diamond geezer

 Wednesday, March 26, 2008

RUTLAND: Rutland Water
Rutland WaterRutland's most famous feature is a big lake. A really big horseshoe shaped lake (which is kind of appropriate in a county obsessed by horseshoes). Rutland Water is the largest reservoir in the UK, conceived in the 1960s as a solution to Eastern England's water supply problems and covering more than 3000 acres of rolling countryside. Bad luck to the residents and farmers of Nether Hambleton, whose homes and livelihoods disappeared beneath the slowly-filling waters. Sacrificed to prevent hosepipe bans in Milton Keynes, what a way to go. But the nearby village of Upper Hambleton was more fortunate and survives intact on a thin-necked ridge up the centre of the lake. It's a great leveller, water.

Rutland Water today is a mecca for outdoor and active types. If you fancy some watersports action then you'll find sailing clubs and windsurf schools galore. If you fancy a bit of angling then rejoice that the waters are restocked with slippery trout at regular intervals. And if you fancy cycling then you're in luck, because the lake 26 mile perimeter is perfect for a one-day circuit. Indeed there are cyclists everywhere along the orbital path, sometimes at beginner level, sometimes over-confident, trundling over the cattle grids and wheeeee-ing down the hills. Mind out of the way, here come five more, on their way from one car park to the next.

Rutland WatersportsBut pity any poor deluded soul that attempts to make their way to the the interesting spots on the water's edge by public transport. Especially on a bank holiday. On Easter Monday all of Rutland's buses were running a Sunday service, which alas translated as "no service whatsoever". Any attempt at reaching the leisure hub at Whitwell therefore relied on a five mile windswept stroll from Oakham (and, later, a five mile windswept stroll back). It's amazing what a dedicated blogger will do just to get a photograph of a drowned church. Here's my report on the most interesting section of the walk, followed (tomorrow) by a report on the sightseeing boat trip at journey's end.

RUTLAND: Barnsdale to Whitwell (1 mile) [view here]
If Barnsdale sounds familiar, that's because Gardeners' World supremo Geoff Hamilton based his TV garden here. The main horticultural showcase lies a little further inland, but Geoff's special Drought Garden is rather more accessible, clinging to a clay slope on the lakeside. The entrance isn't easy to find, nor is the planted area very large when you do... and as for the contents, all I can say is that they're probably not at their best in March. The finest views are from the grass just beyond the hilltop car park, past the sheep down across the flooded valley. Look, there's the shimmering water, and a squat tower poking up above the surface, and passing yachts, and Hambleton on the far shores. Ooh lovely.

Rutland Water

The path heads east into Barnsdale Wood, with tall slender trunks spreading down to the water's edge. Only trees above the 85m contour have survived - the roots of the remainder have long been submerged. Alas I think I mistimed my visit by a few weeks because the carpet of bluebells through the wood was still only green. Mid-April will be far more impressive. One thing I really appreciated was that Anglian Water, the reservoir's owners, have insisted that all dogs be kept on a lead. Hurrah. This makes for a far more pleasant day out for those of us who don't want to be licked to death by a bouncy Weimaraner, or nibbled by the Staffies.

And down the hill to Whitwell - Rutland Water's northern leisure hub. Here you can hire a canoe, or take out your yacht, or climb an artificial rock face, or go shopping in the cycling megastore. There were even some brave souls on Monday in three-quarter length baggywear preparing to head out windsurfing. Sooner them than me. Few Bank Holiday tourists will have realised the village's obscure claim to fame. Back in the 1970s regulars at the Noel Arms pub wrote to the Mayor of Paris, Jaques Chirac, requesting to be twinned with his fair city. Oh, they added, and if you don't reply within a few weeks we'll take that as your consent. No return communication was received, and so the official village sign now proudly boasts "Whitwell - twinned with Paris". Rutlanders eh, they're a breed apart.

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