When I tell my friends I’m going to Rutland for the weekend, I get blank looks all around. One asks ‘Is it in Scotland?’… No, it’s right in the middle of England, squeezed between Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, from which it’s celebrating 20 years of keenly fought-for local government independence. Rutland is largely unknown, undiscovered and underrated.
It is actually thanks to this wonderful platform that I decided to visit Rutland. I follow a blog – Point Break Lifestyle, and the author Ryan lives in Rutland. His photos of the area are always beautiful rolling English countryside. I had a trip booked last year but then COVID v2 hit – finally, in April this year (literally the first weekend we were allowed to travel), I booked a holiday cottage and went.
Rutland is the perfect place for slow travel in England. It’s the kind of place you tootle around the country lanes, hedgerows bursting with cow parsley as you have to pull in to another passing place so a tractor can go by. It’s the kind of place where narrow road after narrow road suddenly opens up in to a beautiful, picture perfect village.
Rutland is tiny. Just 15 or so rural miles from top to bottom and side to side, it offers beautiful landscapes, peaceful villages full of thatched cottages, two market towns and plenty of fields in which to spend the days walking. It’s an England you could assume would be long-gone, but which isn’t. If you ever get the chance to explore, then I really recommend doing at least some of the things listed below.
1. Walk, bike or sail around Rutland Water
At its centre is Rutland Water, Europe’s largest man-made lake, where you can sail, fish and windsurf or just watch the birds. The Water’s creation in the 1970s could have led to the demolition of Normanton Church, but a public outcry saved it and it’s now one of the county’s most familiar sights, lying right on the shore of the Water. It’s a truly beautiful spot and you could easily spend a day enjoying all that Rutland Water has to offer.
2. Visit the beautiful cottages of Exton
Picture perfect Exton is one of those villages that looks like it’s straight out of an English storybook. Everywhere you look are thatched cottages, little gardens bursting with colour, rows of quintessentially English houses and friendly people waving hello. There was a huge joy in strolling around the village, feeling like it probably hadn’t changed in hundreds of years.
If you are a big fan of pretty English villages, then please also check out my post on Rutland’s most beautiful villages (post coming soon).
3. Discover the market town of Oakham
Oakham is the county town of Rutland and is a pretty, traditional English market town, filled with history and heritage. There are plenty of things to here – from Oakham Castle, one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in England, to eating delicious food at the Farmer’s Market, to exploring the Rutland County Museum. Even the local school is beautiful, housed in an historic building which dates back to 1584.
Oakham Castle (L) and the picturesque Dean Street
4. Smell the flowers at Barnsdale Gardens
Barnsdale Gardens are such a beautiful spot – they are England’s biggest collection of individually designed gardens (almost 40 in total) and were even the location for filming Gardener’s World, a British TV show. The Gardens also house a tea room which makes for the perfect spot for a leisurely afternoon tea, especially on a nice sunny day, plus of course there is a shop and nursery if you want to purchase any plants.
Enjoying Barnsdale Gardens in the sunshine
5. Enjoy the English countryside
One of the benefits of a small county full of mainly villages is that there is so much open countryside to explore, with lots of beautiful walks on offer. I personally chose to walk a lovely 8km circular route between the village of Empingham to Normanton one morning, and then on another afternoon completed a walk of the Hambleton peninsula.
Enjoying the English countryside including new born lambs (R)
There are dozens of walks like these to take in the picturesque villages, fresh air and English countryside, so if you’re visiting it’s well worth making the time to do a couple. And if you’re really in to walking, you could even walk The Rutland Round – a 65 mile route around the perimeter of the county!
Another benefit of Rutland is that it is so close to other counties. Right on its border with Lincolnshire lies the beautiful town of Stamford and Burghley House, as well as Easton Walled Gardens to the north, and on its border with Leicestershire lies Belvoir Castle. If you’re in the county for a long weekend, you could visit any one of these to add even more countryside exploration to your break.
Stamford is a quaint market town, home to lovely shops, cafes and houses full of Lincolnshire stone buildings. It’s great to just stroll around and have lunch and can be combined with a visit to Burghley House below to make a full day trip.
2. Burghley House
Burghley House is a prime example of Elizabethan architecture and is still lived in by the Cecil family to this day. The house is open on a seasonal basis, and the grounds and park are open year round. You can often find deer roaming the park and the gardens bright with flowers. Combined with a trip to Stamford, it’s the perfect way to spend a day in and around the Rutland area.
I’ve been to Burghley a few times, so I’ve included a couple of photos from an autumn visit last year, as well as this year’s spring time visit.
3. Belvoir Castle
Another option for a great place to visit right on the border of Rutland is Belvoir Castle, which lies just into Leicestershire. Now Belvoir means ‘beautiful view’ in French, but because we English are terrible at languages, we pronounce it ‘Beaver’, which always makes me chuckle.
Belvoir Castle is the ancestral home of the Duke of Rutland, where the family have lived for almost a thousand years. Castles have stood here since around 1067 and you can see out to Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire making it a great vantage point. On a clear day you can even see Lincoln Cathedral 30 miles away.
At the castle there are also some really nice gardens and walking trails, making it easy to spend at least half a day exploring here.
4. Easton Walled Gardens
‘A dream of Nirvana….almost too good to be true’ – that was US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s assessment of the Easton Estate in the 1900s. This Estate is traditionally rural, set in the rolling countryside of the Rutland/Lincolnshire borders. It’s been owned by the same family since 1561 and has arable and livestock farming, ancient woodlands, farm shops, a pub, a beautiful garden, and holiday cottages available to let.
The gardens surrounding the site of the old Hall and its surviving buildings have been recreated over the last 20 years and are now open to the public as Easton Walled Gardens. They are absolutely beautiful and well worth half a day of your time.
And that brings my long weekend in (and around) Rutland to a close. What do you think? Would you like to visit this beautiful little piece of England one day? If you do, then remember to also have a look at my post on Rutland’s most beautiful villages (coming soon). Stay safe and happy travelling everyone!