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?
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
But check out the exhibitions, movies and best eats in nearby cities as well to ensure you make the best of Britain this autumn.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/interactive/2011/jan/07/britain-best-budget-eats-restaurants-cafes 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
http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2011/oct/12/top-10-books-literary-edinburgh?INTCMP=SRCH 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 http://www.fifecoastalpath.co.uk/
to Anstruther – visit the award-winning fish restaurant
http://anstrutherfishbar.co.uk/index.html – 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 http://whatson.visitbirmingham.com/food-fest-137426262
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
http://tickets.londonmidland.com/lm/en/JourneyPlanning/MixingDeck Arriva Trains Wales http://www.buytickets.arrivatrainswales.co.uk/advancedsearch.aspx 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.http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/our-museums/kelvingrove/whats-on/exhibitions/AC-DC-exhibition/Pages/default.aspx
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 http://whatson.seeglasgow.com/Event41951
From the city take the train to Gourock, then ferry to Dunoon
http://www.western-ferries.co.uk/ Bike through the beguiling Benmore Botanic Gardens http://www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/benmore and on to enjoy the autumn colours in Glenbranter Forest, where there is also the opportunity for some off-road biking http://www.forestry.gov.uk/website/recreation.nsf/LUWebDocsByKey/ScotlandArgyllandButeArgyllForestParkGlenbranterForest
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 http://www.newcastlegateshead.com/whats-on/baltic-presents-turner-prize-2011-p520731#productlist=/whats-on/baltic-presents-turner-prize-2011-p520731&proxprodtype=
The 100mile Northumberland Coast is a designated Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) http://www.northumberland-coast.co.uk/ with award-winning beaches, castles and wildlife. Walk the 64 mile coastal path and use http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=6898 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 http://www.exeter-cathedral.org.uk/ and the Bike Shed Theatre http://www.exeterviews.co.uk/whats-on/event/74/henry-v.html 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 http://www.jurassiccoastline.com/
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