Top 10 Autumn Walks
by Adrian Mourby (September 2016)
Autumn is the only British season that gets us all quoting poetry. Keats put it well with his “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all those “gathering swallows” twittering in the skies.
Autumn is certainly the time of year that inspires us to put away the passport and pull on wellington boots for an English country walk. And what can be better than to stay the night at the end of your bucolic day? All those damp, misty, leaf-strewn lanes are quickly forgotten in front of a warm hotel fireplace.
My selection of English hotels below (none in Scotland or Wales this time) is intended to offer pubs, inns and hotels where you and your muddy boots can stay the night, the weekend or simply have lunch en route.
Enjoy the sharp contrast between the autumnal chill outside and the warm hospitality within. This selection ranges from Kent all the way up to Wordsworth country in the Lake District.
Showing below are all 9 records in "Top 10 Autumn Walks"
Sandway, Lenham, Maidstone
When Chilston Park was built at the end of the fifteenth century it was a two-storey red-brick manor house on three sides of a courtyard. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the house was surrounded by formal gardens, including a very long avenue of lime trees running north to south along its eastern flank. As the years passed the courtyard was built up to make a single Victorian block and the formal gardens were swept away to create picturesque lakes and lawns in the drastic naturalistic style that Capability Brown wrought upon English country houses. On New Years Day 2000 however hotel guests planted a new avenue of lime trees stretching east from the house towards the rising sun. This is the route to take for an autumn walk at Chilston Park. The limes turn yellow, red and gold in the season, and as your pass under them you’re likely to see many rabbits who remain remarkably at ease with the presence of hotel guests. You’ll see sheep too, neatly kept at bay by a ha-ha, and there will definitely be ducks. At the edge of the lake pick up the public footpath, which will give you great photos of the hotel as you pass back on the far side of the lake. You’ll probably send the ducks scattering in surprise. Finally the footpath deposits you on the Boughton Road. From there turn left and left again and you’re back on the hotel drive. Hopefully you’ve booked the Queen Anne Suite which has the hotel’s only original four poster bed. It’s so high that a stool is provided so you can get on to it. Seriously. You’ve hardly been on a big walk this afternoon but reward yourself nonetheless with a snooze or check through all all the autumn colours you snapped on your phone.
Holdsworth House is a hidden gem, a seventeenth-century farmhouse on the edge of Halifax. You would never guess as you drive past giant mills and modern industrial units that suddenly you’ll be in countryside, stepping back into history through a formal hedged garden and past a tiny stone gazebo (where it is just possible for two people to get married with four witnesses). In the seventeenth century this was a country manor house and recent refurbishment has re-emphasised this. Inside the hotel is a series of wood-panelled rooms with antique furniture picked up at auctions in the 1960s when this was the Cavalier Country Club. The leather armchairs either side of the log burning fireplace recall Bilbo’s Bag-End house in The Hobbit. From Holdsworth House there is a good three-hour walk eight miles across fields and down B-roads to Haworth where the Bronte sisters are celebrated. Avoid the Halifax Road as much as you can and walk via Oxenhope in order to arrive at Haworth over Penistone Hill. Up here you'll definitely get a Wuthering Heights feel to your day in Bronte Land. Part of this route picks up the Bronte Way, a beautiful windswept moorland route, but other sections have an low-key industrial feel to them much as Haworth did in the days when the Brontes lived with their father in the parsonage.
Buckland Marsh, Faringdon
Join the Thames Path at Newbridge and head east for a picturesque walk along this lazy river. Concrete pillboxes and seeding bushrushes spring up in the fields on your right. Quite why Oxfordshire farms were going to be so vigorously defended during World War II is something I've never discovered but the German navy would never have got this far up the Thames. It is pretty shallow here, west of Oxford. What is special along this section of river is Chimney Meadows, a 49-hectare National Nature Reserve beyond the pillboxes. It’s an area of wet grassland, flower meadows and small patches of woodland, all of it full of wildlife. The name is deceptively industrial. Rather, Chimney is believed to come from the Anglo Saxon words for Ceomma’s Island. Before the Norman Conquest this whole area would have been marshland with its low hills rising up as islands. Nearing the village of Buckland Marsh a series of moorings appear on the left bank and soon an old Cotswold stone bridge is visible, with the lawns of The Trout public house on the other side of it. Cross over Tadpole Bridge to call in for a pint of something reviving. The Trout is part of the Epicurean Collection, a series of English pubs that value original country inn style but update it for the twenty-first century. There are working fireplaces which can be a welcome sight on chilly autumn mornings and a number of very comfortable bedrooms upstairs with names taken from the fishing flies that anglers use, including “Woolly Bugger”, “Hen’s Hackle” and “Red Francis”.
