Best for food
Culinary adventures, Stockbridge, Edinburgh
With four Michelin-starred restaurants, organic farms and picnic-ready markets, Edinburgh is a great destination for food-lovers, and Stockbridge is a hub of the city’s foodie scene. Menus draw on the game-rich Scottish moors, lochs full of seafood, foraged berries, fungi and seaweed. The local Sunday market offers fermented figs and plum compote, and nearby restaurants serve up fancy meals: a seven-course tasting menu at candlelit Purslane (£65) or bacon-wrapped grouse with locally foraged girolle mushrooms (£30) among the tartan and antlers at Scran and Scallie.
Across the road is the Raeburn (from £110 B&B) hotel, a comfy Stockbridge base with muted teal-and-heather decor, roll-top baths, its own restaurant and a big log fire in the bar. A cheaper option is the Loft hostel off Princes Street (private doubles from £40), a 10-minute walk from Stockbridge.
Nearby Dean Village, a cluster of old mill houses with turrets and crow-stepped gables, is the gateway to an afternoon stroll beside the Water of Leith. Half a mile downstream, have a peek at the edible garden project in the Royal Botanic Garden (free). Then work up an appetite walking back along this rocky valley, with a neoclassical well and resident otters, ready for tea at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (free, book ahead). For autumnal perfection, drive or catch bus X5 along the coast to stroll round the Gosford House Estate, a well-kept local secret. Buy a £1 permit from the well-stocked Bothy farm shop (Tuesday to Saturday) to admire the fiery beeches and ornamental lakes.
Cider and soda, Armagh
Late September sees Armagh’s pared-down Food and Cider Festival, offering treats such as a vegetarian tasting evening, cooking with fire (Sunday) and cidery tours (all limited availability). The Armagh Cider Company is in full harvest mode, with a rich smell of apples from the orchards and pungent fermenting in the cidery. The four daily tours (£18pp, individual bubbles only) include apple juice and cider tasting, an insight into the farm’s work from “blossom to bottle”, and an amble through the orchards.
Blackwell House (doubles from £95B&B), 10 miles south in peaceful fields, is a stylish guesthouse that serves afternoon tea, homemade shortbread and locally sourced breakfasts – and they hope to reopen the cookery school soon. Other options include off-grid Birch Eco Cottage, on an organic smallholding half an hour’s drive away (£195 for two nights).
North Yorkshire’s foodie hub
The aromas of roasting coffee and baking bread fill the brick-walled yard opposite the Talbot Hotel in Malton, Yorkshire’s self-proclaimed food capital. The hotel is an old coaching inn, with log fires and riverside gardens, which reopened in late August under new management. Malton is a bunting-strung, flower-hung market town, with breweries and macaron makers, and creamy Georgian mansions housing independent cafes. Castle Howard, serving elegant afternoon teas, is 10 minutes’ drive away next door to the Yorkshire Arboretum (£7, book online). Blazing with golds and scarlets, it has fungi forays for a fiver in October.
Equally close to Malton, the walled garden at Scampston (£8 adults, £4.50 children, £20 family ticket) is full of garden designer Piet Oudolf’s mauve and crimson perennials and shady seats among rust-coloured grasses. It’s open until 1 November and the cafe serves veg grown in the garden.
• Doubles at the Talbot from £95 room only, talbotmalton.co.uk
Humble hayloft, Monmouthshire
Some of Britain’s most important ancient woodlands line the steep-sided Wye Valley. This former hayloft, up stone steps and above a barn on TV presenter Kate Humble’s Upper Meend Farm, makes a good base for exploring. There’s a welcome hamper with eggs from the farm’s chickens and weekend takeaways from the on-site Pig and Apple cafe. Nearby Monmouth has vineyards, bakeries, ice-cream shops and a chance to go canoeing on the River Wye. Down the hill from the farm, you can drink local ales at the Boat Inn (pop-up kitchens on Fridays and Saturdays).
• Hayloft from £160 for two nights, humblebynature.com
Best for families
Camping and cycling, New Forest, Hampshire
An adventure centre and family campsite in the woods, Avon Tyrrell is using this autumn’s VAT cuts to offer cheaper camping (with fire pits and barbecues allowed) until the end of October. There are heated forest lodges all year, too (from £175 for two nights in a six-person lodge) and bookable activities including archery, paddleboarding, kayaking and pioneering (£45 per 45 minutes for a bubble of up to six). Hire bikes (£18/£10 a day for adults/kids, bring your own helmets if possible) and cycle the waymarked trails, or head out through the New Forest with its fading heather and gold-leaved silver birches. Cycle past free-roaming cows and ponies to a country pub, deer sanctuary, arboretum or beach while looking out for some of the 2,700 different kinds of toadstool – the New Forest is one of Europe’s best places to spot autumn fungi.
