Walk 96: Brockhall Circular: The CIA are watching you!…

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3.55 miles (5.71km)

Time to walk: Roughly 1 hour

Difficulty: An easy walk suitable for when the field paths are muddy. Most of the walk is on single track roads with a short stretch along a canal path.

Parking: We parked by the canal bridge on the lane from the A5 to Brockhall

Public toilets: The Heart of the Shires Shopping Village is only a short stroll from the start of the canal section of the walk

Map of the route:

Brockhall is one of those places in the county that we’d never visited & it was time to put that right. We knew roughly where it was having seen the estate hall from the motorway, but were even unsure how to get there

We took the inspiration for this short stroll from “Northamptonshire Teashop Walks”. The walk starts beside the canal bridge just off the A5 signposted “Brockhall”. It then passes over the M1 & through the hamlet of Brockhall, before turning down to Muscott & then following the canal back to the start. As mentioned above, it’s a walk that’s ideal for poor conditions as most of it’s on hard tracks

Ready to explore? Then…

Let’s Walk!

1. Park carefully on the side of the road & walk over the bridge…

Be careful walking along the road as it’s narrow & cars move fast along here. The roar of the M1 gets louder the further we walk

2. Cross the stream…

…but be careful not to venture off the beaten track or you’ll be in trouble!

3. As always the M1 is busy & the “smart motorway” upgrade work seems to be going on forever

We’ll cross the motorway again towards the end of this walk, but now it’s time to return to a more peaceful environment & maybe take some time out to smell the flora

Across to the left is the extensive Brockhall estate

4. At the t-junction turn left towards Brockhall itself…

…& walk up the hill into what’s really just a hamlet. There was an incredible number of noisy pheasants in the field on the right

5. So what can we tell you about Brockhall? Like many estate villages, it’s a small settlement that was developed around its hall. The name in Old English is ‘Brocole’ meaning ‘Badgers Hill’

The entrance to the hall is on the left, but the building can’t be seen from the road…

Brockhall Hall was originally built by Edward Eyton who, later in 1625, sold the house to Thomas Thornton of Newnham who was a lawyer & also the Recorder of Daventry. In 1634 Thomas Thornton bought Newnham manor from the Knightleys of Fawsley who had held it jointly with Badby manor since 1542. Mr Thornton supported Oliver Cromwell & was later pardoned by King Charles II

Since the Civil War, five Thorntons have held the position of High Sheriff of Northamptonshire. The first was John Thornton who assumed the post in 1672; the last was Colonel Thornton who held the position in 1946

During World War II, the hall & its grounds were used by the American Office of Strategic Studies, an early predecessor of the CIA. Saboteurs were airlifted to Europe from nearby Harrington airfield where the Carpetbagger Museum commemorates their contributions to the war effort

The Thornton family lived at Brockhall Hall until 1969 when it was sold to Peter Lee after the death of the last male heir. Brockhall Hall is now divided up into a number of residential flats. Here’s what it looks like today…

The house is reputed to be haunted by a white lady, thought to be an owner’s wife who committed suicide in the 1780s

6. Continue along the road – there aren’t many properties here, but the ones that are, are pretty special

The magnificent property on the right is the Manor House, also known as Manor Farm, which dates back to 1617. The Brodies have been tenants here since 1900 & bought the house & 414 acres when the Thorntons sold it nearly 40 years ago

Like many long-tenanted houses, it remains remarkably unaltered. No fashionable Georgian sash windows ever intruded & the stone mullions & leaded windows remain, one engraved with the date 1781 to prove it. “Square leads for gentry, diamond for cottages & servants,” says James Brodie, pointing to the one diamond lattice window in a gable at the back

Interesting features are the vertical sliding shutters beneath the windows. “I thought they were unique, but they are found all over the Althorp estate,” Brodie says. The staircase opens from the back of the hall, but the upper half appears a later addition, as notches for joists show that there was once a floor beneath the upper window. There are many 17th century cupboards that make use of every possible recess. These retain their original splayed hinges

The manor’s 414 acres form a miniature estate with a stretch of the parkland that extends (in various ownerships) all round the village, as well as fields, woods and a well established shoot. The one major challenge is to decide what to do with the large group of modern farm buildings behind the house. The Brodies are major commercial farmers & are moving their operations elsewhere

7. Continue along the only road past a row of lovely cottages…

On the left’s the Church of St Peter & St Paul.It was built around 1200 although the chancel was rebuilt in 1874 by Edmund Francis Law. The church has several monuments to the Thorntons. Unfortunately we couldn’t get inside today

8. Apart from a couple of more modern estate houses that’s Brockhall – we told you it was more of a hamlet. Pass through the gate which is keeping the sheep out of the village…

The sheep round these parts are right posers, especially No. 102!

9. At the end of the park pass through the gate…

…& simply carry on along the meandering lane

The building on the right’s Brockhall Kennels & Cattery & by crikey were the canines giving it loud in the compound when they saw us!

10. Pass the buildings & walk to the bottom of the hill. The ‘boys’ in the field on the left didn’t seem impressed that we didn’t want to come in & play today…

As the road bends sharp right, turn left to follow the bridleway towards Muscott

11. If you thought the hamlet of Brockhall was small, then Muscott is tiny, however the fields here hide the medieval lost settlements of the village

The name Muscott is derived from the old English Musa-cote, “mices cottages” perhaps a derogatory term for some humble dwellings. In 1301 the hamlet is listed, with Brockhall as having a total of 48 tax payers, most of whom appear to have been mainly living at Muscott as Brockhall always seems to have been quite small. By 1377 only 5 people over the age of 14 paid the poll tax &, as Brockhall was still in existence, it seems to have been around this time that Muscott was abandoned. In 1576 the estate was bought by the Spencer family & became part of the Althorp estate

Turn the corner at the bottom of the lane & ahead is the medieval gatehouse…

12. Don’t go through the gatehouse, but follow the track to the right of it walking towards the M1 once more

13. Cross the motorway & through the wooded area…

…to arrive once more at the canal. Now, if you fancy a cuppa or something to eat, ignore the canal & continue straight ahead. Roughly 3 minutes walk up the hill is the Heart of the Shires shopping village – if you’re a cook there’s a great shop

We don’t have time to visit today so walk down the steps to the canal & turn left under the bridge

14. We’ve not walked this short part of this canal before & it’s a lovely little stretch that will take us back to where we started

It was late April & the blossom was in full bloom

15. We were ‘chased’ all the way back by a boat. Normally canal boaters are friendly people who will give you a “hi” & a wave, but we were beneath this pair

They were even pretty dismissive of the boat coming the other way

16. Eventually we arrive back at Bridge No. 21 so climb the bank on the left to reach where we left the car…

Well…that was a super little walk that can be best summed up as being a very quiet walk & it’s quite likely that you won’t see a soul. In fact, if the M1 wasn’t close by it would be extremely quiet too

We’ve already said that the lanes, tracks & canal path make this walk ideal for all seasons, including if the fields are muddy

Go Walk!