Rutland – Oakham – Uppingham
Bab’s wonderful nan Sadie was immensely proud of being born in England’s smallest county, Rutland. It was then and it still is today. 52 villages and two towns sit in 151 square miles of beautiful relaxing mainly agricultural countryside. Photogenic thatch and glorious limestone cottages abound. N to S it’s 18 miles long and 17ish W to E. This landlocked county has a population of about 40,000 and is hemmed in by Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.
In 1974, in one of those monumental bureaucratic cock-ups that the UK is famous for, Rutland was swallowed up by neighbouring Leicestershire. Following a furore and a resistance campaign it was regurgitated in 1997 and Rutland County Council appeared once more. Sadie too had that spirit of defiance and independence which served her well throughout her lifetime.
Someone, clearly with a little too much time on their hands, has worked out that the county can fit inside the Kingdom of Wales over 54 times. Not that Rutland would allow it! This exceptional county is going nowhere! Translating its Latin motto – multum in parvo – much in little – this is oh so true. You will find much to see and do. Size clearly isn’t everything!
Talking of size. Here in Rutland back in the 17th century, Sir Jeffrey Hudson, Oakham born, was the smallest man in England- from the smallest county. Head to toe 18in – 45cm. He was presented to Charles II and Queen Henrietta Maria in a pie. And with much surprise jumped out to a round of applause. A likely contender for You’ve Been Framed had digital been around then.
The county is crossed by the A1 – The Great North Road- and the East Coast mainline. In July 1938 the Doncaster built LNER Mallard achieved the world record for steam locomotion, an astonishing 125.55 mph, here.
15 minutes after leaving Stamford, along the A606, we arrive in Oakham the historic county town. It had an entry in the 1086 Domesday Book. This tiny but perfectly formed capital and market town is friendly and we both felt at ease walking around.
The polygonal 400 year old Buttercross and stocks are worth a gander. Situated just off the High street this was an old meeting place for buyers and sellers of dairy produce.
Very little remains of Oakham castle. The Great Hall is still standing and is home to the oldest English court, at least 800 years of continuous use. There is a tradition that Peers of the Realm visiting Oakham must gift a horseshoe to the Lord of The Manor. Our present Her Majesty donated one in 1967. 500 years of visits have resulted in a stunning display of over 230 horseshoes here in the Hall. It is intriguing to see that all the shoes are hung with their tips facing the ground. Why? Apparently, it is so the Devil can’t make a home in the horseshoes. And as you look upwards luck spills down from the shoes bestowing luck and prosperity onto the onlookers.
The Devil wears Prada in Oakham – and country tweed casuals too. There is plenty of wealth here with house prices a lot more than the national average. The town is choc-a-bloc with shops: many unique individual boutiques and gift shops, galleries and coffee shops a plenty. Even the omnipresent charity shops are smart and don’t seem to need any help.
For a moment whilst walking down the High Street the sun was obliterated by a large couple wobbling towards us. Mr and Mrs Obese (in this snowflake society you can’t say fat anymore- but they were) had suffered a landslip of body parts and many were not now where God had intended them to be. Both licking ice-cream. Not one not two but three scoops and of course the obligatory flake. No will power, no self-restraint. No dress sense either. No wonder the NHS is on its knees – which incidentally is where their stomachs had ended up. The horseshoes had not sprinkled any joy or luck on this couple because they returned to the car park to find a parking ticket. And then they both got into the front seats of their Mini!!
If you need to shelter from rain when you visit, then there is no better place than Gates Garden Centre in Cold Overton a couple of miles outside Oakham. LE15 7QB.
Rutland Water is the jewel in Rutland’s crown. It is the UK’S largest man-made lake and it is so easy to reach from anywhere in the county. It is a perfect spot to spend a day walking, cycling or fishing, and many water sports are on offer. It’s a nature reserve too. Hop on board the Rutland Belle for a leisurely mini cruise.
Rutland Water holds 27,300 million gallons of water. Water water everywhere and many a drop to drink. They are a thirsty lot here but also benevolent too. And they are happy to share this life-giving commodity with the whole of the East Midlands.
Rutland Water Golf Club is in Oakham with stunning views across the water. But how do you play water golf? Answers on a postcard please. Wet balls anyone? Very clean!
Rutland Water covers 4.19 square miles and in terms of surface area is Britain’s largest reservoir. Kielder Water in Northumberland is top dog in terms of water capacity. Construction took five years and involved damming the Gwash Valley near Empingham. Filling it took a further 4 years. Originally the Empingham Reservoir it soon became known as Rutland Water.
