You may think that New England has the monopoly on autumn greatness thanks to its legendary show-stopping foliage, but it doesn’t. Good old Blighty has many autumn charms to fall for as the air turns icy.
Red stags rutting, carnivals bursting to life, beaches quieting to a hush and trees bursting into flame – they’re just some of the autumn treats that await you on a weekend break in the UK. Plus, each autumn weekend here comes filled with hot chips, hot chocolate and plenty of open-fire crackling.
So thumb your nose at New England.
Autumn, old England style. We got this.
PIN FOR LATER:
Autumn, the year’s last loveliest smile
William Cullen Bryant
Autumn weekend break No 1:
Sleep with ghosts in Northumberland
Chilingham Castle claims to be England’s most haunted house. Try it out for size, if you dare, and you may bump into its resident spooks: The White Pantry Ghost; the Ghost in the Chamber; voices in the chapel; the Blue Boy; the ghost of Lady Mary Berkeley.
With 5 richly furnished self-catering apartments in the castle itself and more in the castle’s coaching rooms, Chillingham Castle is just the thing for supernatural enthusiasts keen for a tête-à-tête with the undead.
A stay in the castle comes with free access to its fierce medieval interior, its distinctly less pleasant accommodation: the dungeons and torture chamber, as well as the run of the castle’s stunning grounds. If you don’t wish to stay, Chillingham Castle host ghost tours from October through to November, but they get booked up fast.
Stay: Chillingham Castle
Costs: From £150 for 2 nights. Apartments sleep 2 – 6 people.
More info: Chillingham Castle
You may also like: Weekend Break in Northumberland: Apartment Review
Autumn weekend break No 2:
Watch stags rutting in Exmoor
Journey deep into the heart of rural Devon and watch one of nature’s greatest spectacles: the dramatic rutting of Exmoor’s red deer.
October and November are the best months to see the deer, not least because this is the mating season when the ‘rutting’ takes place. This striking show of superiority between male stags is really something special; a brutal, raw battle of locking horns and guttural roars that makes your rib-cage echo.
Although red stags are common on Exmoor, they’re notoriously difficult to locate. Partner with the expert guidance of Andrew Turner from Red Stag Safaris, as I did for my Red Stag Weekend on Exmoor, and you’ve more chance of seeing the show.
Afterwards, head back to the beautiful village of Dunster – one of the best preserved medieval towns in England – and enjoy a hearty lunch, before exploring the village and heading into Dunster Castle.
Stay: The Luttrell Arms Hotel
Costs: From £110 for 1 night in a standard room. Red Stag Safari from £30 per person.
More info: Red Stag Safari
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Autumn weekend break No 3:
Wonder at the Maples in Gloucestershire
Home to some 15,000 trees, Westonbirt The National Arboretum has to be one of the most outstanding places in England to see autumn blaze into life.
Go in October and November and take the STIHL Treetop Walkway. It sweeps you along a gentle 300-metre route, 13 metres up, and offers the best views of the saffron and mulberry maples, Japanese acers and witch hazel. Along the way there are 7 interactive spots, a crow’s nest and a rope bridge for smaller weekenders to enjoy.
You’ll find The National Arboretum at Westonbirt tucked into the serene Gloucestershire countryside. A trip to Westonbirt can easily be tied to a stay and some serious antiques-hunting in the market town of Tetbury, just 5 miles from the arboretum.
Stay: The Priory Inn Tetbury
Costs: From £99 for 1 night in a double room. The National Arboretum at Westonbirt: £9 adults/£4 children.
More info: National Arboretum at Westonbirt
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Autumn weekend break No 4:
Catch the Northern Lights in Kielder Water
For unpolluted skies and uninterrupted views of the galaxy, make your way to Kielder Water in Northumberland (Europe’s largest dark sky park). It is here that you find one of the best observatories in England – the Kielder Observatory – and some of the darkest skies in the country.
The observatory runs many star-gazing nights, including their highly popular Aurora Night, from September – November (£25.30). If you’re not lucky enough to bag a spot, there are plenty more star-studded evening events to chose from: Saturn and the Moon; A Universe Full of Stars; Full Moon Party; Night Sky Safari.
Kielder Water itself lies within the great wilderness of Northumberland National Park, which stretches from Hadrian’s Wall to the Cheviot Hills. During the day explore Kielder’s 27-mile art trail around the lake or, for more high-octane thrills, try the 150-m zip wire!
