It was a warm summers day when we climbed into the car and began our journey. This particular Sunday started like many others. “Where shall we explore today?” I asked whilst making the morning coffee. Rutland instantly sprang to mind. I inherited a brilliant book from my Grandad which has been a fantastic source of inspiration ever since. The AA Book Of British Villages. The night previous I had been leafing through its well read pages and stumbled across a village called Rockingham in the county of Rutland. The smallest county in England and a place not far from home. Yet very much a place we hadn’t ventured to more than just the once as a child and certainly not to explore it’s villages. Which, as you may have noticed from my Instagram, is kind of my obsession. And that is how our 24 hours in Rutland began.
An hour of driving later and we were trundling along the A606, navigating ourselves along the most beautiful winding roads. Surrounded by lush green fields in all directions. Signposts for Rockingham started to appear and we followed these until we reached one of the most beautiful streets I think I’ve ever seen. My window went down and my head was out. Whether or not we had reached our destination mattered little to me, we had to stop and get out. Turned out, this was Rockingham village.
According to the Domesday Book, Rockingham was little more than a wasteland when William the Conqueror ordered a castle be built there. This castle still stands a top the hill, watching over the village below. A village lived in by a minuscule population of 115. A village consisting of one main street, lined with thatched cottages from top to bottom. The most picture perfect cottages, laden with roses and flower baskets giving off the most magnificent scent.
It is like stepping back in time and experiencing what life would once have looked like in a small village in the English countryside. Remove the cars and indeed you could be in another century. The village is tiny and other than it’s gorgeous cottages features only a pub, town hall, tea rooms, and a small church dating back to 1650.
The castle itself was the country retreat and hunting base of medieval monarchs. In 1530, King Henry VIII gave it to Edward Watson and it is still lived in by his descendants today. Amongst the famous guests to pass through the castle’s doors is Charles Dickens, who wrote much of Bleak House whilst staying here in the 1850’s.
The village pub, The Sondes Arms, was frequented by Dickens as well as legendary actor Clark Gable. A haven to while away a couple of hours enjoying a pint of local ale and a bite to eat.
From Rockingham we moved on to the village of Exton. Slightly larger than Rockingham, Exton is home to 607 people as of the last census. This sleepy village is picture perfect and is admired by all who visit. In the centre is the village green, lined by trees and surrounded by ivy draped facades, a spectacular pub and of course, some of the most beautiful cottages.
Wander a little further and you’ll be strolling along winding lanes, lined with yet more stunning thatched cottages. If you fancied a walk in the surrounding countryside, you can find directions here.
Make sure to stop at the Fox and Hounds pub on the green for lunch. It will not disappoint. Set in a former 17th century coaching inn, this pub oozes character and is a welcome pit stop. Relax next to roaring open fires in the winter months or out in the garden in the long hazy days of summer. Recently awarded a place in the Good Food Guide, the 2AA restaurant comes highly recommended!
I particularly enjoyed the ambience of this homely inn. If you fancy an overnight stay, you can book one of their four Gold Star awarded boutique luxury rooms. Ideal for an idyllic night away.
13 minutes drive away from Exton is the teeny tiny village of Hambleton. Set in it’s own peninsular, accessible by a causeway, this village is unique in that it is surrounded on three sides by Rutland Water. One of the largest man made lakes in Europe. Originally consisting of three parts, Upper, Middle and Nether Hambleton – the later two were submerged in the creation of Rutland Water and today only Upper Hambleton survives and is just known as Hambleton.
There is very little in this village but what is there is absolutely gorgeous. Including one of the most beautifully framed cottages I have ever laid eyes on. Hambleton consists of a 12th century Saxon church, The Finch’s Arms pub and Hambleton Hall which is now a luxury hotel complete with Michelin Starred restaurant. The views from Hambleton Hall over Rutland Water are wonderful. It is well worth a look around the enchanting gardens too!
It will not take long to meander the streets of this village but it is well worth a visit. We had the most delightful stroll down a narrow path which led down towards the reservoir where we stopped for a picnic and tucked in heartily to some homemade pastrami sandwiches.
Where To Eat In Rutland
Hambleton Bakery: It wouldn’t be possible to compile a list of places to eat in Rutland without including the Hambleton Bakery. Named as one of the 20 Best Bakeries in Britain by The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. They have stores dotted around Rutland so if you spot one, make sure to stop and grab something fresh out of their oven. The closest one to the village of Hambleton is in Oakham just a couple of minutes drive away.
Kavanagh’s Tea Room: Newly opened in 2017, this pretty little tea rooms is located in a lovely building formally known as Buttercross House. The tea rooms is light and airy, and wonderfully decorated in a warm and inviting style. And as any tea rooms should, comes complete with vintage china. Kavanagh’s may be new to the Rutland food scene but it is very much making it’s mark in the community.
Kings Arms in Wing: Run by head chef James Goss, the King’s Arms is a cosy 17th century countryside pub that prides itself on it’s seasonal menus, which is recognised in it’s 2 AA Rosettes. Also home to Jimmy’s Smoke House where they use traditional curing methods to preserve local meat and fish such as Rutland trout and Hambleton mutton.
You will not find this small county high up on most people’s lists of places to explore here in England. A shame as it has so much to offer. At the same time I think it is brilliant as it is much quieter than a lot of places, which in the summer months, are heaving with tourists.
Located in the East Midlands, in the centre of the country, it is only a two and a half hour drive from London. Not far if you make a weekend of it. Hopefully this beautiful county will now be on your list of places to discover in the UK.
A final note: I would highly recommend driving around Rutland as it is one of those counties that is far easier to get around with a car! Especially as a lot of these places are quite remote. Don’t have your own car? Why not hire one for a day or two? Car rental is available from a number of companies. Find prices and availability here.
Do you fancy 24 hours in Rutland, exploring these places for yourself?