Rutland: a county small enough to miss — but big enough to let you breathe

Almost hidden away in the Midlands, tiny Rutland offers big skies, sailing, pretty property and good schools, discovers Ruth Bloomfield
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Alexis Coles-Barrasso with her daughters India, five, and Amelie, seven
© John Lawrence
Alexis Coles-Barrasso with her daughters India, five, and Amelie, seven
A few years ago, Alexis Coles-Barrasso was living in Notting Hill and holding down a high-octane job that saw her travelling the world.

But the birth of her eldest daughter Amelie, now seven, meant her priorities changed dramatically. And inconveniences like hauling a buggy up and out of her basement flat every day, plus a punishing work schedule as head of public relations for Thomas Cook, began to tell.

So, when the firm moved to Peterborough, Alexis decided to move with it. Six years ago, she began a new life in the tiny — and often overlooked — county of Rutland.

"I thought it would be a much nicer place to bring up a child," she says.

She let her two-bedroom apartment and bought a four-bedroom period house — a former post office — in the village of South Luffenham. "It is lovely," she says. "We call Rutland the chocolate box county because it is just so beautiful."

Amelie goes to a "fantastic" village school, along with her younger sister, India, who is five.

Alexis, who is divorced, now works for the Travel Network Group and spends one or two days a week in London — the commute, she says, is "absolutely fine".

As well as being able to afford a much larger house with a big garden, which cost £403,000 (and which Alexis believes is now worth about £500,000), living in the country means an "outdoorsy" lifestyle: walks in the woods, biking around Rutland Water or hopping in the car and heading for the beaches of Norfolk.

There are also Rutland's other lovely market towns, Oakham and Uppingham, to explore, and the shopping centres of Leicester and Peterborough are both about 20 miles away.

The big revelation has been the social life. Alexis has found it "incredibly easy" to make friends with like-minded Rutlanders, many of them London refugees like herself.

This means she is now caught up in a busy round of dinner parties and nights out — favourite haunts include the Lord Nelson in Oakham and the Olive Branch at Clipsham, a Michelin-starred gastropub.

The easy hop to London means she can keep up with friends. "They like to come for weekends, it is like a retreat for them," says Alexis. "In fact, if you are not careful you end up with people staying every weekend. Luckily, I like a full house."

Uppingham, a market town in Rutland
© Alamy
Uppingham is one of a lovely group of villages and towns to explore
Rutland is famous as England's smallest county (though at high tide, the Isle of Wight is actually tinier).

The most voguish place to live is the village of Hambleton, which sits on a peninsula of Rutland Water, a huge reservoir and mecca for sailing enthusiasts.

"It is very much the Sandbanks of the Midlands," says Vernon Moore, owner of Moores Estate Agents. And indeed, Hambleton's rather plain bungalows are being rapidly torn down and replaced with modern houses, which bear distinctly Sandbanks prices of up to £8 million.

Sharon Dodgson, a fund manager who works full time in the City, bought one of Hambleton's bungalows on a 1.8-acre plot for £990,000 and is working on plans to rebuild it as a traditional-looking home.

She spends three days a week in Rutland and four in a rented flat just off King's Road, having sold her seven-bedroom house in Parsons Green for £2.3 million to fund the project. "I have found it very friendly. Living in the village is a bit like being a member of a private club," she says.

She has also found plenty in the way of leisure activities — from the polo club at Rutland to sailing — and has bought a bicycle to enjoy the 3,100 acres of countryside, including a 25-mile track which encircles Rutland Water.

"Even if it rains, there really is a lot to do," she adds, recommending the spa at the Stapleford Park Hotel, and Hambleton Hall, another hotel with a dining room run by a Michelin-starred chef.

Sharon, 46, is now concentrating on winning planning permission for her new property. Once it is built, her options are wide open — she could sell it, keep it as a weekend retreat or move in full time and commute to London.

If Hambleton is beyond your budget but you would still like a water view, Moore recommends the villages of Edith Weston and Empingham, set beside the reservoir. They look remarkably Cotswolds, right down to the ironstone houses, but are distinctly cheaper.

Moore estimates that a farmhouse would cost about £600,000 to £700,000, while you could pick up a two-bedroom cottage with lashings of character for about £300,000.

In Oakham you could buy a three-storey, four-bedroom period townhouse for about £400,000. Oakham's big selling point is its station — trains to King's Cross take an hour and 40 minutes and an annual season ticket costs £7,108.

One of the key reasons to move to Rutland is for its schools: Uppingham and Oakham are leading co-ed boarding schools, with a strong intake of pupils from London's SW postcodes.

However, Moore says more parents are moving to the county rather than sending their offspring to board.

"Perhaps it is a change of style, but people are either having their children living at home or taking advantage of flexi-boarding and having them at school for a few nights," he says.

Education is equally strong in the state sector. Parents fight to get younger children in to Whissendine or Langham schools, both just outside Oakham, and the schools of choice for seniors are Vale of Catmose in Oakham, and Uppingham College.

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