Harvest twist at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
The traditional harvest jamboree is given a modern twist in Blenheim Palace’s walled garden this year, with an autumn festival promising food markets, foraging trails and theatrical entertainment such as wacky races and a dragon maze trail by a collective of artists and designers(24-26 September and 1-3 October, free with entry, £30 per adult for palace, park and gardens or £19 park and gardens, child £17 or £9, blenheimpalace.com).
Pitchup.com has several glamping sites nearby, from about £75 a night sleeping two
Foraging and glamping in Pembrokeshire
With ancient woodland all around, and the winding tributaries of the Cleddau estuary for dips and kayaking, the setting is right for a long weekend of relaxation in nature at Little Retreat in Lawrenny. Luxury dome tents have private wood-fired hot tubs and outdoor bathtubs, but it’s the choice of experiences on offer that makes it special. Guided wild swimming sessions range from an introduction to cold water swimming (£55pp, with the Wim Hof method of cold shower preparation in advance recommended for the colder season) to an outdoor sauna experience on the banks of the River Dyfi (£85pp). Or choose a full day’s foraging, feasting and fishing followed by an evening meal (£135pp) of fungi, seaweed and hedgerow ingredients cooked by Matt Powell, who plans to open a restaurant at the site. Wellbeing classes, art lessons and walks can fill other spare moments.
Two nights in a dome tent sleeping four or five from £370
Stargazing in Dumfries and Galloway
Galloway Forest Park, in the south-west of Scotland, is an international dark sky park with more than 7,000 stars and planets visible to the naked eye and the Milky Way often observable as well. Close by in Kirkcudbright, the Selkirk Arms, a cosy hotel with simple neat rooms, is running a stargazing weekend at the end of October. Hosted by top Scottish astronomer Steve Owens from the Glasgow Science Centre, it kicks off with drinks, canapes and dinner before a talk each evening, with stargazing walks to the harbour and out into the dark sky park, as well as a visit to the town’s new Dark Space Planetarium.
29-31 October, two-night dinner, B&B package including activities £289pp, selkirkarmshotel.co.uk
Autumn festivals in Malvern, Worcestershire
Nothing says autumn like a giant vegetable competition, and the Malvern Autumn Show (24-26 September, £18, under-16s free but tickets required) claims its contest is one of the biggest of the bunch. Held in the Three Counties Showground at the foot of the Malvern Hills near Ledbury, it features artisan food and drink stalls and talks by gardening gurus. For a treat, stay at the gorgeous Cottage in the Wood boutique hotel (doubles £199 B&B), whose fine restaurant has woodland views. Or camp at Eastnor Castle, which is most beautiful in autumn, and which was used as a set for the TV drama Succession – the deer park and arboretum are beautiful in autumn (pitches until 30 September £12 a night, entry to castle and grounds £12.50 adult, £7.50 child). Nearby Tenbury Wells hosts an Applefest on 2 October, while the National Trust’s Croome estate (£12/£6) provides more lovely autumn walks.
Nature-spotting multi-day trek in the South Downs
Hiking is particularly pleasant in the mild temperatures of a classic autumn, and rural routes are buzzing with wildlife and alive with colour. The 65-mile Serpent Trail, snaking through heathland in Surrey and Hampshire, was created in 2005 but has been altered this year to follow a more picturesque route. Beginning in Haslemere, it winds through the South Downs national park and finishes in Petersfield, with sculptures dotted along the way. Here, you can see live adders, sand lizards and smooth snakes – Britain’s rarest reptiles, which, unusually, give birth to young in September. In autumn green tiger beetles and black darter dragonflies may still be around too, and the heather is in bloom, bilberries are ready to pluck and birds such as stonechats, woodlarks and Dartford warblers decorate the breeze with their song.
