• Laura Purkess

Arbury Hill, Northamptonshire

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Location: Badby, Northamptonshire

Nearest town: Daventry

Peak: 225 metres above sea level

Rank: 38/48

Difficulty: ★★

Date climbed: 18 August 2020

During a week-long holiday spent in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, we set ourselves a goal to tick off a few more high points in the Midlands. Having climbed to the summit of Warwickshire’s Ebrington Hill a few days earlier, we now turned our attention to neighbouring Northamptonshire.

From the outset, Northamptonshire’s highest hill was a pleasant surprise for us both. Without a single city, Silverstone racing circuit may be the county’s biggest attraction. Indeed, en route to the high point, born-and-bred South-Londoner Kieran said: ‘I feel like there isn’t much in it’.

If you, dear reader, are equally uninformed, here are some facts about the county:

  • Northamptonshire borders eight other counties: Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Rutland and Lincolnshire;

  • The border with Lincolnshire is England’s shortest administrative county boundary, at just 20 yards (19 metres) in length;

  • The county town of Northampton is one of the largest towns (as opposed to cities) in the UK, with a population of around 225,000 (2019);

  • Northamptonshire ranks 33/48 in terms of total population;

  • Its title, ‘The Rose of the Shires’, derives from the latin motto Rosa concordiae signum, which means ‘the rose, emblem of harmony’.

As with Warwickshire, we set out for a National Trust-county high point double. We only had two National Trust properties to choose from in Northamptonshire: one in the north-eastern corner and one in the south-western corner. Based on the location of the high point, we picked the south-western property: Canons Ashby (the other being Lyveden New Bield).

Canons Ashby House is a Grade I-listed Elizabethan manor house that has been under National Trust protection since 1981. Built in the 16th century, the house was constructed from the remains of a medieval priory that had been disbanded under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries a century earlier.

The house and gardens have survived, largely un-altered, since 1710, and thanks to the National Trust’s efforts, remain in full grandure (at least from the outside - Covid prevented us going inside). It is a truly tranquil spot - noticeably less busy than some other properties - and we would highly recommend, especially if you are a fan of hens, as they definitely rule the roost there and can be found wandering around the grounds.

Eight miles north of Canons Ashby lies the picturesque village of Badby, where we parked the car and set off towards the county high point, Arbury Hill. We followed a country lane westward for around one mile before turning south across a large sheep field that led up to the slopes of the hill. This was, like Rutland, a gentle ascent and more of a leisurely walk than a strenuous climb.

However, the summit offers panoramic views across Northamptonshire, especially looking north-east into the heart of the county, which consists of rolling green hills and many, many wind turbines. There is also a rope swing hanging from a tree, which Kieran would like me to mention so I can include this photo of him:

You can even see the lift-testing tower in Northampton - a 127m research facility and one of only two lift-testing facilities in the whole of Europe!

Fun fact: the British government set out to determine the exact diameter and magnitude of the Earth with a series of triangulation measurements, one of which was taken atop Arbury Hill. That survey took place in 1784! So, even the smallest summits have a large place in history.

Another fun fact: Northamptonshire actually has two equal high points that stand at 225 metres above sea level: Arbury Hill and appropriately-named Big Hill. However, with no public access to the summit of Big Hill, Arbury Hill has become the defacto county high point and the destination for all hill-bagging enthusiasts.

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