Legends of the fall: 10 brilliant UK weekends

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Cley Marshes, Norfolk

The first Wildlife Trust in the UK, Cley Marshes, on the north Norfolk coast, is one of the best places for birdwatching in Europe, and in the autumn months the skies and coastline teem with migrating wildfowl and waders. Even if you’re not a keen twitcher, the migrations are a spectacular sight and the nearby beach at Holkham is one of the most beautiful on the English coast. Stay at the Harper in nearby Langham, a chic boutique hotel set in a former glass-blowing factory. It also has a small spa and two restaurants serving delicious and warming fare.
Double rooms from £210, B&B; theharper.co.uk

Petersham Meadows, London

Afternoon tea at Petersham Nurseries.
Afternoon tea at Petersham Nurseries.

Richmond’s Petersham Meadows is a bucolic delight. In summer, a herd of Belted Galloway cattle grazes here and by November the meadow is a riot of autumn colour. Enjoy a well-deserved tea at Petersham Nurseries in their picture perfect glasshouse, surrounded by autumnal foliage. Gorge on polenta cake, meringue and buttermilk scones washed down with a glass of rose petal prosecco. If you have the energy, visit nearby Marble Hill House and take a leisurely stroll up Richmond Hill. Gaze across the open meadows below, a view so historic it’s protected by an Act of Parliament. Stay at the Petersham Hotel, a Victorian country house overlooking the Thames.
Doubles from £126; petershamhotel.co.uk. Afternoon tea at Petersham Nurseries from £45pp; petershamnurseries.com

Galloway Forest Park

A stag in Galloway, Scotland.
Wild thing: a stag in Galloway Forest Park. Photograph: Wayne Hutchinson/Alamy

Deer-rutting is one of the most spectacular natural sights in the autumn months, when male deer repeatedly clash antlers in a visceral battle for superiority. With its huge deer population, Galloway Forest Park offers an excellent chance to see the stags fight, along with dark skies for stargazing, mountain bike trails and adventure play areas, all swathed in vibrant auburn foliage. The Kirroughtree Visitor Centre is a good place to pick up information on trails and activities, and the Galloway Cottages, a clutch of farm buildings converted into comfortable holiday homes, are an easy walk from the park.
From £499 per week, hoseasons.co.uk

Blaithwaite, Cumbria

Hot tubs and stargazing in Cumbria.
Hot tubs and stargazing in Cumbria.

Autumn skies offer some of the best stargazing of the year, and two new Stargazer Lodges on the Blaithwaite Estate, just outside the Lake District National Park, offer the chance to spot constellations from the mezzanine bedroom, set beneath a panoramic skylight window, the outdoor hot tub or the deck. The 250-acre estate offers wonderful walking and bookable activities for families. Bassenthwaite Lake is within easy driving distance and at its most beautiful in autumn; Dodd Wood, which runs along the eastern side, has some spectacular foliage.
Stargazer Lodges sleep up to four, from £450 per week; blaithwaite.co.uk

Bakewell, Peak District

The cable car at the Heights of Abraham country park.
The cable car at the Heights of Abraham country park.

Glide above the flame-hued hills of the Peak District in the cable car at the Heights of Abraham country park (heightsofabraham.com), which rises to a 60-acre hilltop estate, 550ft above sea level. There are seven viewpoints dotted across the grounds, which give extraordinary views of the surrounding area. Nearby, the Monsail Trail offers easy cycling through some of the Peak’s most beautiful limestone dales, with walking routes for all levels. The Peacock at Rowsley makes an ideal base; an upscale restaurant with luxurious rooms, perfect for indulgent evenings after active days.
Doubles from £150, B&B; thepeacockatrowsley.com

The Wye Valley, Wales

Autumnal mist in the Wye Valley, Wales.
Autumnal mist in the Wye Valley, Wales. Photograph: John Bracegirdle/Alamy

Though it stretches for around 150 miles, from the mountains of mid Wales down to the River Severn, the most beautiful part of the Wye Valley – perfect for an autumn walking weekend – is between Monmouth and Chepstow. Here, the river cuts through a steep-sided valley, with wooded hills on either side, blazing burnt orange and saffron yellow in the autumn months. Follow a stretch of the long-distance Wye Valley Walk, or some of the other trails that lattice the countryside. Stay at the Whitebrook, an upscale restaurant with rooms in a small hamlet above the valley.
Doubles from £360, B&B, including dinner; thewhitebrook.co.uk

The Teign Gorge, Devon

Mists follow the Teign Gorge beneath Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Devon.
Mists follow the Teign Gorge beneath Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Devon. Photograph: Lakemans/Getty Images

One of Dartmoor’s most famous walks, the Teign Gorge circuit takes in the spectacular Castle Drogo – the last castle to be built in England – lush meadows and the wooded banks of the River Teign. The area is currently the largest woodland restoration project in the UK, and on sunny autumn days Whitton Wood glows with rusty-hued foliage. Venture out at night to see some of the most spectacular skies in the country. Dartmoor has Dark Skies status and is a great spot for autumn stargazing. Stay at Gidleigh Park, a luxury country house hotel with an award-winning restaurant and world-class wine cellar.
Doubles from £287, B&B; gidleigh.co.uk

Madehurst, West Sussex

The Pig, Sussex.
The Pig, Sussex. Photograph: Jake Eastham

Splash out on a rural-chic weekend in the heart of glorious Sussex countryside at the Pig at Madehurst, with charming rooms dotted through the grounds in traditional brick and flint stable buildings. The picturesque town of Arundel, dominated by an impressive Norman castle, is just four miles away; Mill Road, beneath the castle, is famous for the rows of lime and alder trees that drop their leaves, carpeting the pavements. Follow it up with a stroll around Swanbourne Lake, or head along the river for a waterside beer at the Black Rabbit Pub.
Doubles from £215; thepighotel.com

The Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

View through a woodland alley on the Ashridge Estate.
View through a woodland alley on the Ashridge Estate. Photograph: National Trust Images/Michael Caldwell

The whole of the Chilterns is famous for its beech woods that turn auburn, russet and saffron in autumn, and the Ashridge Estate – a 5,000 acre swathe of land crisscrossed with paths, bridleways and cycling paths – is one of the best places in England to see autumn colours. A guided trail is specifically designed to take in the best of the foliage, including some of the less-trodden areas of the estate. The Greyhound Inn lies just on the boundary of the estate, and combines cosy rooms with modern classics in the buzzy dining room.
Doubles from £95, B&B; greyhoundataldbury.co.uk

Studland Bay, Dorset

Children playing on the sand dunes at Studland Bay, Dorset.
Children playing on the sand dunes at Studland Bay, Dorset. Photograph: National Trust Images/Trevor Ray

Free of the crowds that flock to Dorset’s most beautiful beaches in the summer months, Studland Bay is glorious in autumn, when the long arcs of sand on Knoll, Middle, South and Shell beaches are perfect for blustery, salt-tinged walks. Refuel with lunch at the 16th-century Bankes Arms Inn, before dipping into the countryside behind the beach, where swathes of ancient woodland carpet the walking trails with russet and auburn leaves. Stay at the Hotel du Vin, back on the mainland in Poole, an elegant Georgian mansion situated just off the Old Quay.
Doubles from £107; hotelduvin.com