A couple of weeks ago I’d never heard of Rutland and I certainly didn’t know that it‘s England’s smallest county. This makes it perfect to explore on a day road trip! The stops are really close together and Rutland’s towns and villages are just picture perfect with gorgeous architecture and the most adorable thatched cottages. There are plenty of places to stretch your legs and great stops for coffee and tasty treats as well!
First stop is the gorgeous village of Empingham which is just off the A1 and super close to the town of Stamford (somewhere that’s still on my list of places to visit). Stroll through the streets to admire the pretty cottages here. In particular make sure to walk down Church Street and take a close look at the names of the houses. Can you spot The Old Bakery, the Cobblers Cottage & the Smithyard? Plus there’s a gorgeous view down to the church.
Rutland Water (see stop 7) was originally called Empingham Reservoir but the change was made when Rutland was being merged with neighbouring Leicestershire.
Jump back in the car for a short drive west to Exton. This charming spot is the definition of a chocolate box village with thatched roofs and colourful gardens everywhere you look 😍 Unknowingly this village is actually where my aunt and uncle lived many years ago and I even posed in front of the cottage they used to own…it’s a small world!
We parked on the village green and set off to explore. There was a certain cottage I’d seen a few times on Instagram that I had my sights set on finding and after turning quite a few corners to lots of other lovely houses we finally came across The Nook. It looks so cosy and I love the slightly overgrown flowers leading up to the doorway. Although I do wonder how hard the thatched roofs must be to maintain!
The most perfect row of thatched cottages is Pudding Bag Lane. I was actually taking a photo of another street when a car rolled by and its driver recommended this beautiful spot instead! Summer is a wonderful time to visit Rutland because the flowers are all in bloom and the cottages covered in greenery 🌿
3. Hambleton Bakery
It’s only five minutes to the wonderful Hambleton Bakery 🤤 there are a few other shops dotted through Rutland but we decided to stop off at the bakery itself. It’s the perfect place to pick up a cheeky snack to keep you going (mini Bakewell tart anyone?), maybe some additions to a picnic basket (think tasty sausage rolls or fresh quiches) or a crispy loaf to take home for some toast and jam the following day!
With the car now filled with the smell of fresh pastries and bread pootle up the road to Cottesmore. This is the third largest place in Rutland, mainly because of the nearby RAF base.
Take a walk through this historic village and you’ll pass the beautiful grade II listed pub The Sun Inn with its lovely thatched roof. The Tithe Barn dates back to the 15th century and is now a B&B. See if you can spot a pigeon nesting in the pigeon holes (although a gardener informed us he’d never seen a pigeon there!)
From Cottesmore it’s less than a 10 minute drive to Oakham, Rutland’s biggest town (with a population of just over 10,000). Oakham is full of history, lovely tea rooms, boutique shops and wonderful streets to explore.
Oakham is a market town and at its centre is the old market place which is obvious from the buttercross that stands outside the post office. In the past, the buttercross is where people would come to buy fresh local produce such as milk and butter. To the left of this historic structure is the independent Oakham School which has beautiful architecture that is reminiscent of walking through Oxford or Cambridge!
There’s lots of cafes, restaurants and sandwich shops to grab a bite to eat depending on what you picked up from the Hambleton Bakery. I stopped at the Daily Grind coffee shop to get my caffeine fix and refuel for exploring!
From here drive 10 minutes to Hambleton which sits on a stretch of land that juts out into Rutland Water. This dreamy village doesn’t so much consist of streets but more beautiful old buildings and cottages that straddle along a couple of roads.
There are some truly stunning cottages here including the one at the top which is an Instagram favourite and the one below with the gorgeous fragrant roses growing up the side 🌹 Take a closer look at the sign on the building above…it used to be the Post & Telegraph Office!
Noël Coward wrote the play Hay Fever whilst staying in Hambleton and it’s not a surprise to see why this is such an inspiring village! There are lots of walks around this peninsula so make a longer stop here if you want to stretch tour legs. There’s a five mile circular walk (there’s a few different guides to it online) around the Hambleton peninsula which I’ll need to return to complete!
7. Rutland Water & Normanton
Last on this road trip is a stop off at Rutland Water at the South Shore car park. It’s a (slightly) longer drive than the other stretches of the trip and you can either go round the top of Rutland Water or the bottom to get to this spot.
Rutland Water actually has a few different car parks but the South Shore car park is the closest you can get to Normanton Church. It’s a 10-15 minute walk depending on where you park but this is another stop you might want to take a longer walk along the shores of Rutland Water if you’ve got time before you head home.
The half structure of Normanton Church is a striking image protruding out of the water. When Rutland Water was created in the 1970s much of the parish was sunk to make way. Public outcry saved the Church from being destroyed and instead the bottom half was filled with rubble. It now looks as though it floats on the water when the reservoir is full – a perfectly ethereal place to finish a road trip through England’s smallest county!