Stage 3: Cogenhoe to Irthlingborough

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 13.8 miles (22.3km)

Time to walk: We walked at a steady pace of 12 minutes per km, so the stage took us about 4.5 hours although we did stop for photos. We also stopped for half an hour for lunch at the Stag’s Head in Great Doddington which is approximately halfway along the path

Difficulty: Flat with mainly grass underfoot

Parking: If this was done as a separate walk, there’s on-street parking in Cogenhoe

Public toilets: The Stag’s Head in Great Doddington, but apart from there, that’s it until the end of the walk in Irthlingborough

Map of the route:

The third stage of the Nene Way begins on high ground in Cogenhoe (pronounced Cook-noe’) before descending back down into the Nene Valley once more & following the river past Earls Barton

There’s a short diversion away from the river up the hill into Great Doddington, before passing through the outskirts of Wellingborough & into Higham Ferrers, & then finally turning north to end in Irthlingborough

What struck us doing this stage of the walk is the shear amount of water in this area. This is mainly down to all the excavations (mainly gravel) that have taken place over the years & the amount that’s still going on today

So…boots tied…

Let’s Walk!

1. We start where we finished Stage 2, outside the The Royal Oak & turn down Church Street opposite it

There’s been settlements in Cogenhoe dating back at least 4,000 years, with Iron Age artefacts being found & then a Roman dwelling. The Saxons were also present & probably built the first church

From the mid 19th to the mid 20th the village became known, along with many other towns in Northamptonshire, for the manufacture of boots & shoes

2. To the right’s the large & very impressive Manor House which dates back to 1672…

Follow the road to the small, but typically English, village green. Once again the Nene Way is very well marked & the signs are easy to spot (well…at this stage anyway!)

To the left’s St Peter’s Church. A church has probably stood on the present site since the days of Henry II. Between 1225 & 1280 Sir Nicholas de Cogenhoe, believed to be a Crusader, built a new church, although many alterations have been made over the years

Sir Nicholas was a knight of the garrison of Northampton Castle in 1264 & lived at the Manor we’ve just passed

The green also contains the War Memorial…

3. Take the right fork down to the next bend & look for what appears to be a driveway down the side of the house on the corner…

There a quite quirky sign on the wall of the house that shows that you’re heading in the right direction

4. Walk down the driveway & down the side of the garage to emerge from the end of the fenced alley to a great view down the Nene Valley to Cogenhoe Mill Holiday Park

Walk down the hill & visit the mill just before the entrance into the park. We must admit that the Holiday Park always looks an attractive place to own a home, but there’s one small potential problem – it’s always one of the first places to be evacuated in times of heavy rain & flooding

5. To pick up the Nene Way again walk back about 15 yards & turn left down the side of the building to a gate into the fields

After passing through turn back & have a look at the mill pond & race

6. It’s now all river walking until we reach Great Doddington & all you have to do is follow the bank, keeping an eye open for wildlife. When we walked this stretch in March 2018 there were numerous Grebes & Cormorants

You’ll also see many swans & several of them were feeding on the young rape crops in the middle of the field

7. The river winds its way towards Whiston Lock &, as boats pass, it’s a reminder of how much the Nene has grown since we first saw it many miles away in a ditch in Badby. As the path bends round an inlet look out for nesting swans – they’re normally there at this stage of the year

The early spring colours are also rather special…

But what isn’t good is this – why oh why do people insist on doing this?

8. At Whiston Lock the Nene Way splits & there’s the opportunity to turn left over the lock gates & do an extra 2.5 mile loop that visits Earls Barton before returning to rejoin the river….

We did that stretch on a previous walk &, as this walk’s all about the Nene, we wanted to stick with the river so carried straight on

Look across in the distance to the right. On the top of the hill proudly sits the beautiful Whiston church which we visited on a circular walk from Castle Ashby. It’s a real climb up the narrow path to reach the church & we can remember describing the graveyard as one of the spookiest we’ve visited. It does however offer a fantastic view across the Nene valley

9. We recognised the next stretch of the river as we were once chased by some extremely ‘lively’ cows along it. Luckily they weren’t around this time. At the bridge the path crosses to the other side…

…& continues along the other bank

10. Ahead now is a new development that wasn’t here when we last walked & has been a real Northamptonshire success…White Mills Marina

