Traditionally a shoemaking town, Kettering was given a shot in the arm when it was joined to England’s growing train network in 1857. Most of the town dates from after this period, and in the 21st century Kettering is going through another big expansion.
On the leafy streets just south of the town centre sit the town museum and Perpendicular parish church, while the road Headlands is flanked by mansions for the shoe and boot factory owners.
You’ll stumble upon some invaluable pieces of heritage in the local countryside, like the Baroque Boughton Hall, an enigmatic 16th-century folly, a memorial for Edward I’s wife and one of only two ossuaries to be found in the UK.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Kettering:
1. Wicksteed Park
In 147 acres of greenery on Kettering’s southeast outskirts, Wicksteed Park is a family amusement park coming up for its centenary.
Perfect for children aged 5-11, the attraction opened soon after the First World War to celebrate the end of the conflict, becoming the UK’s second ever leisure park.
There are 30 rides at Wicksteed Park across five different zones.
Entry to the park is free, but you’ll purchase tickets to enter rides and attractions like the Pinfari rollercoaster, Rocky River Falls splash ride, the world’s oldest water chute (opened in 1926), along with a carousel, dodgems, miniature train, monorail, tree-top walk and much more.
You can hire a paddleboard, scale the 14-metre climbing wall or hire a rowboat for a gentle cruise on the lake.
Wicksteed Park also has seasonal events all year long, like a dress-up party for children at Halloween, fireworks on Guy Fawkes night and an Enchanted Forest at Christmas.
2. Boughton House
Unless you book a tour by appointment, the windows to visit this phenomenal country house are limited.
Boughton House only open for public tours at Easter and during August.
If you’re in Kettering at those times you have to jump at the chance.
The house, a seat of the Dukes of Buccleuch (the Montagu-Douglas-Scott family) has a 17th-century facade and mansard roof inspired by the French Baroque and containing a Medieval core.
The Dukes of Buccleuch have amassed astounding collections of tapestries, porcelain, furniture, carpets and fine art.
There are portraits by van Dyck and Gainsborough, and works by John Wootton and El Greco.
After seeing the house and its extravagant Baroque state rooms you can venture through the formal gardens, with terraces, walled garden and waterways that have just been restored after being neglected since the 18th century.
3. Montagu Monuments
The Boughton Estate is immense, covering about 11,00 acres on Kettering’s east side.
Within this is the village of Warkton, and inside the parish church there’s a set of memorials for important members of the Montagu family.
Carved from white marble in the 18th century, and housed in a purpose-built Baroque chancel, the four monuments are held as some the finest funerary works of art in the UK. The two most exquisite were sculpted by Frenchman Louis Francois Roubiliac for the 2nd Duke of Montagu (d. 1749) and his wife Lady Mary Churchill (d. 1751) and have breathtakingly rendered details like fur, folds in silk or feathers in the angels’ wings.
4. Rushton Triangular Lodge
The Catholic landowner Thomas Tresham spent 15 years in prison in the late-16th century for refusing to convert to Protestantism.
When he was released in 1593 he built this folly on his estate in protest and to affirm his Catholic faith.
Preserved by English Heritage, the Rushton Triangular Lodge is steeped in Catholic symbolism.
The number three, standing for the Holy Trinity, repeats throughout: The three-story lodge has three, 33-foot-long walls, each with three trefoil windows and capped with three gargoyles.
On the cornice of each facade are three Latin Biblical texts, each 33 letters in length.
5. Church of St Peter and St Paul
The parish church is a fine Perpendicular Gothic monument with a crocketed spire 55 metres tall.
it was mostly rebuilt in the 15th century and little is known about the church that came before.
The nave, chancel, aisles and chapels are all pretty much as they were in the 15th century, except for the addition of Victorian pews, while the east end of the chancel and the north doorway are from around the start of the 14th century.
In the north aisle there’s a faint 15th-century wall painting of St Roch, while the window in the south chapel has pieces of Medieval stained glass.
6. Manor House Museum
In the leafy space beside the parish church, the Manor House Museum charts Kettering’s past.
The museum covers the history of the borough with exhibits of archaeology, costume, natural history and geology.
In 2018 there was an engaging exhibition of artefacts unearthed in Kettering on loan from the British Museum, like the highly decorative Desborough Celtic mirror, a Roman figurine and a 1,500-year-old Saxon necklace.
The museum organises children’s workshops in the summer, while the Alfred East Art Gallery often screens acclaimed classic movies.
Suspiria and the Cabinet of Dr Caligari were on the programme for November 2018.
7. Eleanor Cross, Geddington
There’s a special piece of history in the nearby village of Geddington, where you’ll come across a Gothic Medieval monument at the junction of Bridge Street and West Street.
This is an Eleanor Cross, erected by Edward I in memory of his wife Eleanor of Castile who died at Harby in Nottinghamshire in 1290. As a tribute, the 12 places where her body rested on its long journey down to Westminster Abbey were marked with monuments.
