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Sep 2019

Rutland Coat of Arms

Never been to England's smallest county? Well, you'll have to wait until the tide's oot when the Isle of Wight expands and Rutland reclaims the prize.

Only that's a load of old h-Oakham, the acreage is fixed, naturally, and Rutland's extra square miles means it has to settle for second place, whatever the mood of the moon.

Only that's a load of old h-Oakham, the  City of London and ditto  Bristol means it doesn't even make the podium making for an awful lot of debunking of such a simple, throwaway fact.

Despite the delay deliberating over the diminutive, there's still time for a fine market town and a couple of other small points that can be confirmed without nearly so much consideration.

Where better to start than in a traditional, Midlands marketplace and, well, well, what've we got here then? More of a, well, what've we got here then with the old town pump undergoing something of a restoration.

The other whopper is actually the old Buttercross, a 17th-century construction with a roof designed to keep the dairy dry back in the whey-day.

The countryside was a lawless place back then but it's not known how many one-armed bandits were actively operating in the area. Oakham law enforcement seemed to think at most five with that many holes in the stocks and no, nobody else seems to know why, neither?

  The Lord Nelson (Market Place)

Old-skool interior that's full of nooks with a ball of string required to find your way back from the lavs. Don't let that fool you, their ales are proper crafty and the stonebaked pizzas well 'on trend', well, on a plank, actually.

Part of a small, local  chain, they've even laid on an outside where all of Oakham's smoking bohos clearly gather.

Here it's overhead that Rutland is the only English county without a... McDonald™s! Turns out that's true and would be a waste of time, anyway, looking at the quality of the burgers they're banging out here but...  BREAKING NEWS!

 Oakham School looks down on the Buttercross but is itself looked down upon by the much more uppity  Uppingham.

Not that this pair know much about private education providers other than Uppingham School was responsible for knocking some knowledge into former, Radio 1™ DJ  Peter 'Pete the Powell' Powell whose parents must have been delighted at the return on that investment?

The best Oakham can boast is  Tom Wasabi-Gums from the, quite simply, sublime  Succession and Countryfile™ Tom, you know,  Tom Heap off of the Countryfile™?

You've got to feel sorry for Tom, saddled with the serious segments while Baker gets to mess about with some school kids, in a bog, or something.

An, inexplicably not shown, gated arch leads to  Oakham Castle, sort of. The castle was more of a grand mansion, apparently, and seems to qualify on condition of once having had some kind of drawbridge, of sorts.

The ramparts were never really intended to defend, simply to enclose, what's now a prime piece of public greenery into which you can freely wander.

As can you the Norman Great Hall, one of the best examples of its kind, they say, but only if it's before 4 PM.

Over 200 upside-down horseshoes, some of them huge, decorate the interior walls and all aristocratic offerings for access to the town. The tradition dates back to the 1400s but, with the shutters about to go up, someone else's word will have to be taken for that.

They're hung the wrong way round to ward off the devil, they say, and it's still a key visual in Rutland's branding. One can be seen on the county flag, well, it's either that or a large, artificial lake...

England's largest artificial lake although  Kielder will claim to be deeper.

Rutland  Water would be even bigger if it didn't have a big peninsular sticking into it but that's just geography for you when the high ground of Hambleton hung around when the valleys were flooded in 1975.

The reservoir provides most of the drinking water for the East Midlands and that was thought to be Oakham Ales but more on them in a minute.

The problem with such man-made areas is they often lack a dramatic backdrop that might have made them form naturally. That means they're this individual's least favourite body of water, a lot less preferred than a lake or a loch or a mere or the sea.

The line is drawn at anything less than a stream with the river found to be the most relaxing but something has suddenly been realised. Rutland Water can't be doing that bad a job to have completely cleared the mind of any other concerns to the point of even contemplating this cobblers.

Meanwhile, back in Oakham, heading west from the erm, castle, you should already be familiar with the spire of the Church of All Saints. This 14th-century Gothic whopper dominates the approach in, whatever your direction, and all without need for any new-fangled interference.

