The rush for Rutland

The smallest county is back - and in big demand. By Rosalind Russell
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The Independent Online
Maybe it's because there are at least twice as many sheep as people in the county, that Rutland is so popular with house-hunters harassed by city life. Or it could be the beer: Rutland is home to Ruddles. Or maybe it's just the determined character of the natives that makes it a corner of rural England worth settling in.

In the 23 years since government bureaucrats swept Rutland off the map and into the administrative arms of Leicestershire, 34,000 Rutlanders have never stopped fighting to have their county status reinstated. Even people who weren't even born when their county was swallowed up insisted in putting "Rutland" on their addresses.

Now that Rutland is officially back on the map, it seems that outsiders can't wait to join the ranks and buy into the county that - at about 15 miles square - is the smallest in England.

"When recently we put an advertisement in a local Leicester paper," says a spokesman from Savills, "we had a phenomenal response. We have a lot of people specifically looking for houses in the Rutland villages. But there are some you just can't buy into, because there's never anything for sale."

Many village houses are very attractive, built of local stone with Collyweston slate roofs. They are as elegant as anything in nearby Stamford - only just over the border in Lincolnshire - which is so much loved by makers of television period dramas. Middlemarch was filmed there.

The Limes in Tinwell, two miles from Stamford, is typical. The Grade II listed, five-bedroom, creeper-covered Georgian house has working shutters, panelled rooms and windowseats, and a 24ft reception hall with a curved staircase. It also comes with a two-bedroom cottage and a walled garden (and even the walls here are grade II listed). Savills is asking pounds 365,000.

Empingham, midway between Stamford and the county capital, Oakham, is one of the most popular Rutland villages, with one shop, one pub and two antiques shops. A period three-bedroom house in this Georgian village is not likely to sit on the market for long. Savills expects a lot of interest in the Old School House, built in 1838, with gardens on all four sides. Offers of around pounds 185,000 are invited.

"Getting back our county name will make a difference to the property market," says Sue Mullinger, manager of the Black Horse Agency branch in Oakham. "This is very pretty area and now even more people will hear about us. I'm not just saying this because I've lived here for 20 years. Rutland has a lot to offer. We are seeing a lot of families who are looking for second homes and country cottages. People are prepared to travel further to work just to live here."

The villages around Rutland Water - the reservoir created in the Seventies - attract most enquiries.

"Houses are selling overnight," says Sue Mullinger. "There are people waiting for houses to come up in certain villages. There isn't much in the way of industry in Rutland, so people don't come here because they have been relocated for work, they come because they really want to live here."

Property in the county has never been cheap, even though commuter links are not as good as some. Trains from Oakham's draughty little station - unmanned during off-peak afternoons - are few and far between to Peterborough and the onward connection to London. But pounds 100,000 will buy a three-bedroom semi, pounds 200,000 a four-bedroom detached house, depending on location and plot size. At the bottom end of the market, around pounds 40,000 buys a terraced, first-time buyer's house in Oakham. For the "right" house in Manton, Hambleton or Egleton, buyers are prepared to pay over the odds just to secure the property.

"Why not?" asks a resident. "Rutland has everything - except Marks & Spencer."