Enjoy a riverside meander around the Northamptonshire town of Oundle.
Distance 6.8 miles (10.9km)
Minimum time 3hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 115ft (35m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Waterside meadows and farmland tracks. Small weir near Cotterstock may be impassable after very heavy rain
Landscape Winding river valley with woods and open pasture
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 227 Peterborough
Start/finish TL 042881
Dog friendliness On lead through fields of livestock
Parking Oundle town centre (long-stay car park off East Road)
Public toilets By short-stay car park off St Osyth's Lane, Oundle
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1 From the end of Market Place, in the centre of Oundle, walk down St Osyth's Lane past the supermarket until it curves right, then go straight on into Bassett Ford Road. Where this bends left into Riverside Close go ahead to the gate at the end. There are two riverside walks indicated - make sure to go half left across the field and follow the bank downstream (not over the footbridge ahead).
2 For the next 2¼ miles (3.6km) the route follows the bank of the Nene as it completes a giant loop. Go underneath Oundle bypass and eventually out by open meadows.
3 Eventually, beyond a weir, you reach a long, high footbridge where you have the chance to cross the river for a visit to the picturesque village of Ashton, a round trip of ¾ mile (1.2km). Otherwise continue straight ahead and back under the bypass to reach the old bridge.
4 Cross over the road and turn right. On the far side of the river turn left at the Riverside Walk sign, past the boat sheds, and strike out along the flat eastern bank of the Nene via two weirs. The second can be tricky if the water level is very high, in which case retrace your steps to the road bridge and take the field path and then lane further to the east.
5 Cross the river via the so-called 'guillotine' lock and continue to the lane at the far end by a converted corn mill. Turn left and walk through the pretty village of Cotterstock, and after 550 yards (503m) turn left before a red telephone box for a narrow path between a fence and hedge.
6 This heads out along the left-hand side of an open field, then beside a narrow plantation with the river on the far side. Continue past a small sewage works and directly down through two more fields before reaching a playing field.
7 Half-way along the pitch turn left for a gap in the hedge and a boardwalk out to the Nene - this is a permissive route through Snipe Meadow nature reserve. Turn right and walk along the river bank until just before the bridge, then head right for Oundle Wharf. Go through a field beside the buildings to reach New Road.
8 Turn left and walk to the end, then right into Station Road/North Street to return to the town centre.
The popular paths along this stretch of the Nene form part of 'Oundle Riverside Walks', a series of routes that are usefully waymarked and described on a leaflet available from the tourist information centre on West Street, Oundle. Some of it is also the route of the Nene Way, a long distance recreational trail of 110 miles (177km) that follows the course of the river from one of its three sources near Badby in Northamptonshire across Cambridgeshire to its mouth at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire, where it exits into the Wash.
During its early, meandering progress through Northamptonshire the Nene is rich in deposits of sand and gravel, and their extraction has left a long series of pits and lakes around Northampton, Wellingborough and Thrapston that are now used for recreation and conservation. One collection can be found just to the south of Oundle, and since their abandonment in the 1960s they have been transformed into Barnwell Country Park, a popular outdoor area with a visitor centre and wildlife garden.
The Nene is navigable from Northampton, where its three tributaries combine and an arm of the Grand Union Canal joins the river at Cotton End Lock. It forms an important part of Britain's inland waterways system, linking the Grand Union Canal to the River Great Ouse via what's known as the Middle Level System. Beyond Peterborough the Nene crosses the Fens and becomes a totally different river, often canalised and carefully regulated, and tidal over the last 26 miles (42km) below Dog in a Doublet Lock. Befittingly for a river so varied in character, its name (which has been variously spelt Nen, Nien and Ninne in the past) is also subject to different pronunciation. In most of Northamptonshire it's pronounced 'Nen', but downstream from Thrapston it tends to be called 'Neen'.
Oundle is famous for its public school, which is housed in a series of impressive buildings around the town. The original Laxton Grammar School was boys-only, but today Oundle School takes both sexes. Most of the buildings in the centre of Oundle, fortunately preserved by a conservation order, are built from local limestone with Collyweston slate roofs (a gentle blue-green tile). They span several centuries, and include the Talbot Hotel, said to incorporate a stone staircase taken from the ruins of Fotheringhay Castle, and St Peter's Church, whose 208ft (63m) spire is visible from the riverside path. Oundle Museum, on Mill Street and open weekend afternoons (March to November), explores the town's development over the last 2,000 years, and includes Roman and Saxon finds.
Fotheringhay, 2 miles (3.2km) north of Oundle, is forever associated with Mary, Queen of Scots. She was held captive at the castle and, following a dubious charge of treason, was beheaded there in 1587. The castle was subsequently destroyed, but among the fine buildings that remain is the striking Church of St Mary and All Saints, with dedications to Richard of York who was born at Fotheringhay Castle and met his end at Bosworth Field.
There are plenty of choices in Oundle, including the Coffee Tavern on Market Place, and the unspoilt Ship Inn on West Street (the main shopping street). An off-route excursion to the nearby village of Ashton is recommended for its recently restored thatched pub, the Chequered Skipper, which every October hosts the World Conker Championships.
The Nene below Oundle is ready-made for kingfishers, but you will have to tread softly and be watchful. They can be seen perched on the overhanging branches and vegetation that adorn the often slow-moving river, occasionally darting down to dive for a fish. In flight the bird is an unmistakable and dazzling blue flash that skims fast and low above the water.