Autumn in the Country and in the City

Autumn, in particular October, is  ideal  for a short break. But perhaps time and money are a bit short and you can’t spare more than a few days away; not enough to enjoy some sunnier climes?

Last Rays of Afternoon Sun

No problem, stay in Britain, make the most of the daylight before the clocks change, enjoy the changing autumn colours and, if the weather turns inclement, you can easily spend a day in a nearby city, or local attraction.  Britain in autumn is perfect for a few days away where you can combine some cycling, walking, climbing, photography in the countryside, with a cultural, foodie, or chilled-out few days in the city.

One great advantage of our crowded island is that many of our major urban areas are cheek by jowl with national parks and areas of national beauty: think Sheffield/Manchester and the Peak District; Bristol and Exmoor; Glasgow and the Trossachs;  Edinburgh and the Pentlands. 

Autumn Colours

Even the sprawling West Midlands conurbation has the Malverns and the Cotswolds on its doorstep and woodland Surrey, the Chilterns and the south coast can be easily reached from Greater London.

But what to pack; particularly for us eco-conscious, self-sufficient travellers, who have to carry our needs for all eventualities on our backs, or bikes and on public transport? You need the footwear and outwear for protection in the great outdoors, but you don’t want to look like an outdoor gear geek as you sip your flat white in Convent Garden.

It’s a hard call,  but essentially the same rules apply as outlined in KIT,
but, on a smaller scale.

Sunset through the Trees

The key is, like with all packing, to try to take multi-purpose garments and, to be fair, the look, quality and weight of outdoor gear has improved immeasurably over the last few years. Merino wool tops, such as Icebreaker, look good enough to wear out or indoors, and merino also has the priceless asset of lasting several days without offensive odours.  Similarly, ultra-lightweight down (and some man-made alternatives), like those by Rab, now are stylish enough, and in sufficiently pleasing shades, not to look out of place in city streets.  And if it’s wet, wear your wet gear: if it throws it down, nobody cares much what you look like; hillside or city street.

Jurassic Coast in Autumn

This first “rule’ is generally to wear your “active” gear and footwear  (usually because it’s the bulkiest) when you travel to your destination.  This can result in some amusing scenarios: once, having secured a reasonably-priced first class ticket and resplendent in lycra and cycling helmet, I was initially blocked from entering the posh end of the train by an attendant who told me: “This is a first class coach madam.” When I replied that I had a first class reservation and offered to show him my ticket, he apologised and said: “I thought you were off on your bike, not travelling first class!”

Above Dunoon, Cowal Peninsular

So, other than specialised activity kit, what else to take?
Essentials: sleepwear, something to lounge about in, underwear and toiletries – if you’re staying in a hotel, b&b etc, it’s a good idea to check in advance what toiletries they provide as it can save considerable weight and bulk.

For trips of up to a week, I now organise my gear into: jeans/leggings, couple of tee shirts, tunic, sweater, comfortable lightweight shoes – obviously amend as appropriate.

Up to the Long Mynd

These I can pack into a small, lightweight wheeled bag, with waterproofs, hat, gloves, water bottles and the like in a 20 litre backpack. Thus, I can carry my luggage easily and have enough adaptable gear to keep me dry and warm on the hills, but stylish enough to look reasonably cool in a cafe, or shop, museum or cinema.

Go ahead, take advantage of the autumn kaleidoscope in the woodlands, enjoy the hills and mountains before winter sets in.

Autumn Sunset

But check out the exhibitions, movies and best eats in nearby cities as well to ensure you  make the best of Britain this autumn. has a really useful list of budget eats in towns and cities across the country: I haven’t tried them all, but those I have in Glasgow, Birmingham and Central London haven’t disappointed.


Some Boot and Bike recommendations for this autumn:

Edinburgh and the Fife coast:  check out some of the classic books set in Auld Reekie  and the Guardian’s interactive guide to the city

Head out by train over the Forth Bridge (or cycle out over path beside the road bridge)
towards Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy. Cycle, walk along the coastal path
to  Anstruther – visit the award-winning fish restaurant  –  then on to St Andrews and its university and world-famous golf course

Birmingham and Shropshire: you’ve still got time to sample some food and drink at the city’s 10 day Food Fest
From the end of the month, try to catch the Lost in Lace exhibition
Trains from the city’s New Street station take about an hour to Shrewsbury  Arriva Trains Wales also travel to Shrewsbury and thence Church Stretton, Craven Arms and Ludlow. Marvel at the expansive views from the top of the Long Mynd, then restore your calories with a trip to the foodie heaven of Ludlow

Glasgow and the Cowal Peninsular: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is currently rocking to the AC/DC exhibition.
Or check out how eminent writer/artist  Alasdair Gray, depicted life in the city in the 1970s in a major exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art
From the city take the train to Gourock, then ferry to Dunoon  Bike  through the beguiling Benmore Botanic Gardens   and on to enjoy the autumn colours in Glenbranter Forest, where there is also the opportunity for some off-road biking

Newcastle and the Northumberland coast: you’ll never short of somewhere to go, or see, in Newcastle.  This autumn, the city hosts an international print making exhibition, before the Baltic hosts the 2011 Turner Prize
The 100mile Northumberland Coast is a designated Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) with award-winning beaches, castles and wildlife. Walk the 64 mile coastal path and use to help you get about without using a car.

