Once closely linked with England’s steel industry, Corby was known as “Little Scotland” in the 20th century when thousands of steelworking families from Glasgow settled in the town.
That industry has disappeared since the 1970s, and now country parks and ponds sit where steelworks and quarries used to be.
The town suffered with the loss of its industry, but is finding its feet with a long-term regeneration that has seen the town reconnected to England’s railway network.
Corby is also a convenient jumping off point for distinguished country houses, like Kirby Hall, Deene Park, Rockingham Castle and the incomplete Lyveden New Bield.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Corby:
1. Kirby Hall
Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I and court favourite built this magnificent country house in 1570. Kirby Hall is an early example of a Prodigy House, a high-luxury residence designed to accommodate the queen on her Royal Progress around England.
The enormous mansion was altered over the next few decades, becoming one of England’s first Classical houses.
Today Kirby Hall in a state of semi-ruin, with big portions of the house missing a roof, but the abundant exterior decoration survives, while the state rooms and Great Hall are intact and furnished as they would have been in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The formal gardens have been restored and have an ornate cutwork design, embellished with urns and statues from the time of the fourth Christopher Hatton in the late 17th century.
2. East Carlton Country Park
In beautiful rural scenery on the edge of the Welland Valley, East Carlton Park makes up the grounds of the namesake country house.
Designed like a French château in 1870 East Carlton Hall is now a private residence, but the coach house and stables have been turned into an interesting heritage centre mapping Corby’s history and former steel industry.
There are also craft workshops on the upper floor where you can see traditional skills in action, and a cafe for light meals and snacks.
Outside are some heavy-duty artefacts from Corby’s old Stewarts and Lloyds Ltd steelworks, including a locomotive and drag line bucket.
Beyond that, East Carlton Country Park offers restorative walks with distant views across the valley, as well as a children’s play area a few steps from the heritage centre.
3. Corby Cube
Testament to the regeneration work in Corby over the last decade, the attention-grabbing Corby Cube is a multi-use building completed in 2010. Inside there’s a public library, council chamber, a registry office as well as two theatres (the Core), seating 450 and 100. And although the project was controversial, especially for the amount of money spent on it, the Core at Corby is a prized community resource.
The theatres have a calendar packed with plays, musicals, comedy and live music, and there’s often something happening for kids, be it interactive science workshops, a “family rave” or live shows starring children’s TV characters.
4. Rockingham Castle
You’ll know why this spot was chosen for a fortification as soon as you glimpse the far-ranging vistas over the Welland Valley and the villages of Caldecott and Rockingham from this elevated position.
Various kings visited Rockingham up to Edward III in the 14th century and in that time it was reinforced with stone.
By the Tudor period the castle was in disrepair and was bought from Henry VIII by Sir Edward Watson to be turned into a country house.
Watson’s descendants still live at Rockingham, and on the free-flowing tour the highlights are the Medieval Great Hall, which has portraits of Elizabeth I and members of her court and the sumptuous adjoining Panel Room, created by Watson at the turn of the 17th century.
Dividing the 17th-century formal terrace gardens is the huge, 400-year-old Elephant Hedge.
5. Lyveden New Bield
Owned by the National Trust, Lyveden New Bield is a summer house that has been frozen mid-construction after its owner Sir Thomas Tresham died in 1605. Built up to the second floor, Lyveden New Bield is in great shape considering it has been abandoned for four centuries.
The mullioned windows are intact, and like another Tresham property, which we’ll visit later, the building’s exterior is suffused with religious symbolism like the IHS christogram emblems on the frieze.
In 2010 the National Trust studied Second World War Luftwaffe aerial photos of the estate and found traces of an Elizabethan orchard and labyrinth.
Since then the orchard has been replanted, while the moat on three sides of the labyrinth has been restored.
6. Deene Park
Home to the Brudenell family for more than 500 years, Deene Park is a country house with a history beginning in the 14th century.
Most of the architecture is Tudor and Georgian, and open days you’ll get to see a minimum of seven rooms, each with its own style.
In the 16th-century Great Hall there are stained glass windows with various family coats of arms.
The Georgian Bow Room holds the rich library collected by scholarly family members in the 1500s and 1600s.
There are dignified portraits in the Drawing Room, while the Dining Room has a painting depicting James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan leading the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.You can come for a tour on Sundays from the end of April to the start of September, and then on Wednesdays for the rest of the month of September.
7. Fineshade Wood
This ancient mixed broadleaf and confer woodland is partly made up of Rockingham’s former royal hunting forest.
Fineshade Wood has a network of waymarked walking and cycling trails and there’s a caravan park open from Easter to October.
The woods support large numbers of breeding birds like woodcocks, nightingales, willow tits, tree pipits and nightjars, and you may see a red kite swooping overhead.
