Those who know me well are most likely aware of the fact that I firmly believe that good things come in small packages! Tiny animals, tiny houses, tiny cars, even tiny food (mini burgers, I’m looking at you!); the tinier — the cuter! With that in mind, imagine my delight when Discover Rutland invited us to head on over and visit the tiniest county in all of the land – I was over the moon!
At 147 square miles (382 square kilometers), Rutland might be tiny, but this county, with a population of 40,000 — sure focuses on the right things, with the friendliest locals and masses of fun activities to do.
The rich soil allows crops, especially wheat, to grow like Topsy, and perhaps that’s why there are so many amazing restaurants here where you can try local produce, enjoy high-quality drinks and food, and have the best chat with the locals! Hambleton Hall has both a Michelin Star and several AA Rosettes, and there’s not a KFC, McDonald’s, or Burger King in sight – I guess they don’t call them the county of good taste for nothing!
But enough about that, I’m very excited to tell you all about our fab weekend in Rutland, home of many a cottage made from limestone and thatch, so let’s get straight to it, shall we?!
Our superstar and best friend, aka our beautiful VW — Red, took us to Rutland and the place at the top of our to-do list: Barnsdale Gardens! And gardens, they sure are. Thirty-eight of them, in fact, covering 8 acres, each with its own theme, atmosphere, and charm. Like the Reclaimed Garden, built from mostly second/hand materials, or Versailles, which brings the famous gardens of Louis XIV to mind – and let’s not forget about the Rose Garden, which is indescribably delightful!
Barnsdale Gardens were originally a project by Geoff Hamilton, who you might remember from TV series such as Gardeners’ World, and were actually used as a set for that TV show for years – not surprising, looking at how gorgeous and well thought out everything is! There’s a tea room if you don’t want to have your heavenly brew in the Tea Garden, the Gardens are open 363 days a year, and it’s only £9.50 to get in – even cheaper in the winter months!
The scent here is amazing, really out of this world, the whole place makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a Grimm tale or a secret garden at Hogwarts – speaking of which, we actually stumbled upon a real secret garden hidden behind a rustic wooden door set within an old brick wall!
If you fall head over heels for this deliciously delicate and lushly leafy greenery, there’s a nursery where you can buy your own little mini versions to take home with you; we might go back and do just that!
Once our morning of garden galavanting had come to an end, it was time for something more physical — and that meant bikes! Off we went to Rutland Water (the largest reservoir in England by surface area, and also where the action is!) on a mission to find the Giant Store.
We arrived at the store and picked up our electric bikes for the day, they were pedal-assisted, so you still had to do a little bit of legwork, but the emphasis lies on ‘little bit’ – you could go ridiculously fast with almost no effort! It was my first time on an electric bike, and boy are they way more fun than I was expecting.
After doing the bike version of strolling for a while, we made a stop at the fantastic, the gorgeous, the beautiful, the absolutely stunning — Normanton Church. The building itself wouldn’t look out of place in a fairytale, and the way it seemingly floats on the water – no wonder this is such a popular location for weddings, with that stunning scenery!
Anyone who gets married here should send a mental thank you to members of the Rutland community circa 1970, who made it very clear that the plans to flood the area to create a reservoir mustn’t be at the detriment of the church – and what do you know, it worked! It was decided that the church can stay, and for that, happy couples (and wedding photographers!) are eternally grateful. And so were we, because it’s not just a church, it’s also a great spot for hanging out and eating ice cream!
Because, as we all know, no bike ride is complete without at least one ice cream break, so guess how happy we were when we spotted an ice cream van run by a chap with a plan on how to save the planet, one waffle cone at a time! He was super friendly, and the vegan options and biodegradable packaging were the icing on the, um, ice cream cake?! Am I talking about ice cream too much? No, surely not!
