short flight of stairs to the caves below. There were about ten adults on our tour, although the numbers earlier in the day were in the mid twenties and there were no kids on our particular trip. There are five key areas of the underground tour and the first is the "Enchanted Well". The water was believed to be a gift, and was worshipped by both pagans and later religions, who often laid flowers around wells. During this early few minutes of the tour, you are largely unguided although there is opportunity to read some of the information boards giving insight into Nottingham's history. Before long you stumble upon the "Medieval Tannery" where the next guide will be waiting for you. The tannery was in operation for about 150 years in the period 1500 onwards and in common with industry of the time employed child labour. It was also scorned upon by the residents of the city, due to the dreadful smells the tannery gave off (apparently essential in the process). I have to say that the tour is geared towards youngsters with the role play being the major part of the tour, as opposed to more general information about living conditions in the period. Nevertheless it was informative even if the information was a little basic. You do get to see Pillar Cave, dating from the thirteenth century, a kind of medieval latrine where pits were used to treat skins to turn them into leather. For me the fast forward into the 20th century was rather too much, when we turned the corner to find ourselves into an air raid shelter, the major use of the caves during the second world war. We did spend a considerable part of our time in this air raid shelter with our next guide who did play a good part in re-enacting his role in the war, but somehow I felt cheated out of a few hundred years of history. From the air raid shelter you move into the "Slums of Drury Hill". This is the original basement walls of the homes on Drury Hill in the Narrow Marsh area - an area which had been affluent in medieval times, but was the scene of deprivation in the nineteenth century, with many families renting out basement areas making the area nothing but a slum. What is really bizarre, despite the fact that the entrance to the caves started here, but you finally end up in the underground area below the Broadmarsh shopping precinct. Here you can see where old meets new, literally the old slums (numbered) of the streets below contrast with the modern construction of this 1960s shopping centre and merge with the remains and foundations of old city centre public houses, the artefacts of which are displayed in glass cases underground. I am glad I have seen the attraction, having lived in the region for over two years, but I do feel slightly cheated. I feel the attraction is overpriced as it does seem a little over commercialised and leaps too quickly from one historical period to another. By the same token, I am relieved for the tenacity of the local volunteer groups of 1960s Nottingham who did ensure that these caves were not concreted and therefore lost for ever. Entrance fees are £6 per person at the time of writing and concessions available for £4.25. I feel if these were £1-2 cheaper then it might represent better value for money for most people. However if you hunt aruond you can find discount codes on line. Obviously, with this type of attraction, there are a reasonable amount of steps and while you do not have to be particularly fit, this is not suitable for those in wheelchairs or those with push chairs. I am not a lover of tourist attractions which involve a degree of role play, although I can appreciate this might appeal to a wider audience. The caves are open every day and you can see www.cityofcaves.com for further information. ..
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