Cross the new bridge which boats pass under to gain access to the moorings

Hope they don’t mind but we’ve quoted this from their webpage as it describes the origins of the new marina perfectly…

“We could not be more thrilled that finally after a five-year haul, in September 2014 we were actually granted planning permission to develop White Mills Marina. The idea of creating a marina was first conceived several years ago following ‘yet another’ family brain storming session around our kitchen table. At that time, the field which is now the site of White Mills Marina was used for grazing, however it had become increasingly obvious that the best outcome for the picturesque river side field was if things were to change. And at last, that is exactly what has happened

The name White Mills comes from the name of the mills that were once situated along Station Road, adjacent to Lock 9 on the River Nene. Way back they were used as fulling mills, before becoming mills for corn. They changed ownership several times over the decades, and were last inhabited by the Miss Bradshaws before being demolished by the Home Guard in 1939/1940. The names of our pontoons are after some of the more well known residents of White Mills: Bradshaw, Tooley and Arnold

The field on which White Mills Marina stands has been part of Pastures Farm for over 30 years and is just a stone’s throw away from our family home. Pastures Farm was originally a mixed farm with around 400 sheep, today it is mainly arable although we are lucky enough to have a 27-acre Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at the heart of the farm, which features the county’s second largest reed bed. We are totally spoiled as the reed bed is the home to a diverse range of birds and other wildlife, and an area of the Northamptonshire countryside that is becoming increasingly popular with walkers and bird watchers. We feel so very lucky to have something so special on our doorstep

Needless to say, we are thoroughly looking forward to watching the marina develop and of course, welcoming boats of all shapes and sizes to our brand new purpose built facility. We know everyone who visits will soon see for themselves what a fabulous and stunningly beautiful river the River Nene really is”

11. Well done White Mills! Next up is the lock…

…after which join the road & turn right across the Nene & then the older bridge over the old mill race

12. Just after turn left & follow the small stream which looks quite enticing as a fisherman…

Fishing round here is pretty restricted to local angling clubs. Ignore where the path opens up into a car park & keep straight ahead besides the river

13. For the next few miles we’re going to be reminded of why the Nene Valley has so many lakes along it. This has been, & still is, a major area for gravel extraction & many of the wetlands now have protected wildlife status. On the right of the path, extraction is still happening on a large scale…


Pass through the gate at the end of the track & we’re once again by the river which is now really wide…

14. The next lock’s now coming up. What concerned us what the sheer number of ponies along this stretch that didn’t appear to be in particularly good condition

The Nene Way splits at this point with an arm going left over the lock. The more direct route which we choose is straight on past more lakes on the right

You wouldn’t want to get into trouble here though, but who would want to go swimming anyway?

15. Ahead now is the road & Hardwater Mill. As you walk around the mill pond look out for the mill’s own hydro-electric power generator. We’ve seen one on a larger scale on the Thames near Oxford, but this is equally impressive…

The mill is simply stunning & today offers luxury self-catering accommodation. It was given by William the Conqueror to his daughter after the Norman Conquest in 1066 & is named after a nearby spring whose water left marks because it was so hard. Legend has it that Thomas a Becket hid here on his escape from Northampton Castle

It ceased to be a mill after World War II

16. Exit the gate & carefully walk across the narrow bridge – there’s no pedestrian path

Once across look out for a footpath sign showing the Nene Way entering another field & heading towards Great Doddington where we’ll have a refreshment break. The route however veers away from the river towards a gate in the hedge beside the telegraph pole

This is one of the few uphill sections on this stage & the path’s well marked as it passes straight through another field (ignore the path going off to the right) to exit near some barns into the village

17. And…welcome to Great Doddington whose original name ‘Dodda’s Tun’ probably refers to an Anglo-Saxon leader ‘Dodda’ establishing a stronghold in a strategic position overlooking the Nene Valley. The Domesday Book records the principal landowner as Judith, widow of Waltheof II, Earl of Northumbria

Turn right along Lower Street…

…which rejoins the main road through the village at the green, which is a pleasant area with a bench if you wish to rest for a while

18. We’re not quite at halfway, but the Stag’s Head slightly further on is an ideal refreshment stop. Parts of it date back over 300 years & you’ll get a friendly welcome – dogs are allowed too

