Walk 95: Upton Circular: Guided by the ‘Light’

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 5.4 miles (8.6km)

Time to walk: About 1.5 hours at a brisk pace, although you may want to sit on one of the many benches by the lakes

Difficulty: A mixture of hard paths & grass / mud!

Parking: Sixfields Lakes free car park just down from Football Stadium. It isn’t the easiest to find so I’ve indicated it on the map below. If you use ‘what3words’ it’s gave.hats.panic

Public toilets: None en route

Map of the route:

This is a walk that’s right on our doorstep, but one we’d never done before. It’s a really good mix of track, canal path & hard surface walking, all of which are flat

It includes Sixfields Lakes, a 21 hectare area managed by the Wildlife Trust. In the winter this area’s used by thousands of starlings as their nightly nesting place, so if you’ve never seen their amazing roosting dances, come down here about 4.15pm, or as dusk’s falling. The display normally only happens between November & March. Otters have also allegedly been reintroduced into the river & streams running through the site, so keep your eyes peeled!

Let’s Walk!

1. To get to today’s car park turn right from the mini roundabout next to the Walter Tull Memorial which we’ll have a look at shortly. The car park is also excellent if you just want to visit the lakes


Ignore the paths to the lakes & walk back up the road we’ve just driven down…


2. Through the hedge to the right is a glimpse of something we’ll see all throughout this walk…the National Lift Tower


The National Lift Tower (previously called the Express Lift Tower) is a lift testing tower built by the Express Lift Company. The structure was commissioned in 1978 & was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 12 November 1982. Since 1997 it has been a Grade II Listed Building

Designed by architect Maurice Walton of Stimpson Walton Bond, the tower is 418 ft tall, 48 ft in diameter at the base & tapers to 28 ft at the top. In January 1997, the tower fell out of use after Express Lifts was taken over by Otis & subsequently closed. In 1999 it & the surrounding land was sold to Wilcon Homes for development

Following extensive renovation & repairs, the tower was reopened for business in October 2009 & is used by lift companies for research, development, testing & marketing. The tower’s renovation was officially completed in July 2010. Further building work was planned with planning permission being sought to build a visitor’s centre incorporating a 100 seater auditorium & cafe. However, permission for this structure was denied by Northampton Borough Council in March 2012. Abseiling for charity at the tower has been going on since May 2011 & Northampton Borough Council has now granted approval for it to be used up to 24 times a year for this purpose. As of 2015, it has also been used as the world’s tallest drainage testing facility

The tower was lampooned by broadcaster Terry Wogan as the “Northampton Lighthouse”. He wrote a section of the book, Icons of Northamptonshire (2014) about it

Us Northamptonians love it though

3. Pass through the barrier at the top of the lane…


…& look for the large black & white concrete plinth on the mound on the right


4. This is a memorial to Walter Tull (1888 – 1918) who was an English professional footballer who played for Tottenham Hotspur & Northampton Town. He was the third person of mixed heritage to play in the top division of the Football League, after Arthur Wharton of Sheffield United & Billy Clarke of Aston Villa


From the age of 9, Tull was brought up in the (Methodist) Children’s Home & Orphanage in Bethnal Green, London, along with his brother, Edward, following the death of their parents. He joined Tottenham in the summer of 1909 & he made his home Football League debut against FA Cup holders, Manchester United. His excellent form in this opening part of the season promised a great future

However, at a match away to Bristol City in October 1909, Tull was the target of vicious racist abuse. So incensed was the ‘Football Star’ reporter, DD, that his match report was headlined ‘Football & the Colour Prejudice’. This is possibly the first time racial abuse was headlined in a football report. DD was keen to emphasis how Tull remained professional & composed despite the intense provocation. ‘He is Hotspur’s most brainy forward … so clean in mind & method as to be a model for all white men who play football … Tull was the best forward on the field’. However, soon after he was soon dropped from the first team & found it difficult to get a sustained run back in the side in which he started so well. He played most of his subsequent games for the reserves & was eventually transferred to Herbert Chapman’s Northampton Town in 1911, where he made 111 first-team appearances


During the First World War, Tull served in the Footballers’ Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, & fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 30 May 1917. He fought in Italy & was mentioned in dispatches for “gallantry & coolness” while leading his company of 26 men on a raiding party into enemy territory. He returned to France in 1918, & was killed in action on 25 March during the Spring Offensive…his body was never recovered

5. Cross the road towards TGI Fridays & then walk to the dual carriageway…


This area of Northampton’s known as Sixfields, part of which was originally a landfill site for domestic waste. It was redeveloped into a leisure area to accommodate the Sixfields Stadium & an athletics running track (sadly now derelict). Also in the area are cinemas & plenty of fast food type restaurants – not the part of town to come to if you’re a healthy eater!

