I've only ever zoomed through Rutland before on the A1 - but had the morning to explore the town. It really is little England in little England. A tiny, proud place standing as firm as Asterix's village against the encroaching demands of multi cultural Leicestershire. There are no MacDonald's here, but family butchers, no wine bars but specialist breweries and more pubs per street than anywhere I can think of.
I started off in All Saint's church whose spire dominates the area. Inside on the capitals topping the ancient columns are intricately carved reliefs depicting a surprised looking Adam and Eve, Reynard the fox and a glorious green man. Next stop was the museum, where I met local curator Rob Clayton, who showed me the town gallows, which were set up opposite the school. Apparently in the 1810s the headmaster, Dr Doncastor, would stop lessons to, in the interests of moral instruction, make the boys go and watch the executions. A preventative measure if ever there was one.
Finally I made my way to the castle to see the fine collection of horseshoes, which have become the symbol for the county. The first time a member of the Royal family sets foot in Rutland they're obliged to present a horseshoe - this tradition has been active since 1470, when the Yorkist King Edward IV scattered the Lancastrian army at Empingham, five miles East. The gift was a form of thanks for the victory and, although eclipsed by an ostentatious black plumed offering from Prince Albert, can still be seen, pride of place on the wall of the great hall. Rutland horseshoes are hung pointing downwards, contrary to other talismanic traditions, where good luck is kept nestling in the curve of the shoe. All Rutlanders know, however, that this encourages the devil and the only way to keep him out is by turning the it round to hang the other way.
After lunch we headed to Egleton and the bird watching sanctuary. Rutland is slowly reestablishing an Osprey population, the first in England for nearly 150 years. The project has been going for seventeen years and is beginning to yield results as second and third generation birds return from migration to breed and feed on the water.
Chris explained that the remarkable journey the birds make every year is going to form one strand of the work. Every Autumn they fly to Senegal via Spain to spend the Winter in Africa, before returning in March.
We travelled onto Normanton and the actual festival site, which is next to the iconic church, whose upper portion was saved from the waves. When the Gwash valley was dammed in 1975 to create the lake many local people protested about the monumental change to the landscape - including the drowning of two medieval villages. Thirty five years on and, although some nostalgia for the valley remains, the place has become a much loved centre for leisure and relaxation. We're going to try and tell a little of this story as well.
I can't wait to start work.