Exeter and the Jurassic coast: the city’s beautiful St Peter’s Cathedral is well worth a visit and the Bike Shed Theatre   presents a critically-acclaimed production of Henry V on October 21st-22nd.
The city sits at the west end of the Jurassic coast: the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site is England’s first natural World Heritage Site – it covers 95 miles of truly stunning coastline from East Devon to Dorset, with rocks recording 185 million years of the Earth’s history
Walk sections of the coastal path, visit the Swannery at Abbotsbury, marvel at Durdle Door rock arch, hunt for fossils on Charmouth beach, or take short detours to Bridport and Thomas Hardy’s Dorchester.   And, you don’t need a car; instead use the excellent X53 bus that links Exeter with Poole at the easterly end of the coast

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Clouds and Silver Linings

OK, so can’t cycle, but can still walk and, although breaking a limb (or part thereof) doesn’t have many upsides, it does flatten your carbon footprint by keeping you out of the car.

Now, I’m not advocating the forcible breaking of limbs to reduce car usage and, hence our collective carbon footprint.  But, when something you usually take for granted, suddenly (albeit temporarily) ceases to be an option, then you need to find an alternative and the prioritising of essential and non-essential becomes imperative; not something you put off until a wet Sunday afternoon.

Likewise, enforced inactivity, with the delightful excuse of not being able to iron, dust and clean does, though,  also take away any justification  not to attack the utilities, broadband and mobile phone minefields. Happily, I did secure, courtesy of an extremely helpful guy at BT, a reduction of £35 per month and a welcome end to my wretched, touch screen mobile and its increasingly (for me) obsolete features. However, my strategy to downsize to a basic PAYG involved much more effort. Even established comparison sites, like uSwitch,  don’t make it easy to secure a non-contract phone and, in the end, it took hours to find a £12 small, ugly Samsung that happily performs the basic tasks I require of it.

It’s rather fitting too that my long-promised and recently facilitated efforts to downsize just so happened to coincide with Carbon Footprint Day (CFD) – “celebrated” this year in October 2nd –  because downsizing certainly does encourage careful consideration of all consumption and requires  a certain resourcefulness to reduce it.

Sometimes in life, good effects arise from bad events and, just as breaking my wrist has given me some valuable time and an opportunity to assess what I need, as opposed to what I’m paying for, then the current economic climate will force many others, as a matter of necessity, to jettison what they now can no longer afford. And while it’s difficult to see anything good at all in our depressing sink into the economic Dark Ages,  if, as an unintended result of diminished financial circumstances, there is some reduction in emissions and carbon footprints, through, say, fewer car journeys, then at least there has been one positive effect.

 However, a far less appropriate coincidence is the sharing of CFD with the start of this year’s Tory Party Conference.  As delegates look back on almost 18 months in office, whatever they believe their other achievements to be, they have absolutely nothing to celebrate (perhaps the axing of Heathrow’s proposed third runway excepted) as far as the environment is concerned.

The record of what was heralded as the greenest-ever government has been absolutely risible, culminating in the farcical proposal from the high priest of over-consumption, Eric Pickles, that everyone has a right to weekly bin collections.  What drivel. What potential damaging and expensive drivel. Rights come along with responsibilities, so why not more about our responsibilities to our planet and how about rewards for those of us who try their best to eat sustainably, recycle, reuse and reduce, rather than making it easier to litter our neighbourhoods with the remnants of fast food and its packaging?

And if that wasn’t depressing enough, on the same day we heard that the government’s transport policy is now officially driven by Clarkson and his Top Gear chums. Raising the motorway speed limit to 80mph must rank as one of the most irresponsible, indefensible and inane policies ever devised. For a possible 10 minute reduction in a journey of 100 miles, there will be a 30% increase in energy consumption, to say nothing of the rise in deaths and injuries.  How stupid; how pointless.

Three days later, we got further proof that whatever else the ConDem alliance might mean, the combination of blue and yellow certainly has not resulted in green. Osborne’s boast that Britain would not now be taking a leading role, within Europe, in trying to cut carbon emissions, is as puerile as it is scandalous. In his desperation to pander to his own irrational right wing, he risks not only making the Tea Party look environmentally compassionate, but also impeding one genuine avenue for both environmental and economic growth.

 Rating Osborne’s environmental literacy on a par with that of George W Bush, Greenpeace’s senior policy adviser, Ruth Davis spelt out the advantages to Britain in adopting a positive approach to reducing emissions:
“In reality it’s in Britain’s interests to lead the world on climate change because the economies that win the race to develop clean renewable energy systems will be the ones that sell them to the rest of the world,” she said.

Every cloud, however dark, usually has something of a silver lining, but as long as this government is in power, the outlook for the environment, as well as the economy, looks like a grey, grim, increasingly deep depression

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