Okay, so Peterborough probably isn’t the first place you’d think of when thinking of holiday destinations in the UK. But I did, for precisely that reason, actually! And let me tell you, it was definitely worth heading over there. No, actually – let me show you…
The mighty Peterborough Cathedral! It’s a truly awesome sight, I have to say.
To my lasting chagrin, I didn’t actually go in when I was there. Peterborough is about a five and a half hour drive straight across the country from me, so by the time I actually got there, I was pretty tired. A brief wander around the outside, and then it was an early night! But I believe Catherine of Aragon is buried here, and Mary Queen of Scots used to be, too.
In addition to being a handy base from which to explore into Norfolk and Cambridge (both of which I did while there), there are a lot of other places nearby that are of immense interest to heritage hunters such as myself! Perhaps most importantly, Fotheringhay Castle:
Not much to look at now, is it? It was a fairly important castle during the middle ages (Richard III was born here), but saw its moment of stardom as being the place where Mary Queen of Scots was tried and executed in 1587. Hence her burial at nearby Peterborough, until her son James became king of England, and moved her to Westminster Abbey.
The castle is almost entirely destroyed, save for this small lump of masonry. Today, the remains sit peacefully beside the River Nene, with a caravan site close by (in case you’re interested!) Also, buried in the church at Fotheringhay (seen in the picture below) is Richard, duke of York, the father of Richard III and Edward IV, and the man who started the Wars of the Roses. Again, for the more historically-inclined among you!
There’s a lovely little village called Lyddington not far from Peterborough, in the neighbouring county of Rutland, where the charming Lyddington Bede House can be found:
This is a wonderful little place, originally a palace for the Bishops of Lincoln (in case you were wondering, the medieval diocese of Lincoln was HUGE, stretching from the modern county right down to Oxfordshire).
Post-reformation, it was converted into a private house, then alms houses. It’s a fascinating little place, with lots of little corners to explore, including the little rooms for the poor that were part of the alms houses conversion:
Much closer to the city centre, though, is Flag Fen, a nationally-important site of prehistoric interest, where the great Dr Francis Pryor found the preserved remains of a timber trackway through the fens here in 1982:
The timbers themselves are a bit of a jumble, as you can see, but they formed what is believed to have been a ceremonial trackway through the often dangerous fens, and many artifacts have been discovered around the area, left as if in ritual offering. I don’t know about you, but I often find this explanation of “ritual” etc a bit too convenient. It’s a bit of a standing joke that the archaeological label for things not understood is “ritual/funerary”, but anyway.
The big draw, for me, to prehistory is precisely the fact that we don’t know a lot about the time period. There is an air of true mystery about it that we will most likely never discover. Nevertheless, Dr Pryor has written a truly excellent book on the subject, Britain BC, which I can definitely recommend to you if you’re interested in this sort of stuff!
I’ve saved until last what is one of my all-time favourite English Heritage places, Kirby Hall.
An Elizabethan mansion built in 1570, it is now largely roofless, with parts in ruin. However, there are still some rooms that are serviceable, leading to it being often used as a film set.
The formal gardens are absolutely stunning, and I spent a great deal of time reclining in the shade and enjoying the views.
Unlike a lot of historic houses that are now shells, there was no great catastrophe at Kirby. Instead, the house was largely neglected throughout the eighteenth century as previous owners had died childless, their estates passing to already-landowning relatives. By the early nineteenth century it was popular with the Romantics who toured the country to visit such places, and I think you’ll agree, it’s easy to see the attraction! I have a great love for ruins, as I’ve already discussed, but I find something altogether wonderful about houses which aren’t crumbling ruins, but are rather just skeletal remains to full gable height. There’s something almost otherworldly about them, without wishing to get too philosophical about it!
Kirby Hall is definitely worth a visit, anyway. Indeed, Peterborough itself should be more of a destination that is appears to be! I’m definitely making plans to go back soon, at any rate!