The Northampton train station serves London in just over an hour and Birmingham in just under. This is a town most people will have passed through at some point.
We were in Northampton for our first long stay house/pet sit, with Luna the beautiful Shepherd 🐶 The closest we’d been previously (and on the same train line) is Rugby, birthplace of the game of the same name.
There is so much to see and do in this cute market town. Next time you’re on the west coast mainline get off at Northampton train station and see for yourself.
Northampton train station and destination guide
As the county town of Northamptonshire, Northampton is steeped in history, with archaeological evidence dating back as far as the bronze age.
It wasn’t until thousands of years later that the town grew in national importance, following the building of Northampton Castle in 1084.
It went on to become one of the most famous Norman castles in England, an occasional royal residence and regular host of parliament.
Unfortunately, there’s not much left to see. Charles II ordered the destruction of the town walls and most of the castle in 1662 after the town supported the roundheads in the English Civil War.
The rest of the castle was flattened to make way for the train line. The Poster Gate only remains visible today. It was dismantled from its original position and rebuilt into the walls of Northampton railway station.
The town was hit by more destruction in 1675 with the Great Fire of Northampton. This fire destroyed an estimated 600 buildings. Although, Welsh House on Market Square and Hazelrigg House both survived. They are now Grade II listed buildings worth a visit.
Where to visit in Northampton
Abington Park was just up the road from where we were staying on our house sit, and it’s beautiful!
The park was built on the site of a medieval manor house and mill which was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It’s Northampton’s oldest and most popular park. Some of the ruins are really interesting, reminiscent of what you can find in York.
The park features two lakes, a model boating lake and the church of St Peter and St Paul. It’s home to Abington Park Museum, which is housed in Abington Park Manor House.
It won’t come as any surprise to hear that the town is home to a museum of Leathercraft, also based in the house.
What’s with all the shoes?
Northampton has long been a major centre for footwear and leather manufacturing. By the end of the 18th century, a third of all adult males in the town were making shoes. It also supplied the British army with more than 23 million pairs of boots for World War I.
Barkers, Churches and Trickers are three of the most famous names to come out of the town. Although Churches, which was founded in 1873, is no longer a family run business after it was bought by Prada in 1999.
Trickers might be the least known name on the list, despite having a royal warrant. That’s because 80% of their sales come from overseas.
All three brands still have factories and factory shops in the town today.
This area was also famously the location for 2005’s Kinky Bootswhich was later turned into a popular Broadway production.
From shoes to shopping (for more shoes?)
Shopping is another reason to visit the market town. There are three shopping centres, including the Grosvenor Centre, Weston Favell and Market Walk shopping centre, which are home to all the high street favourites.
We also discovered some excellent vintage and second hand stores. A highlight is Vintage Guru spread across two floors and boasting many locally handmade gifts.
This is all as well as the widely acclaimed market, which has taken place in its present location since 1235!
So, if it’s history, some bargain leather or a sporting event, with both Northampton Town football club and Northampton Saints Rugby based just outside the town centre, there are plenty of reasons to visit.
Onwards on our house sitting journey: we went from here, a town all about shoes, to house sitting in an Irish town that’s all about hosiery. Find out more
With so many beautiful sites to visit, days out in Oxfordshire are becoming increasingly popular with all sorts of visitors. Around 41.7 million tourists are estimated to have visited the UK in 2018. Visitors come from far and wide to enjoy the aesthetics of Oxfordshire. Many want to see the architecture in the historic university buildings. After spotting famous landmarks, they’ll seek a picturesque picnic spot overlooking the Thames for a relaxing afternoon out.
We’ve published details on London staycations before. But what about getting just out of the big city? Here are four of the best destinations for enjoying days out in Oxfordshire…
Where to go on days out in Oxfordshire
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
Built between 1705 and 1722, Blenheim Palace in Woodstock is the only non-royal house in England to be called a ‘palace’. Blenheim is an imposing building, certainly worthy of its title. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Blenheim is now home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and his family. It’s best known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Several tours and exhibitions dedicated to the home life and work of the former Prime Minister are hosted here.
