Winning tip: St Cuthbert’s Way, Borders
October is a fabulous time for a late-season walk. Take the train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, then a bus to Melrose and spend a couple of days walking the first few legs of St Cuthbert’s Way. The trail will be almost empty, and all of the pub accommodation along the way is fantastic. Special mention to the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel (doubles from around £90 B&B), who made us a packed lunch which included a delicious scotch egg, slice of traybake and a cheese and pickle sandwich on homemade bread. Even when the weather is less than hospitable the trail is beautiful, with stretches by the Tweed, along a Roman road and over rolling hills.
The Cairngorms come alive with reds and golds in autumn, and the area around Pitlochry and Killiecrankie is especially stunning. We stayed at Atholl Palace hotel, a converted 1871 manor with beautiful gardens. For a breathtaking view over Loch Tummel, take the walk up to Queen’s View. It’s such a lovely lookout point that when Queen Victoria visited she thought it had been named in her honour (it may well have been named in honour of Isabella, Robert the Bruce’s wife hundreds of years before). Another upside to visiting these parts is that if the autumnal air has a nip in it, you can fight back with a wee nip of your own – this is whisky country and there are distilleries everywhere. Edradour (tour and tastings from £12) and Blair Athol (from £9.50) are both within walking distance, and were wonderful to visit. The town can be reached by train from Stirling, Inverness and Glasgow (one change).
• Doubles from £139 B&B, athollpalace.com
Take the train to Inverness, hire a car and drive north-west for 90 minutes. The hills soon begin to rise and you can stop off at the Corrieshalloch Gorge nature reserve and the Falls Of Measach en route. Ullapool is part of the understandably popular Scotland 500 driving trail, and a day trip here takes in some particularly fine seafood, live music, great bookshops, and single-lane roads next to the sea, where we regularly had to wait for sheep to move out of our way. The beach at Achnahaird is white sand and rocks shaped by wind and sea – wonderful to explore for an afternoon. Highly recommended is the Ceilidh Place hotel (from £155 B&B), which has an amazing upstairs lounge with views across Loch Broom, a separate library, an honesty bar and lots of space to curl up and read.
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
Hebden Bridge’s autumnal colours, post-industrial buildings and poetic links all add up to this being the best time to visit. See the leaves changing colour as you walk by the river up to Hardcastle Crags and among the ruins and former mills, which used water to power their looms. Detours over the moors take you to the farmhouse at Top Withens, said to have provided some inspiration for Wuthering Heights, and the Brontë Parsonage at Haworth. At nearby Heptonstall is Sylvia Plath’s grave and Ted Hughes’s Lumb Bank, an 18th-century former millowner’s house, now the Arvon Centre for writers. Among interesting places to stay is Elmet Farmhouse (sleeps six, three nights from £440) which Hughes knew well.
Bassenthwaite, on the edge of the Lake District, makes for great break at any time, but especially when the autumn colours are at their most vibrant. There’s walking from the doorstep of wherever you stay: caravan, cottage, or hotel – we stayed at the Castle Hotel (doubles from £105 B&B). If the weather isn’t fit for walking, and you’re tempted away from the cosy bar of the Sun Inn, you could take a tour of the nearby Lakes Distillery (£12.50) and see English whisky being produced, or visit the nearby towns of Cockermouth and Keswick (where Theatre by the Lake’s rep season, including Graham Linehan’s The Ladykillers and Alan Ayckbourn’s Dear Uncle, continues into early November).
Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire
I’ve stayed in this market town amid the Shropshire Hills a few times now in autumn. The 500-year-old Porch House, with its self-catering apartments with woodburners, is ideally situated between the Six Bells at one end of the High Street and the Three Tuns at the other, each with good food and microbreweries. The cafe at the Poppy House (also a B&B) does a terrific breakfast. You can walk it all off in the beautiful Shropshire countryside (Bishop’s Castle is on the Shropshire Way; Offa’s Dyke Path and the Kerry Ridgeway are nearby), including at the picturesque nearby town of Clun, or just check out the independent shops in town. We did this for our 10th anniversary and liked it so much we came back for our 15th and 20th.
• Apartment from £55 on airbnb.com
Pin Mill, Suffolk
A hamlet on the River Orwell a few miles south-east of Ipswich, Pin Mill is famous for being the place where Arthur Ransome set the start of his children’s adventure, We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea, a tale of boats, barges and jolly splendid chaps. Pin Mill retains the salt and character of the old barge port, with fine walks by the river and up into the woods (the National Trust promotes a fine, two-mile Autumn Harvest walk here). A true classic of a pub, the Butt & Oyster lies at the heart of the hamlet and the bar is unchanged since Ransome knew it – it has well-kept ales, a crackling fire and a cracking restaurant. In autumn, we found the area a world apart, where you slow your pace, watch the shipping and listen to birds of shore and woodland.
Lynmouth, North Devon
We stayed in this stunning small town at East Lyn House, a welcoming B&B beside the River Lyn, within sight of the harbour. There is a variety of good-quality restaurants and interesting shops dotted around this peaceful community, plus a fascinating museum explaining the devastating and tragic flash flood of 1952. Well-signed footpaths take you into Exmoor’s deep valleys and moorland heights. We recommend the walk through the beautiful wooded gorge of the East Lyn River to the National Trust’s Watersmeet. The Coast Path to Countisbury Hill is wonderful for views, especially accompanied by autumn colours and light, and the funicular railway to clifftop Lynton and the spectacular Valley of the Rocks should not be missed. A real break.
Holed up in the extremely comfortable Fingle Caban in our own private nature reserve in north Dartmoor last autumn was a really special way to spend a couple of days. We watched birds flying overhead from the comfort of our hammock, read the paper, ambled around the large lake admiring the autumnal colours of the surrounding woods, barbecued on the firepit and lit the woodburner later in the evenings. The most adventurous we got was hiring bikes from the owners to pedal along the River Teign to the lovely local pub, the Fingle Bridge Inn.
• £80pn, sleeps two, two-night minimum stay, devonglamping.uk
Rye, East Sussex
Cobbled streets, cosy places to stay, such as the Old Borough Arms (doubles from £98 B&B), help you appreciate simple things enjoyed at a slower pace. You can wander round dipping in and out of vintage shops, galleries and tea rooms (Cobble Tea Room is lovely), and great views of the surrounding marsh, rivers and coast abound. There’s also the 13th-century Ypres Tower and the Castle Museum to keep you occupied. The huge expanse of Camber Sands is a half-hour cycle away; Rye Harbour nature reserve, with its shingly lagoons, creeks and birds is even closer, and atmospheric Winchelsea and Hastings aren’t far. And definitely make room and time for fish and chips at Marino’s.
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