Britain’s home to some of the world’s most popular tourist spots. But what happens if you venture off the well-trodden tourist trail?
While it may not score highly on most people’s ‘must visit’ lists, the county of Rutland, located in the East Midlands near Leicestershire, actually has a lot to offer visitors.
It’s often not considered because most people choose to visit Cambridge (over an hour away) or even the Peak District (one and a half hours away).
So I left the well-walked path behind and spent 24 hours getting to know Rutland and finding out what’s worth seeing in the county and its surroundings.
Home to around 37,000 people, with only two towns to its name, Rutland is small. In fact it’s so petite, that it’s believed to be the smallest historic county in England (don’t mention the Isle of Wight to anyone living here…)
It’s also got some pretty awesome records under its belt, including being home to the UK’s fattest man (as well as the shortest) and the impressive reservoir, Rutland Water, is one of Western Europe’s largest man-made lakes.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll find this place is also home to world’s only fatstock show still held in a traditional market place, and it’s ghost tales and panther sightings have also got a lot of people talking.
And what did I love the most about this landlocked county? That so many people are passionate about where they live and proud to call this pretty corner of the world their home.
Now, it’s celebrating 20 years as an independent county – and the perfect time to visit.
But what is worth seeing and doing here? Here are my top tips for a perfect 24 hour trip.
Spend lunchtime in… Oakham
Driving through the beautiful rural countryside, I arrived into the little market town of Oakham. It may initially seem like your usual town but dig a little deeper and you’ll soon discover a vibrant, much-loved hub packed full of independent shops and restaurants.
Oakham Castle has existed since 1180, and while it doesn’t look much like a castle, it has an impressive history and it’s worth checking out the horse shoes (over 200 of them) that hang in the great hall.
It’s a tradition that any visitor of ‘high status’ brings along a horse shoe and presents it on their first visit to Oakham. The oldest shoe was presented by Edward IV in 1470 and the latest shoe by the Duchess of Cornwall in 2014.
The town of Oakham is a great place to stop for lunch. After checking out the Castle, I popped in to Castle Cottage Café where I had a delicious afternoon tea in the quirky and unusual surroundings – think Cath Kidson and you wouldn’t be far off! Beautifully decorated with a stunning little garden at the back, this converted home is great for a lunchtime stop.
There are also some other fabulous venues to explore, including the Grainstore, a microbrewery which has been the proud winner of The Good Pub Guide ‘Own Brew Pub of the Year’ four times.
I carried on exploring the cute little streets and independent shops that are dotted around town before heading off to what is arguably the county’s main attraction.
Spend the afternoon… getting wet and wild at Rutland Water
Probably the area’s most famous landmark, Rutland Water is one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe.
This massive reservoir was opened in 1976 and is now a giant playground for all things water sports and wildlife.
The 25 mile track that surrounds it is perfect for cycling, walking and running and it’s even possible to sail or catch a pleasure cruise in the summer.
There are events held here all year round – from fishing competitions to bird watching sessions.
It really is something to behold – and with so many different activities on offer, I can see why it’s popular throughout the year.
Arriving on a brisk and rather chilly autumn day, I was surprised to see so many dog walkers and cyclists out. There are plenty of places to park and there’s even a water sports centre for those who want to head out onto the lake itself.
The tarmacked path that circles the lake gives you incredible views. Head to Hambleton village for spectacular vistas, and don’t forget to visit Normanton Church which sits on the lakeside and was saved when the lake was created.
Spend a few hours…exploring the stunning villages
Rutland is home to some quaint little villages, and what’s more you can find some pretty fantastic restaurants, pubs and hotels here, too.
I was lucky to visit two of the prettiest and if you’re into chocolate-box pretty villages or are partial to a bit of property-gazing, then these two villages will be right up your street (ehem…)
Home to around 600 people, this sleepy little village has a stunning green opposite the fabulous pub and it’s here you can find stunning thatched cottages and winding little lanes.
The Fox & Hounds is located in a former 17th century coaching inn, and is a fabulous stop over for a swift drink. I’ve also been assured that the food here is fantastic (it features in the Good Food Guide, and has 2 AA rosettes).
Meandering around the little lanes it really felt like I’d travelled back in time. The cottages are so pretty and I loved the little thatched high street.
This stunning little village is rather unique. Originally, there were 3 parts to this parish, but since the completion of Rutland Water, Middle and Nether Hambleton have been completely submerged.
Intriguingly, Hambleton (what’s left of it) is now perched in the middle of the reservoir and is only accessible by a causeway, and is now known as ‘Hambleton Peninsula’.
What’s left is absolutely beautiful – a pretty little village centre with cute little cottages dotted around.
It’s also home to Hambleton Hall, a small luxury hotel that commands amazing views over the water from the very picturesque gardens. It’s the perfect place to stop for a cup of tea and to take in the superb landscape after exploring the village.
It’s also worth checking out the restaurant, which is run by Michelin star chef Aaron Patterson. In fact, Hambleton Hall has held its star for over 30 years!
Hambleton village is perfect for a summer stroll and it’s even possible to get down to the waters edge from here.
Spend the morning….exploring an award-winning town
While not technically in Rutland, it’s hard not to mention the stunning town of Stamford which itself is well worth a visit.
With comparisons to Cambridge and other historic towns, it’s well worth hopping over the border into Lincolnshire and spending a morning or afternoon here.
Once described as the ‘finest stone town in England’, It’s a really short drive from Oakham home to some fantastic independent restaurants, bars and shops.
It’s even been described as ‘The Best Place to Live in England’ by the Sunday Times, and it’s not hard to see why. This picturesque town has quirky little side streets, stunning stone and thatched homes, and a beautiful riverside which is perfect for a lazy summer walk.
It also has a fascinating history, with many of Britain’s kings and queens using it as a stopping point on route to or from London.
If you’re after old-English charm then Stamford has it in spades.
Head along for a stroll through town, or along the river. If you have time you can also check out Burghley House – a 16th century country house which has a park laid out by Capability Brown.
Visiting Rutland? Here are my recommendations:
Where to stay:
Money is no object? Hambleton Hall is a luxury small hotel located in one of the prettiest spots in Rutland.
Where to eat:
Breakfast: Hambleton Bakery.
Named Britain’s best bakery in 2012 by ITV. The pastries are meant to be particularly amazing! Various branches dotted around Rutland.
Lunch Castle Cottage Cafe
This is a must especially if you’re visiting in the summer where you can enjoy the tranquil settings of the calm and relaxing garden. Can particularly recommend the afternoon tea.
Dinner: Barnsdale Lodge
This pretty hotel has a fabulous a la Carte menu, with produce sourced locally. Having eaten here myself I can highly recommend it. And without a doubt stay for dessert!
Have you been to Rutland? Let me know what you loved about the county!