Northamptonshire is famed for beautiful countryside and sweeping manor houses. I’m lucky enough to have both of these things on my doorstep, but I think it’s time to share one of my favourites with you so that you can experience it too.
Castle Ashby is a tiny village in the south of Northamptonshire. Adorable cottages sit prettily on the narrow lanes vying for your attention. Manicured lawns are edged with immaculate shrubs, and the stone walls spill with beautiful flowers. You’ll hardly ever see a soul. It’s as though garden ninjas come to life at night and magically create this perfect backdrop.
Castle Ashby Village
Whilst the locals seem to keep a quiet profile (no doubt enjoying their even bigger back gardens), furry friends frequently nip out to see what’s going on. You’ll often see robins, hedgehogs, sheep and ponies. If you make it to the sweeping estate of Castle Ashby you’ll even see a few more.
Sadly the local pub and restaurant is no longer open, but the Rural Shopping Yard (just a few minutes walk from the pub) offers a couple of spots for a light lunch, as well as the chance to shop at a few independent art/craft shops.
The Buttery is a firm favourite with regulars, serving soups, jacket potatoes, cakes and more. If the sun is shining make sure you bag one of the outside tables so you can indulge in a healthy spot of puppy watching. Being in the countryside and thanks to the pet boutique it’s a popular place for dog walkers. The newly opened cafe in The Larder sells fresh bites to eat too. It uses the products it sells to shoppers. The Rural Shopping Yard is really close to the estate so once you’ve fuelled up, head over to Castle Ashby Gardens.
Castle Ashby Gardens
Castle Ashby Gardens is set right in the heart of the 10,000 acre estate. If you thought the locals’ gardens were well kept, you’ll definitely be impressed. Sculpted hedges replace man-made fences, creating an imaginative pathway in what is known as The Italian Gardens. It leads to the romantic Orangery. A glamorised greenhouse on a much larger scale, it houses 150 goldfish as well as pretty flowers and plants. Even if you’re not into gardening or flowers, and don’t know your Fuchsia from your Camellia (like me), the sweet floral smell and the grand structure dating back to 1872 will still bring a smile to your face.
Perhaps my favourite spot, the nearby butterfly garden, which leads to the Secret Garden (not so much of a secret now), is a pretty area. As you can guess it’s been filled with plants that attract over eighteen different species of butterflies. It’s a lovely quiet part of the estate that’s perfect for having a ‘time out’ moment.
Castle Ashby Gardens also has a small maze of flowerbeds just in front of the Orangery. Known as Maltese Cross and Rainbow Border, I’m sure experts would be able to reel off the names of all the plants. However, all you need to know is that it makes for a great picture and a lazy walk.
If you’re more into ticking off famous landmarks and sightseeing, make sure you pop down Spring Walk to the Arboretum (the collection of trees). You’ll find the UK’s largest weeping Beech tree. Animal lovers will want to make a beeline for the small farm area. It’s open throughout summer and offers a home for rescued animals. You’ll often spy meerkats, goats, pigs and more.
Castle Ashby Gardens has a lot going on, which is surprising considering it’s such a good place to visit if you want to get away from it all. Open 365 days a year and costing only £5.50 for an adult ticket it’s worth a visit. I’d recommend allowing half a day, including a stop at the Rural Shopping Yard. If you’re fairly local, I’d recommend this walk to/from Castle Ashby.