A holloway is a footpath or trackway that time has worn down until its bed is dramatically lower than the surrounding land such that it is now flanked by sizeable banks if not small cliff faces. Frequently carved into an escarpment and usually indicative of an historic thoroughfare, the agents of erosion will have been animal hoofs, feet and the steel tyres of cartwheels plus, of course, run-off from downpours. In wet weather and during thaws, many become appreciable streams. In storm conditions, I have struggled up holloways that were indistinguishable from local brooks in full flood. Due to their narrow width, few have been paved for modern traffic, though Holloway Hill in Godalming is a a fine example of one that is asphalted. If wide enough to take a tractor, as in the case of the local holloway near Hartswell Farm on the minor road linking the A6097 to Edingley, they are generally private farm tracks widened by agricultural plant. More often than not holloways have become narrow strips of wilderness – tangles of brambles, nettles, bracken and dead wood, impenetrable unless you have a machete handy – and often look like a chaotic hedge row from a distance. Of course these thickets remain functional thoroughfares, but for nature rather than us lot.
By virtue of the sandstone much of the county sits on, Nottinghamshire has a number of holloways worth seeking out, though to stumble across them is more rewarding. One certainly worth the extra effort runs southeast of Welbeck Estate’s strangely named South Lodge (which isn’t south of the estate). Boasting a wonderfully gothic display of tree roots and a gallery of inscribed graffiti, it carries what is now know as the Robin Hood Way but has much longer been known as Drinking Pit Lane, for some unknown reason. Presumably once an extension of Broad Lane to its west, the bridleway carves through the soft rock of Busaco ridge (named after the 1810 battle the Sherwood Foresters were engaged in during the Peninsular Wars) and heads off towards Clumber Park, past a ruin that once was a forester worker’s cottage.
While you are there, it’s worth having a poke about South Lodge, where people still live, so be discreet. The fifth duke of Welbeck, one William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinct, a triple barrelled aristo, aka the Marquis of Titchfield, was a bit of a recluse and something of a fruitcake. He built a warren of underground tunnels, hollows, apartments and even a ballroom beneath his estate. If he travelled anywhere, it was often in disguise and always in a curtained carriage. Let’s just say the man had issues, but you will see one of the grand entrances to his subterranean world between the two wings of the lodge. The woodland is now owned by the county council after an appeal for the rightful owners in the Sixties failed to produce any claimants.