Solo travellers: Chase the stars, Northumberland
Unforeseen confinement this year has encouraged many of us to look to the skies for escapism, and stargazing has never seemed like a more appealing hobby. For night skies the colour of tar, there is no better place in the UK than Northumberland – home to Europe’s largest dark sky park, the Kielder Observatory and dark-sky-friendly accommodation options such as Beacon Hill Farm.
Solo astro-fans can book one of its contemporary shepherd’s huts, with a woodburning stove, plus quick access to the farm’s spa and private observatory. There’s still some availability during October and more in November.
• Two-night stay from £268, beaconhill.co.uk
Couples: new spa hotel with the Peak District as your playground, Derbyshire
Known in antiquity as Aquae Arnemetiae, or the Spa of the Goddess of the Grove, Buxton’s natural warm springs have been attracting visitors since Roman times. Now the town is revitalising its reputation as a thermal spa destination with the opening of the Buxton Crescent. Set in a magnificent Georgian building the 81-room hotel opens on 1 October and will focus on water wellness with three pools – including a refurbished Victorian pool and eight treatment rooms. The town’s location on the edge of the Peak District means a stay here comes with adventure on the doorstep whether it’s a gentle stroll through the woods of the National Trust’s Longshaw estate or the more challenging hikes around Kinder Scout. Walking is just for starters, of course. Rock climbing, caving, abseiling, cycling and orienteering are among the many ways visitors can experience the moorlands, hills and valleys.
• From £125 B&B per night based on two people sharing an Attic Room on a B&B basis, ensanahotels.com/buxton/en
Small groups: Bike around a druid’s temple, Yorkshire Dales
Right on the edge of Yorkshire’s ale-brewing heartland (Black Sheep and Theakston are just a country amble away in Masham), Swinton Park Estate has developed its 20,000 acres of hilly moorland and forest for the use of mountain bikers and road cyclists. The Tour de France passed through here in 2014, and the trails range from family-friendly green routes to black runs. Groups can stay in the country estate’s off-grid Bivouac site, which has bike storage and cleaning facilities close to the trails and a woodland druid’s temple. There’s still availability in the private loft bunkhouse or a comfy treehouse this October.
• Five-night treehouse stay for six from 4-9 October costs £645, swintonestate.com
Families: Dive wartime shipwrecks, Orkney
Even the most hard-to-please teen will appreciate the bragging rights of diving second world war shipwrecks in the North Sea. And it’s easier than you might think: the Padi Discover Scuba Diving Experience with Orkney’s Kraken Diving school offers a half-day of scuba activity around the wreck-littered natural harbour of Scapa Flow. It’s suitable for children over 10, and there’s an educational benefit too – the school works on marine conservation with Project AWARE. Autumn is also the time to spot seal pups and migrating birds around the wild shores of Orkney, and families visiting during Scotland’s mid-term break can catch the end of this year’s socially distanced Orkney Storytelling Festival (22-25 October).
• Essentials Discover Scuba Diving package costs £90pp; a week at Scapa Flow Lodges in a two-bed house from 24 October costs £520, scapaflow-lodges.co.uk
Solo travellers: Forage for truffles, Dorset
English truffles are the underdog of the European truffle scene, but in recent years there’s been renewed interest in these knobbly delicacies. September marks the start of the season, and the English Truffle Company will be taking small groups into woodland glades to find truffles with a hound, followed by a truffle-laced lunch. There’s just one space left on the first trip of the season on 26 September in Dorset – snap this up and you can stitch together a DIY solo foodie weekend around the Jurassic Coast. Walk the salt-white cliffs above Durdle Door, grab a locally sourced lunch at The Pig on the Beach and stay overnight at the Brewers Arms country pub (£90 a night). Truffle experience trips, including locations near Salisbury and Basingstoke, run until January.