For hundreds of years the trees in Fineshade Wood were coppiced, and their timber harvested to make charcoal, so it can be a minor thrill to think that the trees you see now were shaped by human hands centuries ago.
8. Lyddington Bede House
Next door to the parish church in the village of Lyddington is a remnant of a palace built for the Bishops of Lincoln in the 12th century.
At the start of the 17th century the building was owned by Sir Thomas Cecil, who was the son of Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister.
He turned it into an almshouse for 12 bedesmen (poor elderly men whose duty it was to pray for their benefactor), as well as two women aged 45 and above.
The Bede House is looked after by English Heritage, and you can visit the bedesmen’s compact rooms, with dinky fireplaces and windows.
On the first floor the Great Chamber is magnificent for its delicately carved ceiling cornice.
9. Rushton Triangular Lodge
Sir Thomas Tresham, who started but never finished Lyveden New Bield, had a difficult life.
As a devout Catholic he spent 15 years in prison in the late 16th century.
When he got out in 1593 he set about building this folly on estate at Rushton, 15 minutes from southwest of Corby.
Rushton Hall is now a luxury hotel and spa, but the Triangular Lodge folly is an English Heritage site in a wonderful state of preservation.
The number 3 recurs throughout, defiantly symbolising the Holy Trinity and Tresham’s Catholic faith.
The lodge has three sides, each 33 feet long and three storeys high, and with rows of three gables and three trefoil windows.
And around the building’s frieze are three Latin bible inscriptions, each with 33 letters.
10. Fermyn Woods Country Park
Ten minutes southeast of Corby there’s a blissful patch of countryside on the site of an old ironstone quarry.
Fermyn Woods has a mix of forest, ponds, meadows and marshes and is visited for family walks, fishing and wildlife spotting.
The waymarked trails all begin at the park’s visitor centre, home to a cafe inside and children’s playground.
The walls of the cafe are clad with information boards about the wildlife in the park in different seasons.
The main pond is in an old quarry pit and has a profusion of carp, rudd and roach, and fishing tickets are available from the box at the visitor centre.
The ancient Fermyn Woods lie just to the north of the visitor centre and surrounded by the historic oak and ash trees are three Danish shelters where you can camp for the night.
11. Corby Boating Lake
A treasured family facility in the middle of the town, Corby Boating Lake was built on an old industrial site in the 1970s.
At this welcome pocket of nature there’s a lakeside cafe, picnic area and two children’s playgrounds, while the Corby & District Model Boat Club uses the lake on Thursdays and Sundays.
This body of water has become a haven for wildlife over the last 40 years, drawing herons, kingfishers and gulls, as well as typical wildfowl like geese and swans.
Coarse fishing can be done with a day ticket, provided you follow the lake’s guidelines.
12. West Lodge Rural Centre
Open all year round, West Lodge Rural Centre is a day out for children set on a farm, with a schedule of fun and educational activities that changes with the seasons.
On a normal summer’s day kids can take pony rides, pet small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs, meet the kid goats, groom donkeys, watch a piglet race and even build their own den from undergrowth.
Open all day is the Adventure Barn, with a lovingly designed playground that has tree houses and bridges.
At the Demonstration Barn you can watch farmyard tasks like sheep shearing, lambing and cow milking.
13. West Glebe Park
Walking distance from Corby High Street, West Glebe Park is where the town comes to be active.
On these open fields are full-size and floodlit six-a-side football pitches, a multi-use games area for basketball and tennis, a skate park and BMX track.
The sports facilities are complemented by the West Glebe Park Pavilion, which has a bar and community room.
In mid-July the Corby Carnival takes place in Corby Park, raising funds for charity with a parade and market stalls.
14. Corby East Midlands International Pool
The town has a full-size competition swimming pool, which opened as part of a £19m complex in 2009. The international pool is quite a sight and an inspiring place to get a few laps in.
There’s also a toddlers’ pool, and a pirate-themed pool for bigger kids, with a long, spiralling flume that descends from the ceiling.
The centre’s other facilities are great too, like a 70-station gym and a spa area with a jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.
15. Great Oakley Meadow
There’s a diverting trace of Corby’s rural past at this meadow protected as a nature reserve by the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs & Northants.
On this field you’ll see the ripples in the land known as ridge and furrow, left behind by a Medieval ploughing system.
These old farms have their own ecosystems, as a colourful range of wild grasses and flowers like cowslips and quaking grass grow on the drier ridges, while the damper furrows are less fertile and have tufted hair-grass and meadow fescue.
Birds like fieldfares and redwings come to forage on the meadow and in the hedges in winter, and in summer you can observe flocks of swallows, house martins and swifts.