The palace staterooms, gardens, butterfly house and miniature railway provide further fun for all ages. Special events like cycling and supercar exhibitions are also held throughout the year within the estate’s 2,000 acres of parkland.
Broughton Castle near Banbury is a fortified manor house set within an idyllic parkland location. The core of this impressive building was initially crafted from locally sourced Horton ironstone in 1306 with additions being made in the 1550s.
Inside the castle, you will find fully furnished living quarters in addition to the impressive great hall.
Outside, the colourful castle gardens have been stylistically designed with benches conveniently placed for relaxation.
Located at the junction of three streams and with a surrounding moat, the stunning grounds of Broughton Castle make an ideal spot for a family picnic. Alternatively, take advantage of the on-site tearoom and gift shop.
A summary of beautiful locations wouldn’t be complete without featuring the city of Oxford itself.
Famed for its ornate university buildings, the colleges here provide an architectural feast for the eyes.
Christchurch is arguably the most popular college to visit. This castle-like building comes with its own cathedral and has featured on-screen in films such as Harry Potter.
The striking red brickwork of Lady Margaret College is another draw for visitors, along with the neo-classical style Radcliffe Camera building.
We recently had the opportunity to visit the lovely seaside city of Bournemouth for the weekend.
Actually, we’d intended to visit here for a long time. We have super lovely and creative friends from the Gold Coast who lived and worked here for a few years and loved it (shout out to Lou and Iain from P’s in a Pod); and as Aussies, we are always on the lookout for a ‘real’ beach.
As far as seaside cities here go, I’d describe Bournemouth as being a contemporary destination, conveniently located just two hours’ train ride from London; the beach is actually beautiful, there’s a pier, and plenty of bars, restaurants, serene hotels and accommodation to keep you happy for a sunny weekend escape.
We appreciated how the city has been designed – there’s a central mall with shopping – at the top of that is a spot called ‘the triangle’ that boasts some nice bars and eateries like Smokin’ Aces and Koh Thai. A wonderful park and landscaped garden area (including mini golf) leads explorers through the town towards the beach and Bournemouth Wheel. Either way along the beach you can wander the promenade and discover ice-cream, coffee, cocktails and markets. Truly charming.
We’re Australian and while we sometimes miss the sun and prawns at this time of the year, there’s a certain magic to Christmas in England.
We found extra sparkle in a special light tunnel – the Norwich Tunnel of Light, an easy day trip from London.
*Update: the Norwich Tunnel of Light is back in 2018 – make your way there to have a look, and let us know in the comments below what you think of it.
Christmas in England and a magical light tunnel
This unique Tunnel of Light Norwich installation is a one-of-a-kind in Europe and intended to simulate the Northern Lights (or aurora borealis).
The trip from Liverpool Street is about two hours to Norwich, and it’s well worth it for a few reasons:
The city has a really nice vibe and boasts clean streets, pretty views, a cathedral and cool pubs (important here in England!).
There are lovely markets in the city, undercover so it doesn’t matter if it’s raining. At the markets you’ll find sweet hand-made goods and delicious fresh food to get stuck into after a hard day’s worth of shopping. At Christmastime there are festive markets open too.
We discovered a fab little shop called Cupcakes & Bubbles – yep, champagne and sweet treats. Amazing.
Plenty of cute dogs in the area too, and it was lovely to see a group of people in the town centre raising awareness for Action for Greyhounds, an organisation that campaigns for these lovely dogs who can sometimes be mistreated when their owners are finished racing them.
If you visit Norwich, don’t miss a lovely waterside dining and entertainment precinct (just around the corner from the train station), Riverside Norwich.
Then of course there is their very special light tunnel, the Norwich Tunnel of Light, right in the city centre.
Light tunnel: magic in Norwich
For more on the area and the Tunnel of Light, take a look at the city’s official tourism site, Visit Norwich. We bought train tickets in advance on Trainline which meant for two of us it cost around £35 return trip on Greater Anglia trains.
