City of Caves

I recently had to travel into Nottingham as part of my National Insurance application (NI is basically like a SIN number). For whatever reason, the JobCentre in Notts was the closest place to Leicester in dealing with NI applications (which is funny since Leicester is a larger city) so I was expecting a massive, multi-story building; turns out it was a dinky little thing, which I initially mistook for a grocery store from across the street (JobCentre & Co-Op both have lime green signage!). It had a maximum limit of 28 people allowed in the facility (including staff), and not nearly enough space to accommodate everyone. Many of the applicants didn’t speak fluent English, so that meant they had to bring someone along to help translate. Then factor in families with their small children and pushcarts, it was a tight squeeze in the waiting area.

In any event, the time I spent in the JobCentre was rather annoying since I had to go all the way there for a mere 30 minutes. When I say “all the way there”, my real issue lies not in the journey time (1/2 hr via train or 45 minutes via bus), but in the cost it took to get me there: train = £10, bus = £7. For such a short distance, that is a ridiculous price. Nor could I justify spending bus / tram fare to get to the JobCentre – I could walk there in 30 minutes. I feel more grounded when I can walk (aha!), I have a better grasp on my surroundings. So if the destination checks my criteria: 1) will it take less than an hour? (check)  2) is it raining? if “no” proceed on foot (check), then I will opt for the ol’ leg power.

Seeing as I was in Notts, I was going to make use of the day. Unfortunately, my appointment was right in the middle of the day, which threw a spanner into several of the things I wanted to see, as they all closed at 5pm. Even though I’d been to Notts a few times before, I never realized that there was an extensive cave system underneath the city streets. One of the hubs is located partially underneath Broad Marsh Shopping Centre, the entrance being on the first floor, tucked away in a corner. I couldn’t find the damn thing! I walked all over the first floor, eventually gave up and sourced out the info desk: “Up the escalator to the first floor and turn left”  were the directions…so, the second floor (upper level) is the first floor…? What floor am I on now!?

I spent about an hour in the cave system, only encountering one other person just as I was about to finish up; either I explore really slow, or this guy just breezed through. I donned the optional hardhat, slung my audio guide over my body and clanked down the winding metal staircase into the abyss. Mmm…dusty and dank. Every now and again you could hear the rumble of city trams overhead and the distant sound of water dripping.

My overall concern wasn’t for the “uneven surfaces” and “low arch ways” of which the audio guide constantly reminded me, but rather the fact that this place seemed like prime breeding ground for spiders. I was uneasy, but did not encounter anything living. The other concern I had was that the displays would have mannequins; normally mannequins don’t bother me, but this certainly wouldn’t be the place for them. After a while I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t see any, got about 90% through the tour, came around a corner and just about had a heart attack. WHY!? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!? Then I turned around and saw this hole in the wall, covered with plexi-glass and the shape of a rat inside. I assume it was a display and not real, but I didn’t like it so I got the heck out of that area.

Did I learn anything, or did I just spend my time creeping cautiously about? Well: the city of Nottingham was once called Tigguacobauc or Place of Caves and these particular caves of the Broad Marsh area date back to the 13th century. Used initially as kilns for pottery, they eventually became associated with the leather trade, as tanneries. Nottingham has the only known example of a cave tannery in England. Now as gross as working in a cave tannery was, the smells kept the rats away, making it impossible to contract the plague. What benefit! Sounds like the perfect place to be if you wanted to stay alive!

musical-25709_640 Listen to: Mumford & Sons – The Cave



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