Raising a glass to the class of Nottingham
It's Thursday night in Nottingham. Large numbers of male students are walking around without tops, their torsos painted orange. A fox is chasing after a huntsman and the noise is tremendous. Girls scream, men shout and the beer flows.
This city, dubbed Shottingham during a spell in which it was named the gun-crime capital of the UK, is nothing if not lively. A young vibe permeates its night-time pores and there's no doubt that people are having a great time.
Nottingham has more pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs per square mile than any city in Europe and it shows. Yet it is far from intimidating. Families wander around and there are small children accompanied by their parents. It's clear that this is a city that can cater for all tastes.
I was in the city for its annual GameCity festival, a cultural event which celebrates the diversity of videogames. A huge tent was put up in the town square in which a host of events took place ranging from a spooky book reading by author Charlie Higson to a medieval village straight out of the Nintendo Zelda games.
This was played out in front of the impressive town hall - rather nastily called the Council House, one of those terms that the leaders could well do with changing - itself the venue of many game-related talks.
Visitors to Nottingham should pop in to see this delightful building, dominated by a 200 feet high dome. Built between 1927 and 1929 and designed by Thomas Cecil it boasts wonderful Neo-Baroque style architecture. When the bells toll, particularly at night, it lends a haunting air over the city.
Nottingham is an eclectic mix of new and old. I stayed at the Travelodge, on Maid Marian Way, an ugly looking tower block from the outside but wonderfully comfortable on the inside, its staff doing everything they could to ensure a pleasant four-night stay (it's well worth grabbing the breakfast which is amazing value, given it's an all-you-can-eat - the variety is spot on). For clean and tidy accomodation, it's a wonderful, inexpensive way to enjoy a short break.
For lunch, however, it's well worth giving the Costas and Starbucks a miss and trying some of the gems from The Walk Cafe on Bridlesmith Walk with its array of delicious platters to the Broadway Cinema and it's wonderful homely menu.
Indeed, the Broadway Cinema is something of an attraction in itself. One of the movie theatre interiors was designed by Paul Smith, himself a Nottingham boy who began his fashion empire in a small shop in the city's Byard Lane in 1970 (check out his grand shop on Low Pavement). The cinema has a great range of arthouse movies and is one of the best in the country.
For those who love the theatre, the Playhouse is an amazing venue and those wanting to explore can jump on a bus for a short ride to Attenborough Nature Reserve on Barton Lane, Attenborough. Finish off at the 12th-century Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub on Brewhouse Yard.
British provincial cities are often overlooked for short breaks and yet considering how inexpensive and fun they can be, they should be on the agenda. Go, enjoy, drink and be merry men and women. Robin Hood would be proud of you.