Yesterday we visited Nottingham Castle for the first time in many years and discovered they have opened up a small tour of the sandstone caves that lie beneath the Castle Rock. As it turns out, there are vast warrens of caves dug out beneath the city of Nottingham. I sort of knew this but what I didn’t realise is that we have so far catalogued more than 860 caves beneath the city.
Aside from the legends of Robin of Sherwood, the city of Nottingham is famed for its rebellious resistance to the King during the English Civil War and a generally rebellious spirit, characterised by the Luddite Rebellion and a long history of protest.
What struck me yesterday was the manner in which the sandstone rock beneath the castle site and the city more widely has been used for more than 1200 years for storage, living, and industry… and how much we have forgotten of this subterranean world since World War II. I sat in a 500 year old kitchen beneath the castle and then in a 900 year old chamber built by Normans and most recently used for ammunition storage during the Battle of Britain and Blitz.
For the purposes of gaming, I was able to grasp the quite reasonable idea that – given the nature of the not-too-soft yet not-too-hard sandstone – people had been living and working in caves around here for a long time. Transferring the idea to a fantasy world, I can easily see how the sprawling shafts and steps linking carved out caves formed by human hands could become an interesting site for adventure.
Sometimes I think we are quick to dismiss the geometrically convenient dungeons of early fantasy gaming but yesterday I was shown a pathway towards mapping out a more sprawling and intriguing possibility. I will need to hold onto the sense of stillness and the damp realities underground so that I can invoke it at the gaming table. Suffice it to say, I was inspired.