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Looking for an Autumn escape on the English Coast?

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – by the sea! With autumnal sun flooding the beaches, the sea at its warmest and scenes of migrating birds, autumn’s the perfect time for a coastal escape.

The cafés, pubs and shops look even more inviting!

Autumn can feel like a dramatic time along the English coast. As the season arrives, the days can still feel unexpectedly long, the sea now at its warmest (if you’re brave enough). Then the clocks go back and an exhilarating feeling of change sweeps through, accompanied by the first big winds.

The light changes: the sun begins to cut lower along the sky above the sea and those cafés, pubs and shops begin to look even more inviting, their lights beginning to glow by mid-afternoon.

Beaches that were perfect for sunbathing just a few weeks earlier now seem elemental and welcoming for those seeking windy walks.

In a perfect world, you might walk along the South Hams coast, east of Plymouth, in the late afternoon, when the autumnal sun floods the valleys and bounces off the broad yet steep flanks of the surrounding soft hills. 

The coastal path either side of the towns of Salcombe and Kingsbridge is a good choice. Take your pick from any of half a dozen pasty shops in either town to sustain you along the way.

As the South Hams landscape tumbles down to the coast you might look upwards and see tens – hundreds – of swallows settling on telephone wires, gathering for their autumnal migration to Africa.

Just to the west of Salcombe is a good base to experience all this. Grab a glass of fizz from a champagne bar and take in the coastal scenery and autumnal skies, deer and bird life. This delightful nook of South Devon, it seems to retain the warmth and glow of summer that little longer than most.  Yet even here, the seasons eventually change.

Walk around the nearby hamlet of South Huish and the (only slightly) larger village of Hope Cove; stay until dusk and you may see those swallows lift off and gather together before funnelling away over the sea, not to return for seven months.

The South Hams are a good place to enjoy the autumnal colour of coastal woodlands. 

Just across the Kingsbridge estuary from Salcombe lies the village of East Portlemouth. A five-minute ferry journey drops you at the pier and you can walk the 2km or so along the coast to Gara Rock, a stylish boutique hotel and restaurant, offering superb views along a thrillingly crenulated coastline.

Wind-pummelled hawthorn trees and canary-yellow gorse dig their toes into jagged precipitous gullies. The birdsong and thick tree canopy can make it hard to believe you are so close to the beach. Shade is king here, and the ferns and moss-covered walls create a Jurassic feel to this valley.

Looking for an Autumn escape on the English Coast? Looking for an Autumn escape on the English Coast?
Looking for an Autumn escape on the English Coast?

Encounter wide skies and russet-coloured sunsets

The Norfolk coast provides another fine option for autumnal escapes. Reed beds and fens often prevail where the land meets the sea and in winter they can be turned a magnificent russet colour by the setting sun.

A good base for exploration is Cley-next-the Sea. The village is extremely easy on the eye, with Flemish gables serving as a reference point to its important history as a trading port with other North Sea communities.  The village name is however, slightly misleading; thanks to land reclamation for agriculture, the sea is now a mile away from the community. The surrounding marshland can be an evocative place on a clear autumnal day, with the lonely 18th century windmill rising from a landscape of startling flatness.

Dusk can be an unworldly time to explore the watery edges of this part of Norfolk. All may be quiet and then a hen harrier, a magnificent bird of prey that migrates south in autumn to overwinter here, may swoop low across the reeds in search of an evening snack. 

Enjoy an evening meal at one of the many country pubs where, as autumn begins to grip, you may choose to exchange the elevated views from the beer garden for a seat by the blazing fires indoors.

Alternatively, with a little forward planning you can put together a picnic from the village delicatessen which places a strong emphasis on local food and drink, such as locally-made sourdough and a lavender-flavoured bread.

Close by Cley Smokehouse produces mouth-watering locally caught Cromer crab and lobsters, along with crevettes. They will wrap items up for you to take home, such as a half-side of smoked salmon.

By Mark Rowe