The Ultimate Things to do around Stamford
Grimsthorpe Castle. Burghley House. Fineshade Wood. The Crown… these may sound like the settings for either a dramatic murder mystery or a heart-warming Jane Austen scene, but they are also your secret weapons. Armed with our Top Tips, Accessibility information, and even What to Wear, this list will help you convince anyone you know that Stamford is the place to visit in 2022.
And if you happen to stumble upon our Fairfax and Favor store (number 55 on the High Street, oops), well, what a happy coincidence.
So if you’re struggling to convince someone to potter down to Stamford for the weekend with you, here is how you sway them...
Great for: history and art, seriously knowledgeable tour guides, thrones that once held royal bottoms, anybody who loves a proper English garden.
Grimsthorpe Castle is everything a castle ought to be: imposing, majestic, dramatically sculpted from the golden limestone of local quarries, and the final masterpiece of architect Sir John Vanbrugh (also known as the man who designed Blenheim Palace). So it came as a great surprise to us to discover that it may not, technically, count as a castle at all. But if Pluto can be a planet, we definitely aren’t going to stop calling this quirky little Tudor/Baroque charmer a castle.
The castle and its surrounding parks and gardens have been in the same family since 1516, when it was gifted to William, the 11th Lord Willoughby de Eresby, and his Spanish bride, Maria de Salinas, by Henry VIII. What this means for visitors today is that it now hosts a remarkable collection of art, tapestries, furniture, ceramics and paintings, ‘an eloquent record of the characters and fortunes of a powerful and influential dynasty over half a millennium’ according to their website.
In fact, Grimsthorpe houses one of the largest collections of royal thrones and furnishings outside of the Royal Palaces themselves, and is a good deal easier to visit.
Top Tips: Go on Sundays if you’d prefer to wander at your own pace, but otherwise we suggest visiting on weekdays and letting one of the highly rated experts show you round. The two Kitchen Gardens are a must see. Don’t miss the coffee and luscious scones in the café.
Accessibility: The Grimsthorpe Castle team really have gone above and beyond to make a very old building accessible to everyone. Whilst there are limitations (the first floor is only accessible via two flights of stairs), they have created a 37-minute ‘virtual tour’ of all first floor rooms. Guide dogs are welcome everywhere, there is a written tour of the Castle in Braille, and even an electric buggy service to take you from the disabled parking spots to the Castle and gardens! But be sure to pre-book, and call in advance with your specific needs.
Great for: outdoor explorers, cycling, keeping small children entertained, birdwatching, unexpected art.
At Fairfax and Favor, we love the woods. There is something about wandering under the shelter of ancient trees, with mud splashing all over your water-proof Oak Explorer boots, and perhaps a dog on a leash, that brings the world back into a place of calm inside your head. So it’s no surprise that Fineshade Wood is on our team’s list of favourite things to do in the Stamford area.
Hidden deep in the Rockingham Forest, between Stamford and Corby, Fineshade Wood is one of the largest woodlands in Northamptonshire. Organised activities in the woods include a family cycle trail, horse riding, and of course walking trails. If you are interested in contemporary art, there is even an exhibition space called The Arches, which showcases unique art initiatives throughout the year.
Top Tips: Keep an eye out for the Chequered Skipper Butterfly, which has been extinct in the UK since 1976. A number of this species was secretly brought back to England in 2018 and 2019 from Belgium. Now that they have had time to stabilise in their new environment and breed successfully, their location has been shared and keen wildlife enthusiasts will be able to spot them in the wild… but only in Fineshade Wood! Apparently the best time to see these rare and fabulous butterflies is June.
Accessibility: There is blue badge parking in front of the visitor centre. The café, disabled toilet, and meeting room are accessible. Some of the paths in the woods are unsurfaced, but there is a 2-mile long all-ability trail, with a wildlife hide that has wheelchair and pushchair access.
Fairfax and Favor Match: The Explorer is still our customers’ best-loved boot for country walks, but in the depths of Winter you may prefer the Shearling Lined Regina, which provides just that little extra something when it comes to keeping your toes warm and happy.
Burghley House and Burghley Park
Great for: Elizabethan architecture, history buffs, Pride and Prejudice fans, gardens by Capability Brown.
Mr Collins (in the US film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice), calls Burghley House – in the guise of Rosings Park – “One of the most extraordinary sites in all of Europe,” as he scuttles like a quick crab along the immense lawn, dragging Elizabeth and Charlotte to visit the overwhelming Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
As much as we loathe to agree with Mr Collins on anything, we have to admit that Burghley House, which has been used as the setting for not only Pride and Prejudice but also to depict Windsor Castle in The Crown, is an incredibly grand and unforgettable sight.
This sixteenth century English country house was built and is still lived in by the Cecil family, and retains much of its external Elizabethan appearance. Once you enter the house, there are rooms upon rooms of treasures to be found, everything from Baroque mural paintings, to opulent, canopied bedrooms, and even one of the few original Tudor kitchens left.
The gardens are equally impressive, having been largely designed by one of the most famous landscape designers in the world, Lancelot “Capability” Brown. The Water Garden is a firm favourite amongst visitors, but do take a look for the Garden of Surprises and the Sculpture Garden (you can’t miss this one, it’s right beside the 26-acre lake!).
