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Exploring the Cotswolds in autumn means a mix of enjoying the colours outdoors and cosying up inside, as the days get shorter, the leaves start to turn and the summer crowds head home. With events to celebrate harvest, Halloween and Bonfire Night, there’s lots going on at this time of year. So to help you plan the next few months, here are 25 of our top things to do in autumn 2021 in the Cotswolds, from woodland walks and foraging classes to festivals and ghost tours.
25 things to do in the Cotswolds in autumn
The great outdoors
1. Take a walk in the woods
Crisp sunny days and misty mornings make autumn a great time to head out for a walk in the Cotswold countryside. Choose a woodland path to admire the colourful trees, kick your way through piles of fallen leaves, collect conkers and pick blackberries.
Some of our favourite woodland walks in the Cotswolds are through Lineover Woods, Castlett Wood near Guiting Power and Laurie Lee Wood in Slad. Or head up to one of the area’s viewpoints like Cleeve Common, Bredon Hill or Dumbleton Hill to see the autumn hues from above.
2. See autumn colours at an arboretum
For more beautiful autumn colours, pay a visit to the arboretums at Westonbirt and Batsford. The best time to visit to see the colours at their peak will depend on the weather (check their websites and social media channels for updates), but generally you can expect to see the tree canopy dazzle in shades of gold, orange and red from early October until mid-November.
3. Visit the royal gardens at Highgrove
Located near Tetbury, Highgrove is the country residence of Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall. It’s known for its stunning gardens, which are open to visitors for autumn walks on 4–8 and 14 October. These 75-minute tours, led by one of the Prince of Wales’ guides, take you to the kitchen garden and arboretum to admire the best of the estate’s autumn colours.
4. Pick your own pumpkin
Autumn means pumpkin season, and whether you’re planning on carving one for Halloween or cooking up a pumpkin pie, you can choose a prize specimen at one of the Cotswolds’ pumpkin patches. Among the places where you can pick your own pumpkin are Cotswold Farm Park (open 2/3, 9/10, 16/17 and 22–31 October), Cattle Country Animal Park (9–31 October), Primrose Vale (22–31 October) and Over Farm Market (2/3, 9/10, 16/17 and 20–31 October) .
5. Go stargazing
The Cotswolds has some of the darkest skies in England, making it the perfect place to try stargazing. Astronomy experts Dark Sky Discovery have identified the Rollright Stones and Aunt Phoebe’s Recreation Ground, both near Chipping Norton, as the Cotswolds’ best stargazing spots. Or head to a high spot like Cleeve Common, Painswick Beacon or the Tynesdale Monument.
There are several apps available to download to tell you what you’re looking at. Or if you want to learn from an expert you can take a two-hour stargazing tour where you explore star systems, planets and galaxies close up through a large telescope.
6. Spot wild deer
The silhouette of a stag in the mist at sunset is one of the classic images of the Cotswolds in autumn. And if you want to photograph deer yourself, there are a few places in the region where you have a good chance of seeing them. If you time it well you might even catch the annual deer rut in October, when stags fight it out to impress the female deer.
Lodge Park on the Sherborne Estate was built as a grandstand for deer coursing, and herds of fallow and roe deer still roam the grounds. There is also a deer park at Charlecote Park country house east of Stratford-upon-Avon – legend has it that a young William Shakespeare was prosecuted for poaching there – and a deer enclosure at the Broadway Tower.
7. Indulge in a luxurious hot chocolate
A steaming cup of creamy hot chocolate, topped with marshmallows and cream, is one of our essential autumn indulgences. Some of our top hot chocolate spots in the Cotswolds are Drizzle Chocolate in Cirencester, Coach House Coffee in Stow-on-the-Wold and The Curious Café in Cheltenham. Or create your own with chocolate drinking flakes from the Cotswold Chocolate Co.
8. Have Sunday lunch by a log fire
What better way to spend an autumnal Sunday than tucking into a traditional roast dinner by a roaring fire in a country pub? And we’re spoilt for choice in the Cotswolds with a whole host of cosy spots serving up delicious, locally sourced dishes. The Bell at Sapperton, The Green Dragon at Cowley, The Village Pub in Barnsley, The Five Alls at Filkins, The Potting Shed in Malmesbury and The King’s Head Inn in Bledington are just a few of our favourites.
9. Watch a firework display
Wrap up warm (or stay close to the bonfire) and watch glittering firework displays fill the night sky as the Cotswolds celebrates Bonfire Night on 5 November in traditional style. Details of events for Bonfire Night 2021 are still being finalised, but firework displays are usually held in Tetbury, Cirencester, Kingham and at Cheltenham Racecource.
10. Toast marshmallows over the fire
Sticky, caramelised marshmallows cooked on a stick over an open fire are a camping classic. But even if you’re not leaving home you can still stoke up a fire and sit out on an autumn evening toasting your way through a bag of marshmallows – whether you prefer them the traditional way, or sandwiched between graham crackers and chocolate for US-style s’mores.
Festivals and events
11. Blenheim Palace Autumn Festival
Held over two consecutive weekends – 24–26 September and 1–3 October – the Autumn Festival at Blenheim Palace is new for 2021 and celebrates all things harvest-related. Market stalls will showcase locally produced food, drinks and crafts, and there are family-friendly attractions like a dragon maze, pumpkin patch and scarecrow and wonky veg competitions.
12. Winchcombe Walking Festival
Winchcombe is a hub for walkers in the Cotswolds, and the annual Winchcombe Walking Festival is a great opportunity to explore its beautiful surroundings on a guided walk. This year’s festival takes place on 1–3 October, and although it’s scaled down compared to previous years, there are still four walks a day to choose from, with a range of lengths and difficulty levels.
