Often overlooked, the charming villages of Northamptonshire are the heartland of England, says Holly Kirkwood
‘It’s serious equestrian country and the hunting season is a big deal ’
SITTING, as it does, right in the middle of England, Northamptonshire has always been big-estate country. From the Spencers at Althorp to the Macdonald-buchanans at Cottesbrooke, much of the county has been formed under the guardianship of a few local families for centuries, a factor that still defines it today.
Despite being equidistant between the north and the south, Northamptonshire isn’t on the property map in the same way that nearby Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire are, but, according to local agents, once people settle here, they rarely choose to move. ‘It’s a fantastic location,’ says local resident Crispin Holborow of Savills. ‘The transport links are second to none and you do find that, once people discover us, they tend to put down roots.’
One of the county’s great draws is its treasure trove of pretty English villages, the majority of which are still lively communities, with pubs, shops and village greens. As the county is just a little too far from the capital to have been blighted by big commuter dormitory villages, its inhabitants are a healthy mixture of families, home workers, commuters and retirees; there is also high employment locally thanks to hubs such as Milton Keynes and Silverstone.
‘Our villages still have thriving social calendars,’ explains Carter Jonas partner Ian Cattle. ‘They’re really what it’s all about around here.’ From the Blakesley Show in early August to the regular rugby and cricket fixtures and the point-to-points throughout the winter, there’s always something going on.
It’s also serious equestrian country and the hunting season is a big deal; the Pytchley and the Grafton are both considered hunting royalty and command loyal followings.
Property buyers find that, in some ways, the county trounces the Cotswolds: ‘Houses are much better value for money than in north Oxfordshire or Warwickshire,’ points out Quentin Jacksonstops, partner at Jackson-stops & Staff, ‘but with much shorter journey times to London.’ Indeed, you can get to the capital from Milton Keynes, Kettering Wellingborough or Northampton stations in under an hour.
In terms of hotspots, the Northamptonshire Golden Triangle lies to the south-west, in the villages between Towcester, Banbury and Daventry. The handsome centre of Brackley boasts numerous shops and cafes and Blakesley, 12 miles away, is composed of attractive houses in the lovely local ironstone and prides itself on its community atmosphere. Greens Norton, just outside Towcester, has a marvellous annual village show and nearby Stoke Bruerne, on the Grand Union Canal, has excellent waterside pubs.
Further north, Richard Irlam, director of agents Michael Graham, recommends Bugbrooke, a village overlooking the beautiful Nene valley just a few miles southwest of Northampton. The north tends to feel less ‘discovered’, according to Mr Cattle, who loves Pitsford Water, just north of Northampton, which is a haven for wildfowl.
To the east, he says Yardley Hastings has made a name for itself for traditional pubs and Creaton is often named as one of the best places to live locally —its famous village green makes an attractive focal point.
Would-be buyers should explore all the different villages, says Mr Irlam: ‘There aren’t just one or two to choose from—we always have a number of options to show people.’ All the agents are accustomed to finding houses for young families looking to take advantage of the excellent schools— from Winchester House to Oundle, Maidwell Hall and Northampton School for Boys, the county offers first-rate State and independent options for all ages.
The lake less travelled: Pitsford Water, just north of Northampton, is a haven for wildfowl in the ‘less discovered’ part of the county