|With rolling hills, vast tracts of farmland and a host of great estates, landlocked Northamptonshire is often referred to as the county of
'squires and spires'. Yet its bucolic charm contrasts sharply with the rushing sprawl of its close neighbour, London.
Mostly agricultural and, in parts, unspoiled - its emblem is the cowslip – the county has a tiny population and is surrounded by no less than eight other counties, blending with the Fens in the east and the Cotswolds in the west.
|The Middle Ages brought fame to the county through the manufacture of boots and shoes and it was here that the footwear for Cromwell's vast army was stitched together.
When the Industrial Revolution arrived, the natural resources of the region were eagerly utilised, especially its reserves of iron ore in the Corby area.
|The 1460 Battle of Northampton at Hardingstone Fields also marked a significant moment in English. It was here that the Yorkists captured Henry V1 during the War of the Roses.
The county has a series of other royal connections. Edward, second Duke of York - killed at Agincourt at 1415 - is buried at Fotheringhay. Richard III was born in the town's castle where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded.
|Althorp House is the most famous of all the county's country estates these days. One of England's finest country seats, it has been in the ownership of the Spencer family for over 500 years and was home to a youthful Princess Diana who is laid to rest at the Round Oval in the heart of the mansion's 500-acre park.
The Stables host an ever-popular exhibition entitled 'Diana, a Celebration' and inside the house is one of the world's most impressive collections of portraits, including works by Reynolds, Rubens, Gainsborough and Van Dyck.
|Beyond such plush interiors, the county boasts a litany of charming villages, dramatic reservoirs, ancient churches, traditional taverns, 2,000 miles of footpaths and a host of sporting opportunities ranging from angling and waterskiing to skydiving and hot-air ballooning.
|A must-see is the picturesque village of Stoke Bruerne, cut in half by the Grand Union Canal, where there is a canal museum.
Many of the region's churches date from medieval England, but some are older. All Saint's at Brixworth, for example, was built in 680AD and is widely considered to be one of the finest - and largest - Anglo Saxon churches in England. Northampton's Church of the Holy Sepulchre is England's largest and best-preserved round church while Rothwell's Holy Trinity Church possesses one of only two bone crypts in England.