There’s plenty of amazing festive experiences on offer at this time of year. You can travel within the UK, or might we suggest further afield to Amsterdam or Paris?
Let us know in the comment what your favourite thing to do in the holiday season is.
Broadstairs is part of the Thanet District in Kent, which includes two other major settlements, Margate and Ramsgate, that are both served by trains coming in and out of London.
It’s possible to walk or hike along the coast (being mindful of tide times), to enjoy the seven bays of Broadstairs.
If you take a look at a map, you’ll see that from the beach at Broadstairs you can wander left and you’ll come across Stone Bay, Joss Gap, Kingsgate Bay and Botany Bay before eventually coming into Margate.
To the right, you’ll discover Viking Bay, Louisa Bay and Dumpton Gap.
Actually, further along the coast in this direction you would come to Dover, which means directly across the water is France!
The Viking Coastal Path is a route you can walk along in either direction.
There are plenty of signposts showing where you are and also explaining the history of the bays, including smuggling, wartime and shipwreck stories.
Botany Bay, UK
We were destined for Botany Bay this particular weekend.
It took our fancy because it’s of the same name as somewhere very significant in our Australia’s own history; plus the spectacular chalky cliffs were something we wanted to view for ourselves.
Next time we visit, we will head to Ramsgate because the visitor information guide said there are really nice bars and facilities along the waterfront… my interest is piqued.
The scenery here is very ‘white cliffs of Dover’ style; dramatic and quintessentially English.
The beaches are real, so you can get sand between your toes, happy dogs can run, bark and play; and the air is crisp and fresh. Just what we all need to clear the mind and free the spirit.
Because we only had a few hours scheduled for our day trip to Kent, we didn’t end up walking from Broadstairs to Botany Bay.
Under normal circumstances this would take an hour, but we didn’t have the time to spare so jumped in a cab.
We want to give a shout-out to Broadstairs Taxis because the drivers who helped us were really friendly and informative.
Also, they sent a text to our phone to let us know how far away they were – all round good service. And, between one destination to another it was only £5.
Picture perfect days out in Kent
Botany Bay and neighbouring Kingsgate offer picturesque views on beautiful days out in Kent, like the one above.
I spotted a wedding shoot taking place on a cliff-top and a music video being shot beneath; a lone wind-surfer enjoying time on the waves and the beaches were pretty and rugged, winding around the coast.
We were rugged up but the visit here was a chance to satisfy a creative longing to video and photograph this country we’ve come to love so much.
Of course, it came time to eat, and we had our sights set on the Botany Bay Hotel, which offers pub-like dining in fine surrounds opposite the ocean at Botany Bay.
The place is really dog friendly (yay!) and quite well priced.
If you’re there as we were for lunch, you can’t book, but evening you can reserve a table.
You can stay in the hotel too, which is perfectly positioned for anyone who wants to spend more time playing, hiking, writing, photographing or simply being mindful by the sea.
After a big meal (and maybe a beer), you can walk off any indulgence by heading around the Viking Trail just ten minutes to Kingsgate Bay.
You’ll pass a golf range and spot the extremely grand Kingsgate Castle on the cliff overlooking the ocean (pictured above).
It’s now filled with apartments inside but looks really cool from the outside, and views include the sea doorway and white cliffs as pictured above.
If you’re thirsty after this coastal expedition (wandering along the top of the cliffs or walking down to the sea front below), you can pop into Captain Digby Tavern, another cliff-top pub.
Out and about on a day trip in Kent
Life certainly is better at the beach, and our day trip to Kent included breathing in the fresh ocean air, patting plenty of puppies, enjoying a pub lunch with a view and feasting on the scenery this coastline offers.
We can’t wait to get back this way, and would highly recommend the easy trip if you want to experience the English seaside.
Welcome to Travel Live Learn! We are Sarah + Cooper, Aussie expats living in the UK with our Westie dog, London, along for the ride. Our most popular content here is about pet friendly travel, house + pet sitting, and designing a life as expats or digital nomads wherever in the world you want to be.