Thursday – Having been away in Switzerland for Christmas and home for just a day, it was time to up steadies and dash off to Rutland to see the New Year in. We had selected Rutland for a number of reasons, the main one being that it was a part of the world that neither of us had ever visited before. But Paul’s dad had been evacuated there during the war, and, by coincidence Paul’s step dad was from Oakham, the County town of Rutland and so we had good reason to visit.
We left at around 9.20 and the roads were amazingly clear. As our route took us on the M25 and M1, this was unusual. We were scheduled to arrive in site no earlier than midday, and it looked like we would actually be there too early. A quick call to the site gained us early access and we were soon set up, kettle and heating on and finishing off our sandwiches. We had chosen Rutland Camping and Caravanning site, just outside Greetham.which has – in common with many villages in Rutland and the surrounding area – a Church with a beautiful spire, which can be seen from the site. It is a large site and has good facilities, is very quiet (no road roar) but could do with a little more landscaping for our tastes. We like our pitches to separated by a hedge (the French do it well) and this look a little less like car parks. But don’t be put off, this is very picky – it really is a nice site and a great base for exploring the area.
As can be seen, it was a beautiful day (although at least a coat colder than at home on the South coast) and so, after lunch, we decided to pop into Oakham for a few bits and pieces. Oakham is a pretty town. We had not expected that the buildings would be fashioned from honey coloured stone, like the Cotswolds. Very attractive.
We had long been intending to put together a tool kit for the caravan and a trip to Wilkinson’s finally started it off. We also need to buy socks as someone had forgotten to pack them. No joy in Oakham. But we picked up a DVD cheap in case there was not much on TV. It was a 2015 film called Everest, which told the story (possibly not very accurately!) of the 1996 Everest disaster. It kept us entertained when we watched it. I’d give it a shaky 3.5 – 4 stars. Good for a rainy day.
Anyway – shopping done, we returned to the site and settled down for the evening. On the way back. we noticed a sign for Hambleton Bakery – award winning apparently. We’ll have to give that a quick visit at some point.
The caravan was toasty by now and we spent a pleasant evening chatting and watching TV, before retring, still tired from our very full-on holiday in the Alps.
Friday – had a frosty start and we set off for Melton Mowbray, home of – well – many things it seems! The pork pie and – it turns out – Melton Hunt Cake. Also one of the 6 homes for Stilton cheese and Melton cloth ( a wool fabric used for – among other things – donkey jackets).
Whilst in MM, we spotted a beautiful Art Deco cinema – The Regal – that looked as if is still open. Upon further research, it is owned by a family who have rescued three old cinemas, starting with the Ritz in Belper, Derbyshire. Good work that family!
We liked Melton and bought a hunk of the Hunt cake for Uncle D but did not quite fancy a pork pie. We had a coffee in a dog-friendly cafe (a bit chilly for sitting outside today) and then set off for our next destination – Foxton Locks on the Grand Union Canal, site of the now now defunct Foxton Inclined Plane, which was built to alleviate the bottleneck caused by the 10 locks (2 staircases of 5 locks). It was not a resounding success, being in service for only 10 years, but a feat of engineering and the site is well worth a visit.
We went for a ride along the towpath but it started getting very muddy so we turned around and came back. We met a boat that was on its way to the locks so we cycled back to watch it through the locks. It had been, as mentioned, a chilly night and it was lovely to hear some “ice-breaker” swans making their way towards us through the thin ice. Sadly we had nothing for them.
The area has been turned into a Country Park and it seem a very popular and well-used destination. Very nicely done with some nice sculptures.
We sat and watched the boat progress through the locks, assisted by the mandatory (for saftey reasons, staircases being a bit mind boggling) lock-keeper. We felt very envious as we watched them and wished we had brought a windlass with us. We love winter boating.
We had a coffee from the Cafe in the Lock-keepers cottage and were joined by a robin. A recent bit of folklore tells us that the appearance of a robin is visit from a departed loved one . I like to think it was my dear old Dad, who loved his canals so dearly. It made me smile.