6. Use the pelican to cross the busy dual carriageway towards Buddies (another fast food restaurant) & a Travelodge…


…turning left along the hard path, crossing another road & then turning right into the housing estate through the gap in the fence


7. This new Upton development is an urban extension of Northampton & was part designed by The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment

It aims to create a truly sustainable community that demonstrates best practice in sustainable urban growth & when complete will eventually have 1020 of the most environmentally friendly homes in the country. It will also have shops, a nursery, medical centre & other community facilities nearby so that residents can make basic journeys without having to use a car


It’s had its issues in the 15 or so years since building started, but now finally seems to be coming together

8. Continue to the end of Clickers Drive & walk diagonally left across the recreational area…


…heading towards the grassy park


9. Pass through the gap into the park, turn right & follow the path (avoiding all the joggers & pushchairs) down to the bottom end. On the right here’s a new pop-up coffee shop at the Elgar Centre. Check for opening times (as at Jan 2023) Tuesday 8am-2pm; Thursday 8am-2pm; Saturday 9am-11.30am


This is Upton Country Park, developed for the new housing development. It was previously flood plain for the River Nene & considerable drainage had to be put in here & on the estate to prevent flooding

10. As the path bends left, cross the bridge to exit the park through the gate onto the lane…


This lane’s taking us towards Upton Mill, so turn left & follow it past farm buildings to the gates of the Mill…


…ignoring those & turning left through the footpath gate


11. Upton Mill is hidden through the trees on the right & you can hear the water as it rushes through. Walk round &, when the path splits, continue straight on over the bridge…


You can just get a glimpse of the Mill from the other side of the bridge through the fence


12. If it’s been raining, the next stage of this walk is likely to be quite muddy & slippery so take extra care. The path is quite wide & bends left across the river through another gate. A fellow walker told us that water voles can be seen here, but today the river was high after heavy rain


Turn right & the path now narrows to a single one, which was extremely muddy! This track’s known as Bly Lane – we’ve tried, but failed to find the origins of this name


13. We’ve walked this section before, but came through the gate on the right where the track leads past Stanwick Lakes to Kislingbury (another nice walk)


That’s another walk, but for this one keep straight along Bly Lane. This stretch is very narrow, but eventually opens up near a road next to Swan Valley Industrial Park


14. Turn left & walk through the car park. The track is now much firmer under foot…


Look across to the left – the ‘lighthouse’ is still guiding us…


15. We now bend through the bushes & emerge by the river. Pass under the road bridge…


This area is a mix of streams & lakes & is apparently renowned for its large Perch. The water is owned by the local angling club though so make sure you pay the subs! After the bridge turn left across two wooden bridges


16. Once across the stream, turn right through the trees – again this is an area that was very muddy when we walked it in mid February


Finally we arrive at the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal which is going to be our friend for the next few miles


17. Walk beside the canal until reaching the bridge


Leave the canal at this point & carefully cross the bridge on which the traffic’s controlled by lights as the road is very narrow


18. Once over, clamber down the steep bank on the other side to walk back in the same direction we’ve come from, but on the other side of the canal


We love walking the canals as no two days are the same, whether it be wildlife or the changing flora so just enjoy this next stretch. Pass back under the road bridge


19. The canal bends right, now heading towards the busy A45. ‘The lighthouse’ is now ‘photo-bombing’ the Canadian Geese!


Walk under the new footbridge & the A45




20. This is lovely stretch of canal walking. Pass the locks (it’s there again!)…


…& continue under the next bridge


21. Keep going until the next bridge where we walk up the side & cross it. There’s plenty of blue direction signs here


Our path is obvious though as it heads directionally right towards the town and river


22. On reaching the river, turn left to walk towards the Northampton – Euston railway line



After 100 yards cross the river on the bridge below into the wildlife reserve


23. Again, be careful up the muddy slope leading to the lake, but on reaching the top you’re rewarded with a great view & there’s a nearby bench to sit & take it all in


In May 2016 there was an article in the local paper regarding the number of half eaten fish left on the banks of the lake – the subsequent investigation confirmed that otters had indeed returned to the area

24. Turn right & now follow the narrow path all the way back to the car park. There was plenty of water fowl activity on the lake


There’s lots of places to take it all in, especially on a lovely day like today


The path ends back where we parked

So that’s a short stroll that, whilst we knew was on our doorstep, had never done before, but it’s one we’ll definitely be doing again. There’s lot of wildlife to see in the changing seasons & you never know…you might just see an otter

Go Walk!