When the word holiday is mentioned, people often imagine sun-soaked beaches or poolside sunbathing. But why restrict yourself to the busiest time of the year? Autumn is known for having glorious weather, and many locations are quieter and more affordable than at the height of summer
Rural locations are often at their most charming when the seasons change. So why not escape for a short UK break before winter sets in, and take the opportunity to see Britain at its most picturesque?
From ancient monuments and a 6,000-year history to natural beauty in abundance, Orkney makes an excellent location for an off-season break.
The region is a stunning 70-island archipelago and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 13 areas protected by Scottish Natural Heritage and another 13 RSPB reserves. Autumn is the perfect time to visit if you’re keen to see wild grey seals, as there’s a colony here who give birth to some 5,000 pups each year.
While much of Orkney’s tourism comes during the summer months, the peacefulness of the area during autumn really is something worth experiencing. The scenic storms of the autumn equinox contrast beautifully with sunny days, giving you a little bit of everything when it comes to the weather. However, due to warm air transported across the Atlantic by the Gulf stream, Orkney’s climate is relatively mild and rarely suffers the cold and snow that is common in Scotland.
On a clear day the skies are beautiful enough, but the promise of the best view of the Northern Lights in the UK is one reason above all others to visit Orkney.
Stretching across five counties and close to 800 square miles, the Cotswolds are the largest Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the UK.
Covering such a broad region, the Cotswolds provide outstanding scenery for hiking or cycling. The 102-mile Cotswold Way Trail is the easiest way to take in the combination of scenic beauty and picturesque villages. If you prefer to forge your own route, thousands of miles of footpaths will allow you to discover the rivers, hills and valleys of the region in your own way.
Stretching over 56 acres, the area’s Batsford Arboretum is home to one of the largest private tree collections in the country, and is the perfect place to see the greens of spring and summer turn into the spectacular colours of autumn.
Cairngorms National Park
Established in 2003, Cairngorms National Park is sometimes overlooked in favour of more famous national parks, but it is the largest ‘park’ in the UK and has plenty to offer. Located in the Scottish Highlands, the Cairngorms are twice the size of the Lake District and contain a quarter of Scotland’s forests.
In such a broad stretch of land, it is no surprise that the Cairngorms are home to some incredible wildlife, from red deer to golden eagles. The nine National Nature Reserves in the park provide protection to wildlife and natural landscapes alike, and give visitors the opportunity to truly get close to nature.
With varied trails, from short walks to day-long hikes, Cairngorms National Park has enough lochs, woodlands, forests and waterfalls to keep even the most nature-loving visitors happy. The park is also home to five of the UK’s highest mountains and 55 Munros (mountains over 3,000ft).
For hikers and climbers alike, the real beauty of the Cairngorms can only be seen in the autumn when the greenery begins to give way to yellows, golds, reds and ambers, contrasting beautifully with Scotland’s famous evergreens.
Another UNESCO site, the Lake District is one of the most popular tourist locations that the UK has to offer. The white cottages and dry stone walls remind visitors that this is a place where ancient traditions sit side-by-side with the romance of the great British countryside.
Of course, Windemere and Ullswater are famous for their mountain scenery, but it is Langdale Valley that is the ideal for walkers, hikers and campers.
While many of the numerous walks in the Lake District can be completed at any time of the year, most look at their best during the early weeks of autumn. Borrowdale is a the perfect example. The valley includes two ancient woods that are simply stunning as the seasons change. For the best views, Castle Cragg is an ideal spot, while another popular hill walk is the Glencoyne farm trail. This circular route will take you through one of the largest hill farms in the region.
With 190 miles of footpaths to be explored, Britain’s newest national park has walking and cycling routes for all interests and abilities. But on the water is, naturally, where the Broads come into their own. So why not hire a boat and have your own adventure?
With 200km of lock-free, navigable waterways, the Norfolk Broads are big enough for hours or even days of exploration. The British weather is notoriously fickle, but the Broads can be enjoyed in all weathers. Even so, it is worth checking out the local webcam to see what conditions you can expect before hitting the water.
On the water is the best way to spot birds, and in the autumn, visitors to the Broads may be lucky enough to spot barred warblers, buntings, flycatchers and shrikes. If you’re on the water early or late in the day, you may catch a glimpse of otters, grebes and some of the other creatures that call the broads home.
Deer rutting is also a common sight, with many species living in the woodlands of the regions. A captive herd can also be found at Holkham Park, and are worth a visit if you want to spend some time on dry land.
Surely one of the most scenic short break locations in Britain, the Wye Valley marks the border between England and Wales, resulting in a blend of cultural influences from both sides.
From a simple stroll to mountain hikes and cycling, the Wye Valley offers many ways to enjoy the wonderful displays of natural beauty that autumn brings to the area. Some routes are part of the Wye Valley Walk. Beginning at Chepstow Castle and covering 136 miles of varied natural terrain – from woods and meadows to mountains and moors – this trail ensures you can see it all.
Other locations to visit include Symonds Yat Rock. The 500-foot limestone outcrop rises from the banks of the River Wye and is said to be one of the best viewing locations in the area. On a clear day, visitors can see across south Herefordshire in one direction, and beyond the Black Mountains on the other. Visitors in early autumn may also be lucky enough to spot nesting peregrine falcons in the area.