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Vacation Trips: Discovering Rutland’s easy pace and simple pleasures on an electric bike

Most people will stop when trying to find Rutland on a map. This rural idyll, the smallest and least populated county in England, sits at the point where Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire meet, and has no motorways or cities – just two small towns and many towns.

Fortunately, the locals, known as Raddlemen, are not offended.

Discover Rutland’s Jason Allen (discover-rutland.co.uk) says: ‘We’re so used to it that we’ve added a fun, interactive map to our website, encouraging visitors to try and guess our location. There are hints and directions to help them, plus details on things to see and do here. ‘

Grand: Pictured is Hambleton Hall, the beautiful setting for a luxury hotel and Michelin star restaurant.

Grand: Pictured is Hambleton Hall, the beautiful setting for a luxury hotel and Michelin star restaurant.

Wild Thing: Find tiny loons among the variety of birds that thrive in and around Rutland's water reservoir

Wild Thing: Find tiny loons among the variety of birds that thrive in and around Rutland's water reservoir

Rutland County: A Rural Idyll

Rutland County: A Rural Idyll

Wild Thing: Find tiny loons among the variety of birds that thrive in and around Rutland’s water reservoir

In fairness to those for whom the Where’s Rutland website might be a challenge, this historic county spent 20 years engulfed by its neighbor Leicestershire, regaining its independence only in 1994.

At just 147 square miles (Leicestershire measures 804 square miles), its diminutive size hides a strong identity that centers on the reservoir at its heart.

Rutland Water, created in the 1970s and spanning 3,000 acres, is Britain’s largest man-made lake, and much of Rutland’s visitor appeal lies around its shores.

The creation of Rutland Water flooded several villages, wiping them off the map, but in return the county gained a remarkable resource.

As well as providing the landlocked East Midlands with a reliable water supply, the lake offers opportunities for kayaking, sailing, and stand-up paddle boarding, and is surrounded by a marked walking and biking trail.

As the route weaves its way through 23 miles of meadows and woods along the water, it’s easy to mark many of the county’s landmarks.

Wanting to take it all in without breaking a sweat, I rented an electric bike from Rutland Cycling (£ 35 per person, rutlandcycling.com), which operates the UK’s largest fleet of electric bikes.

Landmark: partially submerged Normanton Church, which was saved from demolition when the Rutland Water Reservoir was created

Landmark: partially submerged Normanton Church, which was saved from demolition when the Rutland Water Reservoir was created

Landmark: partially submerged Normanton Church, which was saved from demolition when the Rutland Water Reservoir was created

Making waves: windsurfing on sun-drenched Rutland Water.  Tourists can also kayak and stand up paddle boarding on the lake

Making waves: windsurfing on sun-drenched Rutland Water.  Tourists can also kayak and stand up paddle boarding on the lake

Making waves: windsurfing on sun-drenched Rutland Water. Tourists can also kayak and stand up paddle boarding on the lake

James says the city of Oakham, pictured above, is the 'best place' to try the best food in Rutland

James says the city of Oakham, pictured above, is the 'best place' to try the best food in Rutland

James says the city of Oakham, pictured above, is the ‘best place’ to try the best food in Rutland

MAKE YOUR ESCAPE WITH THE SOUND OF SILENCE

The noise of our lives before the pandemic has returned in force, but if you miss the sound of silence that came with the lockdowns, English Heritage offers a solution.

With the help of actor and mental health activist Stephen Fry, an ‘hour of contemplation’ has been introduced each day at 16 of its monasteries in England to encourage visitors to experience them as they were intended when they were first built.

They include the most important center of early Christianity, Lindisfarne Priory in Northumberland, the 14th century Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire, Battle Abbey in East Sussex, founded by William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings, and Cleeve Abbey in Somerset.

Fry has recorded an audio introduction for those seeking peace and comfort, including a reading from Saint Aelred, the 12th-century abbot of Rievaulx Abbey in York, in which he describes the joy that comes from a monastic existence when the shackles of everyday life have disappeared. Discard.

