Starting from Fotheringhay
My walk started in the village of Fotheringhay which is situated in the north-eastern corner of Northamptonshire, almost on the Cambridgeshire border. Despite being very small (it has a population of about 125) it has a fascinating history dating back to the 1100s. It’s peculiar name is a derivation of the Anglo-Saxon meaning a clearing for producing fodder – hence hay.
There was once a castle in the village which was the principle seat of the Yorkist line from the late 1300s, until the fall of Richard III in 1485 (he was born there in 1452). It was also the location of the trial and execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, the bloody deed being ‘executed’ in the great hall. After this time the castle fell into disrepair and in 1630 it was dismantled, and the stone work used for the construction of other buildings in the locality. Sadly all that remains today is the motte-and-bailey earthworks.The village has retained it’s very impressive parish church which contains monuments to several of the Yorkist family. The current church was commissioned by Edward of Norwich in the 1400s and once had a cloister college attached to it which was replaced by a famous grammar school in the 16th century.
As I have said it is a small but very interesting village, and if you do any walk in the area it is worth factoring in some extra time to visit these sites.
Walking north to Wansford
My route from Fotheringhay to Wansford basically followed the course of the River Nene that flows into the Wash not far from where I recently went walking. For some of the time I walked along the the Nene Way which is a long distance path that flirts with the course of the river.
I was instantly struck by the limestone buildings of Fotheringhay, they still had a medieval character and style which had a charm and simplicity of local craftsmanship. Some of the cottages were thatched and some had stone tiles liberally clothed in moss.
I soon discovered that this was not unique to the village but was also true of many buildings that I passed along my path, and that other villages also had the same charming limestone style. It reminded me of the Cotswolds, but here the villages were less commercial and busy. There were also a couple of old large mills along the river built in the 19th century from the same stone. These were huge buildings which must of housed two or three water wheels and were three of four stories high. They looked very impressive and must have been very busy in their day. Unfortunately one of them looked quite derelict, it seemed a crime to me to let such a building fall into disrepair.
I think this must have been a prosperous part of England in the 19th century, the architecture of some of the buildings certainly conveyed that. There was a very pastoral feel about this part of Northamptonshire almost as if it was meant for one of Gainsborough’s paintings (i wonder if he ever came this way?)
The Nene Valley Railway
I am no great steam train enthusiast, but I must admit when I had to wait at the crossing at Wansford Station for a passing loco, the engine that came up the track filled me with a sense of awe. It was a massive smoke belching, steam breathing behemoth, a bright shiny green that proudly declared magnificence. There was non of the modern day slickness about this engine it was huge, displaying all of its engineering triumph with purposeful strength. It was definitely awe inspiring to watch and for a little while it had caught me with mesmerised attention as it puffed and grind-ed its way up the track.
For a while I stood at the side of the crossing watching this monster from a by-gone age manuovering and shunting wagons back and forth. It was magical and took me back to my childhood when I used to catch the train to my grandparents in the small sleepy villages of Sussex.
I do not think I could ever become a steam train buff, but when I see a trail of smoke making its way across the countryside I do love it, perhaps because it is rare, or – maybe because like at Wansford it reminds me of the innocence of my childhood when life seemed much simpler and straightforward.
Walking in the Nene Valley
By now the River Nene is edging its way towards the Fens, so the land around about is pretty low lying. There are no great hills to climb and the walking is pretty easy, the greatest obsical to overcome I think would be mud on wetter days.
There is nothing exceptional about the landscape, pastoral fields with sporadic woodland cover a gently rolling landscape that is almost flat. Even the river seemed to plod along indifferently while following its well formed course. For me though it is always a pleasure to be outside and I am always interested in what makes any part of the world unique. There is always something to see even if it is not dramatic, and nothing is better than the fresh air of the outdoors.
It was the villages that clinched it for me on this occasion, their character and quiet attractiveness won the day.
Walking back from Wansford (which has a magnificent multi arched stone bridge over the Nene) to Fotheringhay I again followed the Nene Way Path, which has an occasional relationship with the river making its way over fields and the water courses of past industries related to the river.
Overall it was an enjoyably walk especially if you like indulging in a spot of English history – and I do.