The nice thing about Northamptonshire

The nice thing about Northamptonshire is that no-one really knows it is there, unless they actually have lived there. One passes through it on the M1, the A14, A5, A6, A43, or A45 on the way to or from somewhere else, not realising what hidden village gems lie a few miles away. And long may it remain so! Our beautiful Cotswold villages are packed with visitors at weekends, and in the summer season, but we in Northamptonshire have it to ourselves. Selfish or what!

The other nice thing about Northamptonshire is that it must be almost at the centre of England, and therefore one is able to drive to all points north, south, east, and west within 6 hours. One can leave Northamptonshire at six in the morning and be at Lands End in Cornwall, or even Loch Lomond in Scotland by lunchtime. In a previous life, I once drew a diagram of England showing that Northampton was the centre of the universe for the logistics company I worked for. We had depots all over the country, and routes between most of them all converged at our head office in Northampton. The new guy from London was gobsmacked that we should be so logistically important, so was the other new guy from Birmingham. 

Northamptonshire used to be the centre of the boot and shoe industry which, like most British manufacturing industries, has suffered a decline over the past thirty years due to cheaper imports. Such a pity. There are still a few top quality shoe factories, but most have gone now, including the top quality clothing lambs leather factory where I worked in the office for many years. That was due to the high volume of live lamb exports, and to the abolition of sheep dipping, which meant a decline in quality of the pelts used to make high fashion suede and leather garments. Boy, could I tell you a lot about leather manufacturing! There are well over thirty processes involved in turning the pelt from a sheep into clothing leather or suede, and I once wrote a poem about them all for our new chairman of the company who had taken us over, Sir Harry Solomon. It was based on Baa baa black sheep, and started:-

Sir Harry had some little lambs,
they followed him around,
and everywhere that Harry went
the lambs would sure abound.
They followed him to work one day,
according to the fable,
and very quickly ended up
upon the butcher’s table……………

I won’t bore you with the rest. Sir Harry loved the poem, and gave me debenture tickets at Wimbledon as a reward after he was told that I was obsessed with Wimbledon.

One of my favourite summer pursuits is visiting the NGS open village gardens, of which we have many in Northamptonshire, and its seven surrounding counties. Yes, seven. Clockwise from the north-west – Warwickshire, Leistershire, Rutland, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire. Northamptonshire used to be called ‘The Rose of the Shires’, and also the county of ‘Spires and Squires’, both descriptions so very true.

Anyway, back to the NGS Open Village Gardens visits. My friends and I book a lunch at the local village pub, do a bit of research on the history of the village, then wander around the village looking at the various styles of gardens and architecture. Tea and homemade cakes later is usually a must at the local village hall, or in the church which is quite often decorated with fantastic flower arrangements done by the village ladies.

As I write, it is time now to start the rounds of the gardens again and I’ll be off to Guilsborough next weekend, no doubt. I’ve been twice before, but there are always new gardens added, and it is nice to see the progress or changes in the ones we have already seen. I have taken hundreds of photos over the years, so I have plenty to compare with those I take on my next visit. 

There are so many lovely villages, and so many fabulous gardens, I could write a book………

I am lucky enough to live on the very outskirts of a large town in Northamptonshire. A regular bus from the bus stop five minutes walk away will take me into town if necessary – I don’t use my car to go into town if I can avoid it, now I have a free bus pass. Five minutes walk or drive away in the other direction is the open countryside, where one can breathe! Being a dog walker, that is where I usually head.

I have belonged to a Northamptonshire rambling group for years, so have enjoyed our monthly walks but now I am retired, I am also a member of several other rambling groups, so I get to see those off-the-beaten-track parts of Northants that most other people do not know exist. Every walk we do is different. They can be fairly civilised in the winter, as it is not much fun trudging your way through muddy ploughed fields. But as soon as the weather is reasonable, off we go on the bridleways or footpaths across the fields, alongside rivers or canals, round lakes or through woods, passing villages, hamlets or just a group of remote dwellings in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve only ever got soaked on a walk twice in all the years I have been walking, and both times it was in the middle of the walk. There again, I’m known as a fair weather walker by the more weather-hardy members of our rambling groups who brave all weathers. I only go when the forecast is reasonable.

It’s not too hilly around here, it is what is described as ‘rolling English countryside’, so a 5 to 8 mile walk is never very exhausting. I don’t do the longer rambles these days, I get enough exercise walking my dogs, although I have done the ‘Waendel Walk‘ a few times in the past. Boy were my feet sore then!

At the end of each ramble there is always the great British roast dinner to look forward to in the local village pub. Oh, I can smell it cooking now, and the smell of the woodsmoke from the village. Mmmmmmm!

