Rutland Water and the surrounding area are often referred to as one of, if not the best family cycling destinations in the country. As a recent addition to the Rutland Cycling team my first couple of months have flown by and it's been great fun working in such a fantastic area.
Unfortunately as I commute in from Nottingham every day I haven't had the chance to see what else Rutland Water has to offer outside of the great family cycle trails.
To give me a fighting chance of understanding where and what my colleagues had been up to at the weekend I decided that it was time to get to know the area a bit better. So I set the wheels in motion for spending a weekend camping nearby and exploring the local area with my partner Sarah.
Even though I've been an avid cyclist for much of my life and usually manage to get out on my bike most days I can count the number of times that Sarah and I have been out cycling together on one hand. To say cycling is a hard sell for us is an understatement, but with guarantees of traffic free cycling broken up with plenty of refreshment stops I managed to coerce her into a spending the weekend exploring Rutland Water by bike.
Taking full advantage of the public transport links nearby Sarah left the car at home in Nottingham and took the train over to nearby Oakham where I met her after work on Friday. We'd booked ourselves onto the campsite at Wing Hall a mile or so from the banks of Rutland Water so a perfect base for the weekends activities. The weekend gave out changeable weather so I was keen to get the tent up before any potential rain showers dampened our spirits. With the tent up and a BBQ heating up nicely it looked promising for a nice weekend.
Wing Hall Campsite
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and with the chance of staying dry in our favour we headed over to the Rutland Cycling site on the north side of Rutland water.
Sarah has a number of reasons why we shouldn't go cycling ready prepared for whenever the suggestion presents itself and top of the list is her bike being uncomfortable. Despite being lovingly assembled (read cobbled together) by bits that had long been deemed unsuitable for use on one of my own bikes, Sarah's bike is rather too big for her small frame. Thankfully the hire team over at the Whitwell store were on hand and kitted Sarah with a bike not only in the right size but with women's specific geometry guaranteeing her a comfortable ride.
Our rough plans for the day were to cycle out to Barnsdale Gardens and take a look at some of the thirty plus gardens on display and then continue round the water to the nature reserve on the opposite side of the water with the hope of seeing some of Rutland's famous Ospreys.
After we had familiarised ourselves with our premium level hire bikes and passing up on the option of taking out a tandem for the day, on the grounds our relationship was not deemed strong enough for such endeavours we set out on the cycle trail with Barnsdale Gardens firmly in our sites.
The cycle trail around the water is fantastic in the sense that for the bulk of the ride you are separated from the traffic and get to concentrate on your cycling without worrying about cars or other road hazards. This is perfect for families and indeed for those with nervous girlfriends as the worry of traffic whilst cycling can be a real barrier for some people getting on a bike.
The view out onto Rutland Water also provided us with the perfect distraction when it came to the couple of small hills that you encounter on the first stretch of the ride and before long we knew it we were pulling up outside Barnsdale Gardens. It's worth checking the opening times as they do vary throughout the year.
After a quick snack we headed over to the gardens and wandered around the 8-acre site. The weekly task of mowing the lawn and pulling up a selection of weeds and most probably flowers is enough to drive me to bark chippings and gravel so I was amazed at how much work must go into making Barnsdale Gardens look as spectacular as it does.
With experts on hand and a well stocked nursery there is every opportunity for you to take home a piece of Barnsdale Gardens and recreate your own green fingered paradise.
Back onto the bikes and with the second leg of the journey to tackle we headed along the cycle path towards the peninsula. This is an extra option to the standard loop of the water adding another seven miles onto your journey, but with its rolling hills and close proximity to the waters edge it's a shame to miss out this picturesque leg of the ride.
Hambleton Peninsula Sunset
With the only deadline to keep being dinner at The Horse and Jockey in Manton later that day, we decided to head out towards the village of Hambleton and around the peninsula. Despite being one of the most visited cycle destinations in the country we never felt that it was crowded and with over 20 miles of cycle trails it almost came as a shock when we sailed round a corner and were greeted by a family coming the other way. One of the biggest surprises for me was just how friendly and cheery everyone seemed, I think spending a day cycling in the sun is one of the best cures for stress giving you a mental lift.
As the miles sailed by we were soon back at the entrance to the peninsula and both agreed that it was certainly worth the extra effort. With just under four miles left until our next planned stop and an early evening reservation at the award winning local pub we pedalled on with thoughts of food and drink firmly occupying our thoughts.
After our first days cycling we were both amazed by how much fun we'd had and how little our legs ached after what was we both agreed was a big day of bike riding. Fed and watered we made the last leg of our journey to the campsite and retired for the night.
Day two of our camping trip dawned bright and sunny, perfect for Osprey spotting! The south shore of Rutland Water is home to Lyndon Visitor Centre and with talk of Osprey's being a regular site we headed over to the reserve. Situated on the edge of the cycle trail, Lyndon Reserve plays host to a number of events such as guided walks and Family Days. After chatting to the reserve staff who are all fonts of knowledge on all things osprey, we were given some tips on the best place to look for ospreys. With binoculars on hand we spent an enjoyable hour seeing some of the varied wildlife the banks of Rutland Water has to offer and just before we decided to leave we saw our first Osprey. A great end to a lovely couple of days cycling!
The final leg of the ride takes you past Normanton Church, the sole survivor from when the reservoir was flooded and the only indication of what was there before the water came. Popular with weddings and you can see why, little tree coverage provides this area with great panoramic views of the water and the perfect chance to see what you've just cycled around before finally heading back to the Whitwell store.
Over the course of the two days we saw some fantastic views, wildlife and some great local attractions. There was a real sense of achievement when we got back and realised we had done this all under our own steam and agreed that some of the magic would have been lost if we had just drove round in a car and stopped off at places.
We only had a couple of days but there is plenty more to see and do around Rutland Water including climbing at the RockBlok, water sports and even zorbing! We both agreed that we'd be back soon and would definitely be using bikes to get around.