Althorp Hall has been the home of the Princess of Wales’ family, the Spencers, since 1508. The house has an extensive picture gallery which includes portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds.
Daventry has a long history. Just east of the town the earthworks of Borough Hill are the remains of an Iron Age fort. There are magnificent views despite the many radio masts of Daventry broadcasting station. During the Civil War Charles I is alleged to have stayed at the Wheatsheaf Inn while his soldiers camped outside the town before the Battle of Naseby.
Wild Scotch thistles, reputedly planted by Mary Queen of Scots, grow on the earthworks which are the only remains of the 14th-century castle where Mary was executed in 1587. Earlier, the castle was the birthplace of Richard III. The village itself, with its solid limestone cottages and 18th-century bridge over the River Nene, lies on the edge of what remains of Rockingham Forest. Its chief glory is the church of St Mary and All Saints, an imposing building of cathedral-like proportions. Its unusual octagonal lantern tower, rising in stages and topped by a gilt falcon badge of the House of York, is a landmark. all over the Nene Valley.
In 1290 Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, died near Lincoln and her coffin was taken south for burial at Westminster Abbey. At each of the 12 resting places on the journey memorials were built. Only three now remain, and the best preserved of the Eleanor Crosses is the one erected in this attractive stone-built village.
Herds of deer roam freely in the 240 acres of Lilford Park, once the home of the 4th Baron of Lilford, who first created its impressive aviaries and gardens. 17th-century Lilford Hall is opened to the public only for certain events, but the aviaries have been rebuilt and stocked with hundreds of birds including the Lilford Crane and the Little Owl, the latter first established in Britain through birds released from here. The Park offers pleasant riverside walks and picnic spots, a children’s farm with pony rides, craft and antique centres and a museum.
Naseby is famous for its Civil War battle, fought in 1645. The Royalists might have fared better if Prince Rupert of the Rhine had not ridden off into the town to attack the Roundheads’ baggage train thus exposing a flank. But the Royalist defeat was eclipsed by the capture of letters written by King Charles seeking help from foreign powers. The discovery caused many who had hitherto been indifferent to the outcome of the war to take Parliament’s side. A memorial marks the scene of the affray and there is a Battle and Farm Museum nearby.
Northampton’s long connection with the now beleaguered boot and shoe trade can be said to have started in the Civil War when the town made footwear for Cromwell’s army. The trade flourished, and during the Napoleonic Wars Northampton again made army boots. Fittingly, both the town’s museums have large collections of footwear at the Central Museum, with such famous items as Nijinsky’s ballet shoes and Queen Victoria’s wedding shoes on display; other sorts of leather at the Leathercraft Museum. Northampton is an ancient town with many handsome buildings, most dating from the 17th century and later. It has several imposing churches including All Saints, rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1675, and Holy Sepulchre, one of the few surviving round churches in England, founded in the 12th century on the model of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. Delapre Abbey, a mainly 17th century house, is now the County Records Office. The vast market square is thought to be the largest in the country and dates from the days of the cattle drovers when Northampton was an important market.
Set beside a loop of the River Nene, Oundle is a busy sailing centre and a picturesque market town built of the local limestone.
On a hill, overlooking the thatched and slated village on its slopes, is the magnificent castle, which dates mostly from Elizabethan times. A keep was first built here on the orders of William the Conqueror, and was used by King John as a hunting lodge for Rockingham Forest, which then covered a vast area. The gardens alone are well worth a visit, and the house has many associations with Charles Dickens, who was a frequent Visitor of the Watsons, the then owners, to whom he dedicated David Copperfield. The house served him as a model for Chesney Wold in Bleak House. To the east of Rockingham are Deene Park and Kirby Hall, which was altered in the 17th century by Inigo Jones, and now resembles a Renaissance palace.
Spanning the River Ise, Rushton is a delightful country village. In a corner of the grounds of Rushton Hall, built around 1500 and now a school, is the intriguing Triangular Lodge, built by Sir Thomas Tresham. Every part of the 16th-century building sides, floors, windows, gables is based on the number three, an emblem of the Trinity, and an ancient mystical symbol.
An unassuming place, but it is one of the oldest towns in Britain. Originally a settlement on the Roman Wading Street it laiter became an importantcoaching top, as its surviving inns testify. The Saracen’s Head features in The Pickwick Papers and the Talbot dates from 1440. The Post Office one ot a number of fine Georgian Buildings dates from 1797. St Laurence’s Church, with its soaring, ironstone, Perpendicular tower, houses an interesting collection of chained books. The peace of the neighbouring broad, pleasant, landscape is sometimes shattered by motor racing at the famous Silverstone circuit, four and a half miles south west. The more appropriate rural pastime of National Hunt racing takes place at the attractive course in the grounds of Easton Neston House.