Northamptonshire is a county passed by, a narrow scarf thrown diagonally over the waist of the country. Consequently, travellers hurry across leaving the real county behind, happily un-touristed – a lost pre-war England. It is a hunting county, littered with lodges and forest clearings; a richer Cotswolds, multicoloured in villages with dark, golden iron and oolitic silver limestone. Here is our native Da Vinci Code mystery in the crowded recusant symbolism of Rushton’s Triangular Lodge, next to the most sinister of cold baths, sunken in a shadowy grove of springs.
Stoke Park’s twin garden temples are Michelangelesque designs, worked up in faithful proxy by Inigo Jones: the most perfect High Renaissance pavilions in Britain or even in Italy. Nothing at Kew equals the sultry orchidaceous poetry of the domed Palm House in the Italian Garden at Castle Ashby, poised above a deep octagonal fish pool. Thanks to the inspired initiative of Gervase Jackson-Stops, an imaginative Rococo-style maze of vistas and classical and Gothick pastiche has grown up around his restored Georgian Menagerie at Horton. In another contemporary response, that sad loop of islanded waters with Princess Diana’s temple at Althorp has become a garden Lourdes to her memory, peopled each day by pilgrims to royal nostalgia.
Tempus Publishing £17.99 (June 2008)
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