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Autumn Escapes and Offers Around The National Forest & Beyond

Thursday, 18th September 2014

Crisp walks and wonderful wildlife, cosy pubs and foodie celebrations, half-term and Halloween fun: check out these ten favourite seasonal experiences in The National Forest & Beyond.  

1.     Autumn watch

Be quick to snap up Deer Rut Photography Tours this October at Bradgate Park and you could capture the year’s most dramatic shots as bellowing stags and bucks mark their territory in autumn sun and mist – a Park Ranger will show you best spots for action. Recently voted one of TripAdvisor’s Top Ten UK Country Parks, Bradgate also runs October guided walks  during the rut and calving – a chance to glimpse newborn red and fallow deer.  

October deer park walks, ancient tree walks and a fun fungal foray bring autumn’s secrets to life at historic Calke Abbey, too, while kids can re-wild as nature detectives looking for hedgerow fruits, fungi and birds on Autumn Watch and Wildlife Watch sessions at Rosliston Forestry Centre.

Or feel your spirits leap on a ramble, as the Forest’s trees blaze with seasonal colour, copper, red and gold. Exhilarating autumn shows include Jackson’s Bank, Carvers Rocks at Foremark Reservoir, Sence Valley Forest Park and Beacon Hill.

2.     Crisp walks, cosy pubs

Now’s the best tingle-fresh time to discover our new National Forest Way, with cosy pub stops en route. Walk the whole 75 miles between Beacon Hill Country Park in Leicestershire and the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, or grab a quick escape along one of 12 stages (4–7.5 miles) showcasing diverse aspects of the Forest (catch a bus if you don’t fancy walking back).

Beacon Hill Country Park to Bradgate Park (stage 1; 7.23 miles) is an invigorating walk, through the craggy uplands of Charnwood with good-to-be-alive views from open heathland summits. Warm up by woodburning stoves in The Curzon Arms at Woodhouse Eaves, a lovely old-fashioned village pub serving seasonal fare.

Peaceful scenes of woodlands and trees reflected in water characterise the stage between Bradgate Park and Thornton Reservoir (stage 2; 5.85 miles), and look out for the sculpture trail if you take the gentle waterside circuit at Thornton. At The Reservoir Inn, Thornton, they welcome walkers (and their muddy boots), so have a hearty refuel in the bar.

By staying at The Millwheel Inn, Hartshorne, a period pub with restaurant and 4-star B&B, you can walk from Hartshorne to Ticknall one day (stage 6; 4.93 miles) and Hartshorne to Moira another (stage 7; 5.67 miles): the first an introduction to the impressive rock formations at Carver’s Rocks and serene Foremark Reservoir; the second a dramatic insight into the transformation of the area from coal and clay extraction to beautiful new woodlands. A log fire, real ale and enticing seasonal menus await your return. 

3.     Foodie Celebrations

Autumn serves up foodie heaven and tasty traditions all around the Forest. Whet your appetite at Calke Abbey with Apple Day (12 Oct), a Pumpkin Party (23 Oct) and Fine Food Fair (26 Oct), sampling scrumptious goodies grown, raised, baked or caught locally.

Then raise a toast at The National Brewery Centre, Burton upon Trent, for the SIBA Beer Festival (24 & 25 Oct) and Bavarian Oktoberfest Nights (1 & 28 Nov) with Oompah band and hot themed supper.

The National Forest Food & Drink Fair (16 Nov) is celebrating the 20th birthday of Rosliston Forestry Centre: come and tuck in to some cake and browse the Farmers’ Market showcasing local cheese, chocolate, wine and more.

Autumn courses are great for cooking up a storm too. Stars of Masterchef and Bake Off as well as award-winning chefs share culinary skills ranging from Baking Showstoppers to One Pot Wonders, at Seasoned Cookery School, Catton Hall.

