On a recent 80 mile cycling foray over to the county of Rutland, I took time out to discover some of its hidden corners. Aside from the city of London, this is the smallest unitary authority in the country, with a total population of about 35,000. There are only two towns of any note: Oakham and Uppingham but both, along with their long-established private schools, demonstrate a level of affluence atypical of most rural counties.
Oakham itself, if you dig around and talk to a few local people, will reveal some fascinating character traits. Not only is its Buttercross Market a delight to sit in and take shelter from the blazing sun, but you will find what look like leg stocks with an odd number of holes. Of course, there has to be a reason………………..
Not only is it the smallest county, but it also boasts that the smallest man, Jeffrey Hudson, used to live there. At only 18 inches (46cm) tall, his tiny thatched cottage must have seemed like an enormous castle to him.
And if you wondered (as everybody did, I’m sure) where Airfix Kits had got their template for the typical English railway signal box, well it was right here in Oakham. So famous is it amongst railway enthusiasts (and presumably anoraky Airfix nuts), that it now forms part of our national heritage.
And if, for some reason, you’re looking for a county to blame for a recent increase in the birthrate…..then look no further than Rutland. It has the highest birthrate in the country. I suspect it is something in the water that comes out of nearby Rutland Water.