The journey between Northampton and Peterborough may not be known as one of the great road trips in the UK and at around an hour to drive the distance it’s a relatively short drive. Yet as with much of the country there are beautiful scenic sights along the way and the two urban areas themselves – the town of Northampton and the Cathedral city of Peterborough – are both interesting and exciting places to visit.
The large town of Northampton is located in the East Midlands, on the River Nene, almost equal distance from both Birmingham and London. Its roots go as far back as the Bronze Age, with evidence of settlements from then, particularly in the modern day Briar Hill area. The growth and development of Northampton can be traced right through history: from the Iron Age hill fort that once stood on Hunsbury Hill; remains of Roman pottery in the district of Duston; the Great Hall and surrounding buildings in 750AD that gave it the name Hamm Tun (meaning the village by the well-watered meadow); the building of Northampton castle in 1089; the great fire that destroyed three quarters of the city in 1675; and much, much more.
There is still much of the town’s history on display to this day, such as its market square, which dates back to 1235, and is one of the largest in Britain. The oldest standing building in Northampton is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built in 1100 and one of the largest and best-preserved examples of a round church. Northampton Castle, once one of the country’s most important castles, is unfortunately almost all gone, except for one lonely rebuilt postern gate that is fixed in the wall outside the railway station.
Yet there is, of course, much on offer from modern Northampton, too. As well as the market square, there are two other large shopping centres and Abington Street is a major area of shopping in the town. Northampton Museum and Gallery is the town’s centre of culture, with a collection that includes Italian art, ceramics and one of the world’s largest collections of historical footwear. Northampton also houses the Avenue Gallery, Gallery 177 and Primose Gallery.
Peterborough lies around forty-five miles away from Northampton and the trip will take you in a north-easterly direction to reach the city. Though the journey moves between two large urban areas, much of it passes through green spaces, particularly wide expanses of fields. There are a handful of other populated places along the way, mostly moderately sized towns or small villages. As this area of the UK is largely flat and level the landscape spreads away on either side. What is especially nice about this journey is that it passes by a number of lakes, including Aldwincle Lake and Heronry Lake near Thrapston. But one place that you may be very tempted to stop off at – perhaps to even make a day of it in itself – is Stanwick Lakes. Stanwick Lakes is over 750 acres of countryside and nature reserve and is said to be widely regarded as the region’s most imaginative outdoor activity destinations. It combines extensive play areas to keep the children happy and avoid the weather when it turns bad, but has wide open spaces around the lakes for walkers, cyclists and general nature lovers.
Eventually the road leads to Peterborough. It is in many ways similar to Northampton: it too sits on the River Nene and it has roots that stretch back to Bronze Age and through Roman to Anglo-Saxon times when the monastery was built that later become Peterborough’s Cathedral and on to the Middles Ages and beyond. During the Anglo-Saxon times it was known as Medeshamstede, which is thought to mean “homestead belonging to Mede” (most likely meaning meadows). The monastery that was built there has been described as one of the greatest and most important monasteries in Mercia and the abbot that founded it was a similarly important figure. The last visible remnants of this period are now kept on show in the Peterborough Cathedral.
Peterborough’s contemporary scene celebrates theatre. The Key Theatre is situated next to the River Nene and seeks to show off the city’s rich creative culture and often puts on many local productions. There is also the John Clare Theatre and the Cresset, as well as an old Odeon cinema that has been converted into a restaurant and gallery. For people looking for peaceful green spaces, Peterborough also has Nene Park, which covers three and a half miles and has three lakes and a watersports centre.
For a place to stay on your road trip check Park Inn’s website.
Have you visited Northampton or Peterborough? What did you enjoy about these places?