The traditional thatches along Northgate make for the pleasantly residential before the narrow lane of Dean's Street leads to the top of Oakham's High Street.

More thatchery here but this one's been rewarded with a plaque for it's the former home of Jeffrey Hudson, you know, Jeffrey Hudson?

Standing just 18 inches high, until a growth spurt in his thirties, the 'Smallest man from the smallest county in England' only this time the statement is true[1].

He performed at King Charles I's court, fought in the civil war before fleeing with Queen Henrietta of France to avoid a comeuppance from Cromwell. After duly dispatching some dude in a duel, Hudson was banished from the royal entourage but was kidnapped on his way back from Paris and spent over 20 years a slave in North Africa.

Phew! That's one tall tale but all this from Jeffrey's own words so it's difficult to know where to draw the line. Turns out it's about 3-foot-6" up the door frame and nobody's really buying the 18-inch-high bit.

[1] The 1600s being long before the idea of unitary authorities and the Isle of Wight then part of Hampshire, of course.

  Oakham Ales (Maxwell Road, Peterborough)

This brewery may have started here in 1993 but decamped to Peterborough five years later and craft beer botherers will be all too familiar with their fayre. That includes their Citra Session IPA, Champion Golden Beer of Britain 2019, no less, a version of which has been branded by M&S™ in an astute bandwagon-jumping exercise.

Oakham's original JHB may pack less of a punch but, if his story is to be believed, their Jeffrey Hudson also finishes quite Bitter.

Across the railway line and town just about runs out so some backtracking is required.

It's the only surviving station in Rutland, these days, and with the Cross Country Stanstead Airport to Birmingham New Street Class 170 Turbostar due any minute, no risks are being taken so it's up and over the bridge.

High enough to let the old chuff-chuffs under, there are, not unreasonably, reasonable views from up here and did you ever have a train set?

If not, you might want to scroll down. If so, does that look familiar?

Of course, it's just like the plastic, '60s Airfix™ Signal Box kit and, indeed, their model was modelled on this very one. Not that this will be getting Perspex™ windows anytime soon, it's Grade II listed, you see.

You can still pick one up  here and it's this kind of accidental discovery that very nearly makes all of this nonsense worthwhile.

Meanwhile, back at Rutland Water, today's roadworks on the  A606 mean the north shore is off limits so the  facilities at Sykes Lane or Whitwell won't be getting a good looking at.

The necessary diversion is to the car park on the south shore where an excellent café and a short stroll to Normanton Church await and it's reckoned to be your best bet anyway.

Originally scheduled for demolition, a campaign was launched to save the church prior to the great flood. An embankment was created and, when it's full to the brim, there's an illusion of it floating on the water, they say.

The miracle of nature is observable a little way west at a sprawling  reserve with Osprey's, when in season. That makes for a full day out and considerable thought now needs to be given to the bottom of the least favourite body of water table.

Meanwhile, back in Oakham, heading in down the high street, things are visually solid including the inevitable  Wetherspoon™s in towns of this size.

To their credit, they've jettisoned Jeffrey and gone with Captain Noel Newton, a military man and former High Sherrif, no less, who did actually live here before it functioned as the British Legion Club.

  The Admiral Hornblower (Chapel Close)

Their back yard is a little tricky to find during a deluge but once inside it's a familiar-looking bar with a hip extension for dining. No comments on the cuisine, although advising trippers speak largely highly, but the JHB on draught couldn't have travelled any better if this was 1993 and still made in a garage round the corner.

If you're lucky, they'll stick you in the courtyard far enough away from the Saturday night action although those split doors will take a bit of fathoming.

Other fleshpots are available up and along Mill Street including one of several tandooris in town, sandwiched between some posh shopping.

The pick of the popadom providers, however, is, literally, more upmarket, above  Oakham Wines and looking down on where all of this nonsense started.

 Sarpech Wine Bar & Restaurant is a modern take on, and slightly pricier version of, what you're normally used to with the only complaint coming after a small wait for a table...

They're simply too efficient and you're back on the street with Match of the Day not due on for another hour. What's that you say? A nightcap?

Oh! Go on then but, in keeping with the theme, just a small one, eh?