The villages of Middle Lower and Nether Hambleton were demolished and now sit in a watery grave. Remaining dry, Upper Hambleton and parts of Middle Hambleton are now known simply as Hambleton and jut out into the lake. This peninsula is long and almost splits Rutland Water into two – North and South arms. There is an excellent 7 mile walk around here which is home to the famous luxurious Hambleton Hall Country House Hotel. The hotel sits pretty in stunning gardens. A spectacular setting. A Michelin Star restaurant it has held this award for a record 36 years. Take a bow Aaron Patterson. This hotel is sumptuous and has been frequented by many a celebrity. Noel Coward visited often. In this world solitude is often a joy and Hambleton Hall is a place where your mind can rest yet it’s only minutes from the busy A1.
Just past the Hambleton peninsula, on the A6003, is Egleton Nature Reserve – a wildfowl sanctuary par excellence. Much to see and enjoy whether just birdwatching in the many hides (if you can find them) or just walking along specially created nature trails. The Rutland Osprey project started in 1997 and is celebrating over 100 fledgling birds. Osprey pairs now return year on year. Head for Lyndon visitor centre to see these magnificent birds captured in stunning close-up.
We didn’t have -time to visit Bugtopia, a little too creepy for me, pardon the pun, but very popular. I prefer animals Golden Retriever size!
The cycle route around Rutland Water is 23 miles long. For the less energetic you can knock off almost 7 miles by avoiding the peninsula. It is rated as one of the best off-road cycle tracks in the UK.
Whenever you see Rutland featured in print there is always a photo of a church seemingly floating on water surrounded by breakwater boulders. This is Normanton Church which was saved from flooding by another public outcry. Rutlanders can be very vociferous. The floor was raised above the water line and now features a museum tracing the history of the water. It’s also a sought-after wedding venue. Park at Normanton car park and take a brief walk to the church for a photo opportunity.
Whenever I see the name Uppingham I can’t stop thinking about the Dad’s Army classic quip “they don’t like it up em”. I digress and before we reached the town, we took a brief detour to Eyebrook reservoir. In 1943 the reservoir was used for training by those magnificent men in their flying machines – 617 Squadron Lancaster bombers aka The Dambusters. In a highly successful Operation Chastise, the Mohne and Edersee dams in Germany were successfully breached causing industrial devastation and putting back the German war effort for many months. Factories, hydroelectric power stations, mines and infrastructure obliterated. Couldn’t get the Dambusters March by Eric Coates out of our heads whilst we were there.
Back in Uppingham the sun shone high in the sky caressing and warming the pavements and cobbles of this market town.
Here the residents are known as Uppinghamians which is quite a mouthful. I always thought that the good people of Rutland are known as Rutlanders . I was wrong they are called Raddlemen. The town has lots of small alleyways known locally as a jitty. In Yorkshire we call them ginnels, back alleys and snickets. In Scunthorpe they are known as ‘10 foots’ even though they are not even that wide! In my home village of Kirk Sandall there is a cut through which wiggles and waggles like a snake. Everyone in our village knew it as “going up the wiggly waggly” It’s a strange world.
Uppingham sits amongst wonderful countryside. It has been a market town for over 800 years – market charter awarded 1281. Tucked away in the market square is the church of St Peter and Paul (no Mary). It is a charming town with a nice high street full of specialist shops antique centres and art galleries. A lovely place to browse and a town that quietly goes about its business. The town is famous for its school. In reality the school is more famous than the town itself. Founded in 1584 it is one of the UK’s leading boarding schools for kids age 13 to 18 and has featured in the Harry Potter films. Past boarders include Rick Stein, Stephen Fry, cricketer Aggers Agnew and a special bonus point if you know who William Henry Pratt is? Yes Boris Karlof.
Travelling along the A47 look out for grade 2 listed Harringworth Railway Viaduct. 1200 yards long with 82 brick arches each with a 40 foot span. Stunning. British Victorian ingenuity at its best.
There is a circular turf maze by the roadside (about 40 feet in diameter) in the tiny village of Wing. Apparently, it is very similar to one in Chartres Cathedral and is thought to be a place for sinners to do penance.
During the Late May bank holidays, the Nurdling World championships often take place here in Rutland. If you can throw old pennies accurately through a hole drilled in a wooden seat, then you may become the best tosser – an accolade not to be sniffed at.
Geoff Hamilton was the presenter of BBC Gardeners’ World- probably our favourite. However, Monty Don aided beautifully by Nigel and Nell are strong contenders too. His home was at Barnsdale off the A606 where much of the filming was shot. His legacy and gardens have been expertly carried on by son Nick. Almost 40 individual gardens to look out all blending imaginatively together. Great cafe and plant sales too.
Babs and I have enjoyed our brief time here in Rutland. It is a gorgeous county with lots to see and do. So easy to drive around and the villages and pubs are a delight. The churches are exquisite. This has been a worthy stop along The Explorer’s Road.
Next time we visit I will bring my wellies for a round of water golf at the Rutland Water Golf Course!! And a towel.
Read the introduction to this journey on The Explorer’s Road
The Explorer’s Road Map courtesy of VisitBritain.com