Rutland is a perfect example of the best things coming in small packages, in fact, Rutland is the smallest county in the UK having gained its independence from Leicestershire in 1997. The landlocked county located in the East Midlands of England only a total area of 382 sq km but it’s filled with beautiful sights including picturesque countryside, traditional pubs, pretty villages, and wonderful bodies of water. If you’re looking for a scenic rural escape, a local chooses her best and most beautiful places to visit in Rutland…
Oakham – the pretty county town of Rutland
Rutland is one of Britain’s smallest counties, but it is still packed with sites of historic and aesthetic appeal. In fact it was such a small county that Edward the Confessor bequeathed it to his wife Edith in 1053, after his mother Emma died. Rutland was a wedding gift to Emma.
A good starting point, from where you can explore the county, is Oakham, the county town.
Apart from being close to Rutland Water, it has many historic sites around the town. Firstly there is Oakham Castle, which we describe separately, and the adjoining All Saint’s Church. The spire of the church is visible for miles around, and was constructed in the 14th century. While later additions and alterations were made to the building, the interior is mainly 14th century too, with beautifully carved ornate capitals on each pillar, showing Biblical and natural scenes.
Near the Church is Oakham School, founded in 1584, and still in use today. It faces Oakham’s current marketplace, which has a Buttercross and contains stocks under its shingled roof. The popular market is still held on Wednesdays and Saturdays and provides a nostalgic impression of an English market town. Take a leisurely stroll down Dean’s street, one of the quietest and prettiest streets of Oakham.
Oakham Castle – recognised as one of the best examples of domestic Norman architecture in England
At first view Oakham Castle does not look like a castle; what remains is the historic Great Hall. However, this is the best remaining example of Norman domestic architecture, built between 1180 and 1190. Stone sculptures from that period adorn the church. What does transfix visitors to the Hall though, is the wall of massive horseshoes adorning the back wall.
These horseshoes are evidence of a tradition dating back to at least 1470, represented by a shoe given by Edward IV, and still in place today. Visiting royalty and peers were required to present a horseshoe, and if you look carefully you will see shoes given by members of the current Royal family, including Queen Elizabeth. The shoes are mounted facing downwards, so that the Devil cannot nest in them and will fall out. A horseshoe is the dominant feature of the Rutland coat of arms and ceremonial flag.
Edith Weston Village – a pretty and quaint Rutland village
Edith Weston sounds like an author of romantic novels from the 1930s and a strange name for a village. In fact, it is the name of Edward the Confessor’s queen, on whom he bestowed Rutland County, Edith of Wessex. Situated on the south shores of Rutland Water, the village has some lovely old houses constructed with thatch and local Rutland limestone.
Pop into the Wheatsheaf, the local pub, which is a striking example of how the limestone was crafted to build these sturdy and attractive buildings. The most striking building, as you would imagine in a small village, is the Church, which was built in 1170 with the fourteenth-century addition of a spire that can be seen from afar, especially from Rutland Water
Rutland Water Reservoir – one of the most beautiful places to visit in Rutland
Rutland reservoir is a comparatively new water supply, built in 1967, it is England’s largest man-made lake and one of Europe’s biggest as well. It covers over 4 square miles and is surrounded by a 25 mile path along its perimeter, part of which includes the Rutland Water Nature Reserve to the south-west. You can also take a cruise on the Rutland Belle and get a different view of the reservoir.
The Reservoir is a very popular spot with many diversions, from angling and boating to open-water swimming and even as a venue for special events, but because of its large size, you can always find a quiet spot to have a picnic or just relax. You can plan to walk the whole 25 mile circuit or take short walks, and there are several carparks, so that you can park closest to the spot that appeals to you. Easily one of the best places to explore in Rutland!
Rutland Water Nature Reserve – a wonderful beauty spot to explore
Part of the Rutland Water Reservoir and situated to the west, the Nature Reserve is a must for any birdwatcher. It is has two parts, each with its own visitor centre, Egleton on the western shore, and Lyndon to the south. Lyndon houses the Osprey centre, where you are sure to find birdwatchers, hoping to catch a glimpse of an osprey, which were reintroduced in 1996, and are obviously happy there, because a chick was born in 2001, the first in 150 years to be recorded in Central England.
