Wolsey Lodges guide to the National Parks of the UK and Ireland
- Travel Guide
A History of Britain’s National Parks
Great Britain came late to National Parks. It was perhaps easier for other countries to create National…Read More
A staycation means you can witness the end of summer when the UK’s woods and forests are transformed. Golds, reds and yellows shoulder out the summer greens. Leaves turn first in Scotland and the change works south through the country so if you time your travels carefully you can experience this magical time of year right up until November.
The distinctive B&Bs that form the Wolsey Lodge association are perfect bases from which to experience Britain’s Autumn colours. Some have spreading grounds that provide a private palette, while others are near to National Parks, regal estates or National Trust land. Best of all, you’ll have the inside information of your hosts, whose local knowledge can steer you to the best places to go. And in a time of Covid all have taken steps to keep guests safe, reducing the number of rooms they let out and enabling social distance.
It is hard to explain Wolsey Lodges to first-time visitors. It is the only association of B&Bs in the UK and Ireland that is owned by its members and run for their benefit. Wolsey Lodges tend to greet arrivals with cakes and tea or a drink, they have separate communal rooms for guests beyond their bedrooms, are family-owned and run and often have spectacular gardens. It’s not a requirement for lodges to have top Tripadvisor reviews – though they all have – and nor is it a requirement the B&B owners be friendly and kind – though all of them seem to be.
To get a clearer idea of what Wolsey Lodges can offer, take a look at this selection of properties that allow you to make the most of the UK’s Autumn colours. So we start with Scotland, where the transformation begins.
The far north of Scotland is known as big tree country, with more than 25 species growing freely. Silver birch, hazel, ash and oak start to turn in late September, peaking in early October. Lys-Na-Greyne – literally ‘the meadow of the sun’ is a great base from which to explore.
Set in three and a half hectares on the River Dee, Lys-Na-Greyne is a very spacious stately home poised on the edge of nature. There are six guest bedrooms here but the house is so large everyone is given loads of space. The River Dee runs along the edge of the property, and when it comes to changing leaves Glen Tanar is just across the river, leading up towards Mount Keen and the Cairngorms National Park.
Though Glen Tanar might lack the swept grandeur of the Cairngorm moorlands this is a better place to find autumn colours. The nearby Muir of Dinnet nature reserve also protects a range of trees, lakes and waterfalls.
There’s nothing like a castle to set off the colours of autumn, and there are plenty in the immediate area. Aboyne has a castle of its own, but Balmoral, Dunnottar, Braemar, Clothes and Drum are all within easy reach.
Blervie House was renovated in 2017 and is a supremely comfortable Country House. This luxury Guesthouse is nestled in a 300 acre private estate which is free for guests to roam and boasts extensive views of the serene Moray Firth and the North Coast of Scotland. It’s large enough to make social distancing perfectly achievable and there are enough entertainment options within the property to make it a perfect place for a UK staycation.
The 12 guest bedrooms offer spacious accommodation, individually furnished with antiques. You don’t really need to leave the grounds. To sea the deserted coast looks out over a sea where dolphins are often seen, while inland there are plenty of woodlands, rich with deer and red squirrels. You can walk, cycle, or even – if you bring your own horse – ride. There are several walking trails, inland and on the coast, while the changing leaves can also perfect the views of local castles, including Brodie and Cawdor, as well as Balindalloch with its formal gardens. A further advantage of the Highlands in autumn is that evening falls earlier, bringing forward the time when you can start a Speyside distillery tour.
For those of you exploring Moray, there is so much to do you may need to reconsider the amount of time you are planning on staying – walking, golf, castles, cycling, whisky distilleries, beaches, wildlife are just a few things you could do – or even just sit in the garden and contemplate nature.
Blervie is easier to reach than you think: it’s an easy drive from Inverness airport and only a few miles from Elgin, but it offers solitude and scenery in spades.
Salmon fishing’s at your door in this wonderful manor house, where dogs are as welcome as their owners and everyone feels at home. This is a place that’s a classic English country home, with ten bedrooms – all en suite – and classically elegant living areas comfortably furnished with modern comforts and period details. There is, of course, wifi throughout.
