This route links three delightful villages west of Northampton.
Distance 6.8 miles (10.9km)
Minimum time 3hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 787ft (240m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Mostly pasture, muddy where cows congregate, 22 stiles
Landscape Undulating hills covered with fields, woods and parkland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 207 Newport Pagnell & Northampton South
Start/finish SP 560590
Dog friendliness Plenty of livestock, so strict control necessary, lots of stiles
Parking On Main Street, Badby
Public toilets None on route (nearest in Daventry)
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1 Walk up to Badby church via Vicarage Hill (off which is Britain's only thatched youth hostel). Take the alleyway path signposted 'Fawsley', opposite the south side of the church, then half right up a sloping field for a path around the western edge of Badby Wood, famous for its springtime bluebells.
2 After about ¼ mile (400m) take the right fork (upper path), and follow waymarks for the Knightley Way out across the open hilltop of Fawsley Park and down towards the lakes near the hall.
3 Go ahead along the lane at the bottom to inspect the church, otherwise turn left, and in a few paces left again (before the cattle grid) for a footpath that heads up and across a large sloping field. Go through a gate and down a track to the road, then resume opposite climbing steadily through fields, passing Westcombe Farm on the left. Continue across Everdon Hill and down to the village of Everdon below, joining a lane via a stile to the right as you near the bottom.
4 Walk through the village, following the road as it bends left past the church and pub, and turn left for the lane to reach Little Everdon. When the road appears to split go ahead/left for a path via stiles to the left of the farm buildings. This continues out across open fields, with Everdon Hall to your right. On the far side, pass the end of a strip of trees and maintain your north westerly direction to carry on through four more fields and reach the river (aim just to the right of the Newnham's church spire when it comes into view).
5 Cross the Nene via a footbridge and walk uphill through one field, then veer left in the second to cross a third, and drop down to pick up a farm drive which, beyond a gate, becomes Manor Lane. Walk on to join the main street.
6 Turn left and drop down past the pub by the green and continue along Badby Road out of the village. In 150yds (137m) go left for field-edge paths alongside the infant River Nene.
7 Go over the footbridge at the end and walk half left through the field ahead, keeping left of the clump of trees in the middle and aiming for Badby church. At the far corner turn right into Chapel Lane to return to the centre of Badby.
Between Badby and Fawsley you will be following the Knightley Way, a handily waymarked trail that stretches 12 miles (19.4km) from Badby to Greens Norton, near Towcester, and is named after the family that lived at Fawsley Hall for 500 years.
The Knightleys moved to Fawsley from Staffordshire in the 1600s and, although considerably refashioned several hundred years later, the original vaulted Great Hall of their Tudor mansion is retained in what is now a country hotel, complete with Georgian and Victorian wings. It also boasts the Queen Elizabeth I Chamber, named after the monarch who apparently stayed in the very room while on a visit in 1575.
In addition to the new house the Knightleys also 'imparked' the village, which meant that they created their own private parkland, turning local arable land into pasture for their animals and in the process evicting most of the village. This explains why only the 14th-century Church of St Mary is left, standing isolated before the hall. It contains the tomb of Sir Richard Fawsley, knighted by Henry VIII, while a later Sir Richard also enjoyed royal connections and was one of the witnesses at the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The English Midlands have a particularly high proportion of deserted villages and, as the county of 'spires and squires', Northamptonshire's gentry was quite adept at turfing out the commoners without a moment's notice. Time and again the villagers were squeezed out so his lordship could graze his flocks of sheep or herds of cattle, or fatten up his all-important deer without interference. Enclosure was at its height in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and not helped by depopulation through plagues.
Two hundred years later, when the fashion for grand landscaped parks was reaching its height, buildings and sometimes even whole communities were moved so that the view from the main house or hall across the parkland could be 'improved' and uninterrupted. For instance, the old village of Wimpole was moved to a new site outside the park boundary, and on the Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire the original village of Edensor was moved because it supposedly spoilt the Duke of Devonshire's view from the house.
The term 'park' originally meant simply a piece of ground used for hunting, and enclosure through imparking ultimately led to the creation of the numerous stately parks that you see scattered across the Midlands today. Other notable Northamptonshire estates include the Marquess of Northampton's Castle Ashby and Althorp, seat of the Spencer family, while across the Befordshire border is the Duke of Bedford's 3,000-acre (1,215ha) Woburn Abbey.
The two pubs in Badby both serve food lunchtime and evenings, and have outside seating. The Maltsters does a good line in lunchtime baguettes, while the Windmill's menu is more upmarket. The Plough at Everdon is an attractive, family-friendly village pub which serves food Wednesday to Sunday, while in Newnham the food-serving pub is the Romer Arms. Both Newnham and Badby also have post office stores.
From Everdon Hill you look towards Canons Ashby House to the south, named after an Augustinian priory that once stood on the site. Although only the Church of St Mary survives from that time, the Elizabethan manor house that succeeded it has been kept more or less intact and unaltered, and today is in the safe hands of the National Trust (open March to October).
As you make your gentle descent through fields towards the River Nene, between Everdon and Newnham, you'll notice that one in particular is characterised by a series of long undulating ripples, like grassy waves. This is a legacy of the medieval farming practice of ridge and furrow, when the land was ploughed in long, narrow strips, which over time left a pattern of parallel ridges that endures to this day. It's a bit like walking on oversized corduroy.