If you haven’t heard of Rutland, England’s smallest county, than don’t be too distressed. Many of the English would struggle to place this tiny part of the Midlands.
Discover Rutland: Rutland Water, Oakham & More
This anonymity is a shame as Rutland is actually one of the prettiest areas of lowland England around. It’s got one of the loveliest inland waterways in Rutland Water, lovely market towns (Stamford, Oakham etc), chocolate box villages and miles of hiking trails for those who want to get out and about.
Where Exactly Is Rutland?
Rutland is in the East Midlands, about 100 miles north of London. It’s bounded to the northeast by Lincolnshire, west and north by Leicestershire, to and the southeast by Northamptonshire.
Why Such A Small County?
Like many similar questions in the British Isles: it’s a historical anomaly.
Rutland was mentioned as a separate ‘county’ in the 12th century and kept its separate identity right up to 197 4. Then it was merged with Leicestershire as part of a wider, and controversial, rationalisation of counties.
This move, although sensible from an administrative point of view, was unpopular as people had an affinity for their historical county.
This was particularly the case with Rutland and so it was with great relief that it regained its ‘independence’ as a separate county in 1997. Not exactly Thomas Jefferson type stuff, but welcome nevertheless …
What To Do & See In Rutland
If you’re lucky enough to visit, what is there to do?
Well, firstly it’s a lovely base for exploring the East Midlands of England. Within a short drive, or train ride, you could visit Cambridge, Nottingham, or Ely Cathedral for example. London is only an hour by train too.
But the county itself has plenty to keep you occupied. Here are a few ideas …
We’ll start with Rutland’s star attraction.
Rutland Water, a reservoir filled with water pumped from local rivers, is both a wildlife haven and watersports centre (as well as being a key water source for the East Midlands).
If you’re into walking or birdwatching the area provides lots of quiet spots for a hike or to view the local wildlife. It’s also big enough to support a large watersports complex far enough away not to disturb that wildlife’s peace (or that of those enjoying it).
Our favourite part is Normanton Church, once part of community that was flooded to make the reservoir, but which now stands guard over the lake.
The flooding also claimed the village of Nether Hambleton which was completely submerged and is known as the
‘lost village’ – it’s is still mainly intact below the service.
Anyway the area’s a great day out for all the family, whatever you’re into.
Oakham is pretty example of a very English phenomenon: the market town.
Market towns were once the hub of rural England, where locals went to access shops and services not available in their village. They were also the site, of course, of the key local economic event: the market.
Farmers and produce growers would come from far around on market day to sell their wares and pick up supplies needed out in the country. The marketplace would therefore be a market town’s centre of activity and nowhere is this more true than in Oakham.
This pretty Rutland town has one of the loveliest marketplaces containing an authentic ‘buttercross’, where dairy products were once sold.
Markets are still held every Wednesday and Saturday – the best days to visit.
The marketplace is also flanked by one of England’s top ‘public schools‘ (the very confusing name for the UK’s top private schools), Oakham School.
And if that wasn’t enough the town is also home to Oakham Castle constructed in the 12th century (the Great Hall, above, is open to the public).
Uppingham, like its sister town Oakham, is a market town (market day: Friday) containing a well-known school, Uppingham.
The school itself is the attraction here: its Hogwarts-like presence dominates the town. Again, this is one of the country’s top public schools; Uppingham’s alumni include comedian Stephen Fry and actor Boris Karloff.
It’s also set in magnificent buildings and ground and well worth a visit.
(Strictly speaking the castle is just outside the Rutland border in Northamptonshire but, given we love this place, we decided to cheat a little).
Rockingham Castle was ordered to be built by William the Conqueror soon after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Its location overlooking the Welland valley made the castle a key part of his efforts to subdue his newly captured Kingdom.
As such a central and strategic asset it played a part in many of the key parts of England’s history over the past 1000 years.
Richard the Lionheart stayed here and even left his treasure in one of the castle’s rooms. Henry VIII hunted here, and the castle played a key role in the English Civil War.
During Tudor times the castle was given to the Watson family. They still live there making Rockingham one of the longest owned castles in Europe.
So there are a few highlights. If you do get to go please enjoy it. And don’t forget to tell the English all about Rutland too …