It seems that one minute you’re eating ice cream and trying to keep your flip-flops on, and the next, the leaves are turning, the hedgerows are ripe with berries and the first wood smoke is spotted curling from chimneys. That’s right: autumn has arrived!
Autumn is a fabulous time to be in the Lakes. The crowds have diminished a little, the hotspots have plenty of parking spaces and yet the weather is often better than Summer. Even the views get better. The long shadows accentuate every crag and knoll on the fells, the mist settles atmospherically in the valleys, and cotton wool clouds crown the highest mountains.
I reserve the prize for lakeside woods. Here in the Lakes, woods are often protected and managed so that they support many of our native species of trees; oak, beech, hazel, holly, birch, Scots pine, hawthorn and rowan. Each one rusts at its own pace and to its own particular hue of ochre, lemon, russet and chocolate, jewelled with bright red berries, acorns, nuts and pine cones. My favourite is Brandlehow Woods, 108 acres of pasture and woodland and the National Trust’s first ever purchase, at the foot of Catbells, at Derwentwater. The best way to get there is via the ferry from the launch at Lake Road, from where you can see double the glory; beautiful trees, the fell soaring above, all mirrored in the Lake. Now that’s what I call a Lakes day out!
One of the best things about autumn is the opportunity to don smocks and Birkenstocks (well… maybe jeans and boots!) and go foraging in the hedgerows and woods. I can vouch for the blackberries in Great Wood on the eastern shore of Derwentwater, but there are also plenty of elderberries (cordial!), sloes (gin!), rosehips (jelly!), sweet chestnuts (roast them) and pine cones (excellent firelighters) about.
This is a great time of year to take kids for a forest ramble – if you haven’t got any, it’s worth borrowing some! Even the smallest of children love feeling spiky chestnuts and hairy beechnuts, and I’m still only half-convinced that my own mum’s story about fairies wearing beech nut hats and drinking out of acorn cups isn’t true. Our native red squirrels are at their most visible at this time of year, gathering stocks to keep them going over winter, and I’ve also seen quite a lot of badgers and hares this year, too.
One of my other favourite autumn activities is a visit to an ‘Apple Day’ event. These celebrations of all things apple-y take place across the county, but the most notable are:
Sizergh Castle, nr Kendal.
Orchard Barn, Arnside.
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth.
Acorn Bank, Temple Sowerby, Penrith.
Activities vary by event but they usually involve tastings, cooking, orchard walks, competitions (apple bobbing, anyone?) and plenty of entertainment for children. I can’t think of a better way to spend an October afternoon!