Snowdrops and more

Snowdrops are one of Anna Hyman’s favourite flowers, so when an invitation came from Hodsock Priory to visit and admire their spectacular snowdrop wood and gardens, she decided to head off to Nottinghamshire.

Hodsock Priory’s famous snowdrops

Hodsock Priory, just north of Worksop in North Nottinghamshire, is famed for its carpets of snowdrops in its wood and formal gardens, and indeed, in May, for its bluebells. I had seen the bluebells, but had never seen the snowdrops so I was delighted when an invitation from Hodsock arrived.

I needed somewhere to stay

There was only one place I wanted to stay. I had stayed there a couple of years earlier when attending a bread making class at the excellent School of Artisan Food on the Welbeck Estate.

The School runs a series of courses – day or longer – in all sorts of subjects from foraging to butchery, including bread making. The School suggested I contacted Browns of Holbeck and see if they had room as it’s only a mile walk from Browns to the School.

Browns – Five star Gold Award

Browns of Holbeck was set up by Joan and Robin Brown as a bed and breakfast establishment in the little hamlet of Holbeck, also part of the Welbeck Estate, some 25 years ago.

Just across the courtyard from the pretty Old Orchard Cottage are three luxurious guest Garden Rooms. Incidentally Browns of Holbeck is the only B&B accommodation in North Nottinghamshire holding a five star Gold Award from Visit England.

The Old Orchard Cottage where guests eat Joan’s excellent and freshly cooked breakfast dates back to 1730, but the guest rooms came into being in 1990.

The attention to detail is astonishing

The attention to detail at Browns is astonishing – from the immaculately set tables for breakfast to the oh-so-comfortable rooms. Touches like fresh flowers in the rooms and fresh milk on the hospitality tray and White Company toiletries to little extras like bathrobes and a hot water bottle make staying at Browns a treat.

I phoned to see if they had room. Luckily they had.

Heralds of spring…

As it turned out Joan had also been invited to see the snowdrops at Hodsock and so one wet, chilly February day we set off together to admire Hodsock’s dainty heralds of spring. An enchanting sight.

…and shopping on the Welbeck Estate

Next day Joan needed to do some shopping and suggested I go with her to see the changes that had taken place on the Welbeck Estate. The Farm Shop had been joined by other attractions she thought might interest me.

An award winning Farm Shop

Most of the produce the award-winning Welbeck Farm Shop sells has come from the Welbeck Estate – vegetables, meat, game, cheese, milk, bread and patisserie. It looked so tempting. If I lived in the area I know where I would be shopping.

Along with the Farm Shop there is also the Harley Gallery featuring various exhibitions of contemporary work such as ceramics and photography, as well as stylish craft work and handmade jewellery.

The Portland Collection – a stunning gallery

Close by is also Welbeck’s Portland Collection featuring fine and decorative works of art collected over the centuries by the Dukes of Portland. And what a gem of a gallery it is.

The gallery itself is stunning and amongst the many exhibits is a Michelangelo, a Van Dyck, the pearl earring worn by Charles I at his execution and a fabulous Cartier tiara. Entrance to the Portland Collection is free.

Don’t leave without stopping off at the Harley Café. It’s not very big, but try and find a seat  – the coffee is excellent as are the home made cakes and pastries, all served by the very hard working and delightful staff. I was told the lunches there are very good too.

Lunch at Ye Olde Bell Hotel

Another place for lunch is Ye Olde Bell Hotel at Barnby Moor near Retford. Old it most certainly is and no doubt its walls could tell many an interesting story of stage coaches and highway men as it was a popular stop over on the road between York and London. Amongst its guests it can boast Queen Victoria and Queen Maude of Denmark, film stars, Prime Ministers and many other celebrities. I was fascinated by the hotel’s Memories Wall telling the history of the hotel.

We had lunch in the bright and airy Bistro – the meal could have been hotter but the chicken and vegetables were truly delicious. The hotel rooms are beautifully furnished, and the new Spa looks fantastic and has its own restaurant.

