5 Cool Coastal Autumn Family Breaks
The Great British staycation isn’t complete without the beach. But while the UK’s coastlines can be crowded and overpriced in summer, off season they are an attractive option for a family. Autumn is a great time for enjoying windswept coastal paths, quirky outdoor attractions and a dwindling sunset caramelising the sea. As the evenings draw closer in here’s a handful of our recommendations for autumn and winter family breaks…
Family Breaks UK: Home but not at home
OK, so you know you want to stay at home. But not actually in your home, where you become Mrs Washalot and the kids turn into professional gamers. As autumn gets a grip and winter crashes in with full force, you can’t beat being by the sea and getting active. Like this.
1 Striking out in Cornwall
The Cornish coast is the perfect place for blowing away the cobwebs in the autumn and winter months. If you are made of strong stuff then some activity providers still rent surf and wind surf equipment off season. But if you prefer to stay out of the water then head to one of the iconic seaside towns. We recently stayed in the town of Marazion, two miles east of Penzance, with views of the Lizard Peninsula. We hiked out to the fairytale location of St Michael’s Mount, half a mile offshore, in the late evening. The causeway, only revealed at low tide, is long, slippery and dark enough to keep both teens and toddlers amused.
At the nearby Land’s End, we enjoyed the RSPB Discovery Centre which provides a platform for seal and bird watching in summer. Sadly it is shut in autumn but a great alternative is to ask for a Heritage Trail ‘pastport’ at the visitor centre. It takes you on a self guided history tour around some of the burial mounds, hill forts and cemeteries of the headland.
For accommodation during your stay, Blue Chip Holidays offers over a thousand 4 and 5 star cottages, apartments and lodges on the Cornish coast including North, West and South Cornwall. (They also have properties at other great UK coastal locations in Dorset, Isle of Wight as well as other UK locations.) Their Baby Blue Chip collection is made up of properties picked out for their suitability for families, especially those with babies and young kids.
2 Going wild on the Isles of Scilly
Even in peak season you can bag an uninhabited beach in The Isles of Scilly. And I suspect in autumn you may even feel you are the last family standing. The Isles of Scilly form an archipelago just off the southwestern tip of Cornwall. If you base yourself on the main island of St Mary’s you will have easy access to ferries and boat trips, plenty of novel touristy shops and a handful of great pubs and restaurants. If you prefer to travel independently then you could hire a motor boat by the day from Bennet Boatyard on Bryher. (drop off points can also be arranged on St Martin’s and Tresco.) We steered ourselves around Tresco, St Martin’s and Samson, stopping to explore the pristine sand, have a picnic and venture off to a lighthouse.
If the weather or the kids are having a tantrum then the artists at Pheonix Craft Studios run art workshops in jewellery and stained glass. If you have a family of bookworms then you can buy some of the works of Michael Morpurgo at The Bordeaux Shop (If you are lucky you may find a signed copy) and take the kids to read them at the spot where he wrote them. (Ask the staff at the shop;- they are very informed about this local literary hero.) In the late afternoon you can hole up by the window in a cosy pub and see if you can spot the gig rowers going out. It’s something of a national sport here. For more ideas on what to do in the Isles of Scilly, check out this post on 5 mini adventures for families.
3 Setjetting in Ireland
Setjetting has become the latest fashion in travel and Game of Thrones is the latest draw. Thousands of GOT fans have been descending on Girona, Seville and Dubrovnik this summer to see where their favourite characters have been tearing off heads and settling tribal disputes. But you don’t have to go too far to become immersed in the locations featured in this international phenomenon. Northern Ireland’s County Antrim and County Down have provided plenty of coastline and forest locations for the ice and fire of Westeros and other locations over the years. Ask at the tourist office or take a bus or walking tour.
If you are a Star Wars fan, then you might prefer to head down to the Skelligs on the West Coast. Skellig Michael in Co. Kerry was said to be in lockdown earlier this year as the World Heritage Site hosted Luke Skywalker and friends for the filming of the up and coming Star Wars: Episode Vll: The Force Awakens. You’ll be able to compare real life with fiction when the film is released in December. (Although there’s no guarantee the Skellig scenes won’t end up on the cutting room floor!)
4 Pedalling the Scottish islands
One of the joys of the Scottish islands is biking wild places, and you don’t have to go all the way to the Hebrides or Orkney to do this. Staying further south, we recommend you hop on a ferry to Arran from Ardrossan and make a loop of this relatively small island. We biked Arran in a week, taking our time, but you can also do it in a long weekend. If the weather is warm then you’ll feel less like you are Scotland and more like you are in an Enid Blyton novel. You can hire a hybrid bike from arranbikehire.com. There are 15 trails and nine road trails to have a go at.
Or for mountain biking head north and try the island of Skye. Mountain Bike Rider magazine claims that Skye boasts the best singletrack trail in Britain – the Sligachan. In fact, there are many great sweet spots to bike depending on your skills, including the fearsome Black Cuillin trail that Danny MacAskill tackled in his documentary The Ridge. If you like to wild swim then maybe pop your wetsuits in a pannier and head to the enchanting Fairy Pools in the midst of the Cuillin range. If you’re new to it, check out our tips on getting started with wild swimming.
5 Getting arty in Margate
All eyes have been on the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare lately with Banksy’s Dismaland Disney Dystopia grabbing the imagination of visitors and the press. But the seaside town of Margate, home of Tracey Emin, is also worthy of a few headlines. Dreamland, said to be the UK’s original pleasure park, has been reopened and reimagined by designer Wayne Hemingway. Meanwhile the acclaimed Turner Contemporary gallery has a new season of art and films on the theme of risk taking, both in creativity and life. Beginning on the 10th Oct and running till January, visitors are invited to look out for Francis Alÿs running into the eye of a tornado; ORLAN undergoing plastic surgery; Marina Abramovic pointing a bow and arrow at her own heart; Pedro Reyes creating musical instruments out of firearms and Ruth Proctor free-falling in the gallery.
For something a little less edgy, you can head down to Margate beach and enjoy the world’s first Victorian sea bathing sauna. This is the crowd funded brainchild of Dom Bridges of Haeckels, who offers traditional seaweed therapies. And for a final shot of art in Margate visit the magical mystical shell grotto where every inch of wall is a wonder.
More off season ideas
For more off season travel ideas for families, check out this post on European off season city breaks for families.
Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in part thanks to a collaboration with Blue Chip Holidays who encouraged us to do some homework on great UK coastal attractions. The research, ideas and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.