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 attractive, 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 memorial by the master carver Grinling Gibbons to the 3rd Viscount Campden, his fourth 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.
Exton's glorious grounds
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 landscaper gardeners were at it 300 years before any television makeover show you could mention). Among the ornamental follies on the estate is an elaborate Gothic summer house that dates from the late 18th century. It is known as Fort Henry, and overlooks Fort Henry Lake, which you will see halfway 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.
Rutland: a county in miniature
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'.
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 go over a stile on your left to follow a public footpath.
When you reach the entrance to two fields, bear right to follow a wide, grassy track along the shallow valley, keeping the stream to your right. Stay on this track for just under 1 mile (1.6km), at one point crossing the stream and returning via a footbridge before climbing into a field on the left to avoid Cuckoo Farm. Finally the path crosses the stream once more and clambers up through the fields on the right to reach a lane.
Turn left and walk along the verge until just beyond the bend, then go left on a signposted public footpath. 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 on the surfaced drive for a few paces, to fork left before the gate and head out across open pasture above the water.
At the far side turn right on to another lane then, in 50yds (46m), 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.
Turn left and walk up through more woods and, when the semi-surfaced drive bears left, go straight on through an area of recently planted trees. The wide, unmade track now heads directly out across the open fields for a mile (1.6km).
When you reach the trees on the far side turn left on to a track that drops down and bears left. It then swings right and climbs up a short slope, before levelling out and bending between a fence and hedge.
At a junction turn right on to the straight, metalled lane, signposted 'Viking Way to Exton'. Bear left at a fork before woods and follow this back to Exton. Follow signs around Home Farm, then follow West End round to the left and turn right by the stone shelter into High Street to return to The Green.
Mainly field paths and firm farm tracks, several stiles
Open and undulating fields and parkland, mixed woodland
Reasonably good, but on lead around livestock on Exton estate
OS Explorer 234 Rutland Water
Roadside parking on The Green, Exton
None on route (nearest at Rutland Water Visitor Centre)
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Measuring less than 20 miles (32.4 km) 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. Whatever the origin of the name, one thing is certain, and that is that this tiny county has had a complicated history. The modern bit starts in 1974 when it was dissolved into Leicestershire. After more than 20 years of protest by unrepentant Rutlanders the county was happily reinstated in 1997.
The major tourist draw of Rutland was created in 1975, and is Rutland Water, a body of water which, at 5,000 acres, is the largest man-made reservoir in Europe. As well as a mass of wildlife and water pursuits such as windsurfing and sailing, Rutland Water also has its own church, which is now a museum, sitting on an outcrop that juts out into reservoir.