Want to know about the history of Sherwood Forest? Then come and ask the Major Oak. It is the biggest living organism in Britain, an immense, squat Sumo wrestler of a tree, with a girth of 36ft.
The Major Oak may have been alive in the reign of King John in the 12th century, but nobody knows the age for sure as you can’t count the rings of a hollow tree.
Sherwood Forest contains almost 1,000 other veteran oaks – more than the whole of France and Germany put together.
Admittedly, about 400 of them are dead — but a dead oak is home to more species than live ones. Immense numbers of insects feed off them. Nuthatches and bats nest in their nooks and crannies. The rarest false scorpion in Britain (false because it is really a spider), Dendrochernes cyrneus, lives under the bark of Sherwood’s veterans.
The original Sherwood stretched from just south of Sheffield all the way to Nottingham. Today, the Country Park covers just 450 acres, a tiny fraction of the forest known to King John and, if he existed, Robin Hood. Tourists flock to the forest in their hundreds of thousands, keen to immerse themselves in everything the site has to offer — as a centre for biodiversity with an array of exciting activities.
Legendary: Clive Aslet explores Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, a place that’s synonymous with Robin Hood
Above is Major Oak, the biggest living organism in Britain. It’s ‘an immense, squat Sumo wrestler of a tree, with a girth of 36ft’
For thrill-seekers, Go Ape have erected a dizzying network of high-level walkways through part of Sherwood Pines. If you’re more interested in keeping your feet on solid ground, wander along one of many forest trails and you might happen upon one of Robin Hood’s hideouts. Marked cycle routes weave their way across the forest floor, and if you’re looking for a challenge, why not take the Sustrans Route 6 which runs all the way from London to the forest.
For those in search of a short break, Center Parcs is hidden away in another area of the forest, with its subtropical swimming paradise, abseiling and spa treatments.
There is so much to see and do at Sherwood Forest that it seems hardly worth mentioning other places in the area.
Even so, you won’t want to miss Welbeck Estate which houses two museums — the Portland Collection and the Harley Gallery — offering world-class exhibitions of both contemporary and ancient art and artefacts. (In the Victorian period Welbeck Abbey was home to the reclusive 5th Duke of Portland, who lived in a maze of underground tunnels; Duchess Winifred, wife of the 6th Duke, did so well from racing that she built a range of almshouses called The Winnings.)
A family in one of the ‘subtropical swimming paradise’ pools at the Sherwood Forest branch of Center Parcs
‘You might happen upon one of Robin Hood’s hideouts,’ Clive writes of Sherwood Forest. Above is an actor dressed as the outlaw in the forest
Rufford Abbey Country Park has stretches of woodland, gardens and lakes waiting to be explored, and activities for children and adults include archery and adventure golf.
The walled garden at Clumber Park, home to the national rhubarb collection, is also well worth a visit, and if you’re lucky you may be able to catch a glimpse of the privately owned Worksop Manor from one of the Sherwood Forest trails.
A stone’s throw from the forest is the appropriately named Royal Oak pub, where punters can enjoy hearty English grub in front of a roaring fire.
Glorious countryside accommodation can be found at Thoresby Hall, a Grade I listed house that’s now in the charge of Warner Leisure Hotels
Thoresby Hall, a titanic assemblage of neo-Elizabethan towers and finials, is welcome to guests over the age of 18 only
Glorious countryside accommodation can be found at Thoresby Hall, a Grade I listed house now in the charge of Warner Leisure Hotels.
The titanic assemblage of neo-Elizabethan towers and finials is welcome to guests over the age of 18 only, so those with children in tow might opt for the Forest Lodge Hotel, a traditional 18th-century coaching house.
There is a campsite at Sherwood Pines — some of the saplings there have been grown from acorns collected from the Major Oak. One day the Major Oak and its fellow ancients will rot back into the soil and the saplings will by then be young trees, ready — after a few more centuries — to take their place. While all primary school children in the UK are taught about the Amazon rainforest, Sherwood Forest is no less amazing — and on their doorstep.