One young family cycles Rutland Water in style.
You can do it Lexie,” encouraged my friend Clare. The six year old bravely pedalled down the cycle path on her new bike, free from stabilisers, following her mum. “Me too!” yelled her four year old brother Frankie scooting along on his Isla balance bike behind. The whole family had massive smiles on their faces. This was enormous fun – perhaps more so than Peppa Pig? We’d soon find out… Here we were on the children’s first ever adventure weekend, cycling and exploring the traffic-free, wildlife-filled tracks of Rutland Water, one of the largest reservoirs in Europe. Adding to the excitement was their first stay under canvas. No, more than that – this was a tent, with a twist.
“It looks like a giant igloo on stilts,” Lexie said, while Frankie was very interested in the food we were storing on the shelves below the gas hob, microwave and sink. Kids and adults alike, inflating the ‘igloo-like’ Air Opus Folding Camper was just as exciting as the adventure itself. If we had parked this trailer tent in Clare’s back garden I’m sure the kids would have been equally thrilled, but we chose our local, often overlooked wildlife haven Rutland Water.
The 17 miles of safe, not-too-steep, easily-cycled tracks around this huge reservoir and nature reserve made it the ideal exploration ground for a young family. Especially as there were pubs at regular intervals for the adults… This would be Lexie and Frankie’s first step towards adventurous freedom with the promise of a good night’s sleep in comfort for all.
Off we go!
Easily towed to any campground without the queue-forming hindrance of a caravan, throughout the journey to Rutland Water I was looking forward to pressing the Opus’ inflate button and setting up our accommodation. On arrival, the pine trees rustled in the wind, the lake rippled away beyond, merging with cloudless blue skies. Blackbirds sang, sparrows chirruped, and in the loos there was a tantalising notice about spotting badgers, owls and bats at night. Maybe we’d get lucky this evening in this wildlife haven?
There was certainly lots to do before then. I stayed to set up our exciting new sleep pod while Clare and the kids had a snack and a hunt for pine cones. Once the air had been pumped into all the beams it was time to arrange all the furniture and facilities – wrap around seating, a gas hob, sink and toilet, plus a microwave, fridge, electric heating powered by the 12v and 240v electrics.
Inside, it’s much bigger than a camper van and much like a caravan. Hoiking the furniture around was fine for me as a fit, strong person but possibly not recommended for the elderly – that’s one reason why caravans still exist. There was a fantastic view of Rutland Water from the windows. Windsurfers blew across the reservoir, and kayakers sliced paddles into the waves. On the grassy track, Lexie was getting to grips with her big girl’s bike, and Frankie was chasing around with a fallen pine branch. Now it was time for lunch before we cycled off through grassy fields of butterflies and rabbits on our mini-adventure.
Time for an adventure
I called my surrogate family in for lunch, grateful to have such a spacious shelter now the wind had picked up. Chomping crisp breads and fruit as quick as we could around the little table, Clare and the kids couldn’t wait to cycle around Rutland Water. Bikes at the ready, we set off through the woods. The kids careered off, wobbling perilously at times, as kids do. The water lapped relaxingly at the shore and ducks squabbled with one another in the shallows. This nature reserve is a brilliant place for bird watching, and as we cycled we saw swans bobbing serenely, many different kinds of geese, and a heron gliding to it’s next fishing spot. If you’re really lucky you could even see an osprey.
It’s also fantastic for watersports, and in the middle of the vast blue lake were white specks of sails from the dinghies racing around in the wind. You can hire these from the Sailing Club and Watersports Centre and it’s great to have a go at sailing, windsurfing or kayaking whatever the weather. It wasn’t operational during our trip but from May to September, Rutland Water is home to the UK’s biggest Aquaglide Aqua Park, which seems the perfect reason to plan a trip. This floating inflatable island of fun has climbing walls, trampolines, a human hamster wheel, balance bars, slides and walk ways that you can race your friends and family on before hilariously splashing into the water. We all wished we could have a go – we’ll have to come back!
Meanwhile, on our ride, we passed lots of other cyclists all enjoying the sunny spring weather, some on hire bikes from the cycling shops dotted around the lake. Lexie and Frankie didn’t seem tired at all at our turnaround point, but they were still super excited at the thought of sleeping in the Opus. There’s room for six to sleep inside, but four was the perfect number for maintaining that luxury, yacht-like sense of space.
Time for eats and sleeps
Ravenous from riding, we were all grateful that cooking up a storm was so easy on the double gas burner. With much more room than a camper van, it’s even possible for the rest of the family to sit back and relax on the sofas, watch Peppa with the iPad plugged in, or help getting things out of the fridge and shelves too. All sorts of exciting adventurous concoctions are possible, like hot chocolate with marshmallows, with dipping slices of malt loaf. Not tried it? Do it!
Far into the distance the sun set behind Hambleton Peninsular, a jutting promontory. The kids snuggled into their huge double bed in the sleeping compartment on one side, the one nearest the toilet in case they needed quick access in the middle of the night. While the opposite side was reserved for the adults, moving the sofa cushions out of the way to step over to the back lid of the trailer, supported on external arms.
A quick evening’s walk confirmed that we wouldn’t be lucky enough to see a badger, but a barn owl did swoop past with a hoot – amazing. The beds were really comfy, everyone had a good night’s sleep and was ready for more exploring the following day. Time for Rutland Water’s free, timed 5k parkrun at 9am. And with a good sleep behind us, we all smashed it, returning to the Opus to show friends around the secret to our success. For a talking point in campsites, this camper is definitely one for the sociable!
It was complete luxury camping for Lexie and Frankie’s first adventure, and a hit with the adults too for ease of towing, storing and that huge, light, luxury space once inflated. We’ll definitely be dreaming about the Rutland Water views from our ‘igloo on stilts’ for a good long while.
The secret to luxury camping
By road: We used the Air Opus Folding Camper Trailer from www.opuscamper.co.uk. The inflatable luxury folding camper from a small, lightweight trailer is the brainchild of a dedicated in-house design team at OPUS HQ based in rural Suffolk. They wanted to provide a modern, light, easily-towed and stored and luxurious alternative to the ‘uncool’ caravan. Having used it, we can certainly second all of these attributes.
Camping: Rutland Water has several very easily accessible caravan and camping sites for you to choose from. It’s worth booking ahead as at peak times of the year this fantastic nature reserve and watersports haven can get reasonably busy.
Food and fuel: The picturesque, stone-built town of Stamford nearby has a large Morrisons supermarket, Sainsbury’s and a Waitrose. Morrisons usually has the cheapest petrol.
Activities: There are so many exciting things young families can do at Rutland Water. You can choose from wind-surfing, sailing and kayaking at the Water Sports Centre, or have a go on the rock climbing wall, hire bikes from Rutland Cycling
www.rutlandcycling.com (try a tandem, it’s fun!) to cycling the whole or part of the way round the reservoir. There are also nature walks and bird or wildlife spotting talks and tours, and the free timed parkrun takes place from Normanton Church every Saturday. Find out the latest news and activities here www.rutlandwater.org.uk and here www.discover-rutland.co.uk