The UK is an excellent place to visit all year round, but there’s something uniquely magical about the UK in the autumn. The temperate and predictable climate, the stunning colours and light, and the feasts and festivals all make for a perfect setting in which to explore the countryside whether on foot or by bike.
Here are ten reasons why the Active England team love the UK in the autumn.
1. The Magical Autumn Colours
There’s no doubt about it, when autumn is in full swing, the UK looks absolutely superb. As summer slips away, the British countryside transfigures into a shock of reds, yellows, and oranges, as the trees and forests change colour.
Where best to see the autumn colours? The Cotswolds is a must – specifically the National Arboretum in Tetbury – so too is the Lake District where there’s no better sight than the russet colours reflected in the water. But if you want to see some of the most spectacular colours, you can’t get much better than the New Forest, where you’ll find vast oaks, beech and ash trees towering over you as the wild horses accompany you on your forest stroll.
If you’re a literary fan, you may want to visit Winchester, where you’ll find the very trees that inspired John Keat’s poem, “To Autumn”:
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.”
2. Bonfire Night Celebrations
November 5th is a big night for Brits. It’s on this night (otherwise known as Guy Fawkes night) that we commemorate the 17th century foiling of the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder.
The night revolves around an effigy of “The Guy” sitting atop a huge bonfire that’s then lit before crowds of excited onlookers. Vast extravagant firework displays, toffee apples and sparklers are all key features of a November 5th celebration, and something all visitors to the UK should experience.
3. The Cosy English Pub
Most English pubs can be enjoyed all year round, especially if offer a big beer garden in which to enjoy a G&T in the sun. But there’s something exceptionally cheerful about an English country pub on a cold autumn day.
Most definitely best enjoyed after a long stroll in the countryside, a circular bike ride or even a challenging fell walk, the pull of the roaring fire, the cosy nooks, low beamed ceilings, hearty grub and glorious range of tipples is a temptation impossible to refuse.
4. It’s a Quieter (& Cheaper) Time to Visit
It’s safe to say that the UK’s hotspots, especially the Cotswolds and the Lake District, get extremely busy during the summer months. Cotswold towns can be heaving with tourists, and even the most secluded lakeside walk in the Lake District can be beset with eager visitors, keen to take their next panoramic pic of the view.
The autumn is a different story. Despite flights and accommodation being cheaper, especially as you get into the cooler November weeks, the UK is so much easier to enjoy during the autumn months.
5. The Traditional Harvest Festival
“We spread patchwork counterpanes
for a clean catch. Baskets fill,
never before such harvest,
such a hunters’ moon burning
the hawthorns, drunk on syrups
that are richer by night
when spiders pitch
tents in the wet grass.
This morning the red sun
is opening like a rose
on our white wall, prints there
the fishbone shadow of a fern.
The early blackbirds fly
guilty from a dawn haul
of fallen fruit. We too
breakfast on sweetnesses.”
The English autumn is the time of year when village communities would come together to harvest their crops and celebrate in style.
Despite the shift away from an agricultural economy, harvest traditions last to this day: giant pumpkin competitions, live music, dancing and apple bobbing, along with breaking bread and sharing a tipple long into the night.
Most English towns and villages will have some sort of Harvest Festival. Probably the most extravagant of these is the RHS Harvest Festival Show held this year (2022) in Malvern in the West Country.
6. The Wildlife
For wildlife lovers, there’s no better destination than the British countryside in the autumn. As the nights draw in and the weather cools, it’s easier to spot badgers, foxes and deer, particularly in the remoter parts of the countryside.
Birdlife is also spectacular. Just spend a late afternoon at RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset in November and you’ll get quite the performance from murmuring starlings as they sweep and swoon across the dusk-lit skies.
7. Crisp Walks Through the Leaves
Who doesn’t love the sound of the crunch of crispy leaves underfoot? Well, the UK has that in spades during the autumn months.
By late October and early November, country lanes are a blanket of red and gold, and the cooler climate makes for the perfect conditions in which to enjoy a long stroll along a circular Cotswolds route, a hike in the Lakes or even a brisk walk along one of Devon or Cornwall’s coastal paths.
8. The Weather
it was Alfred Wainwright who wrote “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” in his 1973 book Coast to Coast. And he’s right. When it comes to visiting the UK, at any time of the year, you should be prepared for any meteorological event.
In the autumn, there is no typical day, weather-wise but even on the greyest of days, the low light makes for some beautiful scenes.
9. The Fairs
The UK is home to all manner of wild and wonderful celebrations during the autumn. Some of them are almost impossible to understand, dating so far back that the origins have been lost to time.
The 700-year-old Goose Fair hosted in Nottingham at the beginning of October every year is a case in point. Dating back to 1284 when it was a trade fair, it’s said to have been so-called because of the hundreds of geese that were driven from Lincolnshire to be sold at the Nottingham fair.
And don’t forget “Punky Night” held annually at Hinton St George, Somerset, when children would carve their “Punkies”, or pumpkins, into “Jack O’Lanterns before parading them through the streets singing “punky” songs.
10. Wholesome Fall Flavours
Whether you’re into foraging for food or just love trying out new flavour combinations in restaurants, autumn is such a good time to visit the UK.
First, let’s take foraging. From around October, mushrooms start popping up all over the place. Reliable species are Ceps, Hedgehog fungi and Chanterelle Mushrooms, although unless you’re an expert, it’s worth foraging with a guide. So Sussex offers guides for around £40 per person, and the New Forest offers “Fungi Foray” events at which, for around £20, you can learn which mushrooms to pick and eat, and which to leave well alone.
If you’re into sampling seasonal flavours, autumn is abundant in earthy flavours. There are the woody umami mushrooms, earthy squash and parsnip, sweet chestnuts, apples and blackberries, and the rather tart taste of the quince (delicious in jelly form on a cheese plate, FYI).
An absolute must: blackberry and apple crumble with a generous helping of steaming custard. Warming vegetable soups are also a fabulous option for enjoying from a flask mid-walk, or in the comfort of a cosy gastro-pub when you’re done.
These are just ten of the many reasons to visit the UK in the autumn, but if you’re interested in making your way here to enjoy the bounteous countryside, the feasts and fairs, and the cosiest of pubs, why not get in touch to find out more about our tours?