It’s a half mile walk from the Wordsworth Hotel to Dove Cottage where William Wordsworth wrote some of his best works from 1799 onwards. The hotel that bears his name is a pleasant, sprawling slate construction from the nineteenth century when the Lake District became popular with walkers. This is definitely the best hotel in the village of Grasmere. It was built in 1854 as a shooting lodge owned by the Earl of Cadogan, and was redeveloped in 1874 as the Rothay Hotel. In the 1890s it used to advertise itself as “the nearest hotel to the resting place of William Wordsworth in Grasmere Churchyard” offering “the pedestrian the greatest possible choice of routes” . Pedestrians arriving at Dove Cottage should take the path uphill that leads to the Old Coffin Road over high ground in the direction of Rydal Mount with Rydal Water below. You’ll view some good autumn colours up here thanks to the campaigning of writer Beatrix Potter, who in the 1920s opposed a government initiative to cover the Lake District with high-yield conifers. At Rydal Mount you’ll find the house that Wordsworth moved to as his income – and his family – grew. From here you should cross the A591 to Cote How and walk back on the southern shore of Rydal Water and thence towards the Wordsworth Hotel and a well-deserved afternoon tea.
Tollard Royal, Salisbury
I love the retro-fitted hotel rooms of the King John at Tollard Royal. The bath taps have the words “Hot” and “Cold” and no silly mixer units. The light switches control the lights they are next to and the room phones are rotary. There's also a jar of the hotel’s own biscuits by the bedside and simple coffee-making facilities. No Nespressos to battle with here. There are also big well-lit mirrors in which my wife could actually apply her make-up and, in a bizarre but amiable flourish, a royal crown in each room. While we breakfasted with newspapers in the brasserie below, guests dogs wandered calmly in and there are dog pictures above the pine-stripped tables too. This is pure rural Wiltshire. There’s a lovely autumn walking route from this Victorian pub with rooms. It starts at the village pond just below the King John and heads into woods and then up a hill which has great views back to the village. This walk will take you through the Rushmore Estate, 700 acres where King John, wicked brother of Richard the Lionheart, liked to hunt on Cranbourne Chase. In 1880 General Augustus Pitt-Rivers inherited this estate and developed it, creating a deer park and the largest block of broad-leaved woodland in England- quite beautiful in its autumn hues. In less than two miles you are at King John’s hunting lodge, a timber-framed building next to a thirteenth-century church where there is a memorial to the General. He was a remarkable Victorian explorer whose work created the Pitt Rivers Ethnographic Museum in Oxford and the Salisbury Museum in Wiltshire devoted to English archaeology. Now pick up the B3081 to walk back down to the pub where log fires are lit in the afternoons and the big comfy plaid chairs are ideal for sleeping away the rest of the day.
Wivenhoe Park, Colchester
Wivenhoe Park was painted by John Constable in 1816. The commission that he secured from the owner, Major General Francis Slater-Rebow, was enough for the 40-year-old Constable to be able to finally marry his fiancee, Mary Bicknell. They wed that same year. Like many nineteenth-century British landowners Major Slater-Rebow wanted a park in the “English” style, which is why today Wivenhoe Park is surrounded by lawns, lakes and trees. The house itself is now a hotel and most of its grounds are part of Essex University (which actually began operations out of Wivenhoe House) but there are still many mature trees, so many in fact that the University has prepared a campus tree walk for visitors to make the best of them. The walk is best done in the autumn because so many of these trees are deciduous. You can start in Square 5 by the Lakeside Theatre or you can come straight out of the hotel and pick up the route at the gracious cedar of Lebanon immediately outside. Following the tree-route you’ll encounter a rare Japanese chestnut oak, a false acacia (introduced into Britain in 1636) a daimyo oak from Southeast Asia, a common walnut and black mulberry. All these, and more more deciduous trees round the campus, make for a delightful stroll of anything between about an hour. Wivenhoe House itself has retained much of the stateliness that Constable captured in his landscape of 1816, although there is a new glass-walled restaurant in the garden block at the back of the hotel. The bedroom to ask for is the one that belonged to the house’s last owner, Charles Edmund Gooch. Its bathroom faces out over the front of the hotel to the autumnal treescape.
