A for Autumn. R for Rutland. W for Winter
Now that the children have flown the nest for pastures new – university, work or homes of their own, it is your time. Time to relax and explore at your own pace; the small county of Rutland has a wide variety of places to visit and things to do, so wander through the alphabet this Autumn and Winter.
A is for accommodation, which ranges from the truly luxurious to the basic essentials. Visit Art galleries, Artists’ Studios or Antiques Centre’s. Some of these are in Buildings dating back centuries, built of local mellow golden stone – as are some B&B’s. C is for the Countryside with its gently rolling hills and woodlands – fabulous at any time of year.
Dogs are welcome in many places and would enjoy the change of scene, so bring your faithful friend along. Events of all types take place somewhere most weekends – from Craft Fairs to Farmers Markets; from Cycling Events to Beer Festivals. Food and drink are especially important in The County of Good Taste as the majority of eateries pride themselves on sourcing local ingredients where possible. A Food Festival takes place in Oakham twice a year, so join the celebration on October 28th; the culmination of Discover Rutland’s Food and Drink Week of events around the county.
Golf is a popular pastime for many, and amongst the golf clubs (open to non-members) is Greetham Valley, with two championship standard courses in picturesque countryside. Rutland Water Golf Club, as its name implies, overlooks Rutland Water, with a courtyard restaurant and luxurious accommodation for golfers and non-golfers alike.
Hotels include the opulent Hambleton Hall Hotel on Hambleton peninsula. Whilst on the north shore, Barnsdale Hall Hotel offers a variety of hotel, lodge or apartment accommodation on an equally spectacular site with wonderful views of the water. Inns with rooms are scattered across the county, both in small villages such as Exton, with its charming village green, or the towns of Oakham and Uppingham, serving mainly traditional English Cuisine at an exceptional standard, meaning any Journey around Rutland is sure to unveil a gastronomic delight. You could even pick up some top tips at the Rutland Cookery School near Ashwell.
Keep within this small county with the aid of a new quirky map by local artist Katie Cardew. There are no motorways in Rutland, so driving is a pleasure. The Library is a good source of local information, situated close to Rutland County Museum with displays and exhibits celebrating rural life. Markets are held in Oakham on Wednesdays and Saturdays and in Uppingham on Fridays.
Normanton Church, probably the most familiar icon in the county appears to float on water. After a chequered history, which nearly saw it demolished prior to the flooding of the valley to form the reservoir; it was saved by the creation of a small island and a causeway to the shore. It is now used for civil weddings and musical evenings. Oakham is the county town, with an ancient Butter Cross and a castle famed for its horse shoes. Almost neighbouring the castle is the original old School, founded in 1584 and now part of Oakham School. Church Passage leads to All Saints Church with its 14th Century spire seen for miles around. Many of the shops in town are independent and Mill Street in particular offers bespoke jewellery, fashion, gifts, interior design and a first class delicatessen amongst others. Parking is free along the roads for short periods but large car parks are available close by for serious shopping or eating.
The county is lucky to have a great selection of Plant nurseries and garden centres, including Barnsdale Gardens, originally created by Geoff Hamilton and now run by his son; Welland Vale Garden Inspirations, a family run business of 40 odd years has gifts, pots, planters and the Orchard Café for a coffee or meal. The Herb Nursery at Thistleton, another family run business, specialises in traditional and unusual plants in addition to a huge range of herbs – all “home grown”. On the other hand, Gates Garden Centre is a day out in itself – plants, gifts, furniture, clothes and a large Christmas department and grotto during the festive season.
Quarries deliver pale golden stone for local buildings but are not open to the public. However, the old Ironstone Quarry near Cottesmore has Rocks by Rail; an exhibition of the quarry history and a number of locomotives to view – you can even be a “driver for a fiver” on certain days. The 1960’s style café, run by volunteers, serves tea and cake. More varied Restaurants can be found in the hotels or in the towns of Oakham and Uppingham and some of the country pubs. Shopping can be fun in a small town, with friendly knowledgeable staff; so browse at your leisure and find something unique, especially during the late night openings towards Christmas with music and entertainments.
Tolethorpe Hall Open Air Theatre offers one of the finest alfresco stages in Europe, but the season ends in September, so make a note for next year! Perhaps visit the theatre in Uppingham instead; purpose built, it offers performances from comedy to tragedy, and is a short stroll from the town centre. On the edge of the Market Place is a fantastic ‘old school’ hardware store and tucked in the corner, a great interior design and gift shop. The town abounds with antique and craft shops. The Falcon Hotel is the ideal meeting place for a coffee whilst planning the next activity.
The Visitor Centre at Egleton is the Birdwatching centre for Rutland Water Nature Reserve; open all year round with excellent views, an optics centre, gift shop and helpful staff. Nature trails from here will provide interesting Walking and a chance to see some of the 25,000 waterfowl at close quarters. Xplore something totally different near Clipsham and walk the length of the Yew Tree Avenue bordered by magnificent topiary, started in 1870 by the Head Forester of Clipsham Estate and now in the process of restoration to its former glory.
Z is for zoo, so visit Bugtopia with its reptiles, meerkats and mammals. Also the Falconry & Owl Centre near Barnsdale has a large variety of rescued birds in a very natural woodland setting and is open all year.
All this is just a brief outline of what is available, so above all, have fun, explore, relax and come again.