Indulgent UK escapes and short breaks for autumn

IF a bit of me time, or us time, has been on the back burner this year, what with homeschooling, homeworking and the many other challenges, autumn offers the chance to down tools and take a well-earned break. Whether it’s an indulgent day away, a pampering long weekend or a week’s escape, why not treat yourself here in the UK?

 Fine dining … the Merchant Hotel in Belfast has a Victorian interior and Ireland’s largest chandelier

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Fine dining … the Merchant Hotel in Belfast has a Victorian interior and Ireland’s largest chandelier

What’s out there might surprise you or, better still, surprise someone you love. You can blink in disbelief as you check into a fairytale castle in Wales or, for just £38.50, savour a Michelin-starred three-course lunch in Scotland’s capital. Feel the wind in your hair driving a sports car for the day, or de-stress as you picnic on a private boat.

Wherever you are, you’ll always find the ultimate British treat: afternoon tea. Try it with a local twist – Welsh cakes, Irish smoked salmon sandwiches, Scottish oat cakes or a glass of English bubbly.

As well as taking time to relax and recharge, by enjoying yourself you’ll be giving a boost to the UK’s hotels, restaurants, pubs and attractions.

You can easily plan ahead by checking that anywhere you visit has the We’re Good To Go mark, meaning they have all the Government’s Covid-19 public health requirements in place.

VisitBritain’s Know Before You Go page has regularly updated information about safe travel in the UK, including what’s open and links to Government guidelines, so you can find out exactly what restrictions and measures are in place in each of the four nations.

Tempted? Of course you are – now go and discover your own Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Scotland

 Still magic … visit Darnley’s Gin Distillery in Fife for a tasting tour and you’ll get to see the traditional 350-litre copper still

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Still magic … visit Darnley’s Gin Distillery in Fife for a tasting tour and you’ll get to see the traditional 350-litre copper still

Starry lunch

In Edinburgh’s historic port of Leith, you’ll find Restaurant Martin Wishart – a Michelin-starred spot with a chic dining room and mouthwatering Scottish ingredients. Book for the great value £38.50 three-course lunch, Wednesday to Friday, and expect local produce with a twist, such as ceviche of Gigha halibut.

A ginspirational visit

Gin aficionados will love Darnley’s small-batch distillery near St Andrews in Fife, where you can see the traditional still called Dorothy, taste the selection and even mix your own perfect G&T inspired by what you’ve learnt, whether it’s with Darnley’s Spiced or Navy Strength. Ginspiration tour, £25 per person, bookable in advance.

The sky’s the limit

Fancy a romantic night out with a difference? Head for one of Scotland’s Dark Sky Parks – Galloway Forest in the south, which was the UK’s first Dark Sky Park and is also home to the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory (book ahead), or Tomintoul and Glenlivet in Cairngorms National Park, the world’s northernmost Dark Sky Park. At both, low levels of light pollution mean you can make the most of inky black sky lit up by thousands of stars, planets and meteors – even the spectacular northern lights, also known as aurora borealis. Make sure you wrap up warm and take a torch. It’s so atmospheric and chilled out, you’ll never forget it. Find more information at visitscotland.com.

England

 New perspective … hire a GoBoat and steer it along London’s canals

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New perspective … hire a GoBoat and steer it along London’s canals

London by boat

See London from a different angle, motoring along the Regent’s Canal in your own boat. GoBoats have central tables, so pack a picnic and watch the world go by, passing Little Venice, ZSL London Zoo and Camden Lock. To hire from £79, goboat.co.uk.

Drive a classic

Leave the hatchback at home and instead get behind the wheel of a Morgan sports car. You can hire a new Plus 4 model (designed in the 1950s) for the day, or take the wheel of the iconic Morgan three-wheeler, picked up from the Morgan HQ in Malvern, Worcestershire. From £235 per day.

Me old china

For retail therapy in an unusual location, visit the Emma Bridgewater factory shop in Stoke-on-Trent, the historic home of British pottery. Pick up her much-loved mugs and other classy gifts at reduced prices and afterwards enjoy afternoon tea in the pretty café. £12.50, bookable in advance.

Wales

 Welsh charm … the Grade II listed Chateau Rhianfa stands out against the green banks of the Menai Strait

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Welsh charm … the Grade II listed Chateau Rhianfa stands out against the green banks of the Menai Strait

The cosy Bear

If you are craving a pub with character then The Bear in Powys has it all – flagstones, a log fire, oak beams and bags of atmosphere. The 500-year-old coaching inn is in the pretty town of Crickhowell, voted the best place to live in Wales in 2019, and is popular with walkers.

Fairytale nights

Chateau Rhianfa has to be seen to be believed. Despite how it looks, the mid-19th century castle is not in the Loire but rather sits on the banks of the Menai Strait in Anglesey. Book an indulgent stay and sip on a glass of chilled local fizz as you gaze out on the water. Doubles with breakfast from £200.

Top of the tree

If you’ve always fancied a treehouse, make your dreams come true with a stay in the Powys village of Machynlleth. Living-room Treehouse Experiences offer six treehouses, all individually designed, where you can enjoy stunning mountain views, woodland walks and the joy of getting away from everything. Wood-burning stoves, comfortable beds and romantic flickering candles make for a real enchanted forest. Plus, the award-winning Centre for Alternative Technology, which focuses on sustainable development, is a great spot to visit just down the road. Go to cat.org.uk (advance booking only).

The Welsh government regularly updates its Covid-19 safety pages – check the latest information on local restrictions here: gov.wales/coronavirus

Northern Ireland

 Spa view … the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa stands at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne

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Spa view … the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa stands at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne

Take the waters

In a stunning location with the Irish Sea lapping at its doorstep, the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in Newcastle, County Down is a haven for spa goers. Weary folk can try the Ocean and Earth Body Wrap or the Be Nurtured Facial and enjoy fabulous views from the indoor pool. With current safety measures in place, phone ahead to book treatments and timed swims.

Shop ’til you drop

Enjoy an afternoon of retail therapy at Boulevard outlet village in Banbridge and grab a bargain or three. Expect discounts of up to 70 per cent from brands such as Timberland, Nike and Next. Precautions include a one-way system and limited numbers in shops, so download the village map to plan your visit.

A cuppa in style

Check out the Victorian glass cupola and Ireland’s largest chandelier in the Great Room at The Merchant Hotel in central Belfast, before sitting down for a plush afternoon tea with all the trimmings. £29.50pp Monday to Friday, £34.50 on Saturday and Sunday.

Plan your autumn UK break at visitbritain.com/escape

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