Make like Robin Hood and find a Sherwood Hideaway, says Sharon Dale, who recommends the Dukeries.
If you had asked me to list my favourite short break destinations a month or so ago they would have included the Dales, coast, moors and Wolds. Yes, I love Yorkshire, although I wouldn’t say no to the Lake District and Northumberland either.
Nottinghamshire would not have figured back then but I am now convinced of its charms after two days discovering the delights of the Dukeries.
A short hop over the Yorkshire border and you’re there, which means it scores highly for accessibility.
The area, which consists of five historic ducal estates, is just five miles from the A1 at Newark.
The oases of land and enormous houses, wedged between industrial, former mining areas, are a surprise and a history lesson. The ducal seats were Clumber House, principal seat of the Dukes of Newcastle; Thoresby Hall, seat of the Dukes of Kingston and the Earls Manvers; Welbeck Abbey, seat of the Dukes of Portland and Worksop Manor, that was owned by the Duke of Norfolk.
Of course, much has changed since the aristocracy, along with its wealth and power, declined and Welbeck Abbey is the only house that remains in traditional ownership.
Clumber House was demolished by the Dukes of Newcastle in the 1930s because they could no longer afford the upkeep, but the fabulous 3,800-acre park now belongs to the National Trust. The Thoresby Hall estate is farmed and has capitalised on the lucrative, 21st-century revenue stream that is leisure and tourism. The enormous house is now a hotel and spa run by Warner Leisure and the estate’s latest venture is an upmarket lodge site in Sherwood Forest, which is proving very successful.
The branding is clever. The Sherwood Hideaway conjures the romance and derring do of Robin Hood. It also suggests an escape from the grind of daily life.
The lodges are contemporary and luxurious with glossy kitchens, bathrooms by Porcelanosa, designer fabrics from Mulberry and Designers Guild and a cosy wood burning stove. Fans of technology will approve of the 32ins flat screen TV, iPod speakers, and free broadband connection, although I was more impressed with the full-size version of Scrabble and the pack of playing cards in the cupboard.
Outside on the decked terrace, some of the lodges have hot tubs overlooking woodland. This is the best view.
At the front, the planting isn’t established enough to soften the site, which has been so successful it is already expanding. The next phase of cedar lodges is underway and will include a one-bedroom holiday home aimed at honeymooners.
Whether you’re a loved up couple or have an army of children to entertain, there’s plenty of places to see and do in the area. Clumber Park is on the doorstep along with the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre. A little further afield is the National Water Sports Centre.
The old market town of Newark is a must for those, like me, who love antiques. This is a place rich in shops, fairs and specialist dealers.
The Hideaway hires mountain bikes and offers lots of off-road cycling on the estate and beyond. Our first bike ride was to the big house itself and approaching from the lodge. The first glimpse is a Downton moment and it certainly doesn’t look like a hotel from this approach. The rear, with its modern additions, does. One of the 20th-century add-ons is the spa, and lodge users get a discount there.
Day two saw us cycle through the estate and down a short stretch of road to Clumber Park, which is well worth a visit. It has the world’s longest double avenue of lime trees, 20 miles of cycle routes and a beautiful lake.
We had planned to head for the Sherwood Forest visitor centre, where you can see the Major Oak. Legend has it that Robin Hood hid from his enemies in its hollow.
However, feeling a little saddle sore, we headed back to the lodge to chill out and chat about everything from the dreaded GCSE results to whether we’d ever come back to the lodge again.
We agreed that we would, though the proviso is that I get to check out an antique shop or two next time.
The Sherwood Hideaway, near Newark (01623 824594, www.sherwoodhideaway.com) has traditional and contemporary lodges sleeping between four and six. All VIP lodges have hot tubs. Dogs are welcome. There are walking trails and mountain bike trails from the door.
The Thoresby Estate has a calendar of on-site events, including craft fairs, horse driving trials, classic and modern car shows and Shakespeare in the park, www.thoresby.com
Clumber Park has 3,800 acres of picturesque parkland and gardens, peaceful woodlands and a magnificent lake ,www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clumber-park
Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve. The reserve contains some of the oldest trees in Europe,including veteran oaks five centuries old and the world-famous Major Oak, which is producing acorns after standing at the heart of the forest for an estimated 800 years.