RUTLAND: Oakham There's only one station in Rutland and that's in the county town of Oakham, so that's where I went first. I was a little unnerved to spot that I was the only passenger getting off of the train, and no doubt the waiting taxis were mighty peeved when I walked straight past them into the town centre. Oakham was shut, probably because it was Bank Holiday Monday morning. The streets were pretty much deserted, apart from pensioners posting letters in the Market Square and well-coiffured ladies in jogging pants nipping out of badly-parked cars to buy newspapers. Shame, because the town centre retains that special non-Starbucks charm, and it might have been nice to browse for East Midland knick knacks, or maybe that special garish menswear that only rural gentlefolk buy. At least all the butchers were shut, so I wasn't tempted to buy myself a giant juicy cholesterol-boosting pork pie - one of the local specialities.
And yes, even in a town with fewer than 10000 inhabitants there's still plenty to see. Oakham Castle for a start, although only the GreatHall survives. It's the oldest surviving aisled stone hall in the country (Norman, you know) and has been used as a law court for over 800 years. And it has one really unusual defining characteristic. The interior walls are absolutely coveredby giant horseshoes. It's a tradition round here that every visiting peer or member of the royal family donates a decorative horseshoe on their first visit to the town. The older ones are the largest, while the newer ones alas look distinctly like garish toilet seats. Yes, especially your blue horseshoe from the swinging 60s, your Majesty.
The town also boasts a surprisingly large museum, also free to enter. There's a history of Rutland up front and all the usual Roman finds upstairs. But the speciality here is agriculture, with a variety of traditional machinery on show from tractors to threshers, plus various scary implements with rusty spikes. There's even the old Oakham gallows complete with dangly rope and one-way staircase. Meanwhile across the road are the administrative offices of Rutland District Council, combining a large old building with a brand new (and rather swish) extension. I'm not convinced that a county with only 35000 inhabitants needs quite so many administrators, but the electorate round here wouldn't have it any other way. Oh yes, multum in parvo indeed.