You won't be able to avoid Robin Hood on this merry march through Sherwood Forest, says Mark Rowe

It is something of a challenge to visit Sherwood Forest and avoid the full-on Robin Hood experience. Yet despite this, the forest is a truly outstanding location for a winter's walk, with easily navigable bridleways and well drained footpaths.

Sherwood is important for its wildlife, and the Sherwood Forest Trust is proud of its custodianship of some of Europe's greatest trees and heathland. The forest ranks among the top 10 sites in the UK for spiders, with more than 200 species. You may also spot red or fallow deer through the leafless trees.

This 11-mile walk starts in the car park of the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre, at Edwinstowe, 17 miles north of Nottingham. From the centre bear left, following the red way-marked posts marked "Birklands Ramble".

At a major path junction the red route bears right but you continue straight ahead around a metal barrier to follow the edge of the forest. Swathes of birch line the path, interspersed with knotted oak trees. Mining was hit hard in Nottinghamshire in the 1980s, and you can still see mournful wheel jennys and winching equipment on the skyline. After half a mile, turn left by the footpath sign to walk between fields to the A6075. Turn left on the road and then, opposite Villa Real Farm, turn right down a track to a junctions of paths. Turn right and then immediately left by a fingerpost sign to cross a footbridge. Keep the river Maun on your left to reach Mill Lane, where you bear left to meet the main street in Edwinstowe.

Turn right underneath the railway bridge and turn immediately left. Follow the path alongside the railway to reach the A614 via a stile and footbridge. Cross the road with great care and take the signposted track to the right (this path was due to reopen after maintenance work this month - call the local Rights of Way Office on 0115-977 4279). The path passes the woodlands of Ollerton Hills to reach a road.

Cross into Rufford Country Park, where both lakeside paths lead to the ruined 12th-century Cistercian Rufford Abbey. Founded in 1148 by Gilbert de Gaunt, the present house dates to Elizabethan times. Leave the park along the old main drive opposite the abbey and make your way through the car park to the main entrance and the A614. Turn left, and after 500 yards, turn right opposite Manor Farm, to join the Robin Hood Way (though it is not waymarked as such). Briefly pick up a minor road and then bear right along a field path by a fingerpost sign just before a private property board. At the end of the field bear left in front of the woods, then right through Broadoak Break and follow the path to a road. Turn left, and after 350 yards, turn right after Holly Farm. Cross another road and railway line to meet up again with the river Maun. Turn left and cross the footbridge then left to follow the Maun to Forge bridge, re-entering woodland along the way.

Turn right along a wide track, passing Archway House. Built in 1942 by the Duke of Portland from quarry stone, the house is known as the "Duke's folly", and is decorated with sculptures of Little John, Maid Marian, Will Scarlet and Richard I. Continue to the A6075 and cross over to a junction of tracks. Go right and follow this winding path, which runs parallel to the main road, to cross a wide track, and soon afterwards bear left to join a clear path. After 0.6 miles, ignore the bridleway to the right and continue to the Centre Tree, which is reckoned to be the centre of the old ancient Sherwood Forest.

Though unmarked, the tree stands at a major junction of paths. Turn right by the tree and keep straight ahead for a mile until you reach the Major Oak, thought to be England's largest oak tree, measuring 35 feet round. This tree dates to around the 11th century and is said to be where Robin Hood and Maid Marian plighted their troth. Its name does not refer to its size but to Major Hayman Rooke, the notable local historian who documented it in 1790.

To finish the walk, turn left by the tree and follow the blue waymarked posts to the visitor centre and car park. If you're not suffering from Robin Hood fatigue, visit St Mary's on Church Street in Edwinstowe, where Robin is said to have married Maid Marian.


DISTANCE: 11.5 miles

TIME: 4.5-5.5 hours

HOW TO GET THERE: Virgin Trains (08457 222333; has regular connections. Central Trains ( operates services from Nottingham to Mansfield (Mon-Sat), from where buses 10, 14 and 15 take 45 minutes to reach Edwinstowe.

WHERE TO STAY: Mark Rowe stayed at Brown's B&B, The Old Orchard Cottage, Holbeck (01909 720659; ), which offers double rooms from £65 per night.