An Overnight in Rutland

On our regular trips to Yorkshire from our home in South Wales, we have been known to find a stop en route, to stretch our legs and maybe explore somewhere different. In the past, such stops have included the Malvern Hills, the cathedral city of Lichfield and the market town of Ashby de la Zouch. On our most recent visit, we decided on an overnight stay in Rutland on the way back.

Rutland has the distinction of being England’s smallest traditional county, much of its area now being taken up by Rutland Water – one of Europe’s largest man-made lakes. The prospect of a lakeside hotel proved all too tempting. First however, we arrived at Whitwell on the north shore of Rutland Water. We bought some sandwiches from the café/kiosk and had a picnic lunch by the lake.

Boats are available for hire here, but our daughter F was content to read her book. S and I however, went on a boat excursion around the lake. S took advantage of the fact that I was driving that day, to order a glass of wine to accompany our voyage.

We returned an hour later and drove to our hotel on the south shore. On a stroll along the lakeside path, we came across Normanton Church, otherwise known as the “church on the lake”. The church was built long before the lake existed, but can now appear to be floating on the water from some angles.

Normanton Church

Stroll completed, it was time for a relaxing drink in the hotel garden.

After dinner , F and I returned to the lakeshore to take some photos in the twilight. It was a lovely time of day to be there, which we would probably have missed, had we been just on a day trip or stayed further away.

In the morning, I headed on foot to the Normanton Car Park on the south shore, which has a bike rental shop. The lake has cycle paths all around, and I headed off in a westerly direction. I was glad of my hybrid, as the uneven surface through the woods was not really suitable for a road bike. The paths are far flatter and even heading east. I passed Rutland Sailing Club, following the lakeshore path into the aforementioned woods. I made a stop when I reached the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust Visitors Centre at Lyndon. The centre is surrounded by a nature reserve and the main attraction is the nesting Ospreys at Manton Bay. The visitor centre tells you all about them and has a livecam on the nest. The birds became extinct in England in 1996 and a project began to reintroduce them to Rutland in 1996, relocating young birds from Scotland. The project even stocked the lake with the Ospreys’ favourite fish, bringing them in from Devon. Luckily, they were in the nest on my visit. I purchased a drink and stood transfixed to the screen, watching their every movement. You can walk the trail through the nature reserve to Manton Bay, to see the Ospreys with your own eyes. I, however, completely ran out of time for this, as I had to head back to Normanton to return my bike. There were some lovely views along the way.

I arrived back at the hotel and was pleased to learn that F was up, dressed and ready to go. We drove to Oakham, the county town of Rutland. Oakham came across as a sleepy rural backwater on the Tuesday morning we were there. Moving away from the main street, it had some picturesque nooks and crannies.

We headed to the castle, which unfortunately was closed. We could walk around the exterior though. The main castle building, known as the Great Hall, seemed to resemble a chapel. It is, however, the most complete Norman hall in England, dating from 1180. It is also one of the oldest seats of justice in the country, with court sessions having taken place regularly here for nearly 800 years.  The castle is notable for its horseshoes, which commemorate visits from important people. The first was for King Edward IV in the 15th century. More recently, shoes have been created for visits by Queen Elizabeth II and King Charles III. This became such a strong local tradition that a horseshoe is embedded in the Rutland coat of arms.

Oakham Castle

We found a café in town which served us an agreeable light lunch. I had read that Oakham has a well-known bookshop. It might have been a mistake to venture in, as F single handedly assured the establishment of an annual profit in a visit of less than an hour. I also made a modest contribution to its turnover. Weighed down by books on the way to the car, we briefly detoured to a butcher shop for some local honey (a habit of mine) and a Melton Mowbray pie, as we were inside the geographical district where these can be authentically made.

Well into the afternoon, it was time to begin our journey home. Rutland had proved to be a worthy stopover.

Factfile:

Location

Rutland is in the English East Midlands, UK,  96 miles north of London and 25 miles east of Leicester.

Transport

Oakham is on the Birmingham – Cambridge railway line and has connections to/from London via Leicester or Peterborough (approx. 3h 20). The journey time from Leicester is just under 30 minutes. By road, it is just a few miles west of the A1/A1(M) which runs from London – Edinburgh, exit at Stamford.

Information

Bike hire is available at both Normanton and Whitwell lakeside car parks and recreation areas. Boat hire is available from Whitwell and boat excursions run from Whitwell and Normanton Church. Click the links for further information on Oakham and the Wildlife Trust Visitors Centre. You do not have to pay if you arrive at the Visitors Centre on foot or bike, but you will have to if you wish to walk the nature trail.

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