Stay: Battlesteads Hotel, Northumberland
Costs: From £100 B&B for 1 night in a double room. Aurora Night at the Kielder Observatory: £25.30.
More info: Kielder Observatory
Autumn weekend break No 5:
Press your own cider in Somerset
Take yourself to Burrow Hill in the Somerset Levels for a traditional English autumn treat. Home to the Somerset Cider Brandy Company and Burrow Hill Cider, Burrow Hill Farm’s owners have over 50 years’ experience of making cider – so you’re in good hands.
Wander the rows of apples in the orchards following the trail, then make your way to the cider brandy distillery where copper sills whir protected by armour-plated glass and 68 locks and seals.
Afterwards, head to the farm shop where you can sample the different ciders and cider brandies amongst the cider-making paraphernalia: oak vats, barrels and presses. Don’t forget to call a taxi to get you back to your weekend base.
Stay: Burrowhill B&B
Costs: From £75 B&B for 1 night in a double room with en-suite. Somerset Cider Brandy Company tours are free, but need to be pre-arranged.
More info: Somerset Cider Brandy Company
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Autumn weekend break No 6:
Celebrate Halloween at Beamish
For a fright fest you’ll never forget, head to Co. Durham’s astonishing Beamish Museum this October. Beamish is The Living Museum of the North – an open-air historical wonderland with real Victorian houses, shops, streets and public buildings; each masterfully transported from its original historical home to Beamish and rebuilt brick-by-brick.
Beamish is worth a visit at any time of the year, but come Halloween it puts on a ghoulish experience that’s not for the faint-hearted. Zombies prowl its streets, madmen stalk its woods, ghosts haunt its homes and clowns loiter in the depths of its vaults.
Yes, they may be actors, but you’ll be screaming blue murder as they come for you from the black of a lonely side alley. Not to worry, you can calm your nerves in the local Beamish pub with a bloody gin and tonic before you brave the woods back to the car park.
Stay: Lumley Castle
Costs: From £115 B&B for 1 night in a Courtyard Double.
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Autumn weekend break No 7:
Party with the carnival in Bridgwater
Somerset bursts to life in late autumn as the biggest illuminated procession in Europe hits the streets of Bridgwater – a market town near the Quantock Hills. Sparks, glitter and masquerade cheer replace the quiet as around 150,000 people descend in party spirit.
Some of the themed floats are up to 100ft long, 16ft high, and floodlit by a staggering 30,000 light bulbs. They’re built by local people and Carnival Clubs to raise money for Somerset charities.
Bridgwater may seem like an odd location for a carnival of this size, but it has good reason to be its base: Robert Parsons, the originator of the Gunpowder Plot (it wasn’t Guy Fawkes, as many believe) was from the nearby village of Nether Stowey. And the carnival is a celebration of that failed night in 1605.
For some added rural romance, stay in a Shepherd’s Hut or Gypsy Caravan on nearby Huntstile Organic Farm. Once the carnival is over, the beautiful unspoilt countryside has plenty of good sedate walks to help bring you back down to earth.
Stay: Huntstile Organic Farm, Somerset
Costs: £150 B&B for 2 nights in the Shepherd’s Hut Trailer.
More info: Huntstile Organic Farm
Autumn weekend break No 8:
Surf the waves in Cornwall
Watergate Bay on the Cornish Coast has to be one of the most impressive beaches in Cornwall for surfers and non-surfers. And early autumn is the ideal time to visit if you’re keen to catch a wave. With the summer flocks virtually all gone, the beach stirs quietly with a new sense of peace and tranquillity.
Its 2-mile stretch of biscuity-sand is lapped by long, slow-rolling waves, ideal for novices and well-seasoned surfers. Head to the Watergate Bay Extreme Academy for its Surf and Hire course (£47). Master surfing in the morning then keep your gear and spend the rest of the day practising.
Once you’re done riding the waves, fill your belly at Jamie Oliver’s famous Fifteen restaurant or The Beach Hut, one of Cornwall’s best beach-side hangouts.
Stay: Watergate Bay Hotel
Costs: Book 3 nights at the hotel and get 2 days’ surfing for £65 pp. Rooms from £160 per night for standard B&B.
More info: Watergate Bay Hotel
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Autumn paints in colours that summer has never seen.