There’s a bit of a Halloween theme in the area, too: Avon Tyrrell has an outdoor trick or treat trail, the neighbouring thatch-and-tea-shop village of Burley has witchy connections and, a few miles away, Fordingbridge Pumpkin Pastures is open at half term with pick-your-own starting from £1 a pumpkin.
• Family tent spaces for up to five people from £22, avontyrrell.org.uk
Canal boat, West Yorkshire
Based in the Pennine town of Sowerby Bridge, in the Calder Valley, Shire Cruisers is also giving discounts based on the VAT saving. Canal holidays can involve several generations: older kids can help tackle some of the 91 locks along the 33-mile Rochdale Canal, while parents and grandparents steer the boat or watch the autumn trees drift past. The boats each have two loos and central heating. Besides a rainbow of waterside foliage, there are sweet late blackberries to pick from the bushes by the canal – especially those on the far bank that towpath walkers can’t reach. Look out for the wooden hawk sculpture at Broadbottom Lock near Mytholmroyd, where poet Ted Hughes was born. Plenty of great walks nearby, too: up the Pennine Way from Todmorden to Stoodley Pike, or along the River Calder, which the canal crosses on an aqueduct near pretty Hebden Bridge.
• From £770 for four nights for up to six people, shirecruisers.co.uk
Safari Park pub, Longleat, Wiltshire
With free cots (or kids’ foam beds for £15 extra), the rooms at the creeper-covered Bath Arms on the wooded Longleat estate are reasonable value for families. The Beckford hotel group recently took over the pub and its new incarnation was revealed at the end of July after several months’ refurbishment. But the regal lions and mischievous macaques in neighbouring Longleat Safari Park are the real draw. The park is five minutes away by car and is full of stately yellow lime trees and flaming bronze beeches (£25.45/£19.08 for adults/kids online). From 7 November-10 January an elaborate series of installations will light up the park after dark.
• Doubles from £100 B&B, batharmsinn.com
Church camping, the Pennines
The inside of the bleak-looking St Thomas in Friarmere (known locally as Heights Chapel) in Delph is unexpectedly colourful: the boards between beams are bright blue, the arched ceiling of the chancel is a starry sky, and the low sun throws stained glass patterns over the stone floor. St Thomas, which opened for “champing” (church camping, of course) in 2017, is experimenting by staying open for chilly October (hot water bottles supplied, good availability). The makeshift nature of champing, with its camp beds, rugs and cushions, often appeals to kids and they may even recognise this church from the film A Monster Calls.
The White Lion in Delph serves breakfasts, tapas and pizza; and wild Marsden Moor is nearby for blustery walks – red grouse startle noisily out of the heather and you might even spot shy mountain hares, with their coats turning white for winter.
• From £49 a night adults and a special offer of £1 for children, champing.co.uk
Best for nature
Dolphin watching, Inverness
The UK’s best place to see bottlenose dolphins from dry land is the pebbly, seaweed-strewn beach below the lighthouse at Chanonry Point on the north shore of the Moray Firth. Or stroll to Inverness harbour and take a 75-minute boat trip with Dolphin Spirit, which runs several cruises daily until December (groups of six are spaced out, £19.50 adults, £12 children). To explore further, Rabbie’s runs several year-round tours from Inverness, taking in the long, forested shores of Loch Ness, leafy highland villages and Instagrammable places like Glen Affric, Eilean Donan castle or Skye’s Trotternish peninsula, all magnificent under dramatic skies and autumn colours (from £27pp).
Stay at The Coo’s guesthouse (from £53 B&B), a mile from Inverness harbour, which has bright doubles in a renovated villa. Or check out Newhall Mains (doubles from £95 room only): these once-derelict farm buildings in the Black Isle, half an hour’s drive north of Inverness, opened in July as luxury suites and cottages.
Clifftop hike, North Yorkshire
In a county spoilt for great walks, the classic 21-mile stretch of the Cleveland Way between Whitby and Scarborough is one of Yorkshire’s best. Autumn is the time to spot grey seal pups and all kinds of birds, from sandpipers to snow buntings. The Cleveland Way heads out of Whitby on a clifftop path beyond the ruined abbey. After six miles, stop for lunch in Robin Hood’s Bay.
