Enjoy England in autumn

RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Essex © The Royal Horticultural Society

September, October and November are some of the best months in the calendar to enjoy England. From golden leaves to deer rutting and bumper wine harvests, autumn is a season characterised by colour, taste and sound. Here’s how to enjoy the best of the season…

RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Essex © The Royal Horticultural Society
RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Essex © The Royal Horticultural Society

EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY
New food festivals
Melt-in-the-mouth pies, wild mushrooms, crab, cherries, jam, cheese, heritage apples, sweet mango chutney – whatever your harvest favourite, England is awash with food festivals throughout September and October offering an explosion of tastes from farm to fork. New for this year is the Taste of Autumn Food Festival by the Royal Horticultural Society. Taking place across four RHS gardens, the Taste of Autumn Food Festival will have an array of local artisan produce and TV chef James Martin, botanist and Gardeners World regular Pippa Greenwood, and chef and food writer Rosemary Moon will be on hand to entertain the crowds. The festival takes place 12-13 October at Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in North Devon and Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire. Between 16-20 October, the event will be hosted at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey.

Pop your cork
Corks have been popping at vineyards across England this summer as wine growers celebrate what looks like one of the best years they have ever had – thanks to the weather. The recent warm spell, following a long cold winter has brought the perfect conditions. Sample the grapes for yourself by spending the weekend on an English vineyard. Right in the heart of the Surry Hills in Dorking lays the UK’s largest single estate vineyard – Denbies Vineyard. The estate also runs Denbies Guest House in one its farmhouses with bed and breakfast from £85. Alternatively head over to Kent to sample 11 grape varieties at Biddenden Vineyard. The 23 acre site produces white, red, rose, sparkling, and is also the home of traditional Kent cider. The vineyard provides accommodation in The Vineyard Loft; rooms start from £145 per night.

Grapes at Denbies vineyard © andynewboldphotography.com
Grapes at Denbies vineyard © andynewboldphotography.com

Forage for food
Mushrooms start popping up all over the place come autumn so it’s the perfect time to go foraging. Ceps, Chanterelle, Hedgehog funghi and much more can be found in East Sussex and So Sussex offer expert guides, for £40 per person, to ensure you don’t get them confused with the poisonous variety. The New Forest is also a great place to go foraging and in autumn Fungi Foray events take place in the forest. Prices start from £20 and you’ll learn which mushrooms to eat and which to avoid, along with a host of other treats to find in the autumn season.

COSY UP INDOORS
Storm watching
Watch the weather turn over a hot toddy at the Lugger in Portloe. Situated in a beautiful Cornish fishing village, the seafront location is perfect for storm watching this autumn. More comforting and romantic than a Richard Curtis film, the hotel will provide macs, brollies and wellies for watching dark skies and dramatic waves crashing on the beach followed by a hot toddy and buttered crumpets in front of the open fire back at the hotel. Storm Watching Packages are £318 for two people for two nights, Sunday-Thursday.

Turning leaves
Famous for its spectacular autumn colours, Stourhead in Wiltshire is home to England’s largest collection of Japanese Maples. Stay at 89 Church Lawn, which is situated at the entrance to the gardens, so you can get there early, before the crowds gather, to see the temples, monuments, rare trees and plants set around a magnificent lake. The pretty stone cottage, a National Trust property, is the perfect country hideaway, allowing you to enjoy bracing walks before the crowds, and on return, snuggle up next to a log burning fire sipping hot chocolate. The charming cottage sleeps seven; autumn prices start from £650 for two nights.

From a height
Watch the leaves turn golden from high up in the Hampshire trees at Chewton Glen Tree House Suites. Huge windows give a panoramic view through the canopy to the valley beyond offering an unforgettable setting for admiring the fiery red, burnt orange and mustard yellow leaves. Each tree house sits on stilts, like floating lily pads balancing between the valley and tree canopy. Prices start from £700 for two.

