Give or take a last blast of sunshine, the warmer climes are swiftly departing and the summer holidays are receding into the realms of memory. But the party is not over yet. Across Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight there’s a rich programme of festivals that continues throughout the autumn and winter.
Next weekend sees the start of the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival (01983 823070; sunseaandcycling.com ). The island has more than 200 miles of cycle tracks within its spectacular 60-mile coastline and this week-long programme caters for all abilities, with organised rides ranging from quiet, circular bike routes to scavenger hunts and a “Hills Killer” orienteering event.
Over in Chichester, join the audience at the fourth Chichester Writing Festival (01243 811301; westdean.org.uk/college ), taking place at West Dean College from 24 to 26 September. The best-selling author Kate Mosse will be chairing talks with thriller writer Peter James, the biographer and novelist Lady Antonia Fraser, and children’s author Michael Morpurgo.
For inland rural charm, make for Loseley Park near Guildford on 26 September for the Surrey Ploughing Match and Country Fair (01483 890810; surreycountyshow.co.uk ), where vintage tractor and horse-ploughing contests will take pride of place among terrier racing, falconry, sheepdog demonstrations, and a hot-air balloon displays.
There’s more nostalgic appeal at the Steam in the Gardens (023 8089 1203; exbury.co.uk ) festival at Exbury Gardens in the New Forest on 2 and 3 October. In addition to Exbury’s own Steam Railway, you’ll see a wide range of old engines and even several working models and miniatures in the Engine Shed. Best of all, is the steam vehicle parade in front of Exbury House, scheduled for noon and 3pm on both Saturday and Sunday.
The Hampshire OctoberFest (01256 403906; hants.gov.uk/octoberfest ) at Basingstoke’s Milestones Museum and the surrounding parkland on 2 and 3 October offers plenty of opportunity to taste beers and ciders from across the county, as well as fine local foods. A lively programme is set to include Punch and Judy shows, woodland crafts, horse and dray rides and farrier demonstrations.
Then head to the East Sussex coast to sample perries, ciders, cask ales and more at the Eastbourne Beer Festival (01323 412000; eastbournebeerfestival.co.uk ) which will be held at the town’s Winter Garden from 7 to 9 October. Listen to live bands and try your hand at pub games such as table shuffleboard and toad in the hole.
The Guildford Book Festival (01483 444334; guildfordbookfestival.co.uk ) is being held at a several venues from 14 to 23 October. Among those speaking and participating will be the writer and comedian Arthur Smith, the historian Dan Cruickshank and the broadcaster Bill Turnbull. The popular Readers’ Day is a special celebration of fiction during which festival-goers can meet authors and discuss ideas. It takes place this year on 16 October and, among others, will feature Chris Fowler, Barbara Erskine and Michelle Paver.
For a feast of striking and beautifully devised crafts, head to Farnham Maltings on 16 and 17 October, when the Festival of Crafts (01252 745405; farnhammaltings.com) takes place there. This gathering of more than 75 leading designers showcases some of the country’s most innovative contemporary craft-making.
Throughout October, the Mole Valley Arts Alive (01306 879188; arts-alive.co.uk ) festival will be taking place in Dorking, Leatherhead and surrounding Surrey villages. This year’s events include a production of Peter and the Wolf in Dorking’s Methodist Church; LeRoc Jive evenings at Leatherhead Leisure Centre and at Fetcham Village Hall; an evening of classical guitar music at Dorking’s Quaker Meeting House; and a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin by Candlelight Opera at the Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon.
Over in West Sussex, the Horsham Town Centre Festival (01403 215153; horsham.gov.uk ) is a carnival of street theatre, funfair rides, fancy-dress competitions and live music. Taking place from 28 to 30 October, it has an appropriate Hallowe’en theme, with trick-or-treat contests and mask-making workshops. On 30 October, a “Battle of the Bands” finale will be staged, showcasing some of the finest young musicians in the area.
Also at the end of the month, the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu hosts one of the most spectacular shows in the region. Ignition Overload (01590 612888; beaulieu.co.uk ) on 30 October there will be a dynamic firework display set to revved-up motoring tunes. There will be rides and old-fashioned fairground attractions, while everyone is invited to come in fancy dress – with prizes awarded to those in the most striking attire.
Winchester becomes something of England’s Christmas capital from 19 November when its local artists and craftspeople open their workshops and studios for a Making Merry (01962 840500; christmasinwinchester.co.uk/festive-events) art show and |shopping event. The city’s Christmas market subsequently opens on 25 November and continues until 19 December, with an open-air ice rink in its midst until 3 January.
Winchester “Christmas past” tours will be offered from the City Museum and several traditional carol concerts will be held at the cathedral – most notably the Lord Lieutenant’s Carol Concert held on |17 December.
A Victorian Festival of Christmas (023 9283 9766; christmasfestival.co.uk ) takes place at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth from 26 to 28 November. Dickens-style England is recreated here, complete with costumed actors, |market and old-fashioned carousel. There is even a music hall along with a town crier and a Father Christmas – traditionally dressed in green.
By contrast, take a trip to Brighton this December to join the Burning the Clocks (01273 571106; burningtheclocks.co.uk ) festival. This carnival is a visually stunning celebration of the winter solstice: a parade lit with paper lanterns processes through the town centre and along to the seafront, where a lantern bonfire will burn and fireworks will illuminate the sky.
A complete list of autumn and winter festivals in South-east England is available on visitsoutheastengland.com/festivals