After a day of fun, fun, and some more fun, we couldn’t wait to get to our accommodation for the weekend and get some rest. Upon arriving, though, sleep was the last thing on our minds – we were suddenly surrounded by geodesic domes that were a mix between a delightful hobbit community, and an area 51-themed campground — but in the best possible way!
The domes had been turned into really cozy homes, complete with hot tubs, pizza ovens, and camp kitchens – this might just make it into the top three favorite places we’ve stayed! This glamping site is run by a rad little family who decided to pursue their dreams of having their own glamorous camping destination – how about that for saying yes to life! They were super friendly, and always quick with a local recommendation when we needed tips.
Another incredible building that you can find in Rutland, Tolethorpe Hall has origins going back to just after the Norman Conquest, so it was definitely around when William Shakespeare put quill to paper and immortalized those word combinations that we all love – if we can understand what they mean, that is!
Whether your Shakespearian English is properly brushed up on or not doesn’t really matter, because coming to this place is such an experience in itself. The grounds invite you on a stroll around the flowerbeds, shrubberies, and tiny (yes!) ponds, and – most of all – to a lovely picnic on the lawns! Order your picnic beforehand and pick up the food at arrival, or you can bring your own. If you do, you have to go to the Hambleton bakery – it was as cute as sixty buttons on a tiny kitty-sized jumper! Then roll out that blanket, and start the snacking, before…
Playtime! And no, not croquet o’clock, however smooth and flat the grass is – it’s time for Shakespeare, of course! The one we watched was the Twelfth Night, and it was pretty damn amazing; we all love a good costume drama, and this was just that, including incredible acting and costumes that were out of this world. And the stage itself was so cool: imagine a combination between a circus tent and a theater, and chuck some classic English garden features, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. It was all really, really good. But please don’t tell anyone about the pack of vegan chocolates that we snuck in!
The second day of our little adventure started, but not with a bang. After the break of the morning, we sat down with our black coffee and croissants made in the pizza oven at In The Stix and just relaxed, but soon we were on our way to explore some gorgeous Rutland villages (which you can read more about further down) – it’s all about balance, right?!
Speaking of balance — our next destination required plenty of it, unless you’re ready to get wet (spoiler: you’ll get wet anyway)! Back to Rutland Water, and this time the Aqua Park was the geographical – and fun-sical! – goal. This is a really cool place unless you’re scared of water (which I was in the beginning, not gonna lie!), with all sorts of obstacles, all neatly placed out on a grid of bridges [is there a better word?].
Like the Cyclon, Jungle Jim, Ice Tower XXL, and Summit Express, which are just a few of all the obstacles that allow you to climb, jump, slide, crawl, and splash – does it sound awesome? Good, because it was amazingly, fantastically, super-duper fun! There’s something here for literally everyone unless you don’t like water at all, in which case you can always have a picnic! If you do, stop by the adorable town of Oakham, to pick up everything you need.
The only bad thing about this watery paradise is that it’s only open throughout July and August (and weekends in September), but I guess we can blame the British summer for that! During these months you can come any day of the week, rain or shine, but only if you book first, and arrive on time for the briefing – no briefing, no fun in the water! For £22 you’ll get an hour in the wetness if you go between 11 am and 3 pm on the weekend; otherwise, it’s £20! There are walk-in bookings available, but I wouldn’t risk not getting to experience it!
Did I mention that Rutland Water is the place to be, the fun hub of the whole county? Well, I should — because here’s another Water activity for you: watching majestic Ospreys from none other than the Rutland Belle, complete with an open upper deck, a covered lower one, and a neat little selection of drinks and snacks. Just don’t forget to bring your binoculars, which we did. Luckily, though, a friendly cruise-going neighbor was kind enough to lend us some. Phew, crisis averted!
So, why the focus on Ospreys, rather than Red Kites, Buzzards, or Oystercatchers, which you can also find in the area (and spot on the cruise!)? It all started – or should I say almost ended – in the 1840s when Ospreys became an extinct breeding species in England, meaning that they would sometimes come hang out, but never lay any eggs in the country.
