I love discovering and exploring new places, whether it is far afield or on my doorstep. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been exploring places close to home in a region known as the East Midlands in England. This region consists of six counties: Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Lincolnshire, and Northamptonshire.
I had never really spent much time in the East Midlands so I was really pleased to have the opportunity of living and working there, albeit for a short period of time. What added to my interest was the thought of being in one of the best-kept secrets in England – the county of Rutland. I call it one of the best-kept secrets because… OK, I have to own up here, I didn’t know the county of Rutland existed until I watched a TV programme about it earlier this year. I was shocked when I realised there was a county in England that I had never heard of. The thing is, I wasn’t the only one. When I told an English friend of mine via email where I was, she had to look it up on Google. That made me feel a little better.
The only excuse I come up with for not knowing anything about its existence is that it’s the smallest county in England, measuring only 17 by 18 miles. So, it really is a very small county and it only has two towns – Uppingham, where I stayed for most of the time, and Oakham.
What I discovered is that what it lacks in size, it makes up for in other ways and it truly is a hidden gem.
Uppingham is a small market town. It has some independent shops and, of course, a small market every Friday, if you’re in the mood for shopping. I bought a great summer hat there that is perfect for travelling because it folds up small and can be packed away. One thing we all commented on was how friendly the local people are. There are a number of places to sit and wile away a few hours having a drink and something to eat.
Uppingham School is a large independent boarding school in the town that was founded in 1584. I was surprised to discover that some of the alumni include Stephen Fry, Boris Karloff, and Rick Stein. Then, I was even more surprised to find out that Hugh Jackman (oh yes, ladies) worked as an assistant housemaster for a year at one of the boarding houses in the 80s. I wonder if it was the boarding house I was staying at?
I visited Oakham one day which is also a market town. It is larger than Uppingham, it has a train station, and is the county town of Rutland.
Oakham’s market is on Saturdays and it is larger than Uppingham’s market. Some of the clothes seemed a little on the pricey side but there were very good quality.
Oakham is full of historic and characterful buildings and is home to Oakham Castle. There are some great places to eat and drink when you’re ready for a rest. In case you’re interested, it has the cutest looking pizza takeaway I have ever seen.
Oakham School was founded at the same time as Uppingham School. It seems to be at the forefront of change since it was the first boys’ independent secondary school in Britain to change its policy to accept both male and female pupils throughout the whole school and was the first public school to go online. Apparently, Jay Kay from Jamiroquai and David Macfadyen who was in Spooks and Pride and Prejudice attended Oakham School.
Close to both Uppingham and Oakham is Rutland Water, which opened in 1976. It is one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe and provides drinking water to the most densely populated quarter of the UK.
Aside from that, it is also a nature reserve and designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest with over 10,000 waterfowl. It’s a great place to visit. You can stay overnight as I did or just visit for the day. You have the choice of just sitting and enjoying the view whilst listening to the wildlife or you can take part in a variety of activities such as watersports, birdwatching, or cycle around its 25 mile perimeter track.
This was a little gem I really wasn’t expecting to find – an open air theatre set in the magnificent grounds of Tolethorpe Hall.
If you’re in the area from June to August, I would definitely recommend seeing one of the productions by the Stamford Shakespeare Company.
This is the location of all three places.
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Have you explored this part of England?