Pied A Terre Adventures has a five-night self-guided trip staying in a different place each night, from £525pp B&B. Trail notes, GPS and OS Map App, and bag transfers are included, as are suggested places to eat and drink (patadventures.com)
Walking and dining on the Suffolk coast
The cute village of Orford on the Suffolk coast has lots going for it – pretty streets of pubs and delis, a quay and the Crown and Castle, now a smart bistro with 21 rooms. You can see Henry II’s 12th-century castle from the windows, and nearby, for spooky autumn walks, is mysterious Orford Ness. This long spit, which once served as a military base, has now been commandeered for wildlife and is a National Trust nature reserve. Aldeburgh is a few miles north, and there’s leaf peeping in nearby Rendlesham forest. The hotel has a list of walking routes, with varying lengths designed to burn off the calories guests eat in the restaurant that night. Go for the 45-minute ramble and you might only have a main of Orford-landed skate wing with chorizo and crab butter, but do the full 7½-hour hike and you could amply justify half a dozen Butley Bay oysters to start, plus a pud of strawberry cheesecake with Pimm’s jelly and cucumber sorbet, and take the hotel’s posh picnic with you.
Doubles from £170 room-only in September, £114 in October, crownandcastle.co.uk
Whisky and wildlife in the Inner Hebrides
South of Skye and Mull, the island of Islay (pronounced I-luh) is rich in wildlife and famed for its peaty whiskies. Responsible Travel’s five-day Inner Hebrides autumn wildlife tour covers both, with departures scheduled on 22 and 29 October and 5 November. The primary draw at this time of year is birdlife, including oystercatchers and skylarks on the Kintyre peninsula, eagles on the sea cliffs of Oa nature reserve, and 20,000 barnacle and white-fronted geese arriving at Loch Gruinart and Loch Gorm from Greenland in October. One day is dedicated to a coastal pathway that links the Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg whisky distilleries, with seal viewing and a wee dram or three to warm the cockles, alongside a distillery tour.
Four nights for £965pp, including transfers from Oban and some meals
Get that start-of-term feeling in Sussex
Embrace those nostalgic new-school-year feelings autumn can trigger by booking on to one of West Dean College’s short courses in arts and conservation, in a rural setting in the South Downs national park. You can try botanical drawing, with a focus on feathers, bark and seed pods and how to bring out fine details (20-23 September, £381pp), or botanical painting in the colours of the season (7-10 October, £393), a course suitable for beginners. A novices’ pottery course (1-3 October, £289) will allow you to explore slip decorating; there’s a leatherwork masterclass (2 November, £148) for making tool sheaths and other cases; traditional English basket making (19-21 November, £298); and there’s even a class on how to make a steel besague, a piece of 15th-century armour (16 October, £163) – plus many more. West Dean has rooms available on site from £127pp for two nights, including dinner and breakfast. To the south are Chichester, for shopping and dining, and the beaches of Hayling Island and West Wittering; next door is the Weald and Downland Living Museum, an outdoor collection of historic downland buildings where autumn events include a historical music weekend on 25-26 September.
Retreat in the trees in Northumberland
Fiery displays of autumn colour are provided by vibrant acers, and by the red squirrels foraging for winter stores at the National Trust estate at Wallington. The families who lived here for 300 years planted expanses of woodland, including exotic conifers and other trees from around the world that can be explored today on a “heritage tree trail”. On the estate, the National Trust has a new holiday cottage, Rothley Lakehouse, surrounded by woodland and wetlands. The house, which sleeps 13, overlooks the 250-year-old Capability Brown lake, where bats, badgers and otters frequent the shore. Bikes can be rented to explore trails to nearby villages such as Blyth, or further afield to Rothbury for antiques, and quaint Morpeth.
The luxurious main lodge sleeps 10, with three more staying in the guest cottage (£2,600 for three nights in September, £1,950 in October, £1,625 in November)
A fruitful season of art exhibitions in London
Autumn spells a new season of art shows in the capital, including the first major exhibition of experimental painterly woodcuts by American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler at Dulwich Picture Gallery. The Royal Academy of Arts summer exhibition, in its 253rd year, launches on 22 September, and it has a show of late Constable works from 30 October, while at the National Gallery, Poussin and the Dance shows the 17th-century baroque artist’s works depicting classical gods and mortals in movement, from 9 October. Hogarth’s greatest pieces are shown with those of some of his peers in the Hogarth and Europe exhibition at Tate Britain from 3 November, while 2017 Turner prize winner Lubaina Himid’s multidisciplinary show starts at Tate Modern on 25 November. Trained initially in theatre design, she has been pivotal in contemporary British art. Displaying work by emerging artists, Paddington’s Inhabit hotel has luxurious double rooms (from £150 B&B, inhabithotels.com) and aims to be environmentally and socially conscious, with a wellness area, Peloton bike classes, Tokyo bikes for hire, and collaborations with 20 social enterprises. A second location is due to open nearby before the end of the year.
