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Caves of Nottingham
Member Name: ermintrude
Caves of Nottingham
Date: 17/08/00, updated on 21/08/00 (122 review reads)
Advantages: Really interesting and unusual; information accessible to all ages
Disadvantages: Physical accessibility is naturally limited; some might think audio guide childish
Nottingham is a city of caves. It's built on sandstone, y'see, which is soft and really easy to dig into. Many early inhabitants lived in caves they made along the cliff line which runs through the city, and they've been used for many things since.
The Caves of Nottingham is a fairly new attraction (1994) which aims to show visitors this secret, underground side of Nottingham. The amazing thing is that the caves you see are under the Broad Marsh shopping centre, and narrowly escaped being completely destroyed when the centre was built in the 1960s.
It consists of a self-paced tour around a loop of preserved caves, starting close to the surface in an air raid shelter, and passing wells and cellars before coming to the showpiece Pillar cave, which was used as a tannery in medieval times. Each visitor has a handheld audio guide, where you punch in numbers to hear the appropriate commentary - many heritage sites now use these - and there's also the compulsory hard hat to wear!
The tour is quite entertaining, and geared towards children. The tale of the caves is told through the voices of two children, a "spirit guide" and a narrator; the children find themselves in various situations according to where you are in the tour (e.g. at one point they are working in the tannery), and ask questions of the "spirit guide" to find out more about when/where they are. More information is provided by the narrator.
Some people might find the audio tour a bit childish, but I like it, and think it's great that the information is accessible to all ages. You can stop and start the commentary as you like, and repeat it if you want to, so you don't miss anyth
ing like you do with taped guides. There are also information boards to peruse at your leisure, where there are appropriate (i.e. brick!) walls to attach them to, so those who want more information can easily find it.
It's not especially interactive, although there are a few things to "do" around the tour, like feel different animal skins in the tannery, or play pub games in the cellar cave. The games are all traditional (although I question the tradition of splat the rat as a pub game), and the kids I've seen there love the novelty of skittles, hoop-la etc. How times change :)
Indeed, just being in the caves, having the audio guide and wearing a hard hat, seems to be quite an experience for many younger kids, and they do enjoy it. The tour is not that long, aout 35-40 minutes depending how much looking around you do as opposed to listening to the commentary, so they shouldn't get too bored.
So, as an attraction, I'd recommend it as an enjoyable and interesting stop on your tour of Nottingham. It's definitely different! I'm a local and I found out loads about the city and its history that I never knew!
Hang on, what about the practical stuff?
Well, accessibility is naturally a bit limited. The caves could never be wheelchair-accessible without extensive modification, but there are also lots of steps, uneven floors and low ceilings to catch out the infirm or unwary. They've made the caves as safe as they can without destroying their basic nature, but it goes without saying that you should be a bit careful. You'd probably want to carry little kids (who still need hats :), and they'll let you leave buggies at the top.
Audio guides are also available in foreign languages - French, German, Italian and Japanese if I remember correctly. It's a shame they don't do some of the Indian languages which many of the local population speak, though.
Prices are r
easonable: £3.25 and £2.25 for concessions, [updated from the thisislondon website, where there is also a printable 50p voucher - cheers to "dlpugh" for this info]. It's also easy to get to, right near Broad Marsh bus station and car park (50p off if you visit the caves), and the rail station is close by too. Being in the centre, you can take the tour as a break from shopping - on a hot day it's great, as the caves are a steady 14 degrees C!