Chewton Glen treehouse
Chewton Glen treehouse

FLORA AND FAUNA

Leaf-peeping
There is no better time to see this orange and pleasant land than autumn. One of the best places to enjoy leaf-peeping is the New Forest, home to towering oaks, beech, ash and sweet chestnut. Alternatively, stroll through Ray Wood at the grand Castle Howard in Yorkshire – the resplendent autumn colour resonating from the shrubs and trees and ripened fruit and berries strike all of this season’s tones. For more beautiful colours, visit the National Arboretum in Tetbury. Set in 600 acres of historic woodland, it contains a whopping 16,000 different trees all showing off their best autumnal shades. Try one of the specially-prepared seasonal trails, where you’ll see the colours at their finest. Literary lovers can enjoy a walk though Winchester.  Said to be the inspiration for his poem ‘To Autumn’, the Keats walk allows you to follow in the footsteps of John Keats.

New Forest © VisitEngland
New Forest © VisitEngland

Spot red squirrels, baby seals and deer ruts
Experience the remote beauty of Northumberland this autumn on land and out at sea. Ramble through ancient woodlands and along the waterside of Allen Banks and Staward Gorge for example, and you’ll come across flittering grey wagtails and herons hunting for prey, alongside a mass of towering trees dressed in deep oranges and pale yellows. If you’re lucky, you may also spot the illusive red squirrels hiding in the forks of tree trunks. As the summer draws to a close, it’s all change on the Farne Islands off the north Northumberland coast. Autumn is the best time to catch a boat out from Bamburgh to witness the birth of hundreds of seal pups. October is also the best time to watch one of nature’s great spectacles – a fierce mating battle known as deer rutting. There are hundreds of woodlands and country estates up and down the country where you can witness the rut. One such place is Woburn Abbey Park in Bedfordshire which has one of the most important and unique collections of park deer ever brought together. Keep an eye out for Pere David’s deer, Sika, Axis, Chital, Barasingha, Rusa, Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer roaming individually.

AUTUMN EVENTS

Spooktacular
This Halloween there’s lots of ghostly events happening across the country to entertain your little horrors. Take a terror tour of the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, The darkest, deepest areas of the haunted buildings are not usually open to the general public, but they are to be exclusively opened for the frightening Terror Tours to celebrate Halloween.

Galleries of Justice © VisitEngland
Galleries of Justice © VisitEngland

Visit the pumpkin capital of the UK, Spalding in Lincolnshire, for a celebration of local horticulture and harvest on 11 October. Take part in the grand pumpkin lit parade, indulge in stalls selling pumpkin based food, admire pumpkin sculptures and don your best fancy dress. If you’re brave enough, take a Jack the Ripper walking tour of Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane, or hear the gory tale retold, in a setting that recreates the Ten Bells on a stormy night, at the new London Dungeons.  2013 marks the 125th anniversary of the Whitechapel murders and still to this day it remains a constant source of dark fascination as the ‘who dunnit’ conundrum remains unsolved.

Remember, remember the 5th of November
Whether you’re eager to learn the history behind Guy Fawkes and his failed gunpowder plot or you just want to indulge in toffee apples and treacle whilst watching the sky sparkle, there’s plenty going on around the country to guarantee your bonfire night goes off with a bang. For a spectacular free display on 5 November, head to Poole Quay, the second largest natural harbour in the world. The harbour is second only to Sydney, which is also famous for its fireworks displays. Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire will open its doors for a family fireworks extravaganza on 2 November. You’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve gone back in time as you wander the eerie streets illuminated by gaslight, as they would have been in the 19th century. For bang-free fireworks head for Bristol Zoo, the beautiful display of low-noise fireworks is perfect for little ones and pooches. If you prefer the indoors but still want to partake in the fun then book a table at the Guy Fawkes Inn in York, built on the spot where the notorious plotter was born. It’s got plenty of historical character, serves hearty food, offers beautifully furnished rooms, and is set within the shadow of York Minster. On 5 November doubles start from £189 including breakfast.

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