Explore the nature, history and sights of Jersey
Just a few miles off the coast of Normandy, Jersey has become more popular than ever in a year with scant international travel options. Inntravel’s new four-night Jersey Island Escape was launched this year to show off the Channel Island’s sandy bays, rare birds and second world war history, and runs until the end of October. Based at a hotel in the harbour village of Saint Aubin, it offers leisurely self-guided exploration, furnishing walkers with route notes, maps and an island bus pass. Highlights include walking the tidal island causeway to La Corbière lighthouse, spotting red-billed choughs at Sorel Point and a tour of Battery Lothringen at Saint Brélade, one of the best-preserved coastal artillery defences in western Europe.
From £595pp in October, including four nights’ B&B accommodation, one dinner and return taxis from Jersey airport to the hotel
Cycling and cider in Herefordshire
The new 48-mile cycling circuit in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley expands on the popular cider trails launched last year. The Porter’s Perfection circuit starts from the village of Dorstone, in the shadow of the neolithic monument Arthur’s Stone, and tours several west Herefordshire craft cider makers. A leisurely ride along peaceful back roads with glimpses of rolling hills takes in Orgasmic Cider Company’s orchards, a horse-drawn mill at the 17th-century Fair Oak Cider farm, and the county’s oldest pub, Dorstone’s Pandy Inn. The route can also be tackled in smaller, bite-size sections. The aptly named Cider Shack from Ty Gwyn Holidays is a tiny holiday home for two in rural splendour comprising two sheds, fire pit, outdoor bath and log-burning stove.
Two nights at the Cider Shack (tygwynholidays.co.uk) costs £240, or the Pandy Inn B&B has doubles from £85
Cattle droving festival and steaming in the Lake District
The annual droving event on 28-30 October signals the shift from autumn to winter in the northern Lakes. The main event, with performers and a street market, is in Penrith but the lakeside community of Pooley Bridge also throws its own. Mask-wearing is a major feature of the event, which celebrates the cattle droving that has taken place in rural Cumbria for centuries and culminates in a flame-lit procession of horned and cloaked locals. A visit can be combined with hiking sections of the 20-mile Ullswater Way, linked by the Ullswater Steamers and tinged with autumnal colours at this time of year. Close to the path, the Quiet Site holiday park offers toasty-warm family camping pods with electricity, some of which are dog-friendly.
Camping pods sleep two adults and two children from £150 for two nights, some availability during the droving
Coast and castles in County Antrim
Ballygally Castle on Antrim’s scenic Causeway Coastal Route feels a world away from the big city, yet is only 26 miles from Belfast – and in autumn room prices are lower. At this time of year there’s more breathing space along the busy coastal road, which runs to Northern Ireland’s most visited attraction, the Giant’s Causeway. The castle dates from 1625 and overlooks sandy Ballygally Bay. Nearby is the improbable early-20th-century feat of engineering called the Gobbins (£20/£14.50), a wild seacliff walk of spiral staircases and suspended bridges, with tunnels once used by smugglers. There’s also paddleboarding off the Ballygally beach (if weather permits), the Norman Carrickfergus Castle on Belfast Lough and, an hour north near the Giant’s Causeway, coasteering at Portrush or Ballintoy (available year-round, wetsuits provided).
