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Catch Autumn's Richest Experiences in The National Forest & Beyond

Wednesday, 25th September 2013

Autumn Leaf

Visit now for a bumper season of colour and activity all around The National Forest. It’s the ideal time for crisp walks and crunching leaves underfoot. Enjoy food and drink fairs, Halloween and fireworks. Curl up beside a log fire in a pub. Or cocoon yourself in the calm of a luxury spa.

1. Add colour to your life

Share a refreshing stroll or cycle through our woodlands, they’re especially ripe with colour and scents this autumn. Wander Willesley Wood near Ashby de la Zouch, where golden field maple and fiery rowan are coming along beautifully. Or explore the footpaths and cycleways of Outwoods and Beacon Hill in the ancient Forest of Charnwood. There’s nothing like vibrant leaves to raise spirits, or the panoramic views from Beacon Hill to raise the pulse.

Saunter around Jackson’s Bank, part of the ancient Forest of Needwood, I-spying oak, cherry, Scots pine, hazel, holly and hawthorn. Then another day tread the boardwalks of atmospheric Foremark Reservoir and the waterside path to Carvers Rocks Nature Reserve.

The whole family will love the Autumn Trail at Rosliston Forestry Centre complete with hedgerow harvests. Collect leaves for a collage and berries for a pie. Rain, mist, mud? Even more fun. And don’t forget the exciting off-road cycle trails at Hicks Lodge.

For further inspiration download wonderful walks (3–22 miles) around The National Forest.

2. Closer to nature

Don’t miss the unforgettable roar of stags as the autumn rutting season gets underway. October walks with a country park ranger at Bradgate Park bring you really close to master stags and bucks – red and fallow deer have roamed freely here since medieval times.

Also get special entry to the deer pen at Calke Abbey on 19 October, or come and watch these majestic creatures strut their stuff throughout the rut. Calke’s misty lakes, ancient oaks and parkland are the perfect backdrop for the Great British Walk season, inspirational ‘50 Things’ adventures, or a fungal foray followed by a bowl of steaming soup.

Kids can connect with nature with the Wildlife Watch Group at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, too: how about a session on mammal trapping with expert Derek Crawley (19 Oct) or looking for fungi with volunteer wildlife officer Richard Thorpe (16 Nov).

3. Forage, grow, connect

We’ve had just the right weather this year to produce a really fruity season. Experts call it a ‘mast’ year, and at The National Forest we’ve more than 8 million newly planted trees – plus quite a few ancient ones – dripping with acorns, hazelnuts, sloes and other goodies.

Why not take foraging to the next level with our Grow a Tree from Seed scheme and create your own personal connection with the Forest. Simply collect acorns while you’re out walking, plant them up to grow on and then be planted later at a special tree-planting event: find out here how to get involved and be a part of our flourishing Forest http://www.nationalforest.org/involved/seed.php

Also pull on your wellies and join the Great Bulb Plant at the National Memorial Arboretum (2–3 Nov): helping to create a carpet of crocuses along Yeomanry Avenue that will burst into life each spring, a living reminder of hope and renewal. Or pick up tips on trees and shrubs to grow for fabulous autumn colours at home, on a tour of Bluebell Arboretum, Smisby, with nurseryman Robert Vernon (25 Oct). Visit the woodland garden again for free (16 Nov), as well as most days in between (entry charged).

4. Foodie favourites

Sip, savour, scoff: autumn harvests mean our Forest is bursting with foodie experiences right now. Get out your mixing bowls for the Abracadabra ‘Bake Off’ and Signature Cake Competition at The National Forest Food and Drink Fair, The Glade, Rosliston Forestry Centre (13 Oct). A farmers’ market and free fruit tree giveaway provide lots of further treats.

Apple days at Calke Abbey (13 Oct) and Swadlincote Market (25 Oct) promise a bumper crop of juicings, tastings and tips, and Calke’s Fine Food Fair (27 Oct) is a genuine celebration of all that’s grown, raised, baked or caught locally. 

Find plenty of inspiration for supper on a trip to a Forest farm shop or farmers’ market. And make the most of special deals from artisan producers, chocolatiers and restaurants around North West Leicestershire during Food Fortnight (21 Sept–6 Oct).

Meanwhile The Independent Brewers Beer Festival at The National Brewery Centre (4–5 Oct) features over 50 real ales and keg beers – some tricky decisions will need to be made – while Bavarian Oktoberfest Nights here and at Conkers bring a lively flavour of the Hoffbrauhaus to evenings out (adults only).

5. Spooks, spirits, frights and fun 

Dare to be scared this Halloween: all our attractions have fallen under a spell. The jungle paradise of Tropical Birdland, Desford, turns into a witch lovers’ wonderland (26 Oct), while you’re invited to follow in the steps of the ghostly night watchman to the haunted woods at Conkers (31 Oct).

If you prefer trains that go shunt in the night, dress up in your best spooky costume and clamber aboard a Great Central Railway Ghost Train (31 Oct). Children in costume on The Battlefield Line’s Halloween Trains travel free (26–27 Oct). 

When the sun goes down at National Forest Adventure Farm, Tatenhill, Screamfest begins, including a terrifying torchlit walk through a gigantic corn maize – somewhere out there, creatures are waiting for you (various dates 18 Oct–2 Nov; 12yrs+).