Once refreshed walk back in the direction we came from & turn left at the footpath sign down the hill…

…& walk across the first field – there’s normally lots of sheep in these fields so keep dogs on their leads. Pass through the gap into the second field & stand for a few moments to enjoy the magnificent view across the Nene Valley towards one of our favourite places…Summer Leys

19. Walk down the hill to arrive the old mill…

Now….we have a confession to make. We made a big mistake here & missed the path! Apparently you don’t walk through the gate, but simply turn left at it & then walk the next stretch to Wellingborough with the Nene on your right

We didn’t see the sign & walked through the gate, over the river & then turned right at a footpath sign on the other side. So we’re still going to show you where we walked through the gate on the left

There was a swan here that was really teaching a cygnet who was boss!

20. Once again the river is quite wide & sedate along here & the familiar sights of Wellingborough soon start coming into view…firstly the mothballed prison & then the Whitworth factory

Opened as a Borstal in 1963, Wellingborough continued to hold Young Offenders until 1990, when it was changed into a Category C Training Prison for male adults. In December 2003, an inspection report from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons stated that Wellingborough was not meeting the criteria for its role as a training prison. Inspectors found that only half the prisoners were working or in education, with the other half locked up for extended periods of time. The report also noted that the prison had an out of date race relations policy. However, inspectors also highlighted Wellingborough’s good overall safety record, as 80% of inmates reported that they felt safe & 75% reported that staff treated them with respect. Wellingborough was also praised for its induction programme & reception procedures

On 17 July 2012, UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced that HMP Wellingborough would be closed by the end of the year, claiming it would save the tax payer £10m a year. The prison formally closed on 21 December 2012. At the time prisons minister Jeremy Wright indicated that the site could be used as a prison again in the future, however, in December 2013 the Ministry of Justice instructed a commercial property consultant to make initial assessments of the site for redevelopment as housing. In June 2014 Jeremy Wright stated in a parliamentary written answer to Wellingborough constituency MP Peter Bone that Wellingborough Prison would be retained in a mothballed state for reserve capacity

21. It was on reaching the broken fence that we realised we were on the wrong side of the river & could also see a Nene Way marker on the other side. However, we decided it was too far to walk back & looked to find a solution! At least spring 2018 was trying to make an appearance…

We managed to find a tributary to walk along & then cross a bridge which took us up to the Wollaston Road where we could walk back under the bridge to the Whitworth’s factory where the Nene Way continues

Whitworths is a dried fruit, home baking & snack products company, established in 1886. The company was begun by the three Whitworth brothers John, Herbert & Newton trading under the name of Whitworth Bros. In 1971 they were awarded the Royal Warrant by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother & in 1974 by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2016 they purchased Carr’s Flour Mills Ltd for £36m from Carr’s Group PLC, making them the market leader in the UK flour market

22. Cross the river & then turn down along what’s called the Embankment – be prepared to be accosted by swans which are numerous along here

Continue along the hard path beside the river & underneath the footbridge where the hard path ends & becomes grass once more

23. Just after the end of the path, pass through a gate into the fields once more – the Nene widens considerably again at this point as it enters more water meadows…

There’s evidence here that this area floods during wet times as there are several bridges to cross, even though many of them are over dry beds

24. Ahead’s a familiar sight from one of our other walks from Irchester Country Park. This bridge across the river’s part of that path & the notice attached to it says that it will be closed on 23rd December 2011 for 6 months for repairs – that will be 7 years this year then…

It’s the responsibility of the County Council & we all know the financial situation there in 2018!

25. An impressive structure comes up next…the Wellingborough viaduct which carries the Midland Main Line across the river valley. It was opened in May 1857 & stands 350 foot high

Walk through the arch & continue beside the river. Across the other bank is a large lake &, in the past we have seen people water-skiing on it

26. On reaching the weir do not walk across it, but keep round to the left following the smaller arm of the river

After passing through a gate, we start to come back into civilisation once more as we approach Ditchford Lane…

…to arrive at the beautiful Ditchford Bridge

27. Cross carefully over the road & through the gate on the other side. Look across to the right to see the Kasa Lake alpacas. After a couple of hundred yards the path goes through another gate onto a grass track that passes through some strange outbuildings. We were unsure what it was actually being used for