• Truffle experience days cost £165, englishtruffles.co.uk
Couples: Dine on Michelin-starred grub, Yorkshire Dales
When head chef Michael Wignall took over at the Angel in the Dales hamlet of Hetton in 2018, it was a sign of great things to come. The 15th-century inn was gutted to create a cool, contemporary dining space and within 18 months the chef, formerly of Michelin-starred Latymer Restaurant in Surrey and Gidleigh Park in Devon, among others, received his own star. There are 13 country-classic rooms surrounding the restaurant, some of which are housed in a barn overlooking Rylstone Fell, and there’s still some October dates if you’re flexible.
• Three-course dinner, bed & breakfast for two costs from £265, angelhetton.co.uk
Small groups: Wander greedily through Wordsworth country, Lake District
Food is becoming as big a deal as the local daffodil-spotting poet in Cumbria’s Lake District. And right now it’s an ideal getaway for groups of food lovers, since it’s one area of the UK that still has good self-catering availability this autumn. After visiting Wordsworth’s newly reopened Dove Cottage (2020 marks the 250th anniversary of his birth), try the Michelin-starred Forest Side in Grasmere, where the kitchen specialises in foraged edibles. Then try foraging for yourselves on a private tour with Galloway Wild Foods; autumn is funghi season. Finish up at Simon Rogan’s appealingly informal Henrock restaurant in Bowness, which opened last year as an adjunct to the chef’s Cartmel mini-empire.
• Seven-day stay at the four-bedroom cottage in Cartmel costs £710, sykescottages.co.uk
Families: Take a wild food walk, Cornwall
When you book a trip with the Family Foraging Kitchen, a percentage of the profits goes towards providing wild food walks or cooking classes for locals living in food poverty. The company’s bespoke guided foraging walks lead families into south-east Cornwall’s woodlands, splashing into rock pools and rummaging through hedgerows. Walks take place on the Rame peninsula, as yet largely undiscovered by tourists, across the estuary from Plymouth. Nearby Whitsand Bay Fort has a three-bedroom, sea-view cottage with a hot tub (three nights for £585 in October half-term).
• Private foraging walks cost from £150 for six, familyforagingkitchen.co.uk
For a treat
Solo travellers: A belated festival, Brighton
The Covid-19 crisis put paid to virtually all festivals this year but a scaled-down version of Brighton Fringe, which normally takes place in May, has been rescheduled for October. Expect a mix of outdoor events (including a Greek tragedy performed in an illuminated garden), exhibitions, comedy and some livestreamed events, including a charity quiz. On the seafront near the i360 tower and the remains of the West Pier, the new Selina Brighton travel hub has a chilled vibe and offers a variety of rooms suited to solo travellers (from £55 a night), as well as couples and families. Activities, including paddleboarding lessons and free yoga sessions, are posted daily while community-minded guests can join a Sunday morning beach clean. The hotel’s casual dining restaurant and bar The Old Pier does a fantastic brunch and hosts live acts, and The Lanes, North Laine and Royal Pavilion are all nearby.
• Various ticket prices (discounts and offers available), brightonfringe.org
Couples: Find your sparkle in a vineyard, East Sussex
Occupying a plum spot in the rolling South Downs, Rathfinny Wine Estate, where vines were first planted in 2012, produces a fine sparkling wine. This year, as part of an overnight tasting and picking experience, guests can help out with the harvest while learning about the winemaking processes and the chalky terroir that give the fizz its unique flavour. The package includes a tour, tasting and picking experience with accommodation for two (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights) at the estate’s historic Flint Barn buildings, set in the Cradle Valley. Dinner takes the form of a harvest pop-up, with dishes including lemon sole cooked over last year’s vines on an open fire. Leave time to potter about the picture-postcard village of Alfriston, reached via the Rathfinny Trail.
• From £210 a night for two guests, rathfinnyestate.com
Families: Truly glam glamping, Herefordshire
How many children can return to school saying they spent half-term in a vintage Airstream? At The Wells Glamping in Herefordshire, parents will be impressed with the fully equipped kitchens and bathrooms, while the kids’ focus may be more on the digital TVs, USB-connected sound systems and six-person hot tubs for hire – and pack the marshmallows, because there are fire pits too. The Airstreams are located in a meadow 30 miles from the Welsh border, and within half an hour’s drive you can reach the Malvern Hills, the towns of Great Malvern and Ledbury, the neo-classical Berrington Hall, and Brockhampton – a traditionally farmed estate and medieval manor house.
