We recently started a new series focused on Northampton. Last week we wrote about the best food shop in Northampton. We continue this series by looking at the best parks for exercise in Northampton.
With the current lockdown situation in the UK, gyms are shut. The government recommends outdoor activity for your health and wellbeing. So, we review four parks in Northampton and what they have to offer for the physically active individual.
Exercising outdoors is not a new concept. You might prefer to be out in the open air whilst you build up a sweat. You could be a member of an outdoor boot camp or ‘military fit programme. Maybe you like to get some miles in your legs and enjoy the scenic landscapes the local parks provide?
We know outdoor exercise is not everyone’s first choice. With current lockdown restrictions, you can’t use a gym, and you might have limited access to exercise equipment at home. You may think the only activity you can do in the park is walking, running or cycling?
But, as you’ll see, there are many activities you can perform outdoors if you look in the right places. We are going to look at four popular parks in Northampton and give you a rundown of why you may use them for exercise.
Abington Park is the oldest and most well-known park in Northampton. Located at the top end of the Wellingborough road, it’s a 15-minute walk from the town centre. Abington Park is split into two sections. The top, smaller area, is home to the church of St Peter and St Paul, as well as the Abington Museum.
The church is the resting place of Elizabeth Bernard, who was the granddaughter of William Shakespeare. Abington Park museum is situated in a 500-year-old manner house. The museum tells the history of Northampton through the ages. The museum also houses an aviary, which has some exotic and beautiful birds on display. Opposite the museum is the house gardens, which includes the smell and sound gardens to stimulate your senses. Next to the gardens are the park’s sports facilities which house a bowls green and several tennis courts you can rent.
Also situated in this top park is the bandstand, which is a common event location for Northampton, and the Pit Stop Café. The café is open every day and offers drinks, small snacks and full meals. The top park is a popular location for families to spend quality time at weekends. It’s also a great place to learn the history of Northampton and enjoy the scenery of the beautiful gardens.
Exercise at Abington Park
The larger section of the park is where the activities all take place. It is home to two large children’s play areas as well as two man-made lakes. One smaller lake is for model boating, and the other, bigger lake is a popular spot for fishing. From an exercise point of view, there are many options available:
The bigger park offers a 1.66-mile track if you run around the outside of it. You have the option of breaking this distance down into multiple pathways and open areas of the park.
To the right of the park’s entrance are multiple football pitches. If distance running is not your thing, a football pitch offers a great interval workout. One cardio drill I used to employ uses the perimeter of a football pitch. You sprint the width of the pitch, jog the length, run the next width, then walk the last length to complete a lap around the pitch. Perform this 3-5 times depending on your fitness levels to challenge your legs and lungs!
If playing sports is more your thing, Abington park has lots to offer. You can gain access to the tennis courts, bowling green and football pitches. There is plenty of free space for any other sports you may wish to play with friends and family. If you’re looking of getting into a sport, the Northampton American football team use the park for training on Sundays.
Abington Park is a popular location for fitness groups such as MilitaryFit and boot camps. Outside of lockdown, it was common to see groups meeting up at the weekends to take part in classes. If working out in a group is more your thing, outdoor boot camps are the best option for you.
Along the main central path in the park are several pieces of exercise equipment. You will find many resistance and cardio based machines you can use. The resistance machines work on a mixture of hydraulic resistance and your body weight. Although these are limited in resistance, they will provide enough stimulus to maintain some functional strength.
There are two playgrounds in the park. The smaller playground to the left of the main path has more climbing and adventure-based equipment. If you are ‘creative’, a lot of this can be used for callisthenics and bodyweight exercises. The larger park to the right is more like a typical swings and slides playground.
To the rear left side of the park sits the ruins of a medieval village you can walk through. There is also a wooded area which makes for a scenic landscape for dog walking. With plenty of open space to let your fur babies stretch their legs, Abington park is a popular location for dog walkers.
Popularity of the park
I am listing this as the only negative to Abington Park. The park is a popular local attraction at the weekends. Most scheduled exercise and activities such as football games and fitness classes will take place at the weekends. With all this activity, you may struggle with space to train. You may also feel self-conscious using the exercise equipment which is on the main pathway at peak times.
Verdict – the best of both worlds
If you want to burn some calories and grab a coffee afterwards, Abington park offers you the chance to do both. Whether you are a runner, walker, tennis player or weight lifter, Abington park gives you those opportunities. If you don’t like busy, crowded spaces, you might want to avoid weekend use. You could save the weekends for your dog walks and outdoor family time.
