Celebrate a season of good food with these fun days out and workshops, says Sarah Marshall.
The last days of summer are often the most glorious, with warm rays bathing landscapes in a golden light. As autumn approaches, trees turn bronze, hedgerows gleam with ruby berries and farm fields burst with pumpkins and gourds in radiant hues.
Since pagan times, people have been reaping the rewards of their agricultural efforts and celebrating food with harvest festivals. Vandag, events provide an opportunity to taste fine products, learn about food production, and participate in creative fun and games.
If you’re after a tasty day out and an excuse to indulge, here are some of the best events taking place over the next few weeks…
A grape escape
In the last few years, Brits wines have soared in quality. Kent is famous for being the garden of grapes, and the harvest season is an exciting time to visit its vineyards. Die Nest at Gusbourne Wine Estate in Ashford, producers of English sparkling wine, offers several visitor tours. Learn how grapes are picked by hand and sent to the winery for pressing, explore the 90 hectares of land on a guided walk, enjoy a wine tasting, or extend a visit to lunch. Various packages are available from September 23 to October 3. Prices start from £25 per person for a two-hour Vineyard Tour. Visit gusbourne.com.
Pumpkins and dragons
Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire provides a delightful setting for a new autumn festival, taking place from September 24-26 and October 1–3. Along with workshops on foraging and guided tours of the stately grounds, there will be a food market, dragon maze trail, live music and family games, including pumpkin bowling and wheelbarrow races. All arrivals will be greeted by a harvest dragon and there’s a chance to take part in a best dressed scarecrow competition. Tickets to the park and gardens cost £18.50 for adults, £9 for children (bejaardes 5-16) and £17.50 (aged 17–25). For more information and to book, visit blenheimpalace.com.
A history of harvests
The tradition of harvest festivals has its roots in ancient civilisations. Hierdie jaar, Cornwall’s Lost Gardens Of Heligan will host the Heligan Harvest festival celebrating Past, Present and Future. Tales will be shared of Victorian ghosts who roam the gardens, and food and drink prepared on the estate will be served. Looking to the future, there will be talks and demonstrations on how to improve your own harvesting skills, along with details on how the gardens are combatting climate change with cows. From October 9-24. Tickets: adults £17.50; children £8.50; under-5s free. Visit heligan.com.
Meer as 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the UK, and many reach their russet peak in the next few weeks. Given a royal seal of approval by Queen Victoria, who declared it was “her little town in the orchard”, Tenbury Wells has a large number of orchards and hops. On October 2, Tenbury Applefest celebrates the 300 varieties grown locally, with entertainment from Morris dancers and a ukulele band. In the run-up to the event, shops in the town take part in an apple-themed window dressing competition. Visit tenburyapplefest.co.uk.
Fishy tales and sea shanties
Coastal living has become even more appealing in the last few years. In honour of all things by the sea, the new Homeward Bound Festival will take place along the Sussex coast from October 2-3. A selection of sea-themed talks, exhibitions, live music and immersive fine-dining dinners will be held at various beaches, pubs and piers from Shoreham to Newhaven. Learn how to make sustainable sushi, join a seafood and oyster tour, or train to be a smuggler while enjoying a three-course meal at Brighton’s Old Ship Hotel. Various prices. Visit homewardboundfestival.com.
There’s something very rewarding about shunning supermarket shelves for hedgerows and fields – if you know where to search. To help fledgling foragers, Burleigh Court Hotel in Gloucestershire has created a Wild Foodie Foraging Experience led by in-house kitchen gardener and foraging expert, Emanuelle Paulson. After a three-hour Foraging Walk, learning how to identify and pick seasonal edibles (such as wild strawberries, lime tree leaves, stinging nettles, rosehips, and sweet chestnuts), enjoy a two-course lunch in the hotel’s 2 AA Rosette restaurant. Priced from £65 per person; £130 per couple. Sessions will run on September 23 and October 14. Visit burleighcourtcotswolds.co.uk.