A family holiday review of Nottingham, including St James Hotel, National Videogame Arcade, The Caves and Galleries of Justice
During a three-day visit to Nottingham, you could say that we only scratched the surface of what this thriving East Midlands city has to offer.
But the first of many exciting experiences actually took us below ground to explore the hidden caves below the streets.
After an easy and cheap journey from Beverley by train, we walked from the station to drop our bags at the St James Hotel in Rutland Street before heading for a quick bite to eat at Italian Carluccio’s, one of mix of independent and chain eateries.
From there, we headed to the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, where we found the unassuming entrance to the City of Caves attraction.
We donned hard hats and joined a tour of this fascinating labyrinth carved out of the soft sandstone.
It was led by three different characters who played their parts well, allowing for plenty of audience interaction.
They explained some of the different uses of the caves, including a tannery, a bomb shelter, homes and a hiding place for those on the run.
A quick spruce-up back at the comfortable and centrally located hotel and we were ready to head out for dinner at the award-winning George’s Great British Kitchen.
A family business, the restaurant has real charm and we were delighted when we realised our table was in one of the funky beach huts on the first floor.
There were lots of other cool touches, too, such as the menu, which looked like a newspaper, our son’s meal, which was served in a bucket complete with spade, and candy-floss covered cocktails.
But this wasn’t a case of style over substance, the food was nothing short of excellent, with great service to match. No wonder the place was packed early on a wet Wednesday teatime.
A restful night’s sleep at the hotel – helped by the large beds and complimentary lavender pillow spray – and we were ready for a second day, beginning at the National Videogame Arcade.
This was within walking distance, but we took the opportunity to use the tram system for the short journey to the arcade, which has been open about a year.
I had hoped to find a game I had played as a child in the 1980s – Astro Wars – and there it was, not behind a glass case, but plugged in and ready to play.
It was one of many, from the old to the new, mixed in with custom designed activities that helped demonstrate how games are created.
There was even a hub where games under construction can be tested, with postcards for you to write feedback for the programmers.
We very quickly became absorbed in all the arcade had to offer, pausing only when my husband, keen to win a group game that involved physical activity and technology, accidentally knocked our boy clean off his feet.
A relaxing pub lunch was exactly what we needed to calm down afterwards, and where better than the oldest in England, Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem?
Built into more caves at the base of Nottingham Castle, it is an atmospheric place where the friendly barmen will recommend an excellent ale and the kitchen will serve you hearty, home-cooked food.
Bellies full, we hiked above the pub to the castle itself, which has been a museum and art gallery since 1878. Its reinvention followed more than 40 years of the site lying derelict after it was burnt by rioters in support of the Reform Act in 1831.
The story of this time is related using a clever augmented reality either on your own smartphone or iPads available in the exhibition.
This allows visitors to interact with museum objects and experience animated first-hand witness accounts to great effect, bringing this dramatic piece of history to life.
Dinner that evening was a relaxed affair at Cosmo, a stylish buffet restaurant with freshly prepared food from around the world and live cooking stations.
There’s something to suit all tastes, although it was hard to drag the boy away from the selection of sweets, marshmallows and ice cream.
Our final visit of the stay took us to the Galleries of Justice, where crime and punishment can be investigated at the former courthouse and gaol.
We joined a tour that, like the caves, was led by actors and, although some of what we learnt was quite grisly, the atmosphere was kept light enough not to scare.
It loosely followed the real-life tale of Valentine Marshall, who was arrested for his part in the Reform Act Riots, from his court case to imprisonment and transportation to Australia.
You could even see graffiti he’d carved into brick while behind bars – a surface literally scratched.
But unlike Valentine, who made a new and happy life for himself Down Under never to return to Nottingham, we hope to be back to see more of the depths it has to give.