13. Cotswold Autumn Classic Sportive
On Sunday 3 October, cycling enthusiasts from around the region take to the roads of the Cotswolds for the Autumn Classic Sportive. More a personal challenge than a race, the event starts from Cirencester Deer Park School and participants can choose from 55km, 100km or 160km routes, running all the way from the Cotswold Water Park to Chipping Campden.
14. Cheltenham Literature Festival
Cheltenham Literature Festival is one of the highlights of the year in the Festival Town, when over 1000 authors from the worlds of fiction, poetry, film and TV, sport, food, travel and politics descend on Cheltenham for 10 days of talks, workshops and book signings.
This year the festival takes place from 8-17 October, with Dawn French, Joan Collins, Michael Rosen, Raymond Blanc and Ed Balls among the famous names featuring. There’s also the Festival Village in Montpellier Gardens to explore, with food and drink stalls, the book tent and activities and story trails for kids. And don’t miss the late-night Lit Crawl around town.
15. Frightmare at Over Farm
If you’re feeling brave this Halloween, head to Over Farm just outside Gloucester for the spine-chilling Frightmare. Held on various dates from 9–31 October, this annual event (suitable for age 12+) sees the farm taken over by zombies, clowns and ghouls. This year there are seven different attractions to test your nerves, from the Haunted Hayride to the brand-new Carnival.
16. Spooktacular Halloween at Berkeley Castle
Or for something a bit less scary, Past-Times Living History are returning to Berkeley Castle this October half-term for a week of spooktacular Halloween fun from 25–31 October. Visitors will be entertained with terrible tales and gruesome gags, with appearances from two of Henry VIII’s wives (minus their heads), Grim the Executioner and Wee Jobbie the Gaoler.
17. Bonfire Night Concert at Northleach Church
As part of the Cotswold Festival of Music, Northleach’s Church of St Peter and St Paul – known as the ‘Cathedral of the Cotswolds’ – is hosting a Bonfire Night concert on 5 November. The evening plans to recreate the atmosphere of Café Zimmermann in Leipzig back in 1723, when Bach had just arrived in the city, with Baroque music played on double harpsicords.
History and heritage
18. Go behind the scenes with Heritage Open Days
Each autumn, properties across England throw open their doors for the Heritage Open Days event, taking place on 10–19 September this year. This celebration of history and culture is a chance to visit places which aren’t normally open to the public, with a mix of guided tours, talks, walks and special events – with the theme for 2021 being Edible England.
Among the Cotswold venues opening their doors for this year’s Heritage Open Days are Cheltenham Ladies College, the Cheltenham Playhouse, Blackfriars Priory, Saltford Brass Mill and the Arts and Crafts church of St Mary of the Angels in Brownshill. There’s also free entry to the National Trust sites at Dyrham Park on 11 September and Prior Park Landscape Garden on 18 September, and tours of the unfinished Woodchester Mansion on 10 September.
19. Visit Bath’s Jane Austen Festival
From 10–19 September, the city of Bath celebrates one of its most famous residents – Jane Austen. The annual Jane Austen Festival involves all things Austen, with talks, walks, performances and day trips to locations from her books. It’s also a chance to dress up in 18th-century style and join over 500 other Austen fans in the Grand Regency Costumed Promenade.
20. Take a ghost tour
Discover the dark side of the pretty riverside town of Bourton-on-the-Water with a Bloody Bourton Walking Tour, led by guide Edward Charnel. These two-hour tours reveal the town’s secrets, introducing you to its ghostly residents as well as discovering a cast of fairies, witches, priests and murderers as you learn more about the history of Bourton.
Food and drink
21. Forage for your food
Discover the bounty of the harvest with a foraging session led by Cotswold Forager Rob Gould at the Cotswold Water Park on 16 and 30 October. After searching the different habitats around the park for wild, seasonal produce, you create a range of tasty dishes and drinks to enjoy for lunch, with the help of the Cotswold Cookery School.
22. Toast autumn with a Hedgerow Gin
Made with a selection of locally harvested sloes, damsons, blackberries and bullace (a type of plum), the Hedgerow Gin from the Cotswolds Distillery is a taste of autumn in a glass. The fruit is macerated slowly in their Cotswolds Dry Gin before being aged in oak casks, giving it a fruity, spicy flavour. It’s delicious over ice – or try it hot on a cold day.
24. Eat your way around Broadway Food Festival
Broadway is one of the foodie hubs of the Cotswolds, and on 12 September the town showcases the wealth of fantastic food and drink available locally at the Broadway Food Festival. Now in its seventh year, the event will have stalls selling everything from curries and crêpes to pies and pig roast, as well as tasting sessions and cookery demonstrations from Broadway’s chefs.
23. Visit Daylesford’s Harvest Festival
Celebrity favourite farm shop and deli Daylesford is holding their take on a traditional harvest festival on 18 September. As well as seasonal produce and food and drink from the farm, there are also lots of autumnal activities, including a dog show, harvest festival competition, live music, arts and crafts sessions for kids and a scavenger hunt.
25. Say cheers to Cheltenham Wine Festival
Wine lovers won’t want to miss the Cheltenham Wine Festival, taking place on 30 October in the Regency-era Pittville Pump Rooms. Over 300 different wines are available to taste, from wine regions old and new across the world. You can meet the winemakers and find out more about their wines, try some old favourites and discover some new ones.