Why spend the weekend at home? Autumn is the perfect time to escape to a cosy rural cottage, says Aoife O'Riordain


What's the attraction?

This is no time to wallow in post-summer sadness. Instead, seize the chance to steal away for a weekend in the country. This is the season for long bracing walks through a landscape ablaze with autumnal hues or for curling up next to a crackling fire. Even more importantly, many self-catering properties that are only available for week-long stays in the peak school holiday seasons can now be rented for shorter periods, which makes brief escapes possible and affordable.

The Landmark Trust (01628 825 925; www.landmarktrust.org.uk) and the National Trust (0844 800 1895; www.nationaltrust.org.uk) offer scores of holiday cottages oozing history and charm. There is also an ever-expanding array of new properties available to rent from specialist operators including the likes of Farm and Cottage Holidays (01237 459 888; www.holidaycottages.co.uk), or English Country Cottages (0845 268 0785; www.english-country-cottages.co.uk).

How about a house party?

Crossley is one of a trio of new cottages set in the 19th-century stable block of the gothic Combermere Abbey on the Cheshire/Shropshire borders (01948 662 876; www.comberereabbey.co.uk). There is also an organic farm and acres of parkland to explore on the grounds of this former Cistercian monastery. The £1,143 charge for three nights can be shared by up to 10 guests, making it ideal for a family get-together or group of friends. It is stylishly decorated with muted colours and a smattering of antiques. Until 20 December all bookings qualify for a 10 per cent discount.

Weekend walks

In the Peak District of Derbyshire, Derwent Cottage is close to the scenic Monsal Trail (01629 640 269; www.churchdaleholidays.co.uk). The property forms part of Churchdale Farm, a working sheep farm close to the charming town of Bakewell. It sleeps four for a rate of £402 for three nights. It has buckets of character with many original features such as oak-beamed ceilings as well as a wood-burning stove for thawing out after a long day's rambling.

Wow factor

Tilty Hill Barn is a stunning restoration of a 17th-century farm building in Dunmow, Essex (0800 171 2156; www.thewowhousecompany.com). It was conceived by one of the UK's leading architects, John Pawson, whose stylish minimalist aesthetic is in evidence throughout. It sleeps 12 and has equestrian facilities, so you can even bring your own horse. In high season, you have to stay at least a week, but its cutting-edge tranquillity is now available for shorter stays: £3,700 for three nights.

Coast and culture in Kent

North Foreland Lighthouse in the pretty seaside town of Broadstairs, in Kent, has two lighthouse keepers' properties. One is Khina Cottage (01386 701 177; www.ruralretreats.co.uk; sleeps four; £371 for three nights). As well as its breathtaking views over the Channel, the cottage is also ideally placed for a visit to the newly opened Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate.

Take a leaf

The Vivat Trust is a preservation society (0845 090 0194; www.vivat-trust.org). It launches its newest rental property on 14 October: the sensitively restored Garden Studio, in the grounds of the 14th-century Wellbrook Manor in Herefordshire's Golden Valley. The property sleeps two, and costs £357 for three nights. It overlooks pretty gardens established over many years by its former owner, eminent picture restorer, Joan Griffith.

Gourmet getaway

This year's Dartmouth Food Festival ( www.dartmouthfoodfestival.com) runs from 21 to 23 October. Among the well-known faces taking part is The Independent Magazine's cookery writer, the chef, Mark Hix.

Stay in nearby Torquay, with its pisturesque harbour and smattering of seafood restaurants. A possible option is the The Squirrels mews house. The property sleeps eight, and has availability for a three-night stay over the festival weekend for £741 (0844 847 1356; www.hoseasons.co.uk).

Autumn ambles

As Mother Nature puts on a dazzling display of foliage in a palette of crimsons, russets, gold, burnt umbers and bronzes, hole up in a cottage for the weekend to enjoy the show from your doorstep.

The seasonal hues of Carmarthenshire's Brechfa Forest will be on full display with a stay at Manal (01865 764 087; www.sheepskinlife.com), a pretty farmhouse tucked into a valley near Carmarthen in South Wales. It offers sweeping views of the forest beyond with a very little else to disturb the peace and tranquillity. It has two double bedrooms, and costs £525 for three nights.

There are breathtaking views from Barley Hill Cottage (01573 226144; www.crabtreeandcrabtree.com), a pretty bolthole that sits at the foot of the Cheviot Hills near Cornhill-on-Tweed. Stretching beyond are the forests and heather-flecked hills of the Bowmont Valley and Northumberland National Park. It sleeps four, and costs £325 for two nights in October, or £293 in November.

The Capability Brown-designed parkland surrounding the 17th-century Audley End House in Essex puts on a magnificent display of foliage at this time of year. Experience it in situ with a stay at its main gatehouse, Cambridge Lodge (0870 333 1187; www.english-heritage.org.uk). It sleeps four and costs £469 for three nights.

Woody's Cottage (0844 800 2070; www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk; £328 for three nights) is in the heart of the Cotswolds on the Ebworth Estate near Sheepscombe in Gloucestershire. It sleeps four and is surrounded by deciduous woodland, also a designated National Nature Reserve.

The Ruin was built during the Georgian period as a folly (01628 825 925; www.landmarktrust.org.uk). It perches above a steeply wooded gorge at Hackfall, North Yorkshire and has a bird's eye view of the autumnal scenes beneath. It sleeps two and costs £385 for three nights.

Insider Information

"Take a bold plunge into autumn: her colours, her walks, even a skinny dip in a pond. And don't commit the crime of taking a food shop with you. Instead, stock up on local produce when you arrive – stroll down the high street, meet the baker, the butcher, the friendly folk at the farm shop and heighten your sense of being part of the place". – Alastair Sawday , chairman, Alastair Sawday Publishing ( www.sawdays.co.uk).

Who said that?

"Avoid greatness; in a cottage there may be more real happiness than kings or their favourites enjoy." - Horace, Roman poet

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns." - George Eliot

"Autumn is a second spring, where every leaf is a flower." – Albert Camus

"Life starts all over again whenit gets crisp in the fall." – Jordan Baker, 'The Great Gatsby'