Raven Hall Hotel, four miles further on, has a castle-walled garden, long views back up the coast and a resident seal colony on the rocks below (doubles from £109 room only). Next day, press on to Scarborough, via Hayburn Wyke, where a little waterfall cascades down mossy cliffs on to the beach. Stay at the new and inspiring beachfront Bike and Boot hotel (doubles from £58.50 room only), which opened in July, and enjoy the free tea, cake and films.
Deer and dunes, Norfolk
Ten minutes’ stroll from a harbour and a salt marsh, the cheerfully sophisticated Globe Inn in Wells-next-the-Sea has deep baths and soft beds to relax in after a windswept day on the Norfolk coast. The stylish restaurant in this revamped coach house offers local food like crab salad with seaweed hollandaise.
The summer crowds have dispersed from the beaches at nearby Holkham, which stretch for miles, fringed by dunes and pinewoods; Victorian poet Algernon Swinburne called them “wide sands where the sea draws breath”. Thousands of birds return each autumn to overwinter here. Pick up lunch from The Lookout cafe between the car park and the beach.
In neighbouring Holkham Park, the fallow deer are noisily rutting and gardeners are restoring the Victorian greenhouses in the walled garden, which has abundant fruit and vines.
• Doubles £114 B&B, theglobeatwells.co.uk
Wildlife safari, Forest of Dean
Spot wild boar, badgers and hedgehogs, snuffling out into the autumn twilight when staying at the Tudor Farmhouse in the Gloucestershire countryside (doubles from £129 B&B). The hotel offers various packages, including evening or dawn chorus safaris with wildlife expert Ed Drewitt (from £100 for a family of four or a group of six). October and November are the ideal months to follow the tourist board’s new autumn colour trails. Intriguing local woods include the Secret Forest, half a mile from the farmhouse, with owls and woodpeckers among its gnarled trees (£5/£3, cash only), fantastical Puzzlewood, a regular film location with secret caves and fungi-covered stumps (£7/£6, book ahead) and a sculpture trail at nearby Beechenhurst.
Best for couples
For those who want cycling without the effort, National Forest E-Bike Holidays organises self-guided breaks “for gentle adventurers”. Its new, three-night Autumn Glory trip rolls past Bradgate deer park, where rutting stags bellow, and up through woods to Beacon Hill, one of the highest points in Leicestershire. You can stop off at Mount St Bernard Abbey to try the UK’s only monastery-brewed Trappist beer – a strong dark ale with rich fruit flavours – and explore berry-laden towpaths, copper beeches round Calke Abbey, and Bosworth battlefield. The package includes three nights’ B&B in local hotels, e-bikes with maps, GPS, luggage transfers and on-road support. Arrive by train, rather than car, and you’ll get a 5% discount.
• £475pp, ebikeholiday.co.uk
Shepherd’s hut, Suffolk
A candlelit double shower in the trees, a walk in the moonlight, a campfire under the stars … At Ivy Grange Farm you could also add fresh flowers or a picnic in a vineyard. You can snuggle up in a yurt or the new shepherd’s hut. Borrow bikes and cycle the country lanes to Southwold, or visit Holy Trinity church in Blythburgh, with its carved medieval angels on the ceiling and overwintering birds arriving on the nearby marshes.
• Shepherd’s hut from £180 for 2 nights, ivygrangefarm.co.uk
Dusted-down literary gem, Dorchester
The 18th-century King’s Arms (doubles from £95 B&B) on Dorchester High Street has been smartly repainted after years of dereliction, with the bow window gleaming and 20 rooms ready. Former guests include the Beatles and Queen Victoria, and the hotel features in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. Vinny at Six, just a minute from the hotel, is another stylish newcomer, offering cocktails, moreish tapas and leather armchairs.
National Trust-owned Hardy’s cottage (the pretty thatched-roofed birthplace of the author) is a couple of miles away. Although it hasn’t reopened yet this year, you can still walk through Thorncombe woods, above it, where wild Dartmoor ponies gallop through the beech trees.
At Furleigh vineyard, half an hour’s drive west, fawns hide between gold and crimson vine-rows while tiny grapes are being stripped from the sun-warmed branches to make award-winning fizz and sparkling rosé (six-person tours Wed-Sat until end October, from £15pp). Head back along the coast and catch the sunset at The Club House in West Bexington, a 1930s sports club-turned-restaurant with sea view, nautical decor and playful cuisine. The menu favours things foraged, local and homegrown, including salads from Tamarisk Farm next door, crisp cockle popcorn (£5.50) and grilled lobster with wild garlic (£28.95).