Our coffee finished, we set off on our bikes again, this time on the opposite direction and had a very pleasant ride along a well-kept towpath, with Archie running along by our sides. He ran for about 7 kms and then we popped him in the backpack for the return ride. By now, the light was starting to fade and we returned to the van – some 30 odd miles away.
On the way back, we realised we were near the award-winning baker, Hambleton Bakery. Well! It certainly looked the part. We bought some mince slices topped with almond sponge (which has given me an idea for next year) a sourdough loaf and some “Ploughman’s Parcels” a sort of bread roll affair with all the elements of a ploughman’s incorporated in the dough. Interesting! If it tastes as good as it all looks, we are in for a treat.
It being “Twixtmas” (yuk!) , we had brought our Xmas lights with us for a bit of cheer. Several people asked us where we had got them and how much. I think it may be the start of a new trend for vans?
Saturday (New Year’s Eve) – we had decided to visit Stamford. This was in the 3rd County (MM being in Leicestershire) that we had visited on this trip, Lincolnshire. Stamford can lay claim to being the home of John George Haigh – aka The Acid Bath Murderer. Nice!
It is another attractive town with some lovely buildings. Parking is simple (even with bikes on the roof) and we had a nice walk round. We had a lovely hot chocolate at the tables outside Cafe au Chocolat, bought a birthday present and a new lead for Archie as we could only find a heavy one. We then popped to Waitrose to buy some food for our visitors tomorrow.
All shopped out, we made our way to Rutland Water for another cycle ride. This is a fantastic resource – wish we had something similar locally. Rutland Water, which opened in 1976, is a huge reservoir that is also one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe. It has a 40 km cycle track running round it and is home to a variety of birds – both land and water. It is home to a massive selection of waterfowl – from Pochards to Mergansers, Egrets to Teal, depending on the time of year.
We planned to tackle the short section between Whitwell and Barnsdale. It was bitterly cold and we were glad of our gloves, in particular. We did the return trip and still had a bit more go in us and so we set off in the other direction, towards Empingham, but the short winter days were against and we did not get all the way. It is interesting cycling, with a mixture of surfaces and some good gradients to up your heart rate! I wish we lived nearer as I can see us having a lot of fun there. But it was time to go home to our snuggly little home from home. I simply WILL NOT call it a “wobbly box”, as some of the caravanning fraternity do. Whatever next?!
We were apprehensive about fireworks, as usual but it wasn’t too bad – worse in the early evening than at midnight, in fact. We saw the new year in and then retired.
Sunday – New Year’s Day – and rain. It rained and it rained and it rained. We were expecting luncheon guests in the form of our dear friends Linda and Anna. As mentioned, we had purchased an array of Waitrose products, so there was very little to do but have a leisurely morning, which was lovely. We seem to have dashed about fair bit this Christmas and it was nice to have a bit of a lie-in and read. They were schedule to arrive at 1 pm and were bang on time. We had a lovely lunch, full of stories and laughter and then they had to go on their way again, back to Portchester (from Sheffield where they had spent post Christmas at Anna’s parent’s).
We had planned to cycle another section of Rutland Water but the weather made that out of the question. But I wanted to see Normanton Church – which is the view always used when there is mention of Rutland Water. It was saved when the area was flooded and is now popular as a civil wedding venue, apparently, although it is rather beautiful. So – off in the car we went. By now it was SO cold – although the rain had eased almost to a stop. I was surprised it wasn’t snowing!
I amused myself by feeding some seagulls with left-over bread while Paul took a few pics and then we jumped back in the warm car.
We drove down the Hambleton peninsula and back and by then had pretty much completed a circumnavigation so back to the site, supper and early bed as we had an early start the next day.
Monday – this seems to have been the coldest night so far – although we were up at 7.30 to prep for the c.180 mile journey home. But bonus! All the puddles from the previous day’s rain were frozen and I returned to my childhood as I crunched through them all on the way to the recycling bins. Do grown-ups do this? It also meant that the country lanes were rather treacherous, as can be seen in the shot below.
I am pleased to report that all the Hambleton Bakery produce was excellent (again, wish we were nearer) and that we very much liked the area. I imagine Rutland Water is heaving in the summer and it was good to see it without the throng. Looking forward to our next trip – to the Savernake Forest and Marlborough in February.