His words will resonate with those who felt that the confinement gave them a unique opportunity to get away from the hectic routines: “Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity and a wonderful freedom from the tumult of the world.”

Dr Michael Carter, senior property historian at English Heritage, says: ‘In a modern world where people are constantly in a rush and expected to be at the end of a phone 24/7 We often find the silence disconcerting.

“ Sometimes it’s important to step back and focus on appreciating the peace and quiet that are unique to these historic buildings – monuments to the human spirit and the divine and our constant search for inner peace and wholeness. ”

He adds: ‘With many people who have been through a difficult period during the last 18 months, we are inviting visitors to escape their worries for a short time using silence, the sound of birdsong, the whisper of the wind. in the trees, to contemplate and free their minds and spirits from the busy, noisy and demanding distractions of contemporary life. ‘

From their base in Whitwell, on the north shore of the lake, I set out on a circumnavigation, following the staff member’s sage advice: “The hills are so much easier if you go counterclockwise!”

E-bikes are heavier than normal cycles, but they certainly make a difference when you work on their settings: from almost no assist in ‘eco’ to ‘boost’ with jet propulsion.

The electric motor amplifies any energy exerted on the pedals, which meant that it could tackle slopes with hardly more breath than it would need on flat ground. And the beauty of biking the traffic-free trail as you go around the lake is that it is worth stopping to see appear every two miles.

Take your first break in the nature reserve (£ 6 per person, lrwt.org.uk/rutland-water) at Egleton, at the western end of the lake.

Its Bird Watching Center offers 35 hides overlooking meadows, lagoons and reed beds that are home to an impressive variety of warblers, grebes, waders, terns, ducks and geese.

On the south shore at Lyndon Visitor Center, there are Ospreys. By now these long-distance migrants will be in their West African winter quarters, but seasonal change sees their star power replaced by autumn leaves reflecting off the lake.

Ahead is the singular view of the partially submerged church of Normanton. Saved from demolition when the reservoir flooded, it is now a Rutland icon.

A jetty next to the church offers scenic cruise departures aboard the Rutland Belle (from £ 8 per person, rutlandwatercruises.com).

Beyond this is the dam that was built in the Gwash Valley in 1975, before one last push on the pedals brings you back where you started.

If you’re in the mood for a more relaxed visit than a 23-mile bike ride can offer, head to the shore of Lake Hambleton, which sits at the top of the peninsula and runs down to the heart of the lake.

Among the honey-colored houses of this wealthy town is Hambleton Hall (hambletonhall.com), a Relais & Chateaux hotel and a Michelin star restaurant.

Or head to the wonderful Finch’s Arms (finchsarms.co.uk), the village pub whose incredibly delicious seasonal menu can be enjoyed outside on the terrace in fine weather.

Its spacious rooms are also a winner, with contemporary styling and lake views from several of them.

A more traditional option is Barnsdale Lodge (barnsdalelodge.co.uk) on the north coast, whose 46 rooms surround a courtyard garden.

This family-run hotel is a delightful place to unwind with simple pleasures like croquet on the lawn or dinner in the restaurant that celebrates Rutland produce.

This comes to the fore during Rutland Food and Drink Week (October 25-31), which solidifies its reputation as the county of good taste. With tastings, beer festivals, pumpkin picking, and special menus throughout the county, it’s a delicious time to visit.

At other times, Oakham, the county town, is the best place to sample the best of Rutland.

Otters Fine Foods (nutriasfinefoods.co.uk) stores Oakham honey and Rutland rapeseed oil, while Hambleton Bakery (hambleton.co.uk bakery) has tempting cakes and pies.

And don’t miss Fika (fikacafe.co.uk) for the best coffee in town.

Rutland’s motto for ‘Multum in parvo’ – Much in Little – is clearly quite appropriate. But don’t be surprised to keep quiet about your joys. After all, you don’t want everyone else to fall for your newfound romance …

  • James Litston was a guest at Barnsdale Lodge, where the B&B costs from £ 109 per night (barnsdalelodge.co.uk).

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