Doubles at Ballygally Castle from £120 B&B
Glamping at Hadrian’s Wall
Ancient sites seem more atmospheric as the season turns misty, none more so than Hadrian’s Wall. A mile from the wall, just outside the town of Brampton, lies Hadrian’s Wall Country Yurts (from £218 for a yurt sleeping two adults and two children for two nights, hadrianswallglamping.com). There are two yurts – both have woodburners, one has a wood-fired hot tub – and they share a paddock on a smallholding that rears sheep, chickens, and the owners’ small children. Guests can take atmospheric walks at dusk to some of the best-preserved sections of the wall. Eight miles east at Walltown country park near Greenhead, there is a self-guided, geolocated sound walk, Collision and Conflict, which uses music, sound and storytelling to explore these borderlands via a GPS-triggered app (until 1 October). For more outdoor adventuring there’s the Pennines AONB, and Northumberland national park – renowned for its stargazing. For a pint or three, Walton village’s Old Vicarage Brewery has a cosy bar serving its own ale and those of other microbreweries. It also has rooms for £75 B&B.
Delving into the past in Avebury, Wiltshire
You can now stay at one of six new self-catering stable units at the Farm at Avebury, making it easier to visit the neolithic and bronze-age attractions of the North Wessex Downs area of outstanding natural beauty this autumn. The 12-hectare family holding is in the middle of Avebury world heritage site, home to prehistoric Silbury Hill, the West Kennet Long Barrow tomb and the world’s largest stone circle. It’s surrounded by a patchwork of fields and round barrows that’s perfect for walking. Contemporary and self-contained, the stable units only opened in July, and there’s still plenty of availability till the end of November. The stables sleep between two and six, or you can rent the lot for a big family get-together. The farm sells produce boxes containing its own eggs, grass-fed beef, farm-made rapeseed oil and more. Less than a five-minute walk away is the 17th-century thatched Waggon & Horses pub.
One-bedroom stable from £99 a night (two-night minimum)
Cooking, wild food and carving in the Cotswolds
A handful of new activities and courses will tempt visitors to linger outdoors in the Cotswolds this autumn. The 200-year-old Burleigh Court manor house (doubles from £129) near Minchinhampton has launched a Wild Foodie Foraging experience (from £65, or £239 for a couple with overnight stay) that includes a foraging walk and a wild food lunch prepared by the head chef Shaun Jones. The hotel is also running new three-hour autumnal wild wreath-making sessions with cream tea (£69) on 2 and 10 October. For wood-gathering and fire cooking or limestone carving, Cotswolds National Landscape (formerly the AONB) has new experience days (from £45) running through October. It has teamed up with Cotswold Hideaways to offer rural skills weekend packages, with 10% off experience days for visitors staying at properties such as the Garden Studio near Stroud, a cosy one-bedroom apartment which has availability in October from £399 for three nights.
Literature in Manchester
After the physical event was cancelled last year, the Manchester literature festival (9-17 October) is back with live talks and readings for 2021, including sessions with Booker prize winner Bernardine Evaristo and Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie. Manchester became a Unesco city of literature in 2017, thanks to its historic ties to radical writers including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. They worked together at Chetham’s Library (free, closed weekends), founded in 1653 and thought to be the oldest public library in the world, which has just reopened after a multimillion-pound renovation. In between literary sessions, grab a beer at local Cloudwater Brew Co’s new Piccadilly taproom. The Kimpton Clocktower hotel on Oxford Street, opened last year, has loft-style rooms inside the sumptuously restored Grade II-listed building.
Doubles at Kimpton Clocktower from £135 room-only in October
Art and culture in Great Yarmouth
Banksy’s visit over the summer gave Great Yarmouth’s arts scene a leg up, adding to the Norfolk resort’s growing street art collection. Take a walk to find murals by John Dashwood, which speak to the town’s literary and seafaring heritage, and the Yarmouth mural by Kevin Parker, one of 30 that social enterprise group Reprezent Projects is having painted to engage young people and attract visitors. For October, the team behind May’s Norwich festival is launching Norfolk Wonder, including a new sound trail for Great Yarmouth by composer Ela Orleans. In time for half-term, the spectacular pyrotechnics display Fire on the Water (£6 for up to 6 people, 21-31 October and 3-6 November) will bring a new night-time performance trail to the resort’s Waterways pleasure park, with dance, acrobatics, water projections, light installations and fire shows.
Clippesby Hall campsite has some October availability in its Tilly shepherd’s hut, which sleeps two adults and two children, from £130 for two nights
Waterfalls in Wensleydale, Yorkshire Dales