At Abracadabra Baked Creations, Caldwell, you’ll learn how to transform cupcakes into irresistible works of art, and there’s a mouth-watering chance to make and decorate fresh cream truffles in Chocolate Heaven Workshops at The Bittersweet Chocolate Company, Breedon on the Hill.

For the wild at heart there’s also Wild Food & Wilderness Cookery with Woodland Survival (19 Oct): foraging and cooking food in the great outdoors at Spring Wood near Melbourne.

4.     Hurray for half term!

Busy minds, busy hands, busy feet, there’s loads for kids to do at October half term, with extra opening, activities and deals to help them fit it all in.

Get creative at Paint a Pot craft studio, Staunton Harold, and Crackpotz Ceramic Café, Alrewas, decorating plates, bowls and other pottery masterpieces. You can choose from over 250 paint-a-pot shapes on The Mug Tug narrowboat at Barton Marina, Barton under Needwood.

If the kids are a-fizz with energy, check out the Fun Activity Days at Swadlincote Ski & Snowboard Centre: including ski or snowboard lessons, ‘Cresta Run’ tobogganing, sno-tubing, viper slides and a hot lunch.

Then at Conkers near Moira you can enjoy 120 acres of adventures and join special activities from bush craft to pond dipping, or catch your breath watching the all-new Wizards Wirl Wind Show.

5.     Get spooked

Grab your broomsticks for a Forest Halloween like no other, with frights and haunts for all ages.

The night-time witch lovers’ wonderland of Tropical Birdland, Desford, is perfect for families with its ghost walk, spooky band and fireworks (25 Oct), as are Halloween Red Riding Hood Walks at Rosliston Forestry Centre (31 Oct) and the Conkers Creepy Halloween Event with Ugly Bugs Disco and fancy dress competition (30 & 31 Oct).

Ghouls young and old can steam and scream aboard Halloween Ghost Trains on the Great Central Railway (31 Oct): dress the part and win a prize, meet beasties and scary characters. Or buy a ticket for a tremble on Halloween Night Trains on The Battlefield Line (31 Oct).

There’s a haunted hotel, mummy hunting and training to fly on a broomstick with Spooktacular Fun for the Family at the National Forest Adventure Farm (24 Oct-2 Nov). But you’ll need nerves of steel for the farm’s Screamfest, with new Hillbilly Joe’s Zombie Smash (selected nights 17 Oct-1 Nov; 12yrs+).

Haunted heritage is everywhere: join a medium and guide to relive the drama of the Wars of the Roses and discover what spirits live on at Bosworth Battlefield (7 Oct, 4 Nov, 2 Dec); visit Donington Le Heath Manor House, once owned by a Gunpowder Plotter, for a Halloween Special and paranormal investigations ( 31 Oct, 9 Nov, 6 Dec). 

The walls of Tutbury Castle have witnessed bloodshed, sieges and celebrations since the 11th century, providing an eerie backdrop for a Halloween Ghost Hunt (31 Oct; 16yrs+). And Wordsworth, among other ethereal shapes, has been identified at Grace Dieu Priory – Ghost Walks, from the Bulls Head car park, Thringstone, take place through the year (booking required).

6.     Fireworks fun

Enjoy the whoosh, dazzle, rockets and bangs of the Vikings & Fireworks Spectacular in the wonderful setting of Tutbury Castle (1, 2 & 5 Nov). One of the country’s top displays, it’s bigger, better and more exciting than ever this year with Viking Battle by moonlight and glittering fireworks, fairground rides and BBQ for piping hot food.

For more ooh’s and aah’s visit Conkers and another fantastic fireworks extravaganza (8 Nov), plus rides and amusements to keep the kids beaming all evening.

7.     Rain starts play

Can you lift a Mini using a magnet or out-cycle Henry the skeleton? Will your mind boggle at black holes or twirl at top fashions? You’ll find rain starts indoor play that kids just won’t want to stop at Snibston Discovery Museum – there’s 500 years’ worth of inventions, science, designs and interactive fun to explore after all.

