G u i d e t o R u r a l E n g l a n d
N O R T H A M P T O N S HI R E
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Although it is a relatively small county,Northamptonshire has a lot to offer but, as itis crossed by some of the country’s majorroutes, it is also one that is often bypassed. The county town, Northampton, along withother local towns, is famed for its shoeindustry although Northamptonshireremains, essentially, a farming county littered with ancient market towns and rural villages.However, it is its long history that is mostinteresting – the decisive battle of Naseby was fought on its soil and it was at the now ruined Fotheringay Castle that Mary Queenof Scots was executed.Northamptonshire is shaped like a laurelleaf, with the River Nene a distinctive feature. Wherever one journeys across the county oneis never far from its banks and the reflectionof the trees in high summer on itsshimmering waters can be quite breathtaking. The alluvial soils and gravel terraces of theNene Valley have been continuously farmedsince Neolithic times and there are remainsof many Anglo-Saxon settlements. A county of great landowners,Northamptonshire also has many royalconnections. The original Rockingham Castle was built by William the Conqueror; RichardIII was born at Fotheringhay Castle, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded there; CharlesI spent several months in captivity atHoldenby Hall, at that time the largest housein England; and in more recent times, Althorp entered the national consciousness asthe 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 toLondon from Nottinghamshire restedovernight. One is at Geddington, nearKettering; the second on the outskirts of Northampton; only two others of theoriginal 12 crosses survive. The county boasts two extraordinary Elizabethan buildings – the Triangular Lodgeat Rushton, and Lyveden New Bield nearBrigstock, 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 theonly one still in use; the tiny church at Slapton with its glorious medieval wall paintings; andthe Church of the Holy Sepulchre inNorthampton – the largest and best-preservedNorman round church in the country.Land-locked though it is, Northamptonshirehas an abundance of canals, rivers and lakes. The River Nene is navigable right from the Wash into the heart of Northampton and linksup with the Grand Union Canal. The CanalMuseum in the popular canalside village of Stoke Bruerne provides an insight into 200years of history and traditions on the county’s waterways.Sporting enthusiasts will find plenty tointerest them, including National Hunt racing at Towcester, football (Northampton Town,Rushden & Diamonds), drag racing at SantaPod.....and the world conker championshipsat Ashton near Oundle!