This leg is an easy introduction to the Hereward Way. The trail heads away from Oakham railway station along a pretty street lined with stone houses, before skirting the castle mound and leaving the town along roads. It drops down to meet the A606 road, which it follows eastwards before diverting off to meet the northern bank of Rutland Water. It follows the good cycle path along the northern bank to reach the dam; it then heads across fields and through a patch of woodland to reach the picturesque village of Empingham.
The stretch along the A606 is not that interesting (although the path is wide, safe and separated from the road), but some of the views across Rutland Water can be superb.
2 hours 56 minutes
Map of the leg
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format.
The Hereward Way starts at the station in the Rutland town of Oakham. Leave the station by the eastern exit and turn right to head south towards the level crossing immediately to the south of the railway station. Just before the level crossing is reached, turn left up Northgate Street. This heads eastwards through Oakham; it curves to the right to pass a car park on the left just before it ends at a T-junction with Church Street. Turn right and then immediately left to head along a path between two brick walls with the church on the left, then turn left to follow another path between more walls, again keeping the church on the left.
The path emerges out into some parkland; turn half-right to take a surfaced path diagonally across the grass to reach a road junction with the B668 at SK862090. Head northeastwards along the B668 for about 250 yards passing a school on the right, before turning right into Woodland View. This soon curves to the left to take an east-southeasterly course. When the road ends continue on along a broad surfaced path; it crosses Alsthorpe Road and after a quarter of a mile it reaches the A606 road. Carefully cross this and continue along a rough driveway on the other side.
When Dog Kennel Cottage is reached turn right across a gravel parking area. At the end of the gravel turn left through a gap in a hedge and then right to reach a stile beside a gate. Cross this and follow a footpath downhill, keeping an intermittent hedgeline on the right. The path crosses a stile and continues descending downhill, passing a sewage farm on the right. The trail heads over a cattle grid to join a surfaced track that curves slightly to the left before reaching the A606 road at SK875085. Carefully cross the road and turn left to join the cycle path that parallels the road.
Continue eastwards along the cycle path beside the main road for 1.5 miles; at SK897093 the path curves away to the right, with Rutland Water a short distance away. The path heads in a rough southeasterly direction for about half a mile, passing through a couple of gates before the end of a minor road is reached at SK902087 by the reservoir's shore. Turn left to head eastwards up the road; at a mini roundabout turn right to continue along a cycle path that follows an access road.
The cycle path is easy to follow as it negotiates a small valley to reach a car park. Head through to the northeasternmost car park and when it ends turn right through it. A path continues on at the end of the car park, passing a gate to enter Barnsdale Wood with the reservoir a short distance away to the right. It eventually emerges from the trees and becomes a surfaced road. A mile after the car park it goes through a gate to reach a car park in Whitwell at SK924082. Pass a cafe on the left to join a road in front of some car parks; turn left along the road and follow it as it immediately curves to the right, passing an activity centre on the left before ending at a T-junction with Bull Brig Lane.
Turn right down Bull Brig Lane for a few yards before turning left down a road that heads eastwards; as this road curves to the right continue on along a surfaced track that descends to meet the western bank of Whitwell Creek. Follow the surfaced track as it turns left to head north, paralleling the shore on the right. Pass a boat storage area on the left, after which the path curves to the right across the head of the creek.
Continue along the cycle path in a rough eastwards direction for a mile as it parallels the northern side of the reservoir, passing through a couple of gates to reach the Sykes Lane car park. Skirt the southern edge of the car park; when it ends turn right down a surfaced path, heading through a gate to reach the northern end of Rutland Water dam. Do not turn right to follow the cycle path across the dam and instead turn half-right to descend down the grass to the southeast. Soon a fence guarding a copse is reached. Keep this on the left and follow it southeastwards.
At the southern tip of the copse turn half-left by a concrete pillar to cross a stile and head eastwards across a field. The path soon crosses another stile to enter another copse; the path heads through this for a short distance until it descends some steps to reach a plank footbridge over a stream immediately in front of a stile. On the other side of the stile the path emerges into a paddock; continue on for a short distance across it to reach another stile in a fence. On the other side of this stile turn half-left to head northeastwards across another paddock. It crosses a stile beside a metal gate and heads along a narrow green path between houses to reach Nook Lane in Empingham. Continue straight on eastwards along this lane for a short distance until it reaches the A606 at SK948084.
Carefully cross the road to reach the pavement on the other side and then turn right to head southeastwards along the A606 for a couple of hundred yards; as the road curves to the right continue straight on along the pavement, passing a village sign on the right. When the pavement ends at a T-junction with Church Street turn left to reach Empingham church on the right.
Places of interest
Oakham is the county town of Rutland, Britain's smallest historic county. It is a bustling, friendly place with many shops and cafes to visit, and still hols markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Go a short distance away from the main road and you reach streets of beautiful limestone houses and cottages, many topped with roofs of Collyweston stone or thatch. Much of the stone comes from nearby quarries that utilise an outcrop of the same stone that has made the Cotswolds so famous.
