“Have a look at this,” the bird expert said, beckoning to me with commendable understatement. “Not many people see it live, so you’re extremely lucky.”

So I was – borrowing his binoculars, I could see a splendid adult male osprey sitting in a tree, with a huge trout thrashing about in his talons.

“He’s waiting for it to die,” the expert added, while I watched nature taking its course. It was so mesmerising, I found it hard to step back and let someone else view a scene that could have been vintage David Attenborough footage.

But that wasn’t the only thing I learned about ospreys during our visit to Rutland Water Nature Reserve, a 10-minute stroll from our chosen motorhome site, The Paddock. This magnificent species was first introduced there from 1996 onwards, with chicks from Scotland, and since 2001, more than 200 young ospreys have fledged.

View over Rutland Water
View over Rutland Water from our pitch at The Paddock

Adults tend to pair for life, and one avian couple has successfully raised 20 chicks together since 2013. I was saddened to discover that this year, they had hatched four, but only three fledged, as one had been killed in the nest by a dying pike, deposited as food by the overenthusiastic male.

The chicks hatched in spring, and we visited in August, but there was no sign of them. Our expert explained that they had probably already migrated more than 3000 miles to West Africa, and the adults would follow in the autumn.

“But why do the chicks leave first?” I asked. He smiled and said that when the chicks can fly, the parents stop feeding them, to encourage them to find their own food – more nature in the raw.

The Nature Reserve is a great place to spend a morning, taking a leisurely stroll and spotting birdlife ranging from bitterns and buzzards to sandpipers and shelducks.

A bonus was that dogs were welcome on leads, so our lively Dalmatian, Zara, could join in the fun, albeit from a safe distance – she’s a bird-lover in the canine, rather than the human, sense!

Plenty to see and do in Rutland

Created in the mid-1970s, Rutland Water is the ideal location for a variety of leisure pursuits, including walking, fishing, sailing, watersports and wildlife watching. Like the Tissington Trail too, it’s a great spot for cyclists.

The reserve lies in the heart of the charming county of Rutland, which, at 16 miles long and 16 miles wide, is England’s smallest.

Tiny it may be, but as its Latin motto, Multum in parvo (‘a great deal in a small space’), suggests, it packs a lot into a modest area. It also has the advantage of being centrally placed in the East Midlands, within easy striking distance of towns and cities in the surrounding counties, including my own, Derbyshire.

The first thing that struck us on arriving at The Paddock, an adults only motorhome site, was its simplicity and wealth of open space, plus its views over Rutland Water and the picturesque Hambleton Peninsula, which reaches out into the lake.

Two legs, two wheels

The site, close to the pretty village of Lyndon, is ideally placed for motorhomers who want to keep driving to a minimum during their stay and concentrate on simply enjoying the countryside on two legs or two wheels.

The obvious place to start is the lake itself, where you’ll find a flattish, easily accessible 22-mile (35km) perimeter track that you can tackle in sections – or if you are feeling particularly energetic, all in one go.

Our favoured section, just minutes from The Paddock, was the one from Lyndon, heading east and ending at Normanton, with its exquisitely situated church and welcoming Waterside Café, where you can enjoy a light lunch and other refreshments, seated inside or outdoors. When it comes into view, the splendid 18th-century church is an unusual sight, because it seems to float on the water. Closer inspection reveals that it is indeed partially submerged, thanks to local people who campaigned against its demolition when the lake was created half a century ago.

Normanton Church
Fine views across the reservoir from Normanton Church

The lower level of the deconsecrated church was filled with rubble and concrete, and a floor, causeway and embankment were installed, creating a stunning repurposed building that is now a popular location for weddings.

Normanton has a landing stage, where you can board the charming Rutland Belle for a cruise to other parts of Rutland Water. We opted for the afternoon group sailing, but you could choose from morning and evening options, or enjoy afternoon tea or cocktails.

Another walking route accessible on foot from The Paddock is the stretch west from Lyndon to Egleton, which takes you away from the water and around Manton Bay before rejoining the lake, passing several lagoons in the reserve and ending at the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre.

The seven-mile (11km) walk around Hambleton Peninsula is lovely, and on a clear day, you’ll find beautiful views here. It also offers a great excuse to pause for a reviving lunch or relaxing dinner at the 17th-century Finch’s Arms in Hambleton, where you can dine inside or on the terrace.

If you also enjoy exploring on four wheels, Rutland encompasses a host of historic towns and villages that you can tour at your leisure, from the honey-coloured buildings, antique shops and regular market at Uppingham to the traditional Buttercross, stocks and Rutland County Museum at Oakham, where you can join the Heritage Trail.