Evening tours and vigils with the Haunted Heritage Investigations team tap into the paranormal activity at historic sites around the Forest (over 18s only): Snibston (4 Oct), Donington Le Heath Manor House (19 Oct, 23 Nov) and Bosworth Battlefield (29 Oct, 19 Nov). Or meet at the Bulls Head car park, Thringstone, for an evening Ghost Walk around Grace Dieu Priory (10 Oct, 7 Nov). Paranormal activity around the priory has included a drummer boy and soldiers in the field, farm labourers, and gentlefolk gathered for a banquet.

6. Half-term freedom 

Keep fidgety fingers and restless bods happy this half term whether skiing or hunting beasts from the deep. Young imaginations will soon rustle up ideas around the leafy National Memorial Arboretum to turn into print making and felt making with The Cultural Sisters – how about a poppy picture or memory bangle (26 & 28 Oct–2 Nov). Meanwhile Conkers has a whole two weeks of half-term adventures, from pond dipping for beasties to mythical tracks and trails.

Up the ante at Donington Park, Castle Donington, as some truly sleek machines set a blistering pace in the Thundersport Motorcycle Races (26–27 Oct). Children 13yrs and under go free if accompanied by a paying adult. And it’s always a hit to go sno-tubing and tobogganing at Swadlincote Ski Slope & Snowboard Centre. The Viper Slide is a must.

7. See the fireworks fly!

You can’t beat fireworks for making magical family memories together, so get along to the Fireworks Spectacular at Conkers near Swadlincote (2 Nov). As well as super (safe) displays, there are children’s rides and amusements, hot dogs and beer. 

Or try pyrotechnics with a twist at Snibston Discovery Park, Coalville, where the choreographed Fireworks Spooktacular and bonfire is spiced up with ghouls and surprises (2 Nov). If you’re off to the bonfire and fireworks display at Market Bosworth, why not travel in style on the Bonfire Express from Shackerstone along The Battlefield Line (2 Nov). 

8. Log fires and lazy moments

Cosy pub, scrumptious food, flickering firelight: find your own blissful moment in the Forest. Stretch a leg in Beacon Hill Country Park or Bradgate Park, then enjoy the afterglow beside the wood burning stoves in The Curzon Arms, Woodhouse Eaves. There’s an old-fashioned village pub meets contemporary vibe here, with funky bar snacks or traditional lunch, real ales or new discovery drinks.

Another day, relax in The Three Horseshoes at Breedon on the Hill, a real foodies’ treasure not simply for its gorgeous casseroles and treacle oat tart, but also for its farm shop and the Bittersweet Chocolates workshop – don’t even try to resist this autumn’s Hedgerow truffle selection based on liqueurs using locally sourced wild-grown fruit. 

The John Thompson Inn & Brewery, Ingleby, is home of the longest-established microbrewery in the UK. Combine a ‘refreshing’ visit with a trip to Donington Park or Calke Abbey. Then will it be Wednesday Pie and Pint, Thursday Wine and Dine or Champagne Breakfast (Thurs–Sat) at The Mill Wheel Bar and Restaurant, Hartshorne. Snuggle by the fire and stay in their AA 4-star B&B accommodation. You’ll love family-run Cricketts Inn, Overseal near Conkers, too, where game is sourced from local shoots and steaks are hung for at least 21 days. Good things are always worth waiting for.  

9. Undercover family adventures

There’s no time for grizzles if it drizzles when you can share so many undercover family adventures. Five hundred years’ worth at Snibston Discovery Museum for starters. Inventions, design, science, fashion, it’s all here, with plenty to get your hands on: cycle with Henry the skeleton, experiment with sustainable energy and see if you can lift a Mini with a magnet. 

Then explore the Enchanted Forest at Conkers Discovery Centre, climbing through treetops and along rope walkways – look out for the scary troll and fairy grotto. Or follow the Rainy Day Trail at Twycross Zoo, through indoor enclosures to visit the gibbon house, meet black headed spider monkeys and maybe spot young Lope the gorilla.

10. Spa quality

Stop the world, relax, rebalance and pamper – catch the latest offers and treat yourself to a luxury spa day or break. Stresses melt away in a cocoon of calm at Champneys Springs, Ashby de la Zouch, where you can indulge in both classic and exotic treatments. There’s £100 off popular two-night breaks featuring massage, facial, thalassotherapy and much more (1 Oct–30 Nov). 

In the stately home surroundings of Hoar Cross Hall Spa Resort, Burton upon Trent, you can while away hours in the hydrotherapy and saltwater vitality pools. Why not escape together on a Romantic Retreat Package including luxury bath melt, Champagne cocktail, dinner and accommodation (from £229 ppn), or try a Just for Him Spa day (from £119).

‘Comfort and Harmony’ (£49), ‘Switch Off’ (£85) and ‘Fresh Start’ (£105) are among enticing invitations at the Health Club and Spa at St George’s Park, Burton upon Trent. Or feel the benefits of steam cabin, sauna, ice fountain and tropical rain shower at Reeds Health Club & Spa, Best Western Premier Yew Lodge Hotel, Kegworth. Spa breaks here are from £94.50.   

For more information, inspiration and autumn activities, contact the Tourist Information Centres at:

Ashby de la Zouch

Tel: 01530 411767

Email: ashbytic@nwleicesterhire.gov.uk

 

Swadlincote

Tel: 01283 222848

Email: tic@sharpespotterymuseum.org.uk