Each of the nine bedrooms is individually decorated and furnished, though all have a lot in common: crisp linens, sweeping views, comfortable beds and en suite bathrooms. This is very much a family home: all windows open and guests are free to come and go in as they please. Many rooms are reached through the central staircase that sweeps up from the hall, while for those who find stairs difficult there are several rooms on the ground floor with garden access: perfect for owners with dogs.
Guests here are welcome to use the public areas, including an elegant drawing room with sofas and open fires, a library with honour bar, a large dining/breakfast room and terrace – all sharing views over the extensive grounds and Eden River. There’s more to do outside too: you can fish for salmon, trout and grayling (though this has to be pre-booked). play tennis on the private court or croquet on the lawn.
Hadrian’s Wall is very close, and Warwick Hall has a blue-badge guide if you’d like to learn more while you walk. Alternatively, the Lakes are within easy reach: Ullswater, Grasmere and Rydal are all close by, showing off the changing seasons at their best. It’s a wonderful place for an autumn staycation.
Poised between the vast expanses of the Lake District National Park and the Yorkshire Dales, the Kendal area is a great place to experience the mellow tones of Autumn.
A few miles outside Kendall, Cook House was built to supply meals to weary travellers and has now been updated to entertain a more leisured class of visitor. With just two guest bedrooms it’s an ideal base from which to explore the southern lakes.
The colours of the Lake District are stunning in Autumn, with lots of silver birches showing their colours against the blue of the water. But there are also some great places nearer to home: the nearby Levens Park puts on a spectacular display of beech and catalta while the Serpentine Woods in Cumbria add a sculpture trail to a lovely broadleaf woodland on the outskirts of Kendal.
The nearest stately home is Leven, but you wouldn’t go there for autumn colour. The famous topiary is yew and, in any case, it is closed for October. Holker Hall is close by though, and has some excellent specimen trees in its grounds.
Autumn comes later to Norfolk, where the Old Hall in East Runton provides idiosyncratic accommodation in considerable style. The Old Hall was built as a 17th century Jacobean shooting lodge, complete with sprung floors for Highland reels. It was later owned by Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, a prolific author of books against the slave trade, a friend of William Wilberforce and Member of Parliament. His sense of philanthropy permeates the property.
There could be a lot of bedrooms here but guest accommodation is currently offered in two. Both are fitted with twin beds and have private bathrooms, though one has the option of a further bathroom in case you need two. There’s wifi throughout the property to help you keep in touch. The experience at Old Hall does not aspire to manicured, designer-toiletry perfection: it hopes to be welcoming, comforting and kind. For an autumn staycation this is the sort of place you feel comfortable staying for a while.
The wood-panelled living areas are open to guests. There are three pianos in the property, including a Bechstein Grand, and perhaps the best part of your stay will be the experience of rattling round a historic property, beautifully located on the very edge of England’s North Sea coast.
Borough Court is one of the oldest houses in Hampshire: at its heart is a medieval five-bay core dating back to 1333 that may have been a monastery. Since 1480 it has been owned by only four families, most recently by the Bullens, descendants of Anne Boleyn. Recent generations have included the noted artist Anne Bullen, many of whose paintings are still found in the house, and five-times Olympic event rider Michael Bullen, whose horses’ descendants still graze the 90-acre estate.
There’s a choice of three guest bedrooms at Borough Court. The Attic Suite is a haven of curved beams that originally formed the hull of a large ship. The super king size bed is a French antique, the en-suite bath freestanding and the wood panelling original. One floor down and the Chinese Room was historically the master bedroom, with high ceilings and a fireplace dating back to 1561. There is even an antique claw foot bath on a raised platform and two pedestal sinks within the room itself, giving some idea of the room’s size, with a glorious bay window overlooking the grounds.
There are plenty of formal – and less-formal – forests and gardens around Borough Court, but you rarely need to travel far to experience the changing colours of autumn. There are lakes at Dogmersfield, castles at Odiham and Farnham, with trees and woodlands on every side.
