If months spent locked down inside our houses has proven anything, it’s just how much we rely on the great outdoors. Nature is a crutch, a means of helping us to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday life, and even just the mental image of wide open fields, big skies and glassy lochs can make our anxious, overworked brains feel temporarily soothed.
Unsurprisingly, research has proven that spending time outdoors is thoroughly good for us. Being surrounded by nature and green spaces has been scientifically proven to lower levels of inflammation in the body, while the antimicrobial essential oils released by trees have been proven to boost our mood and immune system function. That’s not to mention the positive effects that come with getting a solid dose of Vitamin D from the sun.
As it happens, Autumn is one of the very best times to get outdoors in the UK, when forests come alive in a blaze of amber, dark skies fill with stars and frosty dew clings to the leaves like scattered diamonds. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the very best back to nature escapes for Autumn, from hiking holidays to bird-watching breaks (with the odd al fresco hot tub thrown in for a spot of luxury). Wellies at the ready!
Cosy glamping in Wales
Fforest farm, just three miles from the harbour town of Cardigan, is about as close to a hipster hangout as you can get in the rolling Welsh countryside. Here, cosy eco-pods come with wooden floors, twisted oak chandeliers and log-burning stoves for when nights get a little chilly. Spend your days hiking or canoeing around the nearby Teifi Gorge (or pay a visit to the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve to look for kingfishers, otters and the herd of water buffalo that maintain the marshes) then return to your private Japanese-style onsen bath house, which comes with a sunken tub, ideal for wallowing in as you gaze at the canopy of stars above.
From £260 per night; coldatnight.co.uk
Wild adventure in Scotland
WILDNIS is a brand new tour operator founded by hard-as-nails ex-British Army officers. In October, they’ll be launching their five-star wilderness expeditions in the ruggedly beautiful Scottish Highlands. But while the landscapes might be pretty, this is serious adventure stuff – think pack-rafting, scrambling, abseiling and sea kayaking. You’ll traverse sea lochs, amble across skerries and discover teeny tiny hidden-away beaches, but aching muscles will be rewarded with open-fire feasts (dishes include whole grouse porcetta, venison shoulder with foraged nettles and Scottish seafood platters) and nights spent in luxury bell tents or wild camping atop classic Land Rover Defenders.
A 4-night expedition, including guiding, all activities, all meals, Land Rover vehicle hire and transfers costs from £3,000 per person sharing. Departing 15 October 2020 or Spring 2021; wildnis.co.uk
Wildlife hikes in Norfolk
When it comes to getting back to nature, Norfolk has it all wrapped up in a bow, from gorgeous coastal walks and wide swathes of sandy beaches to pristine nature reserves teeming with birdlife. This is a landscape best seen on foot and Inntravel offer brilliant, self-guided hotel-to-hotel walking breaks (a must for anyone into the slow travel trend). On their six-day Seascapes of North Norfolk trip, you’ll explore sleepy villages of pretty flint-and-brick cottages, peaceful woodlands and protected nature reserves. You’ll follow boardwalks through reed beds buzzing with wildlife and hike meandering paths through grazing marshes and saline lagoons. History-lovers will be hooked on the Bronze Age sites, Roman Forts and Holkham Hall – the ancestral seat of the Earls of Leicester – while wildlife buffs can spend their time searching for members of the UK’s largest seal colony, which wallow in the seas along this stretch of coastline.
From £795 per person, based on two sharing, including six nights’ B&B accommodation, three dinners, luggage transfers and route notes and maps; inntravel.co.uk
A rewilding retreat in Yorkshire
Taking place among 3,000 acres of land on a grand historical Yorkshire estate, this Reconnect and Rewild retreat – led by legendary rewilding coach Tony Riddle – helps ‘retreaters’ to embrace nature in order to disconnect from their fast-paced lifestyles. Against a sweeping backdrop of meadows and moorlands, Tony will guide guests through daily nature-immersive activities, such as barefoot woodland walks and runs, wild swimming and fire ceremonies. There’ll also be tree climbing, breathwork workshops, meditation sessions and a very intriguing moon bathing ritual. Prepare to be transformed.
16-20 September 2020, with further retreats to be announced, from £3000 per person, all inclusive; balanceholidays.com
Forest bathing in The Lake District
Just 20 minutes spent in nature has been found to significantly lower our stress hormone levels, so technically you should be cool as a cucumber after the two-hour guided forest bathing experience launched by Armathwaite Hall Hotel & Spa. Set in over 400 acres of deer park and woodland, the hotel employs two accredited forest bathing guides, who’ll lead participants through ancient archways of trees, inviting them to slow down and explore nature’s sensory and mindful elements. Everything from the patterns of leaves to the clouds in the sky will be examined, and things will be rounded off with a traditional tea ceremony and (hopefully) a new found sense of lightness and calm.
A two-night Forest Bathing Spa Break starts from £395 per person, including two nights dinner, bed & breakfast, a 55 minute treatment in the spa and the two-hour forest bathing experience including Tea Ceremony; armathwaite-hall.com
Wild swimming in Cornwall
For a salt-smattered small group escape that will take you down to your basics and build you back up again, Thera-Sea offer the best sort of wellness overhaul. Their short but intense trips are all about reconnecting to the natural environment and re-learning the skills that modern life has snatched from us – such as bushcraft, building shelters, making fires and foraging. By day, you could find yourself taking part in wild swimming sessions, mindful yoga or wellness workshops in the wilderness, and by night you’ll be taking torch-lit tips along the River Fal, huddling around the fire pit with new friends or gazing at the stars as the resident chef cooks up a feast on the open fire.
From £315 for a three-day escape; see upcoming dates at thera-sea.co.uk
Shepherd’s hut stays on the Isle of Sheppey
Soul-stirring scenery and hordes of wildlife make the 3,300-acre Elmley Nature Reserve a must-visit for nature nuts. Sprawled across an island in the Thames, just an hour from London, a stay here simply could not feel any more soothing. And whether you’re trudging along the medieval sea wall (keeping your eyes peeled for fat seals lolling in the water) or watching barn owls hunt as the sun slips into the horizon, you’ll feel at one with the wilderness. The bonus is that the shepherds’ huts here are seriously good-looking, but if you prefer solid walls, the refurbished Kingshill Farmhouse is a wonderfully cosy place to squirrel yourself away.
Huts from £100 per night; elmleynaturereserve.co.uk