Woodland lodge, Carmarthenshire
What could be more romantically autumnal than a forest house with a hot tub? In Kaowood Country Park, at a new “tiny house” for two, you can arrange for champagne, chocolates and a bed sprinkled with silk rose petals. If it sounds contrived, the morning birdsong and huge oak trees overhead are real enough.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales, a 30-minute drive east, introduced an autumn tree trail a couple of years back, where you pass deep red Japanese maples, yellow hornbeams and a caramel-scented katsura.
And in the waterside village of Laugharne, seven miles from Kaowood, you can retrace the route up the wooded cliff that inspired Dylan Thomas’s Poem in October and peer across the estuary at the castle (“Brown as owls”). For a special occasion, dine out at Penderyn in Brown’s hotel, where the menu features pan-seared duck breast montmorency (£24.95) and rum and raisin banana crumble (£7.95).
• Lodges from £175 for two nights, kaowood.co.uk
Best for adventure
Surfing and kayaking, Harlyn Bay, Cornwall
The waves can be huge at Harlyn in autumn, but the beach is one of the safest on the north Cornish coast, and the long-running Harlyn Surf School will help you find your feet in the froth. It also offers sea kayaking sessions on the calmer waters of the nearby Camel estuary.
If you’re feeling flush, check out the brand new Pig Hotel, which opened in July on a tree-lined lane above the village (small doubles from £150 room only). For cheaper options, the down-to-earth Well Parc pub in neighbouring Trevone, five minutes by footpath from another good beach, has grassy spaces for tents (£15, no facilities) and basic family rooms from £76, and a sunset-facing terrace.
• £45 for a 90-minute session, £90 for the “learn to surf course”, harlynsurfschool.co.uk
High ropes and hostelling, Lake District
With its real ale bar reopened for takeaways, remote YHA Borrowdale currently has private rooms and wooden camping pods available throughout October and November.
Half an hour’s drive on the waterside road beside Derwent Water brings you to mountainous Whinlatter Forest, which has a Go Ape high-rope trail through treetops that are home to red squirrels (£33 for two to three hours). Whinlatter also has nine walking routes, Segway hire and the Lake District’s longest purpose-built mountain bike trails. At the nearby Keswick Climbing Wall you can book ghyll scrambling sessions, where you slide, jump and dive down mountain streams and waterfalls (£35pp for three hours, max group size five).
• YHA Borrowdale, rooms and pods from £37, yha.org.uk
Mindful walking and microadventures, Snowdonia
In the spectacular autumn landscapes of north Wales, Adventure Tours UK offers a variety of experiences. New mindful walking weekends will run once a month between October and March, including two nights at an inn in the Ceiriog Valley and a meditative day of guided walking through the hills.
At the other end of the adrenaline-ometer, the company’s 36 Hour Adventure (recommended for small groups and families) offers the chance to try coasteering and riverbugging (white water rafting on individual inflatables), mountain hiking and wild camping, complete with stargazing and campfire tales. You also get to ride the fastest zipwire in the world at Penrhyn Slate Quarry and go climbing and abseiling a sheer limestone cliff.
• Weekends from £325pp, 36 Hour Adventure £445pp, adventuretoursuk.com
Cult hotel and Cotswolds walk, Cheltenham
Encompassing five Regency townhouses, The George opened in late February, only to close again within weeks because of the pandemic. Planned as the first in a new group of Cult Hotels, it’s now reopened with 46 elegantly minimalist rooms; visitors can also book a slot to use the pool and gym at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. The hotel’s downside is limited parking, but it’s ideal for those braving public transport – next door to the coach station and not far from the train.
It’s also five minutes from the hourly bus, which heads into the hills, meaning walkers can sample the epic Cotswold Way. With its partly wooded hills and firelit pubs in treacle-coloured villages, this undulating 100-mile national trail offers unbeatable autumn walking. It stretches from Bath to gold-stoned Chipping Campden and reaches its high point of 1,000 feet above sea level just outside Cheltenham. Walk six miles from Cleeve Hill to time-warped Winchcombe via the neolithic long barrow at Belas Knap, and extend the route by looping out through orchards past the 13th-century ruins of Hailes Abbey. Refuel back in Cheltenham at North’s Bakery with a fruit dripper, a traditional Cheltenham bread-cake, sticky with sugar and raisins.
• Doubles from £80 room only, culthotels.com