Sometimes the most intriguing aspects of a place aren’t immediately apparent. To discover these gems, you must delve a little deeper. On this, the second day of our English Tourism Week celebration of all things unique about Nottingham, we’re going underground to shed some light on our curious cave network.

After settling in Nottingham in the 7th Century, early inhabitants of the area soon discovered that the soft sandstone terrain was perfect for carving out caverns and tunnels. Over the next ten centuries, a maze-like subterranean world was formed, stretching throughout the city. In 892AD Nottingham was described as Tigguo Cobauc, or Place of Caves for those of you not familiar with Old Brythonic (an ancient Celtic language).

Nottingham's Cave Network - Credit Lamar Francois Image Credit: Lamar Francois

These industrious inhabitants found all kinds of imaginative uses for the painstakingly hand-chiselled caves over the years, from dwelling places, dungeons and dens of iniquity to secret hideouts, simple storerooms and most intriguingly, a bowling alley. Today you’ll find them converted into quirky cocktail bars, underground eateries and escape rooms, with over 800 caves re-discovered and documented across the city. Here's our guide to Nottinghamshire's most intruiging caves. 


Nottingham Castle Caves

Nottingham Castle


Curiously, Nottingham Castle, is in fact, not a castle at all. The ancient castle was considered such a strategic stronghold in the Civil War it was destroyed with gunpowder shortly after to prevent any further military use. The imposing structure, which today stands high on its craggy cliff, is actually an epic mansion, built by a wealthy duke on the ramparts of the medieval castle which went before it. Like most of the sandstone on which the city sits, the ground beneath Nottingham Castle is a labyrinth of caverns, dungeons and secret passageways excavated over the centuries, with some seriously intriguing tales tell. The most famous is Mortimer’s Hole, so named after Edward III used the secret tunnel to ambush his mother Isabella of France and her lover Sir Roger Mortimer. Once Nottingham Castle reopens in 2021 following its £30m transformation, the medieval caves will once again be open to the public to explore.


Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

 

Widely known as the oldest inn in the land, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem brims with historic charm. Built into the cliffside, the cosy rooms and nooks are carved from the rock on which Nottingham Castle stands, with tunnels extending far and deep beneath. Located in these winding passages is an old cockfighting pit and it's thought that part of the Castle Gaol was once housed in the cellars, like the condemned cell; a claustrophobic lockup where prisoners were kept under the watchful eye of the Gaoler, who sat on a chair etched out of the rock which can still be seen today. Tourists and locals alike gather to drink and dine in the medieval caverns of this richly characterful and historic inn.


City Of Caves

City of Caves

 

A large section of some of the oldest surviving caves in the city have been preserved as the City of Caves attraction. Here you’ll find the only medieval underground tannery in the country and the remnants of the notorious Victorian slums of Drury Hill, as well as an air raid shelter where thousands of Nottingham residents sought refuge during WWII.


Peel Street Caves
Peel Street Caves

 

Nicknamed the ‘Mammoth Cave’ because of its vast size and winding passages, one of the largest complete cave systems lies beneath Peel Street on the northern outskirts of the city near the Arboretum. Rouse’s Sand Mine was in use from around 1780 to 1810, during which time vast caverns and passages were excavated. For a time afterwards, it became a Victorian tourist attraction before it was closed to the public, used only as an air raid shelter during WW2. In recent years Nottingham’s City Archaeologist Scott Lomax has run tours to let people explore this hidden landscape and showcase some of its quirkier features, like hidden artworks and false tombs.


Malt Cross Caves

Malt Cross
 

Nottingham’s original Victorian musical hall is one of the few remaining in the country and has a fascinating heritage. Above ground the grand building features a glass roof arching over a stage where musicians still perform to crowds assembled on the elaborately styled balcony and in the bar below. The floors beneath which once would have allowed poorer patrons to hear, if not see, the performers above have had various uses in the past, including as a Victorian roller skating rink, while the caves below were first recorded in the 11th Century when a Carmelite monastery stood on the site.


National Justice Museum

National Justice Museum
 

Some of the county's most notorious criminals were imprisoned in the caves beneath this 15th-century gaol and Shire Hall. Legend has it that Robin Hood himself was held captive in a deep dungeon cave, later to be rescued by Little John. Now a popular museum detailing the history of crime and punishment, visitors can descend into the depths of the prison to explore the underground cells.


Creswell Crags Caves
Creswell Crags
 

Outside of the city, the ancient caves which honeycomb the natural limestone gorge of Creswell Crags are perhaps the most intriguing and historically significant in Nottinghamshire and beyond. As well as boasting Britain's only known Ice Age rock art which dates back over 13,000 years, last year they also discovered the largest known collection of ‘Witches Marks’, carved into the cave walls to ward off evil spirits. The museum tells the fascinating story of pre-historic life in Nottinghamshire, with stone tools and artefacts on display.



We can't wait to welcome visitors back to Nottingham to explore our curious cave network but in the meantime why not check out this virtual cave tour?


This blog was written by Claire Jones, Marketing Assistant at Visit Nottinghamshire.      

Related

Nottingham Castle
Museum
Nottingham Castle | Visit Nottinghamshire

Please note: due to a fantastic £29.8m Heritage Lottery Funded grant, Nottingham Castle will be closed from 1st July 2018 until 2021.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
Pub/Inn
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham

Situated at the foot of Nottingham Castle and nestled in the sandstone cliff rock, Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem is England's oldest inn and a landmark of Nottingham history.

Malt Cross
Pub/Inn
Malt Cross

Malt Cross is an Grade-2 listed Victorian Music Hall set at the heart of Nottingham city centre, just off Old Market Square.

City of Caves
Cave
City of Caves

Enter and explore a whole new world in the caves underneath Nottingham city and descend into the dark depths of the original Anglo-Saxon tunnels, meeting real cave-dwellers from its dramatic hidden past.

Creswell Crags
Historic Site
Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire

Creswell Crags, in North Nottinghamshire is a limestone gorge honeycombed with caves and smaller fissures. Stone tools and remains of animals found in the caves by archaeologists provide evidence for a fascinating story of life during the last Ice Age between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. Further evidence came to light in 2003 with the discovery of Britain’s only known Ice Age rock art.

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