OS Explorer map 224, Corby, Kettering & Wellingborough: Rockingham Forest – I do not own this map, but had visited it before starting this blog. Visited again for this post 19th April 2019.
As you may be aware, I grew up in Northamptonshire, living there from about age 1 until I went off to university. Home, school, and Northampton itself are in map 223; my parents still live there and I visit fairly often, which is why my post about that area was one of my first. That said, I still travelled a little further eastwards, towards Wellingborough or, especially, Kettering, fairly often, so map 224 definitely still feels like home turf to me.
I came here on this occasion to visiting my old school friend Joystick. The rest of my group of school friends – me, Cabbage, Climbing Programmer and Joystick (who’ve featured on this blog plenty of times before, such as on our summer 2014 road trip around Scotland) – have all moved away from Northamptonshire now, but Joystick still lives in the area, having moved back home after university and found a job nearby. This particular visit happened when Joystick invited our old school crew over for a weekend – having just moved out of his parents’ house to a new place in Irthlingborough, he took the opportunity to have us all over on the long Easter weekend, since it’d been a long while since we’d all met up, especially for an extended period.
Geochunderer’s presence for the gathering was of particular note, since he lives in Scotland nowadays and isn’t present down South all that often. On this occasion, though, he’d been in Cambridge for a work project. As you’ll know, I live in Cambridge, so Geochunderer and I planned to meet up after work on the Thursday, so that he could stay over with me, and I’d drive him over to Irthlingborough the next day.
At this time, I worked in the outlying village of Lode, which I’d commute to by car from where I lived in Histon. Now Geochunderer is a public transport nerd like me, and long before I’d moved to Cambridge, I was aware of his enthusiasm for the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, which links Cambridge to Histon as the first part of its longer route to St Ives. After work on Thursday (Friday being Good Friday, so a bank holiday), I therefore drove nearly home, leaving my car instead at the Busway stop in Histon, and got the bus into Cambridge, where I met Geochunderer, so that we could ride the Busway back out to Histon, before getting back into my car for the last mile or so to our house! We did enjoy the Busway – despite living quite close to it, I rarely use it just because the conventional bus into Cambridge is even closer to my house. The buses really do work up quite a speed on the Busway; 50mph or thereabouts, which is quite something to experience!
The next day, we drove over to Joystick’s house for the early afternoon, making a diversion to my parents’ house further to the west in Northamptonshire for lunch, and to collect a selection of my models from the Middle-Earth Strategy Battle game system – that being a tabletop game played with 28mm miniatures, produced by Games Workshop alongside their more popular Warhammer system, and based on Tolkien’s universe. I talked about the game previously in my South East Lake District post – it was a fairly big part of my school years, being one of the main things that my group of friends did when we met up. Despite the fact that I’ve never really been that bothered about the game itself – I’m not really one for board games either; I just don’t find most of them interesting – it was one of my main hobbies; I still have loads of the models (and a gaming table) in the cellar at my parents’ house. The five of us still occasionally play; once a year or so, if we’re lucky.
The five of us gradually assembled during the afternoon, and after that spent just a very pleasant two days together until we parted ways after lunch on the Sunday. Among the activities on offer were talking late into the night, playing board games, and enjoying Joystick’s cooking, including a very fun veggie-sausage-in-rolls-of-mashed-sweet-potato concoction for Friday’s dinner. For Sunday lunch we enthusiastically made omelettes, only to realise Joystick had no salt, and ended up using crushed stock cubes instead, which worked surprisingly well.
We did indeed play the Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game, spending most of Saturday on that in fact, as we did a little tournament of five rounds (that being a number that lets each of us play every other exactly once, and requires each of us to sit out only once). We’ve done these several times – indeed every time that four or five of us have had a whole day to play together since we left university – and we have a little trophy (see photo above), which grows a layer every time, with the victor’s name painted on it. Climbing Programmer had a well-deserved win this time; it was his first time on the trophy.
The other activity worth mentioning is that, on the Sunday morning, we went for a walk around the Irthlingborough Lakes and meadows – Irthlingborough sit just to the north of the River Nene, which in this area sits in a wide, flat, marshy valley with lakes all over the place. Despite it being extremely hot for April, was a really nice walk – the lakes were just very pretty, and we enjoyed clambering about among some trees. All in all, it was a really lovely weekend!
As I mentioned above, this map area is very close to where I grew up in Northamptonshire, so I’ve been there many times and for many reasons. Like in my Oxford post, and others about places where I’ve lived, I won’t try to be comprehensive, and instead write about a few places that seem interesting.
When I was very little, I had a childminder who’d look after me while my parents were at work; she used to come to our house most of the time, but occasionally she’d take me to hers, which was in Earls Barton, in this map area.  She’s stayed friends with my parents ever since, and I went back to her house several times later in my childhood, including the unfortunate occasion when I accidentally caught one of her gerbils’ tail in its cage when I was closing it, causing it to lose its tail. 
Since when I was about 14, my uncle, aunt, and for various periods of time, also grandparents and two cousins, have lived in Ecton, which is in the overlap between this map area and my home one. I’ve spent plenty of time there; and we’ve done Christmas there a few times.
What feels most notable about this map area, though, is Kettering, location of Cabbage’s childhood home, where I spent a lot of time during my schooldays.
Sometimes I’d go over and it would be just he and I, and we’d spend the time talking or doing assorted very silly activities, notably silly cooking. Cabbage and I had a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for seemingly disgusting-seeming combinatons of foodstuffs, and one of our favourite activities was putting this into practice. On the occasion pictured, we seem to have got our hands on some food colouring; hence the chicken wing with blue mayonnaise, the strawberry in green chocolate, the blue milk and the black orange squash.
Cabbage’s house was also a venue for fairly frequent gatherings of our larger friend-group. He and his dad and sister had the attic of their house set up as a hobby/play area, with some of the area given over to Lego, some to a model railway set, and some to a gaming board for the Lord of the Rings game mentioned above. It was a really fun space, but its main disadvantage was that it got really hot in the summer.
On one occasion, in about 2008, Cabbage said to me that, if I organised my models well – such that I stored them knowing where they all were, knew how many of each I had and so on – he would buy an air conditioner for the attic. He naturally did this only because he thought I’d never actually do this; but I did, and so for thirteen years, he has owed me an air conditioner!
 The gerbils were called George and Spike, but for some reason my ten-year-old self insisted on calling them Clive and Steve.