Creswell Crags – Ice Age Man lived here

Within walking distance from Browns is Creswell Crags, which I am ashamed to say I had not heard about before. It is a dramatic limestone gorge with several caves in its rugged cliffs. From the artefacts found there it was certainly home to Ice Age man and the likes of woolly mammoths and Neanderthal Man.

The caves have sheltered others during their long history including, so legend has it, Robin Hood when he was escaping from Edward II. To appreciate the full drama of the Crags walk round the lake, and to learn more about them visit the little museum, café, shop and education centre manned by lovely knowledgeable staff. Incidentally The Creswell Crags Guide Book (£6.99) is an interesting read.

Sherwood Forest

Also close to Holbeck is the vast, beautiful and famous Sherwood Forest once a royal hunting forest and today home to one very famous ancient oak tree.

Actually there are many ancient oaks in the Forest but the most famous of them all is the Major Oak, so named because in 1790 an archaeologist, a  Major Hayman Rooke, included it in his book about the old Sherwood oak trees. The tree is huge. It is estimated that it weighs some 23 tons and is at least 800 years old. The circumference of its trunk is 10m, and the spread of its branches is over 28m.

Sherwood Forest (and the oak tree) have become synonymous with the outlaw Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Were he and his Outlaws real, or was it all a legend?  Did he and his Merry Men ever live in it? Whether they did or not, the splendid old oak tree is certainly worth seeing.

Dinner at The Elm Tree at Elmton

You really need a car or a taxi to reach The Elm Tree at Elmton. I had eaten at this terrific cosy pub on my previous visit and no way was I leaving without having another meal there.

Landlord Chris Norfolk, is a superb chef and serves guests beautifully cooked traditional food. I still remember the wild duck with blackberry sauce from my first visit. But I can report that I am now sighing over the beef wellington. My first time there I had a starter and was too full for dessert but this time the temptation of a ginger crème brulee served with little gingerbread men was just too tempting.

Chris is passionate about cooking and using seasonal local produce. Everything from bread to ice cream is made on the premises.

A surprise excursion

Joan came to chat with me as I ate my scrambled egg and smoked salmon on my last morning.

She had an errand to run that morning and had kindly said she would drop me off at the station. ‘Anyway’, she said, ‘there’s something I want you to see. It won’t be open, but I think you’ll like it and it is on the way to the station’.

Old Orchard Cottage garden

Whilst she tidied up I went back to my lovely room to collect my case and realised that I hadn’t even wandered round The Old Orchard Cottage garden, or admired Mr and Mrs Quack – the two ducks who have been bringing up their families on the pond for the last few years – or said goodbye to Mr Tom the resident black cat.

I found Mr Tom at the top of the one acre garden, but he was too occupied with something in the hedge to bother about me.

The Pilgrim Fathers and the Mayflower

North Nottinghamshire played a significant role in the story of the Pilgrim Fathers and their voyage on the Mayflower in 1620 to a new life in America. Three of the first four signatories to the Mayflower Compact came from North Nottinghamshire and neighbouring South Yorkshire.

The 400th anniversary takes place in 2020 and plans are afoot to mark the commemorative year. As it is there is already a Mayflower Trail in place – a circular tour of nearly 40 miles visiting the villages and sites of the Pilgrim Fathers.

A narrow lane to a country church

As we headed for the station Joan turned off the road and up a narrow lane to a country church – All Saints church at Babworth – the start of the Mayflower Trail. Between 1586 and 1605 Richard Clyfton was the pastor there and it was he who inspired William Brewster and William Bradford two of the original Pilgrim Fathers.

It’s a pretty little church set slightly above the lane – and on the banks and around the building – a carpet of snowdrops.

More Information

Browns of Holbeck:

Hodsock Priory:

Welbeck Estate:

The Elm Tree at Elmton:

The School of Artisan Food:

Creswell Crags:

Ye Olde Bell Hotel:

Mayflower Trail:


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