On exploring Northamptonshire the visitor finds himself travelling through the heart of England and of English history, through countryside rich in natural beauty, abounding with fine houses and wonderful churches. For 2000 years Northamptonshire has been the crucible of English history. It has heard the tramp of Roman legions marching northward by Watling Street, when the Romans went the Saxons invaded from the south and the Angles from the east to people it. Its forests were the hunting grounds of Danes and Normans.
The industrial aspect of Northampton, the county town, quickly gives way to broad landscapes broken by occasional farm buildings, especially to the south-west of the city. Across this part of the county, around Northampton, have fallen many of the darker shadows of English history.
The Battle of Northampton, fought at Hardingstone Fields in 1460, witnessed Henry VI's defeat at Yorkist hands - a crucial battle of the Wars of the Roses. Two centuries later during the Civil War, the Royalists camped at Northampton and Daventry before the two battles of Edgehill and Naseby - once again, vital conflicts in terms of English history. The county is also indirectly linked with American history and the American War of Independence, for the ancestors of George Washington lived at Sulgrave. Though far from the sea Northamptonshire offers many opportunities for water sports. Its canals, lakes, rivers and reservoirs are utilised to capacity. There is water cruising on the Grand Union Canal, which connects with the River Nene. Boating and angling are popular pastimes on the Nene.
Northamptonshire has often been referred to as ‘the county of squires and spires'. While the former have become fewer with the passing of time, the graceful broach spires (forming a single unit with their towers, without having a dividing parapet) are still familiar landmarks in the county, set amongst the trees of its rich pastureland.
Despite some industrial development, the northern part of the county remains agricultural in the main - here cattle graze in the picturesque water-meadows of the Nene Valley. Patches of woodland survive from the once vast Rockingham Forest, where kings of England hunted the fallow deer. The winding River Nene flows past one tiny hamlet that played an unhappy role in British history. At Fotheringhay, Mary, Queen of Scots was executed in 1587 for conspiring against the English throne - her hair, understandably, having turned completely grey after 19-years of imprisonment.