Northamptonshire is right in the middle of England and is well know for manufacturing shoes and boots, but is also known for Motor Racing. There are many cultural attractions and activities here as well. An old Roman road, known as Wading Street and today’s A5, enters Northamptonshire just north of Stony Stratford, after which it leads through the center of the originally Roman town of Towcester (pronounced Toaster), known as Lactodorum to its founders.
Today a small market town typical of the area, Towcester is best known for its privately-owned horse racecourse, where steeplechase races take place regularly throughout the winter season, and two Arab horse race meetings (on the “flat”) are held every summer.
Southwest of Towcester is the village of Sulgrave with Sulgrave Manor, the Tudor home of the family of George Washington, first President of the United States. The door of the house (1539) is decorated with the arms of the family, which supposedly served as a model for the Stars and Stripes.
Further north along narrow winding country lanes, but well signposted, is Canon’s Ashby, the remarkably well preserved 16th-century family home of the poet John Dryden. The drawing room has a particularly fine Jacobean stucco ceiling.
Back in Towcester, anyone interested in canals and waterways can detour east to Stoke Bruerne, which lies on the Grand Union Canal as it passes on its way between London and Birmingham. The Stoke Bruerne Waterways Museum presents a comprehensive overview of the history of this and other great 18th-century canals of Britain. The village lies at the south end of the longest navigable canal tunnel in the country, some 3 miles (5 km) long, which comes out at the other end by the village of Blisworth; canal boat trips through the tunnel depart from the restored wharf alongside the museum.
If you take the A43 north, the next town is Northampton, the county town. This has been a center of human activity since prehistoric times; archaeological finds in the area date back as far as 6,000 years. To the Romans it was an important trading center, to the Saxons a vital hill fortress, and to the Normans an administrative center for the whole central part of the kingdom.
All of this history is well recorded and displayed in the Northampton Central Museum. Much of the old town was destroyed by German bombs in World War II, but the large market square, several old churches, and a number of other individual buildings of historic interest were fortunately spared. For many centuries, Northampton has been a center for the shoe trade; a number of manufacturers in the town still operate factory shops where you can often find real bargains. The Leather craft Museum documents this tradition. The Derogate Theater, on the site of one of the medieval gates, occasionally mounts the first runs of plays which later go on to the West End, there to become hits.