Nottingham, England: A Medieval City Built Upon Mysterious Caves

The English city of Nottingham is most famous for being the home of mythical Robin Hood and his band of mischievous yet gold-hearted Merry Men. Nottingham is also home to a vast network of man-made caves that were arduously carved out of sandstone during the early Middle Ages. Archeologists estimate that there are over 800 caves in Nottingham which have served as dwellings, jail cells, wine and beer cellars, tanneries, and air raid shelters. Vast networks of Nottingham’s cave system remain unexplored and forgotten by time. Thankfully, there are several spots where curious travelers can explore the caves, and even relax with a swanky gin cocktail in a fancy subterranean bar.

One of Nottingham’s most famous caves is located below Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem Inn, which was founded in 1189 AD. There is a great debate about where England’s oldest inn is located, but many historians claim that there is solid evidence that Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem has been around the longest. As the name implies, Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem was founded to quench the thirst of soldiers headed to participate in the Crusades in the Christian holy land. The proprietors of the inn used the caves on which it is perched to brew beer. There is compelling evidence that the residents of nearby Nottingham Castle used the cave system to place beer orders, which were delivered to the castle.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

England’s oldest inn, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (dating to 1189)
Photo by Bookitlist

For those who wish to have a full cave drinking experience, a small bar called The Lost Caves is housed within one of Nottingham’s cave tunnels. Located beneath the stately George Hotel, The Lost Caves features eerie blue lighting, dainty glassware, and a prim chandelier. Potential drinkers must enter and exit via a narrow, winding staircase. Wobbly drinkers who are prone to drunken injuries should probably think twice before knocking back one too many cocktails in a dimly lit cave bar.

In the 1960s, huge sections of the Nottingham Caves were very nearly filled with concrete when construction of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre threatened to seal off one of the major entry points to the caves. Thankfully, an effort to conserve the caves and turn them into an ancient monument was successful. Since 1978, visitors have been invited to tour the caves. Visitors can view ancient workshops, former cramped slums, and an air raid shelter that withstood a brutal World War II bombing raid which destroyed much of above ground Nottingham.

No dimly lit ancient cave system is complete without some good ghost stories. Many Nottingham residents believe several ghosts haunt the city’s caves. The Nottingham caves were once home to slums which were prone to frequent outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis, whooping cough, and smallpox. The caves also contained a dank dungeon, which housed rowdy criminals who were too dangerous to be held above ground. Cave visitors have reported hearing voices and seeing shadows that are not attached to any earthly being. A few unfortunate travelers have reported being pelted by rocks of unknown origin. The manager of Ye Old Salutation Inn even reported hearing ghostly coughing and footsteps.

In 2010, the Nottingham Caves Survey began an extensive project to explore, document, and map Nottingham’s caves. The group recently created an app called Nottingham Cave Trail that features footage of various cave tunnels, and historical information about different sections of the caves. Visitors can download the app, and scan QR codes around the city of Nottingham to learn more about the caves. The Nottingham Caves Survey enlists volunteers to help further their knowledge of Nottingham’s remarkable cave system.

Nottingham Castle

The rock beneath Nottingham Castle is riddled with caves (Credit: Visit England)

Outside of England, most people don’t know that the city of Robin Hood is actually the City of Caves. Nottingham residents routinely uncover new cave passages in their basements or gardens. The caves of Nottingham are home to many long forgotten secrets which will surely be uncovered for centuries to come. Robin Hood and his Merry Men hardly needed to escape to Sherwood Forest when they could have hidden out in the Nottingham Caves. Unless, of course, the Sheriff of Nottingham jailed Robin Hood and company in a dank dungeon. Perhaps a Nottingham resident will stumble upon Robin Hood’s true hiding place while planting bulbs or remodeling their basement.


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