Only three Eleanor Crosses survive, and the one in Geddington is the best preserved of all.
The triangular monument has profuse rosette diapering on its lower tier, with a crocketed hexagonal pinnacle above canopied statues.
8. The Yards
Off Market Street there’s a sign inviting you into The Yards, a little shopping district opened in 2015 and akin to a miniature Camden.
In a set of old workshops around a courtyard, The Yards has an array of independent traders selling vintage clothing, handmade cosmetics, international confectionery, and arts and crafts.
There’s a bar and kitchen with tables in the courtyard, putting on regular live music, while the whole place gets in the spirit of seasonal celebrations like Halloween, Christmas and Easter.
9. West Lodge Rural Centre
This working farm has been in the same family for three generations, and for the last 20 years has welcomed families onto its 540 acres for all sorts of fun.
Unlike many attractions of this kind, the West Lodge Rural Centre is open all year round, and has plenty of indoor space in barns for rainy days.
Children can play in the Adventure Barn, make friends with small animals like guinea pigs, take pony rides and tractor rides, and groom donkeys and ponies.
There are seasonal activities in autumn and winter like a witch’s house and spooky tractor rides at Halloween and Santa’s grotto at Christmas.
The ideal time to come though is summer for the many baby animals like kid goats and piglets.
10. Kelmarsh Hall and Gardens
A necessary excursion from April to October, Kelmarsh Hall is subtly magnificent Palladian house built in 1732 according to a design by James Gibbs.
The hall was praised for its understated beauty by the 20th-century architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner.
On a tour the first thing you’ll see is the Entrance Hall and its sumptuous plasterwork and Italian pink marble walls.
The Saloon is also memorable for its distant vistas over the parkland, chandeliers and polished floorboards.
The Chinese Room is lined with 300-year-old, hand-painted wallpaper.
The gardens are a Royal Horticultural Society Partner Garden, with a triangular walled garden and a 60-metre long border.
The roses are a delight in June, while all through spring there’s a riot of colour from the tree blossoms, daffodils , tulips and peonies.
11. Rothwell Bone Crypt
The Holy Trinity Church five miles away in the village of Rothwell holds one of only two known ossuaries in the United Kingdom in its crypt.
Known as a “Charnel House”, the bone crypt has the remains of about 1,500 people, dating from 1250 to 1900. Skulls are stacked on shelves around the walls, while there’s a pile of thigh bones in the centre.
Opening times are limited, and you can only get down to the crypt on Sunday afternoons.
The church above is unusually large for a village the size of Rothwell.
There are hints of the earliest Norman building in the rounded windows in the chancel, while the choir has seven misericords crafted in the 15th century (and one from the 1980s).
12. Lighthouse Theatre
Ten minutes on foot from the town centre, the Lighthouse Theatre has only been around since 2008 and is attached to the Kettering Conference Centre.
The modern auditorium here holds 560 and as one of the main performance spaces in the region welcomes some well-known comedians, dance companies, BBC presenters and touring musicals.
Most weeks some sort of tribute act will be in town, and the theatre puts on seasonal productions like a pantomime at Christmas.
In 2018-19 talks by Jonathan Agnew, Lucy Worsley, Neil Oliver, Simon Reeve and Dan Snow were on the calendar.
13. Rockingham Pleasure Park
Kettering’s favourite public park is about half a mile north of the town centre and was founded in the 1890s.
The project came about after the local shoe manufacturer John Bryan encouraged the town to buy the land.
Out and about in Kettering you may have noticed the black fountain in the Horse Market – this was originally erected in the park in Bryan’s honour in 1894. The park has a bandstand from the same era, and is loaded with facilities like an outdoor gym, crazy golf course, a generous children’s play area, BMX track and a giant chessboard.
Not to be confused with the zoo owned by the same company in Oakham, Rutland, Bugtopia is an insect experience in Great Cransley on Kettering’s western outskirts.
This isn’t a walk-around attraction; instead there’s a schedule of four “meet and greet sessions” throughout the day on weekends.
Each session lasts for an hour and is led by an experienced keeper with lots of interesting facts to share.
In that time you’ll be encouraged to touch and hold scorpions, tarantulas, giant African snails, giant millipedes, stick insects and a Madagascan hissing cockroach, all of which are harmless, if slightly terrifying.
15. Twywell Hills and Dales Nature Reserve
You can leave the town behind in this 135-acre countryside side 10 minutes away on the A14. The reserve’s ridged landscape isn’t strictly natural as it was caused by ironstone quarrying, an activity that ended almost a century ago.
One feature, Whitestones is a set of spoil tips that have become some of the only examples of limestone grassland in Northamptonshire.
The Gullet is a man-made gorge, also caused by quarrying and today a habitat for hart’s tongue ferns and bee orchid.
The Rockingham Forest Trust maintains waymarked trails in the reserve and you can download a leaflet telling you what plant and animal species to keep an eye out for.