Don't huddle yet – throw open the doors to autumn's many delights
If there's one lesson life teaches you it is that, generally speaking, it's best to go with the flow. Fighting against the inevitable can be stressful and time-consuming, while trying to stop the clock is the ultimate waste of time. Which is why it is far better to be embracing the onslaught of autumn rather than whinging about the non-appearance of an Indian summer…
As I write, the wind is howling up the valley and leaves are scattering hither and thither like mad bats issuing from a jungle roost. The Westcountry woods are a rainforest all right – but this is the cool version – and it's getting colder by the minute.
So, should we batten down the hatches, light the log fire and feel vaguely depressed? Or should we wrap up and go out to welcome that big blustery world that darkens our days when the planet tilts southwards?
It's a no-brainer. There's plenty of time for skulking indoors when winter really kicks-in – now we ought to be out and about rejoicing in this most remarkable of seasons.
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If I was on a no-holds budget and could do anything I liked which would show autumn at its very best in the Westcountry, I would jump on an aeroplane. Which might sound counter-intuitive, but I'd be flying to the most far-flung, extremity of the region.
By which I mean the Scillies in general – and Hell Bay on Bryher in particular. What could be better than sitting in the calm quiet of a luxury hotel while looking out at the wild, wild ocean throwing the worst it can muster at the ravaged rocks?
And it gets even better for anyone who's read this article – if you get there on a weekday before it closes for winter at the end of this month, the Hell Bay Hotel will give you a special discount if you quote the words "Hesp at the Morning News". Instead of paying £120 for bed, breakfast and evening meal – you will be able to enjoy this greatest of autumnal treats for £100 per person.
I have watched 40ft-high waves crashing into the rocks off Hell Bay in autumn – and promise you the sight is something you will never forget. This is nature at its wildest and finest – to see the Atlantic raging while standing on granite terra firma 28 miles west of Land's End is, quite simply, awe inspiring.
Of course, you don't have to go to the expense of flying out west to appreciate such scenes. The north coasts of both Cornwall and Devon will supply you with a walk on the wild side with no difficulty…
So here's another deal if you like the idea of staying somewhere classy and comfy while being blown and blustered by the autumnal gales…
The famous Watergate Bay just north of Newquay is putting on a special Taste of the Bay offer in November – for those on a Sunday to Wednesday arrival you get to stay B&B for three nights AND eat out at the resort's three different restaurants including Jamie Oliver's Fifteen – all for £195.
When you consider that the cost of dinner alone at Fifteen is £60, this looks like a very good deal indeed. To make a booking, call 01637 860543 or visit www.watergatebay.co.uk/tasteofthebay/winter.htm
So much for the being mollycoddled in the face of those autumn gales – what this article is really all about is getting out there into the teeth of the wind. If the promise of a luxury stay helps you do that, all well and good – but there are countless pursuits at this time of year which will allow you to get the very best out of this most dramatic of season
And one of the most autumnal things you can do is to go out hunting for fungi. It happens to be one of my favourite things to do – because I love the flavour of wild mushrooms. But I have been taught which ones to pick, I've been doing it for over a quarter of a century – and I confine my target species to just half a dozen or so wild fungi that I can identify with 100% confidence.
The best way into the magical mushroom world (note the "al" on "magic" – do not under any circumstances be tempted by the hallucinogenic species) is to sign up for a guided fungi foray led by an expert. One such person is Exeter-based Nigel Pinhorn of Devon Nature Walks – and in the next few weeks he will be leading fungi forays at Rosemoor Gardens, Poltimore House, Ashclyst Forest and Haldon Forest (more details on www.devonnature walks.co.uk).
Some of these walks will take place on National Trust land – and, of course, big organisations like the trust will be staging all manner of autumn-related events across their properties. Grabbing just a few from the trust's vast listing of autumnal events and concentrating mainly on the outdoor ones, there's enough to do in Devon alone to keep you occupied for most of October and November.
Buckland Abbey's walking festival has several guided walks until next Saturday when the festival ends. They include a sunset walk on Tuesday (01822 853607).
At Greenway on the River Dart they'll be turning to the forests for a two-day introduction to woodland crafts, working with rangers and making gate hurdles and trellises as well as woodturning and cleaving (next Saturday and Sunday from 10am-4pm). Tickets £50, call 01803 842382.
Parents of young children should head to the Killerton Estate this Wednesday (11am-4pm), where they are invited to "blow away the cobwebs on a mass buggy walk through the parkland and garden", while for those without little ones in tow, there's a two-day hedge-laying course on trust property at Hartland on Wednesday and Thursday (9am-4pm), where you will learn valuable autumnal skills to stand you in good stead for the rural future.
National Trust staff in Cornwall will be equally busy arranging great autumnal days out. There's Cotehele's walking festival (today until next Sunday) and you can learn all about orienteering at a special day on the Penrose Estate on Friday from 12 noon-4pm. Meanwhile, the rangers at Lanhydrock – famous for its magnificent trees – are staging a special day to look at the estate's woodlands on Saturday, November 17, from 10am-12.30pm.
There are a series of beach-cleans planned at Chapel Porth and on the same coast a guided walk near Polzeath with Jane Anderson, a local expert on its geological history (this Thursday, 10.30am-1.30pm).
A similar walk, only this time studying local history, will be staged between Treen Cliffs and Penberth tomorrow from 2-4.30pm, with local archaeologist Adam Sharpe pointing out traces of prehistoric farming, a mysterious cliff castle, and lots more.
As I say, these represent only the slightest taster of trust events across the peninsula – for a full list of what's on this autumn and winter, go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events or telephone your nearest trust property.
I've erred on the outdoor rather than indoor events because I believe in getting out and about in the glorious, and maybe sometimes wild, autumnal countryside.
One of my own favourite options at this time of year is to go on one of the RSPB's avocet cruises on the River Exe. In fact, the short cruises were a trailblazer of their kind – dreamed up just over 30 years ago, they've attracted no fewer than 40,000 eco-tourists during the past three decades.
Tony Whitehead of the RSPB told me: "We do as many as we can to fit in with the tides. We are probably doing 20 cruises and by the end of the season we will probably have sold out on most. On the smaller boats you are looking 30 to 40 people – on the larger over 100."
To find out more about bird cruises on the Exe, call 01392 432691 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm). For dates and times, visit www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/146928-avocet-cruises.
Of course, the greatest free treat autumn throws up is the great show of seasonal colours that turns our woodlands into vast and intricate blankets of red and gold.
The woods at Holne in the south of Dartmoor National Park are always a good bet for an autumn show and on Exmoor the world is beginning to turn rufous and red, copper and bronze, auburn and mahogany.
The Forestry Commission has gone as far as developing a portal on its website (www.forestry.gov.uk/autumn) especially to cater for the many thousands of people who are willing to make special journeys to witness the glories of the fall.
Westcountry forests which are often featured include Cardinham near Bodmin, Lydford on west Dartmoor, Abbeyford near Okehampton, Stoke Woods on the edge of Exeter, Castle Neroche on the Blackdowns near Taunton and Croydon Hill near Dunster.
How can a wind sound like a season? That's what I was asking myself this morning as a particularly autumnal-sounding breeze wafted about the eaves, inspiring me to write this article.
There are enough of autumn's slight sensory clues around to promote in the countryman or woman the distinct feeling that the new season – the saddest, moodiest and arguably most beautiful time of year – is about to hoist its golden colours like some great flagship of all things past and fading.
The best thing to do is get out there an enjoy it – there'll be plenty of time to rug-up when winter gets started in earnest.