Northamptonshire (abbreviated Northants) is the southernmost county in the East Midlands of England. Its county town Northampton nestles in a curve of the River Nene while other large centres include Kettering, Corby, Wellingborough, Rushden and Daventry. Northamptonshire has an estimated population of almost 700,000.
The county has traditionally been linked with nobility – and its heritage of beautiful stately homes remains strong. Some of these architectural treasures have witnessed remarkable moments in history: Rockingham Castle was built for William the Conqueror; the now-ruined Fotheringhay Castle imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, before her execution.
Northamptonshire is landlocked between eight other counties: Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire – England's shortest county boundary at 19 metres.
The area’s main industry was once manufacturing boots and shoes (the maker of Dr Martens is still based near Wellingborough). These days the region is better known for forming part of a global ‘Motorsport Valley’ – with racing circuits that lure millions of tourists. The Mercedes GP and Force India Formula One teams are based here while Cosworth and Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines are also in the county. Northamptonshire's county flower is the cowslip.
Roads: Major national roads like the M1 motorway and the A14 provide Northamptonshire with transport links in all directions. The A43 joins the M1 to the M40 motorway; other routes in the county road network include the A45, A43, and the A361.
Rail: The Midland Main Line and the West Coast Main Line cross the county. Northamptonshire’s six stations are in Northampton, Long Buckby, Kettering, Wellingborough, Corby, along with King's Sutton (with another proposed for Rushden). The main operators are Virgin Trains, London Midland, Chiltern Railways and East Midlands Trains.
Air: Sywell Aerodrome has three grass runways and one concrete runway. However, it does not serve passenger jets.
Bus: Most are operated by Stagecoach in Northants. Some town area routes have been named the Corby Star, Connect Kettering, Connect Wellingborough and Daventry Dart.
Water: Two major canals – the Oxford and the Grand Union – join in the county at Braunston. There’s a flight of 17 locks on the Grand Union at Rothersthorpe; a canal museum at Stoke Bruerne; and the Blisworth tunnel is the UK’s third-longest navigable canal tunnel.
Two villages in Northamptonshire were named in a list of the top 101 best places to live in Britain composed by The Sunday Times. Byfield and Yardley Hastings were selected for offering the best quality of life to the widest number of people, and combining positive community spirit, good local shops and services with attractive outdoor spaces. The list was produced using data and statistics such as crime rates, house prices and school performance.
The Northampton Chronicle & Echo reported that people in south Northamptonshire are the happiest in the county, according to government statistics. Daventry was second, followed by Northampton, Wellingborough, Kettering, east Northants, and Corby. The data was collected from a sample of 2,060 people in Northamptonshire.
The Guardian visited Corby and highlighted the town’s schools – mentioning that among several Ofsted-recommended schools, Brooke Weston Secondary “is one of the best in the country and ‘outstandingly successful’”. It noted the town’s property scene as being “90% new town 50s and 60s stuff…There is a wealth of new-build, though, targeting the execs, by Wimpey, Charles Church, Persimmon et al. Many prefer those ‘honey-stone cottages’ in villages outside, such as Upper Benefield and Cottingham – real hidden gems.”
Shopping in Northamptonshire presents a mixed bag of options. Dedicated shopping villages, such as Ark Farm Sheep Dairy in Tiffield, specialise in local produce like meat, homemade yogurt and ice cream. Castle Ashby Shopping Yard sells gifts and crafts plus delicatessen fare. At The Old Dairy Farm Centre in Upper Stowe you can see craftspeople at work – and its restaurant serves home-cooked food. Wakefield Country Courtyard’s food hall serves home-baked pies, cakes, chutneys, pickles, wines and traditional ales. It also offers locally reared produce in its fresh meat department.
For modern shopping centres, the spacious split-level Grosvenor Centre in Northampton contains high-street shops and department stores. Neighbouring Peacock Place hosts some smaller, individual retailers. Weston Favell Centre offers a warm atmosphere. Kettering's Newlands Shopping Centre is set among pedestrianised shopping streets. And Wellingborough’s Swansgate Centre is home to over 50 shops.
If you’re seeking the atmosphere of colourful outdoor markets, you should find them in all of Northamptonshire's main towns. There’s Brackley Market, Corby Outdoor Market (next to the Oasis Retail Park) and Corby Indoor Market. Daventry Market has been around since 1255 – and retains some of its long-running traditions. Held in the town's large Market Square, Northampton Market is even older.
Sport: Northamptonshire has many rugby union clubs but its premier team is Northampton Saints. Of the county’s 24 main football clubs, the most prominent is Northampton Town at Sixfields Stadium. Northamptonshire County Cricket Club (also known as ‘The Steelbacks’) plays in the County Championship. The Silverstone motor-racing circuit hosts the British Grand Prix. Rockingham Speedway Corby is the UK’s largest stadium. Two F1 teams are based here: Mercedes and Force India. There are seven competitive swimming clubs – and Corby Steel Diving Club.
Family: Wicksteed Park has 40 rides and attractions. Get hands-on with steam and diesel railways from a bygone age at the Northampton & Lamport Railway. Trek with Llamas along bridleways, farm tracks and country lanes with Catanger Llamas. Many zoos and wild animal parks can be found a short drive from the county's primary towns.
Culture: The county’s myriad historic houses and stately homes include William the Conqueror’s Rockingham Castle – where cavaliers and roundheads did battle. Cottesbrooke Hall and Gardens is a magnificent Queen Anne house. Kelmarsh Hall is a graceful Palladian-style house set in romantic gardens. Among the notable museums, Sywell Aviatioon Museum preserves Northants’ rich aviation history; and the more hands-on Manor House Museum regularly organises activities. Daventry Museum is very family friendly.
Events: Silverstone hosts the British Grand Prix and also the UK leg of the MotoGP series. There’s the yearly Crick Boat Show and waterways festival. You can probably imagine what goes on at both The Northampton Balloon Festival and October’s World Conker Championships – the latter attracts up to 5,000 spectators annually.