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The Miniature Charm of Rutland

Explore the open countryside and parkland around Exton, a thatched village north of Rutland Water.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 425ft (130m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Mainly field paths and firm farm tracks, 12 stiles

Landscape Open and undulating fields and parkland, mixed woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 234 Rutland Water

Start/finish SK 924112

Dog friendliness On lead near livestock, spot fines if you don't poop scoop, beware awkward stiles

Parking Roadside parking in centre of Exton

Public toilets None on route

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1 With your back to the pub leave the Green on the far right-hand side on Stamford Road and, at the end, turn right. This becomes Empingham Road and, when the houses finish, continue over the stream and turn left to follow a public footpath.

2 Just before the fence at the end go over the stile on the right (not the one ahead). Drop down across the end of the field and turn left to reach the stile in the fence ahead. Go over this and follow the wide, grassy track along the shallow valley for just under 1 mile (1.6km), at one point climbing into a field on the left to avoid Cuckoo Farm. Finally it clambers up through the fields on the right to reach a lane.

3 Turn left and walk the verge until just beyond the bend, then go left on a footpath indicated 'Fort Henry and Greetham'. Follow this route above the trout hatchery, then head diagonally right via a small concrete bridge to reach the fence at the top. Turn left and walk along to Lower Lake, then go ahead/right on the surfaced drive for a few paces, over the stile to the left of the old bar gate, and out across open pasture above the water.

4 At the far side turn right on to another lane then, in a few paces, left for the footpath indicated 'Greetham'. Follow this beside Fort Henry Lake, then on along a corridor between lovely mixed woodland. At the far end climb the stairs to reach the lane.

5 Turn left and walk up through more woods and, when the semi-surfaced drive bears left, go straight on through an area of newly planted trees. The wide, unmade track now heads directly out across the open fields for a mile (1.6km).

6 When you reach the trees on the far side turn left on to a track that drops down and bears left. Here go straight on via a stile and wooden plank footbridge and head up diagonally left towards the top of the field. Go over the stile and turn left on to the farm track once more.

7 At the junction turn right on to the straight, metalled lane. Bear left at a fork before woods and follow this back to Exton. Follow signs around Home Farm, then turn left at the end of West End and right by the stone shelter into High Street and return to the Green.

Located a couple of miles north of Rutland Water, Exton is a picturesque village of ironstone and thatched cottages laid out around a green ringed by mature sycamore trees and overlooked by the tall, creeper-covered village pub.

There has been a community here since Norman times, and once the manor belonged to King David of Scotland. Since then it has changed hands a number of times, finally passing to the Noels, Viscounts Campden, Earls of Gainsborough, in the 1620s. The family still owns neighbouring Exton Hall, which was built to replace the Old Hall after it was largely destroyed by a fire in 1810. The ruins of the Old Hall are inside the grounds (accessible to the public from the road to the south) close to the Church of St Peter and St Paul, which itself was struck by lightning in 1843, causing the spire to collapse. Despite some of the original work being lost, most of the fine monuments survived, including some medieval sculptures and various tombs. Also look out for the giant statue by the master carver Grinling Gibbons to the 3rd Viscount Campden, his wife and 19 children, which is considered something of a rarity since Gibbons is far better known for working in wood rather than stone. The film Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980) was shot on location in Exton and featured, among other places, the village church.

The grounds and parkland were mainly developed in the late 17th century by the 6th Earl of Gainsborough, when water features such as cascades, artificial ponds and streams were created (proving that they were at it 300 years before Charlie Dimmock). Among the ornamental follies on the estate is an elaborate Gothic summer house known as Fort Henry, overlooking Fort Henry Lake, which you will see half-way round the walk. Behind it, until quite recently, stood the even more bizarre Bark Temple, an elaborate wooden structure that not surprisingly has rotted away over time.

Measuring less than 20 miles (32.4km) across, Rutland has a resident population of around 37,000, and apart from Oakham and Uppingham most of its inhabitants live in tiny villages and hamlets like Exton. The county's name possibly derives from the 11th-century word 'Roteland', denoting the red colour of the soil in the east of the region; or it could have been part of the estate belonging to an early landowner called Rota. For many years this tiny place was in the hands of either the Crown or the Church, but in 1974 local government reorganisation ended its independence and relegated it to a mere district of Leicestershire. Happily that decision was reversed in 1997, and Rutland is once more England's smallest county, whose Latin motto 'Multum in Parvo' means 'so much in so little'.

While you're there

Barnsdale Gardens, a mile (1.6km) west of Exton, will be familiar to millions of TV gardeners as the home of the late Geoff Hamilton. Open to the public daily, there are 37 gardens within the south-facing 8-acre (3.2ha) site, plus an arboretum, tea rooms and a well-stocked nursery with a range of garden plants initially propagated from the gardens.

What to look for

Although the gentle farmland of Rutland and South Lincolnshire is by and large a peaceful place, every now and then you may be aware of a distant roar and a fast-moving object zooming through the sky. A few miles to the north lies the busy airfield at Cottesmore, which opened in 1938 and was a base for American bombers throughout the Second World War. Today it is used for the training of Tornado pilots.

Where to eat and drink

The 17th-century Fox and Hounds Inn by the green in Exton is an elegant building which serves food daily and has a pleasant garden to the rear. Nearby Greetham also has three thriving pubs. Alternatively visit the coffee shop at Barnsdale Gardens (PWhile You're There), which is open daily all year round (weekends from November to February).

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