Rural England is right on our doorstep, though often overlooked. Join me on a weekend exploring the countryside of East Northamptonshire
I think we sometimes forget just how beautiful England is. On a sunny day you'd be hard fetched to find anywhere to rival the beauty of what we have right here on our doorstep.
My trip takes me to the beautiful East Northamptonshire village of King's Cliffe situated only five miles off the A1 and the A47. It's easy enough to get to, but remarkably untouched when you get there. A 16th century stone village that reputedly has never had a lord of the manor (so the locals tell me), the village has historically always attracted arty, creative musical folk; free spirits and free thinkers. It certainly seems to have a real energy to the place. Walking along the street it's so refreshing to find somewhere that people take the time to greet you and spare a smile, almost a novelty in this fast paced world in which we live in.
I've chosen to stay at the only B&B in the village, the King John Hunting Lodge, a 500 year old grade II rambling stone house (www.kingjohnhuntinglodge.net). It's beautiful, the house seems to go on forever as i'm lead upstairs to my room. Doubles start from £50 with singles at £35. That includes a hearty breakfast, and on request Jenny can also fix up a packed lunch.
From leaving the front door I can step outside and take myself off in any direction, and almost instantly be in beautiful uninterrupted countryside. Eager to explore I pull out my OS map and head out of the village on foot. Rockingham Forest used to cover this whole area, and within five minutes I have left the village behind and find myself climbing a hill heading into the woods. I've been told that there is a track that runs all the way round the woods, and like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, on the other side of the woods is a visitor centre with a coffee shop that serves up fantastic lattes and a range of snacks. Leaving civilization behind the track is easy going and I'm soon surrounded by towering trees, with just the sound of birdsong for company. It's bliss. The city slips away and for a moment I could be anywhere. About a 45 minute walk later the map tells me that I should be arriving at the visitor centre soon. Like the pilgrimage to Mecca, I can almost taste that latte! I'm not disappointed when I arrive. Not only do they indeed make a great range of coffees, the latte is to die for. They also serve hot food, jacket potatoes, toasted sandwiches, home-made soups, and a fantastic range of cakes and danishes. Perfect place for a pit stop.
If you just fancy a day trip and a hike through the woods the visitor centre is at Fineshade, and can be approached by car from the A43. It is open daily until 5pm and has exhibitions running occasionaly, as well as craft events. They also offer guided walks and talks about the local area and wildlife.
Sated and ready for a bit more of a walk I head over the hills past Fineshade Abbey towards Blatherwycke. It looks on the map like I can do a round walk that will have me heading back into King's Cliffe in a couple of hours. The views are stunning. Rolling hills, woods, stately mansions, sheep grazing. It's a world away. The trail takes me through fields, then back through the woods. The red kite was reintroduced to the area about ten years ago. From just two breeding pairs, now hundreds can be seen. An awesome sight. Arriving back in the village, I can't help but admire the beautiful old stone buildings. Such character. It seems a world away from the pump and grind of everyday life. The village is pretty self sufficient. The locals tell me it's just as well, as in the winter they're likely to get snowed in. Two shops, a bakery, a post office and a pub keep things ticking along. The pub which sits in the centre of the village on the crossroads is called The Cross Keys. Predominantly it's a local pub for local people, so don't think it strange if you walk in and everyone turns around and stares at you. While at the time it can seem a little American Werewolf in London it's not really that bad, and they do warm to you eventually, especially after a few beers!
After breakfast, rather than a lazy day drinking tea and reading the papers, I take my bike down off the rack and head back into the woods. I'm heading towards a pub called The Royal Oak in a village called Duddington. There are many trails that head off the main track, a great excuse to get caked in mud Fuelled by the thought of my Sunday lunch when I arrive at the pub I feel like I've died and gone to heaven. The food is just divine and there is loads to choose from. I opted for the traditional Sunday roast which I highly recommend. It comes with the most amazing slab of beef, roast potatoes to die for, Yorkshire pudding and seasonal vegetables. I couldn't manage a dessert, though they do offer a blackboard of homemade desserts, each more tantalising than the next.
The Royal Oak (www.theroyaloakduddington.com), as well as being a great pub with superb food, is also a hotel. Food for thought for next time when, rather than staying in one place, I'm going to plan a cross country route heading in the direction of Rutland Water where there is sailing available, cycling and horse riding. I'm amazed how much cool stuff is so close by. I need a lifetime not a weekend!
Relaxing, exhilarating, meditative, I've discovered a piece of England that I didn't even know existed. One of those places that if you don't have a reason to go there then you just don't... well not any more! I will certainly be back to this part of the world, and am only sad I didn't discover it earlier.
I highly recommend it as a great place to explore for a weekend, a week, even a lifetime.