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I don’t think I’ve explored Northampton for around 20 years. It’s so long ago I don’t really remember that much about it, so today’s sojourn was a bit of an eye opener. It started well. I arrived at a railway station that’s seen £20m invested in a new split level building that’s replaced an old, cramped 1960’s structure. This simply couldn’t cope with the level of passengers the line’s seeing nowadays. I was similarly impressed with the new complex that housed my hotel & a Vue cinema. The warning signs began when I took the hotel lift & noticed the large dents in the doors. Had the Incredible Hulk stayed here and got annoyed or was this the aftermath of a ‘normal’ Saturday night in an Ibis?

My room’s pleasant enough, although it would have been nice to have TV channels that broadcast more than than a little box that says “no signal” but – hey ho – the wifi’s fine & that’s more important.

I thought it was very kind of the staff to leave an ironing board & iron on the landing outside my room until I tried to bring it in and realised the iron is wired in to a socket and it ain’t going nowhere. Maybe in the morning I can strike lucky & slip a couple of quid to someone in the queue to do my shirt.

After dumping my kit I wandered into the town which has some lovely Victorian buildings. The weather was rather magical too. Heavy clouds parted long enough to allow the dying rays of the sun to floodlight old buildings like All Saints’ Church which looked sublime,as you can see from this picture…

DG231954. All Saints' church. Northampton. 20.10.15.

I was even more impressed with Northampton Guildhall which is a stunning Neo-Gothic building dating from 1861. Sadly, other bits of the town haven’t worn so well – and I’m not just talking about the buildings. Considering this is a county town well within commuting distance of London (hence the new station) there’s far more vagrancy than I’ve seen in many towns in my recent travels. I always try & explore places I stay to get the feel of them but this one reminded me more of Lincolnshire. Why? Well, it’s ethnically mixed and it’s these people who seem to be doing all the work. Many workers I came across probably have Polish, Patois or Punjabi as their first language. In contrast, the town’s monuments were draped with a variety of young & old derelicts & the lost who were overwhelmingly white.

I struggled to find a decent real ale pub to find here (another black mark) so ended up in a Lloyds No 1 Bar (the local Wetherspoons was more like a drop-in centre than a pub). The bar was quiet but with a mixed clientele – apart from two pissed middle aged blokes – one of whom was loudly trying to convince everyone within earshot that ‘they’ had made it illegal to call the Union Jack by that name and anyone carrying it would be arrested by the police. Monday night in Northampton eh? After that I decided discretion was the better part of valour and retreated to my hotel to type up these experiences.

Tomorrow I’m looking forward to talking about a very different time. The official opening of the new rail college. I’m sure that will be a much more positive experience!