Having said in my recent post on David Crowther’s History of England podcast that I should probably check out their Facebook group, I did and reading a few of the posts there was inspired to write a blog entry on this old pub in Nottingham. I’ve got a few other old pubs in mind too, so I may well end up doing a few of these. I was in Nottingham for reasons related to work, but took the advantage of some free time to look around the city. The pub, which claims to be the oldest in England – founded in 1189, is near the castle on the West side of the city centre. It’s probably one of the most impressive locations for a pub that I’ve seen, overshadowed by and more or less built into the huge limestone cliffs, just around the corner from the statue of Robin Hood.
As you might guess for a pub with such a name dating from the 12th century, the name of the pub seems to be related to the Crusades. This was apparently a place where knights and pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem would stop off for some refreshment – and in fact, at the time ‘trip’ would have meant a break in a journey rather than the entire journey itself. Nottingham in the 12th century seems to be a rich time and place for mythology, with Robin Hood knocking around, and there is even a story that King Richard the Lionheart himself visited the pub. He didn’t spend much time in England, but the man seems like he would have enjoyed a drink so maybe …
As well as its age, the pub is perhaps most notable for the spectacular backdrop. The sheer cliffs and wall are very imposing, but the building itself more than stands its ground against them with bright, white walls and an assortment of annexes sticking out from here or there where the pub has expanded throughout the centuries. The cliffs themselves are limestone, and famous for their huge amount of caves (both natural and manmade). The Trip does not disappoint in this aspect with rooms carved into some of these caves giving a low, dark, genuinely old feeling place to enjoy a pint – while it may be a tourist attraction, the pub never feels like one that has lost its charm to that. The caves also give tunnels from the pub to castle – said to have allowed royal soldiers to sneak into the castle and capture Roger Mortimer, following his affair with Queen Isabella and murder of Edward II. As to the truth of this, Nottingham Uni suggests that it would be possible with the help of a man on the inside but it’s likely that the secret tunnel was one of the many other ones that lead into the castle (Mortimer really picked his defensive spot well).
Once inside, the place is lined with all sorts of curiosities – there’s numerous photos of famous people drinking in the pub. I can’t say I saw anyone particularly noticeable when I was there, but maybe I was just in the wrong part of the pub. Other stranger items include an antique chair that allegedly boosts the chances of pregnancy for any woman that sits on it – I kind of ignored that one, it’s not really of any use to me. Another is the so-called ‘Cursed Galleon’, a bottled ship that hasn’t been cleaned for decades since the untimely deaths of anyone who dared to remove the grime – why it is cursed seems to be unknown. There are a number of other ships, presumably uncursed, said to have been left as parting gifts by sailors – so maybe one of them was just a bit of a dick. There are also countless other stories about bizarre sightings and happenings in the pub – they even do ghost tours occasionally.
Ringing the Bull
One of the first things I noticed when I entered the pub was a couple of people playing this old game that I had never seen or even heard of before. I have taken my information here from tradgames.org.uk, so if I’m wrong – blame them! The object is to swing a brass ring on the end of a piece of string towards a hook or bull’s horn mounted on the wall. The winner is obviously the one who gets it to latch on. It’s a simple game, but perhaps a little more difficult than it looks.
This is allegedly yet another facet of The Trip’s crusading past, with the game being brought home from the holy land by returning pilgrims. It then spread around medieval England in various incarnations (usually based on whatever animal had horns), and variants are even found as far away as the Caribbean (though I wouldn’t put that one down to the crusaders, that would be some hell of a scenic route back).
The pub itself is now owned by Greene King (for those who care about such things), but it does seem to have a fair bit of freedom in terms of the beer on offer so you won’t be stuck with their IPA. There were quite a few local beers when I was in, including a mild (Rock Mild by Nottingham Brewery) – which is always good to see, one rarely sees them outside of CAMRA beer festivals. Nottingham has some very good breweries in the surrounding area and it’s actually pretty close to Burton – of perfect beer making water fame, so the local stuff would definitely be worth trying. I’ve particularly enjoyed beers by Blue Monkey before.
It also sells one of Greene King’s better beers – Hardy’s and Hanson’s Olde Trip which it turns out is named after the pub. I’d been drinking it for years without realizing, so that was a nice surprise. Food is served as well, and it looked to be quite decent if unsurprising – expect the usual pub/tourist fayre of fish & chips, sausage & mash and maybe a few burgers or pies.
For those who might want to stop in on their way around the drinking establishments of Nottingham, the castle area has a few other good pubs or bars – including Ye Olde Salutation Inn (1240) which also claims to be the oldest pub in England. It is on the edge of the centre, so things are getting a little quieter, but there’s still some lively and interesting places to eat and drink and one certainly wouldn’t be trudging through miles of deserted streets before hitting civilization again.
I’ll hopefully write a few more of these – though I’ve mostly stuck to reviews so far, it is quite fun to put together something based on my own experiences and a few more diverse sources. I didn’t actually spend much time in the Salutation Inn so it may be farewell to Nottingham for now, but there’s some interesting pubs in Oxford or Cambridge that might be visited by this blog soon …