Fall for East Anglia: 7 reasons to visit in autumn

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Words by Harriet Cooper

A riot of colour

From fiery reds to burnt ochres and golden yellows, the East Anglian countryside offers up a stunning autumnal palette. Thetford Forest may be predominantly lowland pines, but you’ll still be treated to a canopy of colours in October. Other places to see the leaves turn include Christchurch Park in Ipswich, home to some 4,000 trees; Sheringham Park when the ancient beeches turn yellow; Mousehold Heath, near Norwich city centre; and the spectacular Autumn garden at Cambridge University Botanic Garden – not to mention London’s myriad parks. Keep your eyes open for blackberries and conkers, too.

Nearest stations: Thetford, Ipswich, Sheringham and Norwich

Thetford Forest in autumn

Walk on the wild side

How better to appreciate autumnal nature at its finest than on a walk – and, even better, one that is accessible by train. The Bittern Line railway rambles all begin and end at a station. The 6.5mile circular Cromer trail takes you past the National Trust’s Felbrigg Hall, where the 520-acre Great Wood is a spectacle of reds, oranges and yellows. Or embark on the picturesque 5.8mile Hoveton and Wroxham trail in the Bure Valley, stopping at riverside pub The Rising Sun in Coltishall for a pint and a warming bowl of soup.

Nearest stations: Cromer, Hoveton & Wroxham

The Bittern Line Railway, Norfolk

Bird’s eye view

Norfolk and Suffolk are two of the UK’s most significant bird-watching counties, where Autumn sees the mass arrival of migrant birds heading south. RSPB Minsmere is a fabulous place to spot these feathered visitors (not to mention rutting red deer stags - you can even do a red deer rut 4x4 safari. For skeins of Dark-Bellied Brent Geese – some of which have come as far as Russia – head to The Naze Centre in Walton-on-the-Naze. Binoculars at the ready…

Nearest stations: Walton-on-the-Naze and, for RSPB Minsmere, the nearest station is Darsham, where there is a demand-responsive bus that will meet trains. It must be booked the day before travelling, by calling Suffolk Links Blyth on 01728 635938

Migrating birds at RSPB Minsmere

Flex those mussels

It’s a long-held belief that shellfish should only be eaten in months that contain the letter ‘r’, which makes Autumn a wonderful time to indulge in bivalves along the East Anglian coast. Colchester Native Oysters are harvested from September through to May in the shallow creeks off Mersea Island in Essex; sample them in the luxurious surroundings of GreyFriars hotel in Colchester. Or bag a table at Osborne’s Café in Leigh-on-Sea and order a half a dozen, freshly-shucked. Straight-from-the-sea Brancaster mussels are available in many a North Norfolk pub – or why not try “cockles popcorn”, essentially battered cockles, at No1 Cromer.

Nearest stations: Colchester, Southend Victoria, Cromer

Around the houses

The region’s stately homes and historic houses embrace the season with fervour. Audley End House and Gardens gets spooky with a host of Halloween events including ghost tours and a wicked witch-themed quest. At Wimpole Estate, in Cambridgeshire, autumnal fun comes in the form of pumpkin carving; October at Ickworth, near Bury St Edmunds, brings the 30th annual Wood and Craft Fair, and children’s crafts centred around the great outdoors; while you can meet creepy critters at Eltham Palace.

Nearest stations: Audley End, Bury St Edmunds, London Liverpool Street

Audley End House and Gardens, Essex

Festival fever

Who says summertime is for festivals? This Autumn, events across the network cater to every taste. Beer lovers can expect over 200 cask-conditioned real ales at the Norwich Beer Festival, from 21 to 26 October. For the cerebral, the Cambridge University Festival of Ideas, between 14 and 27 October, promises lively discussion on everything from the US presidential elections, the paintings of Yoko Ono, Stonewall at 50, climate justice, the future of China and Brexit.

Nearest stations: Norwich, Cambridge

Autumn colour in Cambridge

Show time

Autumn is all about art exhibitions, especially in London, with some blockbuster shows opening across the capital that are well worth jumping on a train for. The list - by no means exhaustive - includes Gauguin Portraits at the National Gallery, Antony Gormley at the Royal Academy, Bridget Riley at the Hayward Gallery, and Rembrandt’s Light at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Elsewhere across the network, catch Doris Lessing 100 at Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre, an exploration of the life and work of the Nobel Laureate, and Feast and Fast: The art of food in Europe 1500–1800 at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, a multi-sensory exhibition exploring the history and culture of food and eating.

Nearest stations: London Liverpool Street, Norwich, Cambridge