Experience the heart of England just one hour north of London in the county of Northamptonshire. It’s home to several villages and market towns, historic sites and stately homes, including Althorp, the home of the Spencer family and memorial to Princess Diana. Its largest town, Northampton is known as one of the greenest towns in England and features historic buildings and medieval churches. And you’ll even run into a few unique surprises, including Britain’s longest canal and one peculiar triangular building…
HOW TO GET HERE:
Northamptonshire’s principal city, Northampton is about 1 hour from London by train.
TIME TO CHECK IN:
For the convenience of being in the center of Northampton, Park Inn by Radisson Northampton Town Centre is an option for easy access to public transportation and getting around to the city’s top destinations.
The Hopping Hare offers 20 comfortable rooms with friendly staff at the hotel and connecting 2 AA Rosette restaurant and bar. It’s a quick 7-minute drive into Northampton city center, with easy access to Northamptonshire’s countryside homes and attractions.
And for an escape deep into the heart of Northamptonshire, two award-winning hotels in the county include Rushton Hall Hotel, a 4 red star and 3 rosettes hotel in a Grade I Listed Country House and Fawlsey Hall Hotel & Spa for a relaxing setting surrounded by Capability Brown designed gardens.
Take a stroll along the gardens of Castle Ashby, the ancestral home of the 7th Marquess of Northampton. With 10,000 acres of estate and 35 acres of gardens, your morning can be spent visiting the Italian Garden and Orangery, Butterfly and Secret Garden, the Arboretum and Menagerie, home to a family of meerkats and marmosets. While walking the grounds, imagine yourself in a Jane Austen novel. It’s believed that the house served as an inspiration for Mansfield Park, published in 1814.
Take a seat for lunch on the grounds of Castle Ashby at the Walled Garden Tea Room’s oak beamed indoor area or if it’s a sunny day, opt for the terrace. Sandwiches, baked potatoes, paninis, a selection of homemade cakes and a menu catered to children are offered, in addition to tea and coffee to warm up on a colder day.
Drive about 17 minutes into Northampton, the largest town in the Northamptonshire region and start your introduction to the town at its oldest building, Church of the Holy Sepulchre. From there, walk down Sheep Street to Northampton Market Square, one of the longest running markets in Britain and then to St. Giles Church, originally built in the 12th century. See Northampton Heritage Trail for a full list of historic buildings to see in Northampton's town center and don’t miss the Guildhall and 78 Derngate, designed by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and one of his only works outside of Scotland.
It’s about a 20-minute walk through town and across the River Nene from St. John’s Church on the Northampton Heritage Trail to Delapre Abbey, Nortampton’s hidden treasure filled with history. Start at the Stable Rooms and The Battle Field Rooms at the 18th century Stable Block, then head to the main house for its Nine Rooms zone, left unrestored to take you back in time through 900 years of history. Entrance to the gardens, cafe or shop is free, and the Abbey is accessible for a fee. You can also stop by for afternoon tea available daily at the abbey’s Orangery Cafe.
Not too far back into the center of town from Delapre Abbey is Clary’s Restaurant for classic dishes located in Aspers Casino and Sophia’s right next door serving Mediterranean cuisine for more than 20 years. Other dinner options in the center include MuMu, for a casual meal with burgers and shakes, or drive a little outside to Murrays at Whittlebury Hall for a two-AA rosettes award-winning restaurant in an intimate setting.
Don’t leave Northampton without having a pint of local made ales and stouts or a signature gin from Phipps Northampton Brewery Company. Phipps’ first brewery opened in 1801. Today in Northampton, the brewery is open for tours and the Albion Brewery Bar is where you can sample Phipps’ award-winning beers and enjoy live music on most weekends along with pub food. The brewery is located nearby both Clary’s Restaurant and Sophias.
Get ready for a day of beautiful English countryside. But first, head just seven miles from the center of Northampton to Salcey Forest for a morning walk. Get on one of three walking trails to spot wildlife and trees that are more than 600 years old. The forest was once a part of a medieval royal hunting area and today, it also has a cycling trail, horse riding trail, play areas for children, a cafe, archery and axe throwing facilities.
Head 45 minutes north into the heart of Northamptonshire. Rockingham Castle is your destination. Before exploring the castle, fuel up after your forest walk at Walker’s House tearoom. Located in the castle courtyard, there’s a range of sandwiches, soups, seasonal favorites and an option for afternoon tea.
After lunch, head into the Rockingham Castle, which has been home to the Watson family for over 450 years. Its story began 900 years ago when William the Conqueror ordered it to be built and was visited by many kings and queens. It was later granted to Edward Watson by Henry VIII and has remained in the family since. Take a castle tour to understand the rich history. Begin below stairs at the Old Kitchen, then work your way up to the Great Hall and Long Gallery to view the castle’s finest paintings and furniture.
Rockingham Castle is open during select times of year. If it’s not open during your visit, drive another 30 minutes north to Burghley House and Gardens, one of the largest and grandest houses of the first Elizabethan age built in 1555 and open almost year round. Have lunch at the Orangery Restaurant then explore the home built by William Cecil and still in the family after 16 generations. Before you leave, take a walk in the Capability Brown designed garden.
Along the way to the next destination, you’ll run into Rushton Triangular Lodge. Opt to make a stop here to see this unique triangular building constructed in 1593 by Sir Thomas Tresham. Symbolizing the Holy Trinity, there are three floors and inscriptions throughout of Latin text from the Bible.
Since 1508 Althorp House has been the family home of the Spencer family. See beautiful interiors inside the home’s various state bedrooms and state rooms. The Stables, which were once home to 100 horses is now open housing the Stables Cafe, gift shop and exhibitions including The Spencers: The History of an English Family. Spot a fallow deer on the grounds of Althorp Park, and make a stop by The Round Oval, dedicated to the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Althorp House is only open during select times of the year, typically July to September. If the house is not open during your visit, other stately family homes to visit include Holdenby House, an 11 minute drive away or Cottesbrooke Hall & Gardens, just 20 minutes from Althorp House. Meanwhile Canons Ashby,about a 30 minute drive away, is a Tudor manor house maintained by the National Trust.
For an afternoon option apart from stately homes, the Grand Union Canal is Britain’s longest canal and it runs through Northamptonshire, extending from London to the suburbs of Birmingham. The Northampton arm of the canal features 17 single locks and can be enjoyed by boat or alongside by bike or foot. It’s a 10 minute drive outside of Northampton town center.
Just 7 minutes from Althorp is The Saracen’s Head, an award-winning pub in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside. It’s a family friendly pub serving locally sourced and seasonal pub fare and welcomes dogs to the bar area, including resident lurcher dogs named Ellie and Scooby.
If you choose to stay at either Rushton Hall or Fawlsey Hall, another dinner option could be to check out one of their restaurants. Rushton Hall Hotel’s 3-Rosette star restaurant is 1593 Brasserie and The Cedar Restaurant is another Rosette star restaurant located in Fawlsey Hall.