Visit these popular summer holiday options now to help their tourism businesses survive the winter
September was hints and auguries; October is the real thing. We all know what wonders autumn brings to deciduous forests and woodlands. But it also works magic on the rest of our natural environment, transforming the seas, the beaches, the moors and mountains, as well as the skies.
It also, arguably, changes us. “I love the fitfull gusts that shakes/The casement all the day,” wrote John Clare. I like to think of the body as a casement, woken by the energising autumn winds. Because for all that the season is a winding-down and a drawing in, it’s also a revivifying of the great British weather. The decaying aromas of late summer are blown away and the air takes on a cool, fresh quality. The light is kinder, gentler. Wisps of fret and morning mizzle soften the contours of landscapes. Photographers have more time to get the perfect shot. The rest of us can slip into the slower mode of the quiet season and become more mindful about the nature that surrounds us.
Paignton beach: busy seaside resort becomes calm coastal idyll
The beach huts haven’t been shifted yet, but the strand is already a lot emptier, especially midweek. Locals reclaim the prom and the hardy cold-water swimmers arrive to strip off on the steps and take a dip. The black-headed and herring gulls sit calmly, no longer expecting free fish and chips. The turnstones scuttle along the edges of the harbour in little packs, unruffled by passing strollers.
The walk from Preston Sands to Goodrington Sands is only a couple of miles but it is delightful, the coastal strip feeling less like a resort now as it reverts to something like nature. The teashop that juts over the beach sweeps up the weakening sunlight and the the childish noises of the arcades on the pier are carried off by autumn breezes. At Roundham Head there are grand views over Torbay; the sea is as moody as an opium-eating poet at this time of the year and can switch from pellucid mystic to rolling rioter from one day to the next. By afternoon, the long, chill shadows cast by the cliffs make the clamour of summer a distant memory.
The English Lakes: buzzing backpacker park becomes elemental encounter
In Lines Written in Early Spring, Wordsworth sang of “a thousand blended notes”. Two centuries on, it’s the autumnal quieting of lakeland that is more likely to prompt intimations of immortality, as well as its opposite. As the crowds retreat and excursions begin to depart less frequently, the bracken and native trees turn rose and umber. Now’s the time to take on one of the tougher fell trails – Sharp Edge of the Deepdale Horseshoe – without any danger of overheating on the ascent or bumping into water-less daytrippers at the summit.
Rain is and always was the chief element in this corner of these isles – 80 inches fall every year – and the Cumbrian mountains attract it like sponges. We all get excited about Caribbean hurricanes, Pacific monsoons and Alpine snows; well, rain our domestic extreme, and is both a natural life-saver and an emotionally enthralling feature of the wild and verdant north. “There’s something else that rain gives us,” writes Melissa Harrison. “Something deeper and more mysterious, to do with memory, and nostalgia, and a pleasurable kind of melancholy.” Immersing yourself in the waterworld of the Lake District is akin to a secular baptism.
Martin Mere: the wondrous wetlands never dry up
Covid-19 might have closed human airstrips, but bird migration continues as ever – and in both directions. Martin Mere near Burscough, West Lancashire, is an 800-acre wetland wonder, managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and autumn sees plenty of new departures and arrivals. Whooper swans landed in late September, pink-footed geese are touching down in their hundreds, and a large flock of black-footed godwits has descended to enjoy the mudbanks recently exposed as the heavy summer rains receded.
Observing departing birds is often a matter of luck, as they take off for the south in dribs and drabs (it’s best to settle down in a hide and take it slowly), with swallows, wheatears and house martins lingering in Lancashire into November. Around the marshy edges of the waters, visitors to Martin Mere can see the seasonal fungi, wilting reeds and fading woodlands. Book a visit here. See the British Trust for Ornithology’s handy calendar of autumn migrations here.
Dinefwr: tap primal sensations among the ancient woodlands
What is it about standing beneath ancient native trees? It’s something deeper and more affecting than the warm feeling and pretty picture you get when tree-bathing effect in any other forest environment. The Dinefwr Estate in Carmarthenshire, of medieval origin, is home to some of the oldest trees in Britain, with more than 300 oaks – some of which are over 400 years old – including areas of pendunculate oak that form closed canopies, with hazels, rowan and hawthorn in the shrub. The hundred-acre deer park is roamed by more than a hundred fallow deer; October is rutting season, so look out for flaring nostrils and the throaty bellows of the large bucks. Corvids peck at the moulting velvet on the antlers. Head out on the walking trail designed by Capability Brown in 1775 and get up close to see rare lichens and bracket fungi hanging off the hoary tree trunks. See here for English woodland sites.
Haworth Moor: tourist honeypot becomes novel encounter
Brontë country is deservedly popular. It’s easy to get to – with lovely Haworth and Hebden Bridge at its edges. It’s dotted with teashops and inns, and the house-museum – aka The Parsonage, recently helped survive by a £20,000 grant from the TS Eliot estate – provides welcome shelter from the sudden inclemencies that blow in on the unceasing westerlies. When you head out on to Haworth Moor in October, though, you feel the full impact of a landscape that inspired one of the greatest English novels. Nothing much stands between the Atlantic Ocean and the West Riding Pennines and fists of wind can suddenly blow in as if from nowhere. The uplands darken and the sky turns the shade of drystone walls. This is a time for a fast striding up to Top Withins to marvel at the way a young female writer forged a cosmic romance from the raw material of her immediate locality. “Lengthen night and shorten day,” wrote Emily. “Every leaf speaks bliss to me. Fluttering from the autumn tree.” Who could possibly disagree?