All that and so much culture too. I’ve enjoyed many a concert, musical, comedy evening, or play at The Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton. Pam Ayres (my poetic heroine) autographed her book for me after her performance there. Our local orchestra the NSO (Northampton Symphony Orchestra) perform there sometimes, but usually at a couple of local theatres in Northampton schools. Then there is Fiori Musicali – a small travelling orchestra who perform in several local venues, like churches or stately homes. There are several really good Amateur Dramatic Societies, my favourites being the Masque Theatre, and Heartbreak Theatre who perform Shakespeare, and other plays, at various venues indoor and outdoor. A few very good local choirs perform in churches, one of my favourites being Northampton Bach Choir, not to mention the choir my ex-husband sings in.

Then there are our stately homes, the most famous of course being Althorp, the home of Princess Diana, when she was Lady Diana Spencer. Other large stately homes in the area are Rockingham CastleCastle Ashby and Boughton HouseLamport Hall, Kelmarsh Hall, and several others are scattered around the county …………. a county of squires, remember?

Why on earth was I thinking of retiring to Cornwall, which is full of holiday makers in the summer? Let’s save Cornwall for out of season holidays.

And of course, the nicest thing about Northamptonshire is that all my friends are here!

NGS Open Gardens 2012
Arthingworth – Sunday 1st July
Briarwood, Barton Seagrave – Sun 5th Aug
Cedar Farm – Sun 24th Jun
Coton Manor – Tue 8 May
Drayton House, Lowick – Sat 28th Apr (we visited it on a rainy day – it is the first tim the gardens have been open for 85 years)
Finedon – Sun 10th Jun, 1st July
Flore – Sat 16th / Sun 17th June
Great Billing – Sun 3rd June
Great Brington – Sun 6th May
Guilsborough – Sat 28th / Sun 29th April (washed out by ‘April showers’ – what a shame)
Harpole – Sun 10th June
Haddonstone Show Gardens – Sat 26 / Sun 27 May / 1-2 Sep
Holdenby House – Sun 19th Aug
Hollowell – Sun 8th August
Karell House – Suns 27 May, 12th Aug
Moulton – Sun 8th July
Ravensthorpe – Sun 15th July
Spratton – Sun 13th May
The Colin Vokes Garden – Sun 20th May
The Maltings, Clipston – Sats 7 Apr; 16 Jun; 21 Jul; Sun 8, Mon 9 Apr; Suns 17 Jun; 22 Jul
The Old Rectory, Sudborough – Sun 17th Jun
Titchmarsh House – Sat 19th May/ Sat 16th Jun
Top Lodge – Sun 10th Jun 
West Haddon – Sat 23/Sun 24 June 
April 28th Drayton House / 29th Guilsborough Gardens
May 6th Great Brington / 8th Coton Manor / 13th Spratton / 19th Titchmarsh / 20th Colin Vokes / 26th & 27th Haddonstone / 27th Karell House
June 3rd Great Billing /  10th Finedon / Harpole / Top Lodge / 16th Flore, The Maltings  & Titchmarsh / 17th Flore & Sudborough / 23rd & 24th West Haddon / 24th Cedar Farm

Link to my Northamptonshire Category >>

A Photo Slideshow mostly of Northamptonshire by Martin Sutton

Youtube video of Northamptonshire

Link to Northamptonshire Villages
Link to The Northamptonshire Village Book
Link to Village Walks in Northamptonshire
Link to Pub Walks in Northamptonshire (I have this one)
Link to Pocket Pub Walks Northamptonshire
Link to Short Walks from Northamptonshire Pubs
Link to Drive and Stroll in Northamptonshire
Link to Footpaths for Fitness Northamptonshire
Link to Waterside Walks in Northamptonshire (I had this one but lent it to someone)
Link to Waterside Walks Around Northamptonshire
Link to Nature Trails in Northamptonshire (I have this one)
Link to Northamptonshire Teashop Walks
Link to Tipple & Teashop Rambles in Northamptonshire
Link to The Historic Gardens of England: Northamptonshire
Link to Exploring Northamptonshire
Link to The History of Hostelries in Northamptonshire (from old photographs) 
Link to Ladies of Distinction in Northamptonshire 
Link to Learn Yersalf Northamptonshire Dialect
Link to Folklore of Northamptonshire
Link to Witches of Northamptonshire
Link to Haunted Northamptonshire: Ghost Stories
Link to Guilty, M’lud! : Criminal History of Northamptonshire
Link to Tales of Old Northamptonshire
Link to Northamptonshire Place Names
…………the list goes on and on!