Not all Wolsey Lodges are period properties, and South Park Farm Barn is super-contemporary. Set amongst woodland and wildflower meadows, South Park Farm Barn is a design triumph of wood, steel, glass and brick. Built over a three-year period by the current owners, it is a new eco-friendly property that retains the charm of its original structure but adds the latest technology to tread lightly on the environment. The obvious results are bright and airy interiors, with huge windows and vaulted timber-beamed ceilings, best enjoyed, perhaps, from the first-floor sunset gallery, with glorious views to the west.
There are two guest bedrooms. One is a double and has an ensuite bathroom while the other can be configured as either a king-size or a twin. This has a private bathroom and towelling gowns are provided to get you across the corridor. Both bathrooms have travertine tiles, waterfall showers and full-length baths. Both rooms are well-equipped, with comfortable beds, hospitality trays and large TVs with Sky subscription. Naturally there is wifi throughout.
Avebury and Stonehenge are local attractions, but to see changing leaves head to Savernake Forest for an informal experience; though this was once laid out by Capability Brown it hasn’t been maintained and only traces of any planning remain. There are better preserved Capability Brown gardens nearby. South Park Farm Barn suggests Bowood House, a Grade 1 listed Georgian country house set in the middle of Capability’ Brown’s grade 1 park. Interesting rooms include Robert Adam’s Library, the Laboratory where Dr Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen in 1774, and the Chapel that is still used for family services.
The beautiful Dorset countryside cradles the Old Rectory, just outside the Georgian town of Blandford Forum. Like many Wolsey Lodges the Old Rectory has a history dating back many hundreds of years. Rebuilt in 1704 following a fire, the original house was a hunting lodge owned by Henry VIII and home to Catherine Parr.
Original Tudor features are apparent and blended with the new to create a beautiful family home with a welcoming atmosphere set amidst lovingly restored gardens.
A wide hallway leads into the drawing room where guests can relax with a good book or take a turn on the baby grand piano before perhaps exploring the three acres of garden with their manicured lawns, ha-ha, abundantly flowering beds, shady trees and a tennis court for the more energetic.
There are three bed and breakfast rooms available to guests, a double with en suite bathroom and a twin on the second floor with a private bathroom.
The standout place to engage with the colours of autumn near the Old Rectory are the gardens at Stourhead. These are stunning year-round, but at their best when the leaves change, with an unbelievable display of colours.
The summer lasts longer in Devon, so if you miss the early Autumn of more northern climes, head west to the village of Lustleigh and Eastwrey Barton. This is a wonderful Georgian country house that is everything a true home from home should be. Quite apart from the four spacious guest bedrooms there are several reception rooms designed to make your stay comfortable.
The first room you’re likely to encounter is the sitting room where guests are greeted with homemade cakes, where there’s a log-burning stove and a projector and screen for watching a film or a sporting event. This room leads to the sun lounge with an electric piano and a selection of reading books. Breakfast is served in a lovely sunny room looking over the patio and garden to the view beyond. The dining room has a selection of maps and guidebooks, as well as a round rosewood table, perfect for playing cards or board games while enjoying a drink from the licensed bar.
Eastwrey Barton is actually inside Dartmoor National Park. This is arguably at its best in autumn, with misty mornings, turning leaves and fading ferns. It’s an interesting time too, as this is the time of year where herds of Dartmoor ponies are ‘drifted in’ so foals can be weaned and mares turned free: it’s a great mark of the annual cycle and a classic sign that autumn has arrived.
For another perspective on Dartmoor, Burnville House is a magnificent Wolsey Lodge near Tavistock. This substantial Georgian house is stunningly situated with magnificent views over Dartmoor from all the guest rooms and a large comfortable drawing room.
Rooms are luxurious, with large windows giving breathtaking views of moorland, garden and rolling countryside. As the nights draw in the log fire is lit in the drawing room, making this a great place to relax and regroup for another day out. Burnville House also provides a driver service for local pubs and restaurants, and has several self-catering properties scattered around the farm.
Farmhouse breakfasts are a highlight, while there’s also the option of a sumptuous evening meal in the dining room, made from local ingredients and produce from the farm.
This is certainly the year of the Staycation. Make the most of it by choosing Wolsey Lodges. The larger Wolsey Lodges have the space to allow them to continue with our ‘Timeless Hospitality’ while maintaining social distance. Britain, in Autumn, can still thrill and delight.