Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Robin Hood and the Ghosts of Nottinghamshire

Nottingham aside, Nottinghamshire is not an urban county. The villages tend to be smaller than elsewhere, but more closely scattered over the countryside. And it is a countryside that is as varied as its geology. To the east are limestone hills that roll to the horizon, while Ollerton stands on a belt of wet clay and the centre of the county enjoys a free-draining sandy subsoil.

This is, of course, the county of Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood. Of the vast forests that once blanketed so much of the county, some extensive stretches remain, but they are now tamed by the Forestry Commission and private owners so that wolves, bears and bandits are but distant memories.

At least the living variety are gone, but spectral bandits are still to be found. At Edwinstowe stand two reminders of Robin Hood and his merry men. Just outside the village looms the Major Oak, the largest oak tree in England. The heart of the mighty tree has died away, leaving a cavity. Here, it is said, Robin Hood would hide when being chased by his arch enemy the Sheriff of Nottingham. Be that as it may, the area of forest around the tree is one of the more untouched in Nottinghamshire.

As well as being much as it was in the old days, it is also haunted by a certain “something”. Quite what this something might be depends on whom you talk to. One witness described the phantom as being a man standing some 7 feet tall and dressed all in green. Another likened it to a shambling bear. Whatever it is, it is very big, very heavy and absolutely terrifying.

The village church at Edwinstowe is reputed to have been the venue for Robin Hood’s marriage to Maid Marion. Whatever else Robin Hood did in Edwinstowe it is almost certain that he did not marry Maid Marion there. Disappointingly for the more romantically inclined, Maid Marion did not enter the legends of Robin Hood until the 16th century, some 250 years after Robin Hood probably lived in real life. Exactly who Robin Hood was has been the subject of much debate and scholarly dispute and, in truth, we shall probably never be entirely certain. What is fact is that the good folk of Nottinghamshire and southern Yorkshire believed by about 1420 that a famous and highly skilled outlaw named Robin Hood had been active in their area a little less than a hundred years earlier. In these first , the characteristics of Robin Hood are already in place. He lives in the forest with a band of other outlaws - including Little John, Will Scarlett and Much the Miller’s Son. He robs the rich, helps the poor and has an especial grudge against corrupt or dishonest officials. Maid Marion and links to Richard the Lionheart come much later.

Back at Edwinstowe, the church is reputedly haunted. The ghostly figure is said to lurk at the rear of the church, but who this man might have been in his human life is obscure.

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