• A week in a five-berth Airstream costs from £960 during half-term, or three nights from £480, coolcamping.com
Small groups: An indulgent base for exploring the valleys and uplands of mid-Wales
Ty Hedfan (the hovering house) in the village of Pont-Faen is a Grand Designs-style property built as a family home but now available as a four-bedroom holiday rental. Perched above the River Ysgir, with floor-to-ceiling windows, contemporary styling and plenty of space for entertaining, it’s an indulgent space for exploring the surrounding valleys and ridges. To the south, parts of the Brecon Beacons national park such as Waterfall Country have become very busy since lockdown but there are many other routes to explore including the high ground of the less visited Mynydd Epynt area to the north and the Black Mountains of Monmouthshire and Powys. Owner Sarah – of architect firm Featherstone Young which designed the property – recommends a visit to Farmer’s Lavender farm – peak time for lavender is mid-summer but you can visit year round. The house is also within striking distance of some of Wale’s best gastro pubs such as The Griffin at FelinFach and the Walnut Tree near Abergavenny.
• Three nights mid-week, sleeping six, costs £900, ty-hedfan.co.uk, (limited availability before Christmas).
Solo travellers: Thatch and therapies, Dorset
Based in a 17th-century thatched farmhouse Middle Piccadilly is a family-run healing centre in Holwell in rural Dorset that’s particularly geared up for solo visitors. With no set retreat dates, stays are tailored to suit; simply choose a detox, vegetarian or raw food option and add treatments from seaweed soaks to Indian head massages, after a consultation with a therapist. There are all-inclusive packages too, from three to 14 nights, with the new three-night “emergence retreat” particularly popular. Designed to help bring people back to balance, it includes reiki energy healing, shamanic therapy and a mud bath. Owner and chef Dominic Harvey prepares nutritious meals (with lots of homegrown produce), and there’s a maximum of nine guests in five simple but comfortable rooms.
• From £490 for the three-night emergence retreat including vegetarian full-board and all treatments, middlepiccadilly.com
Couples: Privacy and pampering, Lake District
Take time to reconnect with nature and each other on a Couples Wellness Retreat in the Lake District. Accommodation is in a cosy barn – complete with beamed ceilings, woodburner and super-kingsize bed – on Sunny Brow Farm, a 13-hectare hideaway in Outgate, near Ambleside, in the national park. There are beautiful woodland grounds for wandering and plentiful walks on the doorstep. The weekend package (available until the end of December) includes two yoga classes, a couple’s massage, guided meditation and wholesome brunches and evening meals. Owned and run by Suzy Saunders, a holistic therapist, yoga teacher and chef, the retreat is carefully designed to offer a winning combination of privacy and pampering. Regular group yoga holidays are also held at the farm – or couples can tailor their own retreat by booking a barn and treatments separately.
• From £700 per couple for three nights with all food, therapies and classes, bookyogaretreats.com
Small groups: Holistic health but with cake, Peak District
The wild open landscapes of the Peak District are a great place to unwind – and a retreat with Secret Warriors is perfect for small groups (currently of up to six) looking to relax. Working with local chefs, holistic practitioners and accommodation expert Peak Venues, owner Ange Terry personalises breaks based around Bakewell and Buxton – and suggests hiking and running routes, as well as beauty spots to visit. A typical weekend might include a spa treatment at home, yoga or pilates classes, homecooked food and plenty of time to explore or kick back. There’s an emphasis on fun too (wine and cake are options), as well as digital detoxing – and a host is on-hand to make sure every need is catered for.
• From £299 per person in a shared room for two nights including food, yoga, goodie bag and some activities. 10% of profits go to Born Free Foundation and Sheffield Children’s Hospital, secretwarriors.co.uk
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