You might not be surprised to learn that the Racecourse used to be an active grounds for horse racing. The Racecourse held its first-ever race in 1701 when it was called the Freeman’s common. It wasn’t until 1778 that it became ‘The Racecourse’, with regular races held in front of large crowds. Sadly, a fatal accident involving spectators back in 1904 meant the grounds lost the licence to hold events. The area became a temporary military barracks during World War 2. In 1952 the council restored the park’s status and, since then, it has become the regular venue for events such as Northampton Fireworks and the Balloon festival.
Exercise at the Racecourse
The Racecourse does offer a limited number of physical activities compared to Abington Park.
The main activity the Racecourse is known for is running. Every weekend the ParkRun club hold their 5k running events. The actual distance around the outside of the park is 3km. The park has multiple pathways that are used to create different running distances in one space.
Alongside the typical park-style playgrounds, there are more adventure play areas, such as the mini zip wire and wooden ‘crocodile’ assault course. If you train using callisthenics, there is plenty of equipment with which you could perform a bodyweight workout. For example, the monkey bars could become pull up bars. A ladder becomes a footrest for Bulgarian split squats. There are many options if you are creative.
The Racecourse has facilities for basketball and tennis. Use of the basketball court is free, but to use the tennis courts, you will need to book your sessions online. The basketball courts are often a busy attraction with three joined tarmac courts. The Racecourse also has 16 football pitches and two rugby pitches. At the weekends the pitches get used for scheduled events, but there will always be at least one free for use.
Verdict: runners’ race
The Racecourse is one of the better places to go and get the miles in. Its multiple routes make it perfect whether you want to get a short stint in or a full race. If ball sports are more your thing, there are plenty of options to play some group games. If you enjoy training with bodyweight, you can use the park’s adventure play equipment as make-do callisthenics stations.
Victoria Park is a triangle of space between Spencer Bridge road, the railway track and St James. The park is one of the smaller parks at just 16 acres, which is split through the middle by Dallington Brook. One side of the park has basketball courts and a flower garden. The other side is an open area with two football pitches on it. Although Victoria park is small, it still offers a lot for exercise options.
Exercise at Victoria park
Although its total size is small, the lower field area housing the football pitches can be an excellent area to get some laps in. There is the bonus of a level change at the top end of the lower area so you can get some incline work done.
In the top park, there is a multi-use court area. Although it is small, it offers a combined basketball court and football pitch. If you are looking for a small area for you and a handful of friends to get a game on the go, it’s perfect. In the lower park, there are two big football pitches, which gives you the chance to have a good kick about with friends.
One little gem about Victoria park is that it has a smith machine with plates! Yes, you read that correctly. There is a fixed bench with a moving smith machine that has plates you can slide on and off to add weight. Next to this is a pull-up and dip station where you can also perform leg raises for core work. There is also a hydraulic workout station with a chest press, seated row, leg press and shoulder press. Granted, these are not going to be suited for serious strength training; however, you can still use them for some higher rep training.
Verdict: great for resistance and general cardio
Although it’s small, Victoria Park is still one of the best parks for exercise in Northampton. If you’re more interested in resistance training, Victoria park has better equipment compared to the first two. There is still the space to get a good bit of cardio with the courts, or running. Parking is limited to the streets nearby, but if you are a local to the area, Victoria Park is a 10-minute walk from the town centre, or five minutes from the train station.
Beckets Park is the ‘green welcome’ you receive entering Northampton from Bedford roadway. Located on the bank of the river Nene, the park is also home to the marina, which many canal boat owners call home. The park received its name as it was the place where Thomas Becket drank from a well that was located at the site back in 1164. The area sits at the end of the town centre, an ever-growing industrial park and the south end of the Northampton General Hospital. If you work in the town centre, Beckets park is your closest option for a lunch break escape from the town’s bustle.
Exercise at Beckets park
Beckets Park offers several tennis courts that you can book to use. Just to the side of the park is Radlands, a youth activity centre that is well known for its skate park.
Beckets park used to be the home of the Northampton Park run before it moved to the Racecourse. However, it is still a popular location for people to get their runs in. Especially if you work in the town centre, Beckets Park is an excellent option for your lunchtime leg stretch.
One of the common comments on TripAdvisor about Beckets park is that you can easily forget you’re in the town centre whilst you’re there. Beckets Park is a popular option for a dog walk or to catch some fresh air on your lunch break.
Verdict: the great escape
If you work in town or you’re just visiting, taking a trip to Beckets park can give you some fresh air and a nice change of scenery. For general exercise, Beckets park is a good option for a casual walk, playing tennis with a friend or getting in a light jog. If a scenic view is important to you, Beckets Park is the one for you.
We’ve highlighted four of the best parks for exercise in Northampton. These big parks can help you forget that you are in a big town. Depending on what your outdoor activity preference is, you can find a park to suit your needs. Whether it’s to escape on your lunch break, get a pump on or improve your 5k time, there is a park for you.