I started speaking fluent Sherwood as I got in my car to drive to Nottingham. "Fear not, bold friend," I said to myself, "this very day will I dine on a bacon and tomato butty at Maid Marian's caff." To Nottingham, the whole Robin Hood thing - varlets in doublet and hose carrying trusty longbows - is important, and jealously guarded. Attempts by other towns and cities to claim ownership of bold Robin are seen off at the highest level Unsurprisingly, it is to Nottingham that you must go for The Tales of Robin Hood, an exhibition based around an adventure ride (similar to that in the Jorvik Viking Centre in York) that takes you to the secret lair of the outlaw.
The trip starts with a short visit to a great hall and a dungeon, where you are harangued by a realistic, animated effigy of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Then a small escape door creaks open and a whispering voice calls you through. You climb onto small two-seater cable cars and off you go, first through the simulated medieval town of Nottingham, then into the deep greenwood and, ultimately, to Robin's hideaway.
The town and woodland scenes are peopled by life-size figures. There are good sound effects and smells, and the tableaux have a satisfyingly untidy and rough medieval feel to them. There are some good effects: the sudden appearance - very close - of fierce dogs, and the illusion of being narrowly missed by an arrow that thuds and rattles into a tree near your ear.
There is an exhibition that shows aspects of medieval life and examines the Robin Hood legends and the evidence as to whether he really existed. There is also a storytelling session in which Robin, played by an actor, tells historical stories. A full visit lasts about an hour and a half.
The show is a fascinating exercise in using a powerful and enduring story to explore the nature of myths and legends and as a way of studying medieval life and local history. It cleverly keeps the romance of the tales alive while never presenting fiction as fact.
The disadvantage of the adventure ride approach is that you miss the opportunity offered at a more conventional exhibition or museum to linger over exhibits or to go back to them. A primary teacher could, for example, extract a morning's work from the fletcher's workshop, but the tour car passes through in a few seconds.
Thus children will undoubtedly miss many details for want of somebody to point them out. And what's more, on my car the commentary (which comes from a small speaker inside it) was drowned out by the sound effects of the town and woodland scenes. A partial answer is for the teacher to make a preliminary visit and then prepare children for what they are going to see.
The education pack which supports the exhibition makes curriculum links at key stages 1, 2 and 3. My opinion is that The Tales of Robin Hood is a good outing, enjoyable and with some valid educational content, particularly suitable for primary schools which lie within easy reach of Nottingham.
* The Tales of Robin Hood, 30-38 Maid Marian Way, Nottingham NG1 6GF. Tel: 0115-948 3284. Admission (parties of 20 or more) children pound;2.75, adults pound;3.75. Stand SJ43