As a horse lover, I was keen to visit Oakham Castle. Free to enter, this is the great hall of a fortified manorhouse built in the late 12th century, said to be the best-preserved Norman aisled hall in northern Europe.

Horseshoes at Oakham Castle
The quirky collection of horseshoes at Oakham Castle

It is also home to some 200 horseshoes, upholding a charming tradition that visiting royalty and peers should forfeit a horseshoe to the lord of the manor (the de Ferrers family).

The oldest one was presented by Edward IV, brother of Richard III, in 1470, while one of the more recent ones was given by the then Duchess of Cornwall, now Queen Camilla, in 2014.

Stamford’s finest stone

Another town well worth exploring is Stamford, 11 miles away in Lincolnshire. Described as “the finest stone town in England” by Sir Walter Scott, its mellow limestone buildings have a beautiful lambent glow in sunlight and have provided a great backdrop for TV series such as Middlemarch and films including Pride and Prejudice.

Stamford is also home to no fewer than five superb medieval churches, including St Martin’s on the High Street, which houses the tombs of the Cecil family, from nearby Burghley House. (Note that parking in Stamford might prove tricky if you have a coachbuilt motorhome.)

You can follow the Town Trail, which takes two hours and is available from the tourist information point in the Arts Centre on St George’s Street.

Honey-coloured stone in Stamford

Stamford is also an excellent place to indulge in some leisurely shopping, with lots of thriving specialist shops – including a lovely music shop, where my pianist husband spent a very pleasant half-hour, while I crossed the River Welland to admire The George of Stamford, a splendid and venerable hotel that has played host to visitors and diners over many centuries.

The town is a good place to break for lunch, too. As the weather was warm and sunny, we sat outside the Central Café and Tea Rooms in Red Lion Square, enjoying sandwiches and salad while watching the world go by.

Said to be the oldest tea rooms in Stamford, the timber-framed building is reputed to be part of a 15th-century wool storehouse, and was first opened to visitors back in the 18th century.

Post-prandial ramble

We then popped into Nelsons Butchers, just opposite, to buy one of their award-winning pork pies – a mouthwatering investment!

If, like us, you have a dog eager to stretch its legs, head for The Meadows, on the banks of the Welland, a short walk down the hill.

This is perfect for a relaxing post-prandial ramble in an idyllic rural setting, yet only a stone’s throw from the town centre.

The final day of our tour was something of a pilgrimage for me, a keen gardener, and took me back more than 40 years to our early married life, when we bought our first house and had little cash to lavish on our postage-stamp-sized plot.

The flagship BBC show Gardeners’ World and its down-to-earth presenter, Geoff Hamilton, provided lots of cheap-as-chips inspiration at the time, so I was delighted to be heading to Barnsdale Gardens, just north of Rutland Water. Originally established by Geoff and showcasing some of his pioneering work, such as advocating peat-free compost and making reconstituted rockery stone to protect limestone pavements, the garden first opened to the public in 1997. Now managed by his son Nick, it hosts 38 gardens, from the Formal Pool and Knot Garden to the charming Mediterranean Garden, and is a feast for plant-lovers.

The Mediterranean Garden
The Mediterranean Garden, Barnsdale

We ended our holiday on a high note, dining in style at The Fox in North Luffenham, where we enjoyed homemade beef and ale pie and fish pie with seasonal vegetables, accompanied by real ale – a delicious end to a superb tour!

If you’d like some more touring inspiration, take a look at how Nigel and Kay Hutson got on as they set off on a tour to Chatsworth. Thinking of a shorter trip? See our guide to spending 48 hours in Chester. For something different, find out how Peter Baber got on as he set off on a test of the Adria Active Duo in Eastern England.

Planning a tour to Rutland

Way to go

From home in the Derbyshire Peak District, we headed south on the A515 via Ashbourne to join the A50 Stoke-Derby road, crossing the M1 at J24 to join the A6 towards Loughborough.

North of Leicester, we took the A46 and A607 to Melton Mowbray, then the A606 south to Oakham and Manton, turning east on to Lyndon Road and to The Paddock, on the left-hand side of the road, down a turning just beyond Rutland Nursery.

Where we stayed for our tour to Rutland

The Paddock, Rutland Water

Lyndon Road, Oakham LE15 8RN, 07880 721 628, www.thepaddockrutlandwater.co.uk

  • Open: 28 March to 13 October
  • Pitches: 15
  • Price: From £17

Adults-only campsite set in four acres and managed by the Allen family. Generous grass pitches have panoramic views down to Rutland Water, which is just a 10-minute walk away. Electric hook-up available on each pitch, with mains water, chemical toilet emptying and recycling facilities.

Find out more

Lead image: Getty

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