Could Oundle in Northamptonshire be the quintessential English market town? With its Cotswoldsesque honey-coloured stone, antique shops, churches and public school, it’s got to be in with a shout and is worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.
The ancient market town of Oundle has two main landmarks – St. Peter’s church, with the highest spire in Northamptonshire, and Oundle School – one of the biggest boarding schools in the country with over 1,000 boys and girls. In a town with a population of around 5,000, the school dominates with its buildings spread around the town-centre and throngs of uniformed pupils walking between classes, even on a Saturday.
Fancy sending your kids there? It’s currently £33,300 per year for boarders, so you’d better get saving.
The most famous Oundle alumnus (or “Old Oundelian”) is heavy metal band Iron Maiden’s frontman Bruce Dickinson. I bet he had fun taking the mickey out of the girls’ uniform – he probably even wrote a song about it.
While the boys wear standard public school blazers, trousers and ties, the girls wear comedy baggy pinstriped half-mast trousers last seen worn by clowns at the circus. I managed to slyly take the photo below, although I did feel a bit like Adam Johnson for staring at schoolgirls’ behinds.
Brilliantly, and in true rock and roll fashion, Bruce was expelled from Oundle when he urinated in the head master’s dinner. When you’ve got to go, you’ve just got to go!
There didn’t seem to be too many pubs around – maybe to discourage underaged drinking. I did however discover a new entry in my top five cafes in England at the independent Brew Babu (6 West Street). It calls itself a “boutique brew bar” and although it’s licensed to sell beer and wine, it is tea, coffee and cake that you should come here for. A typical English tearoom, with cosy chairs and board games for customers to use, if you’re lucky enough to get a seat you might not want to leave.
My pot of loose-leaf tea hit the spot perfectly after being out in the cold, while Kat said her Colombian coffee was one of the best she’d ever had. We enjoyed a breakfast each, and shared the delicious homemade chocolate mint cake above.
Oundle is twinned with the French town of Andresy, and there is a signpost outside the public toilets by the Co-op car-park telling you where it is.
The Co-op car park is free for two hours (just follow the signs to short stay car-park) – that is just about all you’ll need for a leisurely pootle around Oundle.