Stylish Autumn Escapes
As winter weather creeps in, Stephen Doig looks forward to bundled but elegant escapades away from the city.
Summer’s waning need not be cause for lamentation. Memories of azure seas might be a rose-tinted memory, but autumn has its own dark delights to look forward to. In fact, for the sartorially inclined, it’s a veritable playground; the chance to don substantial clothes once more and venture into the cordite-scented air and tread through the russet leaves that crackle almost as much as the fire in that favourite inn. Autumn is the grown-up elder brother to flighty, flyaway summer, and this season of what Keats termed one of 'mists and mellow fruitfulness' is made all the better by a weekend break to take full advantage of its subtle array of shades. But where to venture to?
A flinty beach in the shadow of a looming, brutalist power plant might sound like a rather apocalyptic setting, but Dungeness’s strange, bleak beauty has attracted creatives and artists for years. Drive through Kentish marshlands to discover this spit of shingle beach that boasts its own unique eco-system and flora. Late filmmaker Derek Jarman’s cottage – where Tilda Swinton would once recite her lines – is a source of pilgrimage for many, with its unique garden and wall bearing quotes from Shakespeare. If the neighbouring town of Rye is too twee for your tastes (its cobbled streets are picturesque but might be too quaint for some), Living Architecture boast an incredible design edifice in Dungeness to watch the eerie other worldliness of this unique place drift by. A warm wool Melton greatcoat, cashmere jumper and some solid boots should be all the attire you need against the whipping winds.
Forget the Chipping Norton set and Soho Farmhouse; far too Instagram friendly. Instead, venture into the nooks and delves of the Cotswolds proper by heading to Burford for its paintbox-pretty villages or to Bourton-on-the-Water for utterly bucolic scenes. Further into Gloucestershire, Painswick is a handsome market town in the distinctive, buttery-hued Cotswolds stone that Kate Moss has chosen to call home, and where she hosted her wedding. The Kings Head is a cosy, rustic hotel in which to throw off your down-filled khaki jacket with smart drawstring waist and post-box pockets, kick up your Hunters and relax in front of a roaring fire. And if the romping over hill and dale gets too much, it has a subterranean spa, too.
The sedate rivers and languid willows of this county are pure fairytale, but there’s a far more indulgent reason to hole up here; it boasts the UK’s only Four Seasons outside of central London. The beautiful Palladian house, which is set in rolling countryside, was the meeting point between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and is said to have informed the stately homes in Jane Austen’s novels, brings a metropolitan sense of service and luxury to this pastoral setting. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, the hotel can arrange horse or bike rides along the banks of the Basingstoke Canal, but the less outdoors-inclined can hole up in the newly-designed Wild Carrot Bar & Restaurant for potent cocktails that will fend off any autumn chill. Simply pack in a crisp blazer, a well-cut shirt and some pin-sharp chinos in your leather weekend bag; but hold the tie to make sure you don’t look too city slicker.
Do-able by London for a weekend (just), there’s no greater place to drink in autumn’s full majesty in all its rust and caramel tones than the dramatic setting of the Lake District, and it benefits from being off-season so that no coach tours will hamper your fireside slumbers. Head to two-Michelin-starred restaurant L’Enclume for experimental fare – pork and eel with ham fat – before retreating to the Love Shack, an architectural gem of a hideaway built with wood to resemble the house from cult movie The Ice Storm and set within magical woodland overlooking Lake Windermere. The house has been built around the trees that were already part of the scenery and has a living roof, the perfect marriage of indoor-outdoors which will provide the right background for a suitably rustic plaid shirt, jeans and quilted field coat.
Closer to home
You needn’t head into the back of beyond for authentic autumnal experiences; London’s surrounding environs can do just as well. Richmond Park is well-trodden territory but there’s still a quiet thrill from seeing deer in the wild, even though you’re within 20 minutes of London proper. For a more unique day out, alight a boat heading west on the Thames – a sedentary journey of around two hours – and bundle up in swamping scarves, handsome peacoats and smart leather gloves. Reaching Richmond, head to Petersham Nurseries where you will sate the appetite you’ve built up, in the most tasteful of environs.