Rutland, England: The smallest county in England

"Small in size, rich in attractions". So, goes the slogan of Rutland, which is not only the smallest county in England but proudly boasts one of history's shortest heroes.

Jeffrey Hudson was born in 1619 in the historic town of Oakham. By the age of seven he was still so small - barely 45 centimetres – that he was presented to Queen Henrietta Maria as a "wonder of the ages".

An intelligent man who was undeterred by his handicap, he went on to fight in the English Civil War, kill a man in a duel in France, be captured by Barbary pirates and spend 25 years as a slave in North Africa, before returning home.

Pictures, records and reminders of Hudson's amazing life – including his high-street home - are scattered through Oakham, a classic English market town mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Hereabouts, history lies thick on the ground. There's the 400-year-old Butter Cross, where dairy products were daily bought and sold. It also features stocks used for holding wrongdoers by their limbs. Mysteriously, they have five holes.

The creamy-stone All Saints Church, also mentioned in the Domesday Book, boasts an elegant nave featuring grotesque characters: Green Man, Adam and Eve, Reynard the Fox, as well as ducks, dragons, serpents and a monkey.

A short walk away is Norman Oakham Castle, featuring a Great Hall. A law court for 800 years, it contains more than 200 horse-shoes, given by law-breakers as forfeits to the Lord of the Manor.

Nearby, is the narrow, medieval Dean's Street, known locally as "Dead Man's Lane", for centuries the route taken by coffins being carried to the church.

Nowhere is far from anywhere else in this county, and it is only a short drive from Oakham to the famous Rutland Water, one of Europe's largest man-made lakes.

Advertisement

Created in the mid-1970s primarily to supply water to the thirsty East Midlands, the reservoir also provides a wide range of activities, on, in and even over the water.

Set deep in the rolling, green English countryside, the reservoir is 27 kilometres in circumference and, in places, 33 metres deep.

Access is available at several points, providing parking, refreshments, bike hire, an aqua park featuring giant slides and other amusements, and a watersports centre offering sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and paddle-boarding.

It even has its own attractive, water promontory Normanton Church, saved from the rising waters, and re-opened to the public on selected dates, and available for weddings and concerts.

As the official Rutland brochure promises, "Whether you like fishing, walking, cycling, birdwatching, sailing, enjoying other water-sports or just relaxing in the beautiful surroundings, look no further than our fabulous water parks".

It's right. On a recent return to England to catch up with friends and family, my wife and I chose to stay at a farm, in the beautiful village of Manton, (population 350).

Our first-floor set of rooms, close to the horse stables, looked far out across the colourful gardens to rolling, green fields, dotted with sheep. The bird tables were always busy.

True, the weather was un-Englishly kind: just 30 minutes rain in our 12-day stay. But the setting, the timeless serenity, the silence and the simplicity of life were blissful.

A mere 10-minute walk away, Manton village offers lines of quaint, ironstone cottages; a friendly country pub called the Horse and Jockey; and, nearby the picturesque St Mary's Church, with its rare, double bell-cote.

A few kilometres further are other amazing attractions.

They include Barnsdale Gardens, home of the BBC's Gardeners' World TV program, featuring 38 "mini" gardens; and Rockingham Castle, whose original "motte and bailey" construction was supervised by William the Conqueror.

It was here that Charles Dickens wrote classics such as Bleak House.

And, of course, back on the water, there is teeming birdlife, which can be viewed close up from more than 30 waterside hides. Bliss.

TRIP NOTES

FLY

Several carriers offer flights into Heathrow and, more conveniently, Birmingham, for hire car pick-up.

STAY

The author stayed at Manton Lodge Farm, Manton. The accommodation was booked through holidaylettings.co.uk

MORE

traveller.com.au/england

rutlandwater.org.uk

Comments