The town is well served by busses and also has a train station that is served by trains running from Stansted to Birmingham via Cambridge, Peterborough and Leicester. Its traffic problems have thankfully been significantly eased by a recent bypass of the A606 to the east of the town.
location UID #258
Oakham Castle is situated on a mound right in the centre of the beautiful market town. It is best approached through the imposing gateway that leads from the Market Place, and is well worth a visit. Only one building is still extant, the late twelfth-century Great Hall. This was never part of a true castle, but belonged to a fortified manor house.
The inside of the castle is often open to the public; entrance is free. The Norman architecture of the interior is highly reminiscent of a church despite its secular origins, with columned aisles supporting a broad roof. A vast number of horseshoes in varying sizes hang on the walls: an old tradition says that a Peer of the Realm visiting the town for the first time has to surrender a horseshoe to the castle. The oldest was given by Edward IV in 1470, and it is fascinating to see how the sizes of the horseshoes vary according to the importance of the particular visitor.
location UID #259
The Peterborough to Leicester railway line
In 1848 George Hudson and the predecessors of the Midland Railway opened a line from Syston, to the north of Leicester, to connect with the Northern and Eastern Railway at Peterborough. Coal in the area was increasing in cost and traders were keen to see a railway that would reduce their haulage costs. Sadly the full opening of the line was delayed due to troubles with a major local landowner called Lord Harborough, who wanted to prevent the railway from opening across his estate, Stapleford Park. There were fights between his staff and the railway's surveyors, leading to a fight called the 'Battle of Saxby'. Because of these troubles, the middle stretch of the line between Melton Mowbray and Stamford opened later than the western and eastern ends.
The line nowadays is surprisingly busy, carrying not only passenger trains to the east of England, but also containerised freight traffic to the east coast ports. It also provides a useful resource for walkers on the western half of the Hereward Way.
location UID #260
The post-war industrial expansion in Britain led to a shortage of water in many areas of the country. Many of the northern towns could be provided with water from reservoirs in the Pennines, but the situation was harder further south. In the end it was decided to build a large reservoir in the twin valleys of the small River Chater.
Construction of the 35-metre high dam started in 1971 and filling started in 1975; it took four years to fill the full 3,100 acre reservoir. The completed reservoir has an unusual shape - it stretches a little over four miles from the dam in the east to the western tip near Oakham, and is a maximum of two and a half miles from south to north. However a spit of land containing the village of Upper Hambleton stretches across most of the middle of the reservoir, splitting the mass of the water into northern and southern limbs.
The village of Nether Hambleton was flooded by the reservoir, as were several farms. Also lost was much of the estate of the Earls of Ancaster. Their main house, Normanton, had been demolished before the Second World War, but several buildings including the estate's rather grand private chapel remained. This was in the way of the reservoir and plans were made for it to be demolished. However a campaign led to the church being filled up to the window level and the rest surrounded by a bank and causeway connecting it to the shore. Thus what was to be lost became a feature, and the church is now a museum. The church is now the signature image of the reservoir.
The reservoir has a 25-mile long cycle path running around it, which includes a visit to the peninsula of Upper Hambleton. Bikes can be hired from the visitors centre on Whitwell or Edith Weston. The reservoir is also very popular with sailors, and boats are often to be seen out on the waters.
location UID #261
Rutland may be Britain's smallest county, but it is jam-packed with picturesque villages. Empingham is no exception; the small village sits on the A606 immediately to the east of the dam that contains Rutland Water. It is dominated by the 13th Century St Peter's Church, which seems perfectly formed from the outside with a tall spire. Unfortunately like many churches it got renovated in Victorian times, a process that all too often destroyed period features and made churches simulacrums of each other. Perhaps this is being unfair to this particular church which still has maintained a lofty, spiritual air. The village has a pub and a shop.
location UID #262
Hereward the Wake is one of the historical characters whose deeds have been exaggerated through the fog of years. After William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, he went on a long campaign to try and subdue his restless kingdom. Because of their waterlogged nature the Fens proved hard to subdue, and Hereward first came to prominence by sacking Peterborough Cathedral in 1070 (perhaps in tribute to his Viking roots). A year later the Normans besieged his army on the Isle of Ely, only gaining access after a number of years by bribing someone, perhaps a monk, to tell them the safe dry route onto the island.
Hereward is one of the little-known heroes who has captured the national imagination from time to time, and some of his deeds were incorporated into later Robin Hood legends. This is perhaps strange as he was a Viking rather than an Anglo-Saxon, although the two peoples had mostly merged by the time of the Norman invasion. Indeed several kings of England, such as the infamous Cnut (Canute) were actually Viking.
location UID #302
Centrebus service 9 runs roughly hourly during the week between Oakham and Stamford, calling at Empingham on the way.
You could also join this leg with the next one to Stamford, from where trains run regularly back to Oakham. See the National Rail website for more information.