The Square, Chipping Campden
Staying at the King's Hotel in Chipping Camden means you wake up right on the Cotswold Way, a 102-mile national trail running through Gloucestershire all the way to Bath. Arrive on a Friday night for a drink in the bar with its working fireplace and ample supplies of Cotswold gin. Then eat in the dining room in front of another roaring fire before stumbling happily to bed in this lovely 13-room hotel with its five-bedroom cottage in the garden. The next morning turn right immediately out of the hotel in the direction of Bath. The first section of the walk takes you through this lovely Cotswold stone town six miles to the market town of Broadway, a delightful walk that will treat you to superb hill top views of the autumnal Avon valley. After leaving Chipping you cross Dover’s Hill, where the annual ‘Olimpick’ games are held. This sporting event, founded in 1612 by a local lawyer called Robert Dover involves a worrying amount of shin-kicking. The walk continues across the fields to Broadway Tower itself, with its circle of golden maple trees. The tower was built for Lady Coventry in 1799 so she would have something to look at from her house in Worcester, 22 miles away. In the 1880s it served as a country retreat for pre-Raphaelite artists William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. From here descend to Broadway itself and a well-earned lunch.
Little Sark, Sark
The island of Little Sark is one of the most remote and attractive spots around the English coastline although it is much closer to France than Britain. Sitting in the middle of this tiny island is La Sablonnerie, an exquisitely restored whitewashed farm with immaculate waiters in black waistcoats and bow-ties to tend to your every need. There is something not entirely real about La Sablonnerie with its manicured lawns in the middle of absolute nowehere which makes it a perfect get away. As cars are banned on Sark, the island is an excellent place for walkers. After a far too hearty breakfast head north from La Sablonnerie towards La Coupée, the narrow isthmus that divides Little Sark from Sark itself. Victor Hugo walked across this precipice in 1859 and wrote about looking down to where he saw gulls breakfasting and cormorants bathing. Beyond La Coupée turn right through the fields of vines to Dixcart Valley past the Dixcart Hotel (now sadly closed) where Hugo stayed, and down towards the sea at Dixcart Bay. The wooded valley is full of butterflies and birds in summer but in autumn the leaves cascade from the tall spindly deciduous trees and are borne away by the brook. You could easily be back in 1859. Down on the beach the seagulls may be surprised to see you. Human beings are an anomaly on Sark. But they’ll settle down soon enough. The likelihood is you’ll have the place to yourself. That’s the beauty of Sark.
South Green, Heyford Road, Kirtlington, Kirtlington
There are a number of signposted walks out of the charming Oxfordshire village of Kirtlington. This land was once part of the Bletchingdon estate. A manor house has stood here for centuries but the present Bletchingdon Park is a Palladian country house that was built in 1782 for Arthur Annesley, MP for Oxford 1790-96 . The ideal place to warm up – or even cool down – after a tramp across Bletchingdon’s muddy fields is the Dashwood, which faces on to the village green in Kirtlington. By a curious coincidence the Dashwood is named after Sir Henry Dashwood who was MP for the nearby constituency of Woodstock at the very same time as Annesley was MP for Oxford. It was not uncommon for an MP or prospective MP to build a public house where voters might toast his name and enjoy his hospitality. The Dashwood is a small low-ceilinged pub with 11 Shaker-style bed rooms. This summer it was refurbished to allow more drinking space at the bar and to create a comfortable lounge area where diners (and walkers) can relax in large leather armchairs. If you’ve ever seen the Nancy Myers romantic comedy The Holiday, this is the kind of village pub where Jude Law seeks out Cameron Diaz. The food is proudly local with Oxfordshire pork, lamb, steak burgers, sausages and even an Oxfordshire ploughman's lunch available, ample reward for a long walk through the Oxford countryside.
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