It’s 7am and from my lovely apartment in Nottingham I look out on a landscape waking up to gentle sunshine. It’s going to be another glorious sunny day. I overlook a sea of new buildings and cranes scratching to take their place in the sky. It’s a struggle to house ever increasing numbers of city dwellers. There seems to be little in the way of imaginative design here. It’s utilitarian, solid and prolific. I’m about 5 minutes’ walk to the heart of the city, Market Square with its open sweeping plaza, showy city fountains and Notts.Town Hall. A Speigeltent has taken up residence in the square providing nightly entertainment.
If you linger, my apartment view also reveals the tiny old brick and stone buildings snuggled together on cobbled laneways. There are many of them, old pubs and now trendy little shops and eateries. The centre of town with all its laneways is largely pedestrian with traffic pushed out to the Ring Roads. Gnarled old warehouses are re-purposed as small business and co-working spaces. There are clusters of trees, beautiful old gates and arches and the churches stand proud and tall ministering over their flock. The day begins with cleaners and garbage trucks, then city workers and as the sun gets higher its mums and prams and old people, day trippers and out of towners coming into Nottingham for a day of shopping. The rough sleepers are jolted into the day and the soup kitchen van takes up its position outside the church.
In the distance it’s just vivid green. Green space with a few buildings raising their hands among the thick foliage. Nottingham, like so many other cities here has a concrete core but stretch your hand out and you’re sure to touch a parkland, lake, stately home or green space. Wollaton hall, with its 500 acres of deer park is just 3 miles from here. Nottingham University sits on the edge of Highfields Park, 2 miles from the city centre with another 121 acres of parkland.
Public Transport here is clean, efficient, accessible and expensive! Every day I make a trip to revisit childhood haunts. I’ve been walking up to 20 miles a day. I was born in Chesterfield and lived in Derbyshire until I was 16. Then the family emigrated to Australia. So this is a rediscovery tour. Nottingham was always the BIG city. A day trip for this teenager from the village, 6 miles away.
It’s a nice city. It has a university vibe with students busking in the square. A finely boned violinist on this corner. A talented artsy guitarist playing flamenco guitar. There’s a happy energetic vibe and just the right touch of different.
In glorious sunshine I head to Wollaton Hall, an Elizabethan mansion built in 1580 by Sir Francis Willoughby. Walking into the park I see a large stag deer grazing in the shade. There’s no one around and I stand well back from his domain. For a moment he turns slowly and acknowledges me. He has wisdom in his eyes. We agree our distance and the king continues to feast. What a magnificent animal! His antlers are huge and stand like a monument to creation. How could anyone shoot such a creature?
I venture on through formal gardens and the lake walk where the last of the bluebells are clustered together in the woodlands. Wollaton hall is a grand beautiful mansion and I can imagine minstrels in the gallery, and the swoosh of dresses down the grand staircase in Elizabethan times. It’s now a natural history museum, the stables are an Industrial museum and it is the venue for weddings, outdoor theatre and concerts.
Today though, it’s mid –week and glorious sunshine. Picnic baskets are unpacked. The retired couples unpack their picnic tables and chairs, find a shady spot and set about recreating their dining room under the trees. There’s laughter and mayhem coming from one area of the lawns and a mothers group with their toddlers are having a picnic. Further into the park an Indian family is gathered. Papa is in a wheel- chair and sleeps soundly in the shade. Grandchildren tear around laughing and shrieking. The adults, beautifully dressed sit on their picnic rugs and enjoy their feast. The air is filled with the sweet smell of spices.
As I head back into Nottingham the work of the day is over. Pubs are alive with people meeting up and enjoying a pint before heading home. There’s a joy and laughter in the streets as the late afternoon sun warms conversation. The Marks and Spencer Food hall is bustling with shoppers picking up dinner staples. The fruit seller is still busy. The stall is loaded with fresh glistening berries and summer fruit. The baked potato van is also doing a solid trade. It stays light until around 9pm so I stop for a glass of wine in a laneway pub before heading back to the apartment to cook dinner. The crowd is friendly and conversation easy. Much later, I look out over a quieter city, the blinking car lights, slow moving clouds and the low hum of a city ready for sleep.