Walk 87: The Harlestones Circular: Inspiring Jane Austen

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4.5 miles (7.24km)

Time to walk: Depends on whether you want to stop for a pint, a cuppa & a browse, but about 2.5 hours at a leisurely stroll

Difficulty: A mixture of hard & woodland paths, all of which are well draining so it’s good for all seasons

Parking: On street in Upper Harlestone. Be careful though as the roads are narrow

Public toilets: The Fox & Hounds pub or Harlestone Garden Centre just over half way round

Map of the route: None, but the route’s easy to follow

This is a fantastic little walk taking in two lovely villages, some beautiful rolling countryside & one of our best woods. When we walked it in late March 2016 we hardly saw a soul & were blessed with a beautiful spring day full of birdsong

Our walk starts in the stunning village of Upper Harlestone which is one part of two settlements thought to date back to Saxon times. We’ll visit Lower Harlestone on this walk too. Much of the area & properties are owned by the nearby Althorp Estate, childhood home of Princess Diana

Harlestone has a minor part in history. In 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie was marching south through England intending to fight his way to London & claim the throne. As he went it became clear that he wasn’t getting the support he was hoping for. When he learned that the Northamptonshire regiment was amassing at Harlestone he turned round & marched back to Scotland. The result was the Battle of Culloden & the end of the Stuart dream of gaining the throne

No time to waste so…

Let’s Walk!

1. We’ve parked up outside the magnificent old Dovecot which was one of two built in the village around 1320. It now has a laundry business attached to it

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Facing it, turn left & enter the village past a magnificent old tree…

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2. Upper Harlestone’s a beautiful village with some highly sought after properties…

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…but we can only dream so continue along the main street…

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…past the village green looking for the house below on the left with the footpath post just before itIMG_7204

3. Pass through the gate & along the clear hard path towards the next part of the village – it really is spread out

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Someone's lost something...

Someone’s lost something…

4. The top gate opens out into another green, this time with a memorial celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee & the Village Institute building…

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The Village Institute is so called because its origins lie in creating reading rooms for the improvement of local folk. It dates back to 1924 & the brick & timber framed building is privately managed & maintained by a village committee. Love the rather ‘local’ rules & regulations for hire, especially regards the satnav

“We have a full music & alcohol licence & we are completely flexible on bar arrangements. You can supply the alcohol or we can stock the bar & serve or sell it for an hourly fee. All music and alcohol consumption must stop by 23:00. Mobile reception in the area is poor and taxis should be pre-booked for 23:15. A SatNav is unlikely to find the hall, so please follow the map and directions at the bottom of this page”

5. Walk straight across & through the gate into the next meadow keeping on the hard path…

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At the end’s the gate into Northampton Golf Club

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6. Beware along this stretch as we’re crossing fairways & there’s stray balls everywhere…

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Northampton Golf Club is one of our newer courses having moved from its original site off Kettering Road in the town. Harlestone House was a large country residence on the site of the golf club. It is thought to be the inspiration for Jane Austen‘s Mansfield Park. It’s known she resided at the house for a period because letters have been discovered written from there. The house was demolished in 1940, although the impressive stables still remain and were developed for housing in the late 1990s. The Jane Austen Society have stated that there is no evidence that she visited Northamptonshire

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7. The path we’re walking at present is part of the Northampton Round which we’re walking in stages & have almost half completed. Pass by the 1st tee towards the church

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St Andrews church, built of locally quarried stone, is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. The tower dates back to the 12th century & the nave & chancel were built in the 14th century. The distinctive font dates from the thirteenth century & was sensitively restored during Victoria’s reign. Other 19th century improvements included the addition of the clerestory & a new east window, commemorating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee

The pulpit is formed of fine carved wooden panels, reputedly from Fotheringhay Castle. The tower has a fine peal of six bells, the largest of which, the tenor, weighs one tonne

The church is open to visitors during the day every Friday during the months of April to October inclusive

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8. Carry on down the right side of the church…

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…to emerge at the gates to Harlestone Manor which is owned by Earl Spencer

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9. Cross directly over down the side of another house & turn left through the signed gate across another small hard path

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Pass through another gate & continue up the hill towards Lower Harlestone stopping to say hi to a couple of likely lads…