Top Tips: Be wary of your Google Maps directions, which may take you the wrong way: rather follow street signs to Burghley House. Be sure to book in advance if you would like to enter the house itself. Previous visitors strongly suggest bringing your own picnic.
Accessibility: There are accessible parking spots and chairlifts to the upper floors, but wheelchair users may need to do the tour in reverse in order to make their way around the house.
Fairfax and Favor Match: Throw on your Alexandra White Leather Trainers and perhaps a Windsor Backpack and you’re ready for a day at Burghley. Elizabeth Bennet refused to stand on ceremony in ‘Rosings Park’, and we see no reason not to follow her example. Plus, exploring the entirety of Burghley House and Park involves a fair amount of walking (another Elizabeth Bennet habit we’re a fan of).
Great for: Fairfax and Favor launch dinners, charming hotel rooms, full English breakfasts, the party marquee, nooks by cosy fires.
Exploring Stamford is all well and marvellous, but you may need to assure your significant other of a delicious meal and a cosy bed waiting at the end of a day spent… not entirely on boots.
A former coaching inn, The Crown has been redesigned to make you feel at home on those rare English summer days as well as during those familiar winter chills. With a bright courtyard for sunny spells, and an immense, heated marquee for the winter, this hotel is ideally located to explore Stamford without having to go very far from your next glass of wine or snack.
The staff is what makes The Crown truly stand out for us, as they go above and beyond to make you comfortable and they do it with a real (not just a ‘hospitality’) smile.
The Crown even has its very own farm, just down the road.
Top Tips: Book in advance, the Crown gets busy! There is also limited parking at the moment so be sure to check in advance. Know that the online photos don’t do it justice. Be sure to book a table in the marquee if you come in the winter, especially if you’re a fan of the ski slopes. You’ll know what we mean when you get there.
Accessibility: This may be the Crown’s one downside, as they have limited accessibility elements as far as we can gather. However, recent reviews mention lovely ground floor rooms with large beds and lots of space, and that the team will go out of their way to ensure your comfort. So we think it is worth calling in advance to specify your needs.
Fairfax and Favor Match: The Crown’s sunny courtyard is just crying out for someone to glide in wearing a floaty dress and a pair of Valencia Wedge Sandals.
All Saints Church
Great for: Grade 1 listed buildings, 15th and 16th-century brasses, stained glass panels, history buffs, moments for reflection.
There are many churches in Stamford, but this one is hard to miss. The spire of All Saints Church is a bit of a diva, rising dramatically above the Stamford skyline. We suppose it deserves the attention, as All Saints is not only one of the oldest churches in Stamford, but also tends to be the favourite for travellers wanting to experience history and architecture, and perhaps a little quiet reflection.
All Saints sits on the West of Red Lion Square, within an easy distance of most of Stamford. The church’s history is very much entwined with the history of the Brownes, a wealthy wool merchant family who gave money to rebuild a large part of the church in 1461 after it was damaged during the Wars of the Roses. If you peek over the chancel arch, you will see a shield bearing the letter “B”, in commemoration of the Brownes. The rest of the church is an intricate collection of stories and treasures too, everything from “angel roofs,” to 13th-century arcading, stained glass panels designed by Charles Eamer Kempe, mid-Victorian pews, and the Browne brasses which are the most famous feature.
Top Tips: All Saints is still in use for worship, but they love to welcome visitors when the church is open, which is often (a calendar is available on their website). Visiting is free, but donations are very welcome. The best place to park when visiting the church is at Scotgate carpark. Keep an eye out for the Peregrine Falcons currently nesting in the Bell Tower!
Accessibility: There is parking available, but no other special accessibility changes have been made.
Fairfax and Favor Match: Niki, from Blooming Niki, informed us that the Chelsea Boot style has been around since Victorian times! We can’t think of a more appropriate footwear choice for a building as classic and enduring as this church.
Stamford Arts Centre
Great for: creative minds, ballroom dancing, contemporary exhibitions, coffee and nibbles, learning something new.
Considering that it dates back to the 1768, the Stamford Arts Centre has the energy and endless interests of six-year-old! And we say that as the greatest of compliments. This stone space was built to be Stamford’s Assembly rooms. Now it hosts everything from professional touring theatre companies to ballroom dance classes, classical music concerts to local and international art exhibitions – think paintings, textiles, drawings and sculptures. And it even doubles up as a cinema, and has become a bit of a hub for local film buffs.
To give you an idea of why we love this place, at the time of writing a visit to the Stamford Arts Centre would enable you to experience a Gong Bath Meditation, watch The Tragedy of Macbeth in film, listen to Police Dog Hogan, or apply to be Stamford’s Poet Laureate…
Top Tips: Classical Music Season arrives between October and May, but no matter what time of year you visit Stamford, it is well worth checking the centre’s calendar in case they are hosting an event you wouldn’t want to miss. With their packed timetable, there's almost always something happening.
Accessibility: There is a platform lift to the Theatre and two spaces for wheelchairs in the auditorium, but you will need to let the Box Office know in advance as they are often held for disabled patrons. If you want to attend a class in a section of the building you can’t access, do reach out to the Arts Manager. They are always willing to move events to ground floor rooms if practicably possible.
Fairfax and Favor Match: Something about the Stamford Arts Centre has us feeling literary. Why not combine the excessively romantic Madeline Herringbone Gilet, in Denim Blue, with a Highbury Clutch, for the aesthetics of a poet who dreams big but travels light?