Egleton has many small water dams with over 20 hides named after the various waterbirds and fowl you can find in the reserve. There are some woodlands too. Apart from special birds such as great crested grebes and gadwall, there is the possibility of seeing wildlife like otters and badgers. There is a downloadable map of the Reserve available at http://live-twt-d8-leicestershire.pantheonsite.io/sites/default/files/2020-01/Rutland-Water-Map-2016.pdf
The Rutland Belle – a popular attraction in Rutland
If you just want to take it easy, or even if you are planning a special outing with friends for a birthday or other special event, the Rutland Belle offers a 45-minute cruise around Rutland Water.
The cruiser can seat up to 110 people (although a maximum of 80 people are catered for if you hire it for an event) and gives you an easy way to see all that Rutland Water has to offer, from the serene Rutland scenery to the villages around the Reservoir and Normanton Church.
Normanton Church – an iconic Rutland landmark
When Rutland Water was being constructed, the Anglo-Saxon villages of Nether and Middle Hambleton had to be submerged and are still there under the water, and this was also to be the fate of Normanton Church. However, there was such dismay and anger at the prospect of the famous landmark disappearing, that it was rescued by raising it on its own causeway.
It contains a museum with the history of the area, including dinosaur fossils, and can also be hired for special events. It is a key landmark of the Reservoir and is floodlit at night. It has rather an eccentric appearance; in the nineteenth century the traditional spire and other portions were modelled in the Corinthian style. A must-see attraction in Rutland!
Yew Tree Avenue – a unique and photogenic attraction in Rutland
Clipsham Hall is a listed mansion, most of which was constructed at the end of the 17th century. While it is an imposing building, what draws people to visit is the magnificent avenue of 150 200-year old yew trees which line what was the original carriage driveway. Known as Yew Tree Avenue, this is topiary on the grand scale, suggested by the then Head Forester, Amos Alexander, in 1870, who requested his employer’s permission to clip the trees into interesting shapes.
Mr Davenport-Handley, the owner agreed, but stipulated that no women were to be depicted, with the exception of the Queen, whose Jubilees are all represented. Every tree has a unique shaping, including birds and animals and even Neil Armstrong, to commemorate the Moon landing.
Unfortunately, maintenance of the trees fell away after 2010, because the Forestry Commission, who were by then responsible for shaping the trees, suffered budget cuts.
Concerned citizens rallied together and formed a charity to save the Avenue and manage it. It has now been restored to its former glory and well worth a visit.
Barnsdale Gardens – a place made famous by the BBC television series Gardeners’ World
Barnsdale Gardens is an inspiration for gardeners looking for new ideas. It is a collection of 38 different gardens, spread over 8 acres. It was the passion and work of BBC gardening personality Geoff Hamilton, who presented Gardener’s World for many years. Each garden has a different theme and style, ranging from a wildlife garden to a formal pool and knot garden. Some of the gardens have special soil to cater for growing plants that would not thrive in the local clayey soil, like the Mediterranean garden, which needs good drainage for the plants that are typical of the region.
There are several gardens that are planned around the type of garden you might have (or plan to have), such as a children’s garden, an estate garden or a country garden. There is also an opportunity to buy some of the plants that caught your attention in the nursery adjacent to the gardens.
Packing 38 individual little gardens or “rooms” into an eight-acre plot, Barnsdale Gardens is the work of Geoff Hamilton (1936-1996). He was a beloved presenter on the BBC’s long-running Gardeners’ World, and acquired this plot in 1983 when it was just a ploughed field.
Braunston-in-Rutland and the Goddess – a gorgeous village perfect for a base for walking
Pretty Braunston-in-Rutland is southwest of Oakham and is not to be confused with Braunston in Northamptonshire. It has a lovely 12th Century church, All Saints, where you can still see the traces of medieval wall paintings and admire the Norman font, but the artifact that raises the most curiosity is the Braunston “Goddess” in the churchyard.
