Autumn days out in Somerset
As the air turns crisp and trees show splashes of colour, there are many ways to herald the arrival of autumn and its particular golden light. Somerset is a great place to celebrate the season. With harvest traditions taking place in the countryside, farm cafes and restaurants are brimming with fresh local produce. Ancient rural landscapes invite visitors to enjoy nature’s burnished palette with a walk or - if you want to be trendy - some forest bathing. Autumnal events and activities planned across Somerset include everything from cider-making to foraging lessons.
Of the county’s great estates, the Arts and Crafts gardens at medieval Lytes Cary Manor, a few minutes drive from Ilchester, are a delight in autumn. Wonder at the topiary and herbaceous borders in the garden rooms or take a peaceful route through the estate and along the River Cary. The orchard here is laden with fruit at this time, with apples, pears, meddlers, sweet-scented quince and blushing crab apples. Blackberry picking is a must for families with young children and the hedgerows of the wider estate have plenty.
Hestercombe House and Gardens, between Taunton and North Petherton, has two fungal forays - mushroom-spotting walks - taking place on October 16 and 30, led by Michael Jordan, the chairman of the Fungus Conservation Trust, and bulb planting over half-term in Rook Wood.
Allhallowtide is being celebrated at half-term at Barrington Court, just outside Ilminster. Families can hunt for “hinky punks”, the Somerset name for mysterious lights that lure travellers from paths into the marshes, plus there are storytelling sessions. Visitors can say hello to the court’s Apple Tree Man and help bring more than 100 varieties of apples in for harvest too.
The formal borders of the East Court at Montacute House, outside Yeovil, will be full of autumnal colour. Sweet chestnuts and conkers can be gathered in the grounds and the Ham stone of the house will glow in the late season sunlight. There will also be falconry displays taking place at weekends.
Autumn vegetables will be on display at Tintinhull Garden, outside Ilchester, with excess crops from the kitchen garden put out for visitors to take away with them. At The Bishop’s Palace in Wells, children can take part in an autumn treasure hunt at half-term, with clues hidden around the site. There is pumpkin-themed storytelling and colouring on October 27 also.
Twitchers will want to visit RSPB Greylake, on the Somerset Levels not far from the village of Othery. Kingfishers are easily spotted in autumn, plus visitors can expect large flocks of wigeons, teals and lapwings, once the reserve floods in late autumn. Waders such as green sandpipers, snipe and greenshanks are also present on the pools.
If Somerset is known for one harvest in particular it is the apple harvest and there are a growing number of opportunities for visitors to join in. Sheppy’s Cider Farm, just outside Taunton, has harvest tours available on October 9 and 23, as well as some in late November. Visitors should be able to see the apple picker at work and experience a pressing, the juice from which will later be made into cider.
The Newt, a country house hotel just outside Wincanton, makes its own cider (which it spells cyder, as a supposed mark of its quality) and invites guests to hand press their own apples and take cider home with them on Tuesdays in October. Its annual Apple Day takes up the weekend of October 22 and 23 meanwhile, and is a celebration of all things apple, with games, tastings, tractor tours and live music. The Newt is also hosting a number of autumn classes in its extensive, impressive gardens, including a masterclass in autumn pruning, on October 13.
Vivary Park in Taunton is a good place to kick up the leaves this autumn, while the tree-lined walk to the Wellington Monument, a 175ft-high obelisk outside Wellington in the Blackdown Hills, is particularly pretty at this time of year.
“Forest bathing” is the English term for shinrin-yoku, the Japanese trend for enjoying the physical and psychological effects of being immersed in woodland. Luckily Somerset has some fine forests. Take to the trees in the Quantock Hills, easily reached from North Petherton, to see a blaze of colour. Great Wood, not far from Bridgwater, is a good choice for some family-friendly leaf-peeping (the American term for enjoying autumnal colour). Start out on a walk from the Triscombe Stone car park and you might also be lucky enough to hear red stags bellowing, as autumn is rutting season.
Exmoor provides some memorable autumn walks too. Horner Wood has ancient oak woodlands that will be full of colour in late autumn. Alternatively, the woods around the river at Tarr Steps are a riot of red in season and the circular walk along the river bank here is an easy one.
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