Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Journey through Sherwood Forest: Rufford Abbey to Nottingham

Picture: The Undercroft at Rufford Abbey, Sherwood  Forest, Nottinghamshire.
Rufford Abbey was a monastery of Cistercian monks in the heart of medieval Sherwood Forest (see the monks and friars of Sherwood Forest).

It was situated in the high forest area to the south of the village of Ollerton, and to the west of the Royal Palace and Deer Park of Clipstone.

Nestled amongst it's domestic buildings and accomodation, the church of St. Mary the Virgin would have been a glorious landmark, standing in the heathland of the high forest.

The abbey would have been a welcome sight to the traveller passing throught the forest.

A traveller heading south from York might have spent the previous night in the inland medieval port town of Bawtry on the Yorkshire border, or maybe in the castle town of Tickhill, or at the monastery in Blyth.

The Idle marshes would have been negotiated along with the heather-clad fields of the district of Hatfield; before the traveller crossed the River Meden at Cunningswath Ford into Sherwood Forest (see the King's Wade entry for more details). 

Having found accomodation in the Abbey at Rufford- the traveller could enjoy a restful night in the dormitories of the abbey.

Restful that is, if they could sleep through the chanting, bell-ringing and hymns that sounded for and in the church services that ran at intervals through the night.


The life of the medieval monk didn't seem to involve much sleeping!

Sleeping on a straw-filled matress may not bee too restful either (many hundreds of people may have slept on it before)- but at least the stop over included breakfast!

It was part of the duty of medieval monks to provide accomodation and food to travellers (of course the level of comfort depended on wealth- and more importantly social position). 

The poor might receive the left-overs from the kitchen and be offered a communal dormitory above the stables- whereas the rich would dine well and even be hosted in the abbots quarters.

Having woken, eaten and departed the traveller would head east to meet the road to Nottingham.

The trackway from the monastery might have been shared by some of the Cistercian 'Lay Brothers' heading to till the fields of Cratley (a village taken over by the abbey in the 12th century) to the east.

Cistercian monks were not permitted to work- so they employed a group of 'Lay brothers' who could do their work for them. 


The meadows of the abbey covered the shallow valley of Rainworth water to the south of the road, and the woods of 'Welley (Wellow) Beskall' and 'In Beskall' hugged the north side of the road and extended into the distance.

On reaching the Kings Highway the road was rejoined and the journey south continued following the higher ground of the Mercia Mudstones ridge overlooking the meadows of the abbey wich lay on the western side. These meadows would provide fodder for the abbey's animals, and may have had the occasional Lay Brother tending flocks in the months when grazing was permitted.

Having crossed Rainworth Water at the 'Derun Forthe' (ford); the road began to cross the heathland of the lands of the Lordship of Rufford- one of the homes of the great flocks of sheep grazing for the profit of the abbey.

The road from the Kings Manor of Mansfield in the west to the Archbishop of York's great manor and collegiate church at Southwell (see the Archbishop of York and Sherwood Forest entry) in the east- crossed the King's Highway 3 1/2 miles to the south of the abbey

The heathland covered the area up to the Southwell road and was up to 2 miles wide.

Just before reaching the Southwell road the Abbey's wood known as the 'Burne Abotote wode' (the brown wood of the Abbot) and the wood of 'Leytle Hawe' dominated the road to the western side, with the lands of the vill of Farnsfield stretching down the valley of the River Greet to the east.

The Abbot of Rufford had a ditch dug around his woods 50 ft across to keep out animals and presumably people, but also to help seperate it from 'ye Byshope wode' (the wood of the Archbishop of York that joined on to it on its southern edge). It would not be wise to be caught damaging or stealing anything in either of these woods as the punishment could include eternal damnation (see mutilation and damnation entry).

These woods formed an area of woodland that the road passed alonside for 2 miles.


This woodland was also 2 miles wide and could well have sheltered many oulaws in its shadowy depths. 

The traveller would be well advised to stick to the road. 

Little time could be spared anyway to explore these deep woods- if Nottingham was to be reached safley before nightfall. 

These woods were divided into 'Blidworth Wood', 'Lerche Haw', 'Balkhaw', 'Seyre Birkes' and 'Hay Wode'. 

Haywood Oaks is still a popular tourist destination today with many veteran oak trees in its woodland.

Continuing up and down over the undulating Sherwood Sandstones the road crossed the Doverbeck River which headed to the southeast forming the boundary of the forest from this point; and the road continued south over Salterford Waste.

The great Common of Calverton village stretched of to the southeast and the King's Highway passed into and through a small area of woodland known as 'Samson Wode' (A plantation of pines now carries the name).

Upon leaving the shadowy bows of Samson Wode the road now headed across the heather clad 'Arhall (Arnold) Common' which stretched for nearly 3 miles to the south; here again great herds of swine and sheep grazed on the land, tended by shepherds and swineherds.

After crossing this great heathland two roads converged with the King's Highway- a 'Packman's Way' (see road tax entry) which headed northeast towards the King's Manor of Mansfield; and the road which ran northeast towards Calverton. 

They met at a standing cross on the road known as 'Xpian Cross'. The road from here then climbed steeply to pass through a deep holloway cut by traffic and footfall through the Mercia Mudstones. 

This cutting exposed red clay deposits of the Mercia Mudstones and Sneinton Shale deposits, and was therefore known as 'ye rede (red) royde (road) hil' (The ridge is still known as 'Redhill' to this day).

Nowadays this cutting marks the entry into the 'Greater Nottingham Conurbation' from the surrounding countryside; and in medieval times it would have also been a mark of having left the great wilderness of the 'High Forest' region of Sherwood. 

The traveller was now entering the gentler 'Thorney Wood' area of the forest.

The King's manor of Arnold nestled to the east of the road beneath the surrounding highland, where the woods of 'Arnold Common Wood', 'Swine Howse' and 'Basforde wode' occupied the clay ridge. 

To the west the road was now overlookd by the 3 metre high deer fence of the Royal Park of Bestwood (see Bestwood Park and Trespass in Bestwood Park in 1440 entry for more details).

The arable field of Arnold to the side of Bestwood park was known as 'Parke Field' and this was crossed by the road from north to south.

At its southern end the road forded the Depe Broke (modern Daybrook). 

The road then crossed the 'South field' of Arnold before climbing the ridge of sandstone known as 'Brymisdale Knoll' in medieval times, and descending into 'Brymmsdale' to the south.

This area was 'Basforde Lyngges' another vast expanse of heather clad heathland (see there's Vikings in the Heather). 

This wasteland was crossed for two miles, but stretched 3 miles wide; as far as the eye could see. It would have been grazed by the flocks of Basforde but also by those of Nottingham. 

Having crossed the heath from the northeast to southwest the road turned to the south to climb the Mount Hooton escarpment across 'Nottingham Linges' (modern day Forest Fields). At the top of this ridge (modern day Forest Road) stood the medieval town gallows. 

After nearly 15 miles on uneven and un-surfaced roads- the site of the town walls of Nottingham at the foot of the sloping fields of the town- about half a mile to the south would be very welcome.

Here accomodation and ale could be found a-plenty, as well as foods and shopping galore at the weekday and saturday markets.

If the saturday market was being held- then spices, fish, meat and any kind of consumable could be purchased- although care had to be taken that it was fresh (more to come soon). 

The traveller had made it across the forest, hopefully with time to find a bed and a table at an alehouse or inn, to exchange stories around the fire place with other travellers, and to prepare plans for the journey across the arduous Midland Clays on the London road to the south.

For now though at least, Sherwood Forest had been safely navigated once more.



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