This strange and primitive carving was found in the 1920s when the church doorstep cracked and needed replacing. When it was lifted up, the mysterious carving was found on its underside. It might be some Celtic pre-Christian carving but needs further research.
There are two nice pubs in the village. Do stop at either the Blue Ball, the oldest pub, or the Old Plough Inn and enjoy some refreshments.
Uppingham – a lovely market town and one of the best places to visit in Rutland
Uppingham is another town a few miles south of the county town Oakham, which has been a market town since it was granted its charter in 1238. It has a famous fatstock show every November, where farmers show off their best of breed livestock. Uppingham has always competed with its larger rival, and has another famous school founded in the 16th century by Robert Johnson, who also established Oakham School. Although it has been renovated and upgraded over the years, Uppingham School’s original house can still be seen in the churchyard. The church itself, St Peter and Paul, was constructed in the 14th century, but underwent extensive renovations in the nineteenth century.
For those planning on overnighting in Uppingham, The Falcon Hotel was a 16th-century coaching inn, and the owners have taken care to retain its original atmosphere. Uppingham is close to Eyebrook Reservoir, a must-visit for anyone with an interest in World War II.
Eyebrook Reservoir – a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest
This reservoir, though much smaller than Rutland Water, is a very attractive venue, surrounded by fields and plantings of spruce, pine and willow trees. Eyebrook is an exceptional place for the birdwatcher, and always has something of note in every season, especially during migratory periods. Waders include dunlin, curlew sandpiper, ruff and spotted redshank. It is always wise to be on the lookout for vagrants and rare birds here; osprey, squacco heron, black-crowned night heron and black-winged pratincole have been spotted here.
For those who are patiently accompanying the eager twitcher, the reservoir has a very famous history. This is the water that was used by the Dambusters of 617 Squadron to test their bouncing bombs, which were used to such dramatic effect to destroy German dams and flooding the Ruhr Valley under Operation Chastise. There is a plaque commemorating this along the public path. The reservoir itself was built at a most strategic time; its purpose was to supply Stewarts and Lloyds steelworks in Corby, and it was completed in 1940.
Cottesmore – a picturesque village which is mentioned in the Domesday book
To the north of Rutland can be found Cottesmore village, which was an old feudal village in Edward the Confessor’s time, that found itself being changed first by industrialization, and then by war. While today there is a strong Army presence, represented by Kendrew Barracks, previously the RAF were stationed around here and Cottesmore Air Base was a vital factor in the Second World War.
If you visit St Nicholas’ Church, which still has portions dating back to the twelfth century, you will see that the north aisle is an RAF chapel dedicated to those who fell in World War II.
A walk to North and South Luffenham – for beautiful Rutland scenery
Not far from Edith Weston, and south of St George’s Barracks (previously RAF North Luffenham), lie the two villages of North and South Luffenham. They are situated in lovely countryside and a good way to experience both villages is by following the footpaths that connect and circle them. The countryside is pleasant with wildflowers to be seen, such as bee orchids, which grow on the chalky soil.
The walk is easy without too many ups and downs and is about 2 1/2 miles long. There is a longer walk of 5 miles that includes Morcott village.
It is believed that there was already a settlement in the North Luffenham area in the 5th and sixth centuries, as evidenced by an Anglo-Saxon cemetery to the north of the village. The community thrived until the seventeenth century when the Civil War brought a siege to Luffenham Hall, the home of Henry Noel, a dedicated Royalist. He had to surrender and the soldiers ransacked the Hall and the church of St John the Baptist, damaging a memorial statue of Henry’s first wife.
South Luffenham is similar in appearance to North Luffenham, with its attractive stone cottages. The two are separated by the river Chater. Until the Second World War, the Earls of Ancaster owned all the farms and most of the cottages. In the fields surrounding South Luffenham you can see the remains of a windmill and a water mill.
We also have posts on…
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- The most beautiful places to visit in Northamptonshire
- The most beautiful places to visit in Cambridgeshire
- The most beautiful places to visit in Lincolnshire
All words by Rutland local Mich Logan.