And with so much space to race about in the gigantic indoor play barn at the National Forest Adventure Farm, there’ll be no fidgety Freds or Fredas feeling cooped up: climbing and playing in the ball pool, and whizzing down demon drop slides.

At Conkers you can even explore the outdoors indoors, in the Enchanted Forest Play Zone, running across a forest canopy, meeting giant ants, chasing butterflies and leaves.

Alternatively take a leisurely stroll through brewing across the centuries in The National Brewery Centre Museum and uncover tales of the legendary Bass family. Local ales from the microbrewery and lunch in The Brewery Tap Bar and Restaurant are not to be missed.

8.     Magic moments before you’re a teen

The National Forest is the best adventure playground, all the more so when there’s mud for a lark. So here’s the challenge: create as many magic childhood moments as you can. Try these for starters:

If you’re a budding mountain biker and have cracked the off-road Wood Farm Trail at Hicks Lodge: The National Forest Cycle Centre, step up to the exciting jumps, bumps and berms of the Shell Brook Trail.

The National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, is brilliant for I-spy with a Kids’ Guidebook packed full of memorial highlights and the history behind events. Plus now’s the time to learn the names of trees in their autumn glory – over 50,000 have been planted, so better get started!

And won’t it be great to tell your pals that you’ve taken a llama for a walk? Better still, bring them with you on a National Forest Llama Trek in countryside at Barton under Needwood.

Notch up more animal magic at Twycross Zoo, feeding the cheeky meerkats, or become Junior Keeper for a Day, helping keepers to clean, feed and care for the animals in Pets at Twycross (7yrs+).  

9.     Great family breaks

Great family breaks won’t break your budget thanks to fabulous offers on stays around the Forest like Stay Play Explore combining overnight at a top hotel and visits to Conkers, Snibston and Bosworth Battlefield (from just £109). Kids under 10 eat free at eco-friendly YHA National Forest, among other deals, and you’ve Conkers right on the doorstep.

We’ve also oodles of unusual and characterful places to snuggle down. Rosliston Forestry Centre Timber Lodges are fab for tree-spirited escapes – just step outside and right away you’re on an adventure in the woods. 

Self-catering with the National Trust is another flexible option, perhaps at the cosy Ticknall Lodge (sleeps 3) or 18th-century Southwood House Farm on the Calke Abbey Estate (sleeps 14 – bring friends – plus there’s room for two dogs).

Meanwhile farm glamping at Dandelion Hideaway, Osbaston, is pure enchantment, in vintage-style canvas cottages with secret wooden cabins and a trunk filled with countryside paraphernalia to unleash the explorer in you.

And a break in a luxury lodge at Mercia Marina, Willington, takes family adventure to the waterside with 74 acres of wildlife, walks and lakes. Even if you don’t stay, come for the fireworks, magic acts and theatre of the Grand Opening Weekend (11 & 12 Oct) of The Boardwalk featuring bar and restaurant, boutique retailers, sensory garden and more.

10.   Love life’s (spa) luxuries

Pamper and relax on a special-offer luxury spa break as the days draw in. Mellow Radiance Retreats and Spa Days for autumn at Hoar Cross Hall Spa Hotel, Burton upon Trent, include a blissfully fragrant Signature Shea Cocoon Stretch (retreat / day from £195 / £115ppn).

Romantic Getaway Spa Packages (£110ppn) and other tempting deals are available from Best Western Premier Yew Lodge Hotel, Kegworth, as well as special offers and spa breaks at the Hilton at St George’s Park, Burton upon Trent – maybe experience their revolutionary manicures and pedicures.

If you book ahead, you can receive up to 30% discount on Classic Spa Breaks at Champneys Springs, Ashby de la Zouch, or reward yourself with top-to-toe pampering on a 2-night Winter Warmer Break (from £299ppn).

Download a brochure full of lots more magic moments and book your best-ever autumn break right now.