Oakham is a lovely little town, with lots of beautiful old buildings and much improved with the by-pass built some years ago. It has good off road cycle paths leading to both the North and South sides of Rutland Water, (actually a reservoir, although too nice for such a name), and the largest man made lake in Western Europe in terms of surface area. It's maximum depth is 35m so relatively shallow compared to Keilder Water which being deeper, holds more water (44 billion gallons!)
A striking sight on the approach road was this quarter scale Spitfire made entirely of willow.
There are cycle paths circumnavigating the water, and these vary in quality from extremely good tarmac to something on the minus side of mediocre. The 16" wheels on my Dahon were not the best choice and I would recommend a mountain bike for preference.
I decided to ride the 17 mile anticlockwise route, as that was a better choice for the lunchtime stop, but it did mean that I was too early for a stop at the Horse and Jockey PH.
|Plenty of parking for bikes here, a sign of busier times.|
The paths do not slavishly follow the shoreline, and it can be some time before you reach the water's edge, but there are good views across the water from a distance.
|Looking North here we can see Burley House standing on the horizon.|
The path snakes Eastwards, passing a couple of wildlife visitor centres, both worth stopping at, as you can see examples of the many birds and mammals that frequent the area. Of particular note are the ospreys nesting out of the reach of egg collectors on a pole in the water and you can view the online webcam Here .
The route passes through several more (humanly) populated areas, car parks with eateries, bike shops and water sports centres, but people do not stray far from their cars, and we are soon out and away from them, heading towards Normanton Church and the surprisingly low dam which holds back all the water.
|The church was rescued from the rising waters and stands proudly on it's own little peninsular.|
A long and straight tarmac path take us across the dam onto the North shore as we turn back towards Oakham once more. By now I was ready for some lunch and made it to the Harbour Café which comes highly recommended. Here is The Rutland Belle, a ferry which crosses the water back to Normanton Church. A useful short cut for the infirm, the idle, and the wealthy, since the fare is £8.50 and no concessions.
Following the path through the woods we eventually reach the tarmac cycle path alongside the main road, taking us the few miles back into Oakham. Well separated from the high speed traffic on the A606 trunk road linking Oakham to Stamford and the A1, it is a good example of how all main roads should be.
Too early for my designated homeward bound train I spent an hour looking around the town with it's lovely old buildings, one of which was the home of (Sir) Jeffrey Hudson a famous dwarf, said to be only 18 inches high (?) "but perfectly proportioned". He was a royal favourite and once killed man in a duel with pistols. Being the smaller target he would have had a distinct advantage I think.
|This is his house.|
So to summarise, one of the best rides within easy reach of Derby, a rich variety of paths, habitats and views, but not really suitable for small or narrow wheels. Mountain bike for preference.
Super wildlife and excellent visitor centres. Lots of hides, so birdwatchers take binoculars, but bear in mind that a permit costing £5 is required. That is, not to use your own optics, but to enter some of the hides.
Best eateries Harbour Café on the North shore and probably the Horse and Jockey on the South shore.
Plenty of route choices, including that on the Hambleton Penninsular which will be the subject of my next visit.
Excellent train connections and also lots of car parks available at £5 per day.
Bikes can be hired but are expensive. You could buy a bike (of sorts) for less than the hire fee. Or perhaps a unicycle, where costs are minimal due to the lack of one wheel, brakes, transmission and mudguards. For some inexplicable reason, unicycles have not realised their sales potential as yet.