Northwest of Northampton on the A428, near the village of West Haddon, are the Colon Manor Gardens, and, just to the north of that, the Guilsborough Grange Wildlife Park.
Directly north from Northampton along the A508, is Market Harborough. On the way, the road passes through the little village of Brixworth, which is worth a stop for its magnificent Saxon church, described by one authority as “probably the most imposing 7th-century architectural monument north of the Alps.”
Market Harborough is an attractive small market town with many fine Georgian houses and a large market square where both general and cattle markets have been held since as long ago as 1203. Its most remarkable building is the former Grammar School, built in 1614 on wooden stilts, so as to provide the vendors, whose stalls were set up beneath the building, some measure of protection from the elements. The Harborough Museum vividly records the town’s long history.
From Market Harborough, take the A427 towards Corby. A left turn onto the A6003 at the outskirts of Corby leads to the village of Rockingham. To the east lies Rockingham Forest, part of a vast wooded area, once the favorite huntingground of William the Conqueror.
From the lip of a steep hillside to the north of the village, that king’s massive and imposing fortress, Rockingham Castle, broods over the valley of the River Welland, marking the border between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. Having fallen into disrepair in the late Middle Ages, the castle was given by Queen Elizabeth I to Edward Watson, son-in-law of Lord Chief Justice Montagu; his family has owned it ever since. It was the model for “Chesney Wold” in Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House.
Returning south from Rockingham along the A6003, take a left onto the A6116 just before Corby. A minor road turning off to the left leads to Kirby Hall, a lovely 16th-century house built for Sir Thomas Stafford, and abandoned in the 18th century. Although its 17th-century gardens are currently being restored, the whole site is open for visitors. Nearby is Deene Park, another 16th-century Tudor mansion of great architectural and historical interest, with extensive formal and parkland gardens.
A worthwhile, if rather complicated, route leads along the A47 west of Peterborough to Stamford, a pleasant old coaching town with a good museum and several attractive coaching inns. South of the town is Burghley House, one of England’s greatest Elizabethan houses, owned by the Exeter and Cecil families for over four centuries and crammed with great works of art, rare furniture, wall and ceiling paintings, and many other treasures.