If you're looking for something to do on a fine autumn day, visiting an English garden or park could surprise you. Over hundreds of years, English landscape gardeners have developed a naturalistic style that's more complex than it looks and apparently effortlessly makes the most of the English climate.
Typical English weather and the most common varieties of trees and plants don't encourage the ravishing autumn color, the reds and bright yellows and maroons that you might find in New England. Nor will you see much of the multi-colored heather that covers parts of Scotland in the fall.
What you will see, however, is a great variety of trees and shrubs that show off their own special qualities in the cooler months. Shrubs and perennials reveal brilliant purple or red stems and branches when their summer foliage is gone; golden seed pods and nuts, colorful berries, feathery or cottony seeds, variegated evergreen leaves.
Many of England's parks and forests, having long been part of private estates or aristocratic deer parks, now have ancient woodlands undisturbed for centuries - even millennia. At Attingham Park in Shropshire, the Repton oak is at least 650 years old. And on Box Hill, a National Trust estate practically in the London suburbs in Surrey, there are yew trees more than 1,000 years old, so terrifying in aspect you can understand why Druids worshipped them.
Favorite Autumn Landscapes
These, then, are a few of my favorite autumn park, English garden and forest walks - all with a nice cuppa or a pint at the end of them. So bundle up warm, pack your camera and enjoy.
This National Trust property in Yorkshire is an 18th century garden with a 900-year-old Cistercian Abbey as its "folly." The water garden, was the creation of one man, over a 25-year period. And the estate, a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes the world's only surviving Cistercian grain mill - in use until 1927, more than 800 years (You can try your hand grinding some grain while you are there). The whole lot is set over 800 acres that includes natural woodlands and a medieval deer park with fallow, red and silka deer.
In October, the trees turn russet and gold and the deer rut - so don't try to approach them.
The Great British Walk 2012 - Try an easy, 4.2 mile walk that takes in both the abbey and the water gardens.
Refreshments The Fountains Restaurant, near the Abbey, serves hot lunches, sandwiches and salads every day and Sunday roasts every week. In season, there's venison from the estate's own deer. There are also two tea rooms. From the Lakeside Tea Room, you can watch the deer and swans.
The park is always open until dusk, year round and the restaurants are open most days throughout the year. Check the website for hours, which are seasonal, and prices.
Hidcote Manor, an English Arts & Crafts style country house in Gloucestershisre, was the first garden ever acquired by the National Trust and is considered to be the finest existing example of an English garden. All the more remarkable when you consider that it was created by an American, born in Paris. The story of Maj. Lawrence Johnson, who devoted most of his life to developing the garden, is part of its fascination. During the autumn months, there is a lot to enjoy.
The garden is composed of a series of garden "rooms", each with its own character and separated by more than 4 miles of trimmed hedges. Autumn highlights include an annual sculpture garden in September, dahlias that bloom until the first frost and a beech walk that's allowed to go all crunchy with fallen leaves. Pumpkins, squash and autumn harvest vegetables are served in the estate's restaurants and are offered for sale in Hidcote's shop. And, apparently, nobody minds if you help yourself to a few windfall pears.
Dog-friendly Though dogs are not welcome in the garden itself, there are quite a few dog-friendly paths on the estate. And dogs are also welcome at the Barn Cafe, where dining is mostly alfresco. If you do want to see the garden, make sure you share the dog-minding duties though because it's unsafe to leave Fido in your car in the unshaded parking lot.
Everything is open at least to October 31. Check the website for hours and prices.
Knole, in Kent, is a massive Tudor house set in a 1,000 acre medieval deer park. It was given to the Sackville family, who still live here, by Queen Elizabeth II in 1566. Once a bishop's palace and a royal residence, Knole is the largest and most complete Tudor house in Britain. It is huge, with two entrance towers, four long galleries and seven courtyards. It is also crumbling. In 2012 the National Trust, who own Knole, launched an emergency appeal for funds to save a house that is sometimes referred to as England's second palace. Watch a video about the Knole appeal.
Knole Park is free to visit all year round. In fact, the people of Kent have been walking its paths and countryside for centuries. In 1884, they staged a riot to preserve the right to ramble on the parklands. The park is an example of what a natural landscape in this part of England looked like before fashion shaped the lovely, but artificial landscapes designed by Capability Brown, Inigo Jones, Van Brugh and the rest of the great 18th century landscape architects. Only the deer look after this park and maintain the balance of nature here. Knole's beautiful deer are remarkably curious and tame - but don't feed them; they are still wild animals.
Dogs, on leads are welcome in Knole Park. The park is open to pedestrians year round, 24/7. There's a tearoom in the estate Brewhouse, and a shop, both open limited hours throughout the year.