Although it is a relatively small county, Northamptonshire has a lot to offer but, as it is crossed by some of the country’s major routes, it is also one that is often bypassed. The county town, Northampton, along with other local towns, is famed for its shoe industry although Northamptonshire remains, essentially, a farming county littered with ancient market towns and rural villages. However, it is its long history that is most interesting – the decisive battle of Naseby was fought on its soil and it was at the now ruined Fotheringay Castle that Mary Queen of Scots was executed.
Northamptonshire is shaped like a laurel leaf, with the River Nene a distinctive feature. Wherever one journeys across the county one is never far from its banks and the reflection of the trees in high summer on its shimmering waters can be quite breathtaking. The alluvial soils and gravel terraces of the Nene Valley have been continuously farmed since Neolithic times and there are remains of many Anglo-Saxon settlements.
A county of great landowners, Northamptonshire also has many royal connections. The original Rockingham Castle
was built by William the Conqueror; Richard III was born at Fotheringhay Castle, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded there; Charles I spent several months in captivity at Holdenby Hall, at that time the largest house in England; and in more recent times, Althorp entered the national consciousness as the childhood home of Diana, Princess of Wales, and as her final resting place.
Another royal death is commemorated by the two elaborate Eleanor Crosses erected by a grieving King Edward I to mark the places where the coffin bearing his wife Eleanor to London from Nottinghamshire rested overnight. One is at Geddington, near Kettering; the second on the outskirts of Northampton; only two others of the original 12 crosses survive.
The county boasts two extraordinary Elizabethan buildings – the Triangular Lodge at Rushton, and Lyveden New Bield near Brigstock, both of them expressing a deeply religious symbolism. The roll-call of outstanding churches in the county includes All Saints at Brixworth, one of the finest Anglo-Saxon churches in England and the only one still in use; the tiny church at Slapton with its glorious medieval wall paintings; and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton – the largest and best-preserved Norman round church in the country.
Land-locked though it is, Northamptonshire has an abundance of canals, rivers and lakes. The River Nene is navigable right from the Wash into the heart of Northampton and links up with the Grand Union Canal. The Canal Museum in the popular canalside village of Stoke Bruerne provides an insight into 200 years of history and traditions on the county’s
waterways. Sporting enthusiasts will find plenty to interest them, including National Hunt racing at Towcester, football (Northampton Town, Rushden & Diamonds), drag racing at Santa Pod.....and the world conker championships at Ashton near Oundle!