Over to the right through the trees you can start to see the revamped Rushden Lakes complex

28. Indeed, as we get nearer there are several sign posted paths to the shops! The river becomes wide & slow once more as several new tributaries join it. Cross the bridge…

…to arrive at the next one where, if you wish to visit Rushden Lakes, cross it…

29. Our route though is straight ahead, still keeping the Nene on the right

The dual carriageway to the right’s very noisy now, but we’re entering a small haven…Higham Ferrers Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve

Higham Ferrers Pits is a 10 hectare nature reserve, managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire

30. It’s time to leave the river for a time so, at the bridge, walk up the slope & cross the busy A45

Once across walk straight on past the lake, through the railings & then turn left into the pocket park

31. Follow the path through the park through a woodland area that, when we walked it, had an amazing, strong smell of wild garlic. Eventually the path arrives at a grassy area with some new houses…

It’s not plainly obvious where to go to now as the route directly ahead appeared to be blocked, so we chose to walk through the houses, making sure we were heading west to eventually pass a school down Parker Way & arrive back on the edge of the houses once more

Pass down the narrow alley to the junction of paths, turning left to be back on the Nene Way once more…

32. The bridge crosses the A45 again. We’re now on the East Northamptonshire Greenway

The East Northamptonshire Greenway (the Greenway) makes attractive & safer walking & cycling routes available in the heart of the Nene Valley. It’s being developed in phases, some of which are already completed & others will follow within the next few years

The Greenway will help connect East Northamptonshire’s communities to a central route that will run from Wellingborough Railway Station in the south & to Peterborough railway station in the north and vice-versa. It will link open spaces together with opportunities for informal recreation & alternative means of transport to services & facilities. The project will also provide safe routes for young people who walk & cycle to school

33. The area we’re now entering is the Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows Nature Reserve which covers 290 acres & is another reserve that’s managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire

Instead of carrying straight on though, we turn right through the gap at the signpost…

…& continue past Higham Ferrers lock

34. At the old railway bridge, climb up the steps onto the old railway track & cross the bridge…

…passing under the road bridge ahead

35. We’ve walked along parts of the old railway line several times before &, if you continue straight ahead, you’ll arrive at the Stanwick Lakes complex. The Nene Way goes off in a different direction so after passing through the gate, turn left up the road heading towards Irtlingborough…

Cross the river bridge & feel slightly sad as we wave goodbye to the Nene on this stage as it disappears into the distance

36. The old road we’re on meets the busy newer one…

…& passes a very derelict site that was once Nene Park & the excellent football stadium of Rushden & Diamonds FC

Nene Park was a sports stadium which could accommodate 6,441 spectators. Beginning in February 1992, soon after the merger between Rushden Town & Irthlingborough Diamonds, the ground was radically redeveloped at an estimated cost of £30 million. The new structures were officially opened in April 1995 by HRH The Prince of Wales

Development of the rest of the ground were completed over the next few years & the new complex was opened on 16 July 1998, by club chairman Max Griggs. During the 1997/1998 season, improvements were made to the adjacent training ground. New dressing rooms were constructed beside pitch two, with two entirely new training pitches (three & four) added to the Nene Park complex. Shortly before the 2000–01 season, the Dr. Martens Sports & Exhibition Centre was opened, which included a gymnasium, recreational facilities & offices. An all-weather pitch was developed later on in the season to complete the work

In the mid 2000s, the all-seater Airwair Stand, the stadium’s biggest, was closed. Falling attendances meant that keeping it open had become uneconomic, although it was opened when large numbers of travelling fans were expected, with a potential capacity of 2,372 if required

Nene Park was to be used as a training camp for athletes ahead of the 2012 London Olympics. In September 2014, developers Rose Property Consultants announced plans to demolish Nene Park to make way for a leisure park, consisting of a multi-use football facility along with entertainment & retail zones. On 27 February 2017 demolition started on the Nene Park site

37. And this sad sight is where this leg on the Nene Way ends. Looking back it’s been a most enjoyable section which has seen the river change many times, but overall continue to grow as it continues eastward

The next section takes us along the longest section from Irthlingborough to Barnwell where it will become even more navigable & much busier