Back in April, myself, Aidan and my parents decided to spend a day in Northamptonshire. It’s the next county west of where we live in Cambridgeshire and also not too far for my parents to get to from their home in Staffordshire. Although I have been through the county many times, it’s not somewhere that I’ve explored all that much. Back in 2013 I had a few days of holiday to use up from my job so I decided to take myself off camping for a few days and stayed in Northamptonshire. It was then that I first discovered Kirby Hall.
Nestled in the East Midlands, the county itself contains the county town of Northampton and the towns of Kettering, Corby, Market Harborough, Wellingborough, Rushden and Daventry. It’s rolling farmland and woodland make for pretty views as you drive through it.
We were originally planning to visit Apethorpe Palace. This relatively recent acquisition to the English Heritage remit was the childhood home of Charles I and is somewhere I’d really like to visit at some point. We didn’t check the opening times until the day before though and it turns out it’s by guided tour only in July and August. Since we were trying to visit in April, it was time to find a plan B.
Plan B was Kirby Hall. I had actually visited here on my trip in 2013 but remembered how good it was and since it was Elizabethan, it’s time-frame was the one that my parents, Aidan and I are particularly interested in.
We arrived bright and early for when it opened at 10am on a gloriously sunny day. The property was set against a bright blue sky and it was gorgeous. Unfortunately, as with many stately homes, the access by public transport is probably limited but don’t let that put you off, I’m sure there’s a way somehow (best place for info will be the English Heritage website).
We were able to pick up free audio guides in the entrance and these are a brilliant way to find out more about the house and it’s grounds. The guide is engaging and informative, with the option to press for further information on things that may be of interest.
The house was built in the Elizabethan era by and up-and-coming noble family, the Staffords. There are crests and the family symbol of the loosely tied knot all over the house, carved into the stone work. The Stafford’s knot symbol is still the county symbol of Staffordshire to this day.
The house is partially ruined, so some of the house is open to the elements while the rest is still fully intact. There have even been some restorations in some rooms including the recreation of this beautiful wallpaper! (When I win the lottery I’ll be contacting the makers and commissioning some more…)
The tour of the house and it’s incredible Elizabethan gardens takes 1-1.5 hours and covers the whole property.
Once we had completed the tour we found a spot for a picnic in the sunshine. Just a word of warning, the property has a collection (flock?!) of peacocks and they are convinced you are going to share your lunch!
After a quick look in the small but functional English Heritage shop, we decided to head to the town of Oundle for the rest of our day.
Oundle is quite frankly beautiful. Built with the honey coloured stone that runs on a seam through the Midlands and is most famous in the Cotswolds, this small but pretty market town is a must visit in the area.
The centre of the town is partially dominated by the private Oundle School, the third largest boarding school in England, who’s famous alumni include George Blagden (actor playing Louis XIV in Versailles and Athlestan in Vikings), Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden singer), Sir Peter Scott (who started the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and co-founded the WWF) and Richard Dawkins amongst others.
We started our time in Oundle by wandering down the pretty high street in a search for drinks and maybe a cake. We glanced down a pretty side alley and saw the courtyard of Dexter’s Bar and Kitchen bathed in sunshine and decided to head down to it. Although this is more of a restaurant than the café we were intending to find, the courtyard in the sunshine won us over and we sat sipping wine and beer and asked for the dessert menu. Dad had a lemon roulade, Aidan chose the cheesecake and Mum and I both chose the ice cream, all of which were delicious.
We took a look at the main menu as well and decided it sounded wonderful and we’ll be making a trip back there at some point this summer to give it a whirl (I’ll report back, gang!).
After finishing up at Dexter’s, we continued down the high street, exploring some of the lovely independent shops including the wonderful Oundle Bookshop (I’ve since found out this is not totally independent but the group is fairly small, I think) where I managed to pick up an excellent book for a friend’s birthday. We also headed past some of the beautiful school buildings and took some time to look around St. Peter’s church, set just back from the high street.
As the sun continued to shine we headed to The Ship Inn for a quick drink and to wait for our friends who were joining us for dinner in the evening.
Our last stop of the day was Salerno’s, the Italian restaurant on the high street. I had first gone there last Summer for a meal organised by the friends who’d come to join us and had found it a brilliant place. On both occasions the food was extremely tasty, the service was excellent and we had a great time. Italian is probably my favourite cuisine so I do like finding good Italian restaurants! I would highly recommend Salerno’s if you’re in the area.
Overall, we had a brilliant day out, Kirby Hall and Oundle were both wonderful and I can’t wait to go back to both again in the future. I’m very grateful that Oundle is nice and close to the place we now call home!
None of the brands/companies mentioned in this blog paid/asked me to write about them. I just had a nice day and wanted to recommend.