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He didn't appear to like having his photo taken

He didn’t appear to like having his photo taken

Exit through a final gate into the grounds of The Old Bakehouse to arrive at the busy main road

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10. Turn right & follow the path up the hill pass the impressive stone property with the equally impressive sun dial

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Further up the hill’s one of Northampton’s best known public houses, The Fox & Hounds

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The Fox & Hounds is a traditional stone building dating back to 1702. With exposed beams, wooden floors & local art on the walls the pub has attracted a good following of local regulars & visitors from further afield. The restaurant has a good reputation

The pub caused a controversy some time ago by changing its name to ‘The Dusty Fox’ with a flamboyant sign. It’s now gone back to its original look

11. After roughly 150 yards look for a footpath sign in the hedge pointing down a track on the left just past the bench & the 40mph sign…

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Pass through the gate & then follow the field edge as it bends first left & then right. Continue down towards the gate into Harlestone Firs

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12. Walk through the gate into the woods. Owned by the Althorp Estate, the area was planted with pine trees & other varieties to provide wood. Originally it was heathland & in the 17th & 18th centuries was used for horse racing with trophies being provided by the Estate. We’ve walked there many times & it’s worth exploring at all times of the year

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13. Continue up the hill until reaching a crossroads with a broad track & sign where we turn left…

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14. There are signs that spring 2016 is here

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The wide track bends right & then opens out more passing a copse of young birches on the left…

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…to arrive at a T-Junction where we need to turn left & walk down to the edge of the woods

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15. On reaching the edge of the wood on the left, bear right along an enclosed wooded track that passes the sawmill on the right

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There’s been some people along here who felt the need to damage the trees by carving their undying love for each other into them

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16. Even though the soil here is very sandy, because of the canopy cover, the ground can still get very muddy in places, especially along the smaller tracks

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Ignore the many other paths coming in from the left & right & pass from pines to birches until arriving at a T-Junction with a wide cross track

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17. Turn right along the wide track & follow it, taking the right fork at the junction heading roughly in the same direction…

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This part of the Firs is probably the most stunning with raised banks & exposed routes. It’s especially beautiful in autumn with all the copper beeches showing their finery

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18. Pass the saw mill on the right…

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…& then simply follow the hard road to the entrance

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19. Cup of tea time? Turn left & over the road’s Harlestone Heath (Wyvale) Garden Centre. The cafe’s good, if a little on the expensive side

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Suitably refreshed carry on along the road to the roundabout & take the road to the right signposted to Harpole & Kislingbury

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20. This is a fairly new road & the path used to be through a field on the right. To reach it these days means a slight detour & a bit of invention. So, upon reaching the bridge over the road, climb up the bank & over the barrier to reach the path

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21. Cross over the bridge & look for a sign & gate on the right…

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This is now a bit of a chore, but we need to turn right & follow the edge of the field all the way round to pick up the old route

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22. At the end of the first field look for a gap on the right through to a narrow path between a fence on the right & hedge on the left

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The land drops away now & at the bottom pass by the big tree & round the next field to a stile at the corner

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23. Walk through the short wood, which contains old sand stone quarrying, to the road

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Sandstone’s been quarried in the area for several centuries & still is. Much of the stone was used in building, both locally & across the country. Local books say that small blocks were used as ‘donkey stone’ which was used to clean doorsteps in the industrial north

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It was usually given to the housewives by rag & bone men in exchange for old clothes. Their carts were often pulled by donkeys, hence where the name came from

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They’re still in demand today as this article from the Manchester Evening News reveals

24. Turn left & follow the road back to Upper Harlestone…

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Just after the village sign look for the footpath on the right leading through the gate down a narrow path past some horse paddocks

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25. We eventually emerge into a field that has magnificent views over the village…

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At the bottom cross the road & continue along the hard path, turning right at the end to arrive back where we started

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This is a delightful walk & looks different in each season of the year with the changing colours & shapes. The two villages are caught in a time gone by & are definitely two of this County’s treasures

This is a walk to enjoy at leisure rather than a hard slog & a good one for the dogs. So stop at the pub & tea room & smell the roses…or the trees!

Go Walk!