Fast-forward to the 1980s, when babies from Scotland were moved to Rutland Water, resulting in 12 locally born ospreys breeding at the reservoir today! Great news and we were lucky enough to see not one, not two, but three of the powerful yet elegant birds – and some chicks!
I mean, food tastes great whatever time of the day you choose to let it tickle your fancy, but it tastes even better when you’ve been out and about all day – and even more so when you manage to find a place that will cook you one of the best meals you’ve ever had! Sarpech, in Oakham, is definitely one of those restaurants, you know the ones that just get everything right. The food, the atmosphere, and the delicious mocktails, everything was exquisite!
One of the best things about Indian food places is that it’s so easy to get vegan options, which is just what we did (of course!), and you won’t believe how tasty it was! Their starters were so good that we kind of wanted to order more when we’d finished them all, but then the mains arrived and so too did the tastiest meal of my entire life.
The chefs at Sarpech made a hearty, flavorful, and moreish aubergine dish that was perfectly cooked. A savory dish, but with just a teeny bit of sweetness, mmmm it’s literally making me hungry just thinking about it. I’m probably not doing the food justice, the only way I can describe it is, if Gordon Ramsay were to show up — he’d clean his plate.
We’d definitely go back, and really wish that they’d deliver to our current home that’s only a few hours away – or maybe we should set up a permanent camp on the street outside the restaurant! Anything’s possible when food this tasty is involved.
Sometimes this section is really easy to write, whereas other times it’s almost impossible to choose just a few of all the fantastic, beautiful places. Can you guess which one applies to Rutland? That’s right: the latter. Because you’ll struggle to find so many picturesque, authentically rustic villages in one place anywhere else. And not only are they all amazing places now, but they also have lots of history – from the Viking Age, or even further back!
Like this beauty, that has a Danish name even though it goes back to prehistoric times and used to be part of a large royal hunting forest (ew), but now is the cutest little place without any big roads going through it, making Ridlington such a quiet, peaceful place. I could get lost in the maze of lanes in this miniature, gorgeous village.
This little gem is located in the south of the county. The whole village is pretty much based around one road, so if you just drive slowly, you’ll be able to see all the cottages, pubs, and other buildings, all made from the amazing reddish limestone that Lyddington is so famous for. Add some greenery and a blue sky and the Insta photos will practically take themselves, and don’t forget to visit Bede House, the only survivor of a medieval Bishop’s Palace. We didn’t see any ghosts, but you never know.
Langham isn’t just the home of some of the prettiest cottages I’ve ever seen but also used to be a place where the royalty and their close friends would spend a lot of time. In fact, the history is so fascinating that there’s a village walk pamphlet that will tell you all about the historic buildings – you can find your copy in the church, conveniently enough!
Now, I’m not the best bird watcher out there, and can barely tell one tit from another, but visiting the home of the annual Bird Watching Festival was pretty darn amazing anyway! The village itself is a little jewel, with thatched roofs covering the cutest cottages, and since Egleton is just by Rutland Water, they pretty much have their own nature reserve! I don’t know why they didn’t just go all out and call the place Eagleton though!
Another place-name positively teeming with Viking influences, Gunthorpe may have loads of charm, but not as many residents – not even 20! It’s one of the tiniest inhabited hamlets in the county, and by now you know how I feel about that – I love it! I did not want to leave this place, not even when I heard that the reason it’s so small, is because back in the day, the village was hit hard by the plague which wiped out most of the many inhabitants.
I adored Rutland, and I’d go as far as to say it was one of our favorite trips on the British Isles. We’d definitely go back, no question about it! The people, the food, the tininess, and especially all of the fun activities make this tiny county one of the best ones.
In fact, it’d be a great place to get married, as there’s so much to do and so close to everything – who knows, maybe this will be the place where we tie the knot… I’m thinking on the inflatable obstacle course!