Escape the city by train this autumn and enjoy the best the British countryside has to offer.
Cookham, Berkshire: A day trip with cultural connections
This pretty riverside town is all the more fascinating for its cultural connections. Cookham was the home and inspiration of great 20th-century painter Sir Stanley Spencer: the Stanley Spencer Gallery holds the largest collection of his distinctive paintings. And Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind In The Willows grew up in nearby Cookham Dean, setting the adventures of Toad, Rat and Mole on Cookham's lush riverbanks. Have lunch at the excellent King's Arms, then walk it off along the Thames towpath to Maidenhead, where you can either pick up a train to Paddington, or follow the picturesque Green Way back round to Cookham and your train home via Maidenhead.
Getting there: GWR trains run to Cookham from London Paddington in under 1hr, with up to 2 trains an hour.
Newbury Races: A flutter on the horses, deep in the Berkshire countryside
A day out at the races can be enormous fun, and Newbury Racecourse is easy to get to from Paddington as it has its very own train station – no long walk to the course in heels and hats. Newbury has flat racing fixtures in September and October, and jumps in November and December. For a gourmet treat on your race day, book into one of the three excellent restaurants, or keep it simple with real ales, pasties, pies, fish and chips and hot rolls available around the ground. Check the form, place your bets and good luck!
Getting there: GWR trains run from Paddington to Newbury Racecourse in just under 1hr 10 mins with up to 2 trains an hour.
Oxford: See the dreaming spires at the most atmospheric time of year
The city of Oxford is beautiful at any time of year, but it's at its loveliest and most atmospheric in autumn, when the turning leaves complement the pale stone architecture and mist hangs over the water meadows. There are 70 acres of university parks and riverbanks to stroll around, and many of the historic colleges, with their echoing cloisters, are free to visit. Browse the quirky little shops and have a bite of lunch in the Covered Market that dates back to the 1770s, before choosing something fascinating to see in Oxford's wonderful museums: Egyptian mummies at the Ashmolean, shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers or the Oxford dodo at the Museum of Natural History.
Getting there: GWR trains run direct from London Paddington to Oxford in under 1h 45min, with up to 6 trains an hour.
Blenheim Palace: A Baroque masterpiece among the turning leaves of autumn
Blenheim Palace is often referred to as 'Britain's Greatest Palace', and is still home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and his family. With its UNESCO World Heritage Site listing, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and Capability Brown landscaped gardens and parkland, you know you're going to see somewhere of immense historical significance. The collections of porcelain, textiles, fine antiques and paintings are exquisite, the Churchill Exhibition is revealing, and you are free to explore the park, past misty lakes and ancient oaks. Younger visitors will love the miniature train to the giant hedge maze, butterfly house and adventure playground.
Getting there: GWR trains run direct from London Paddington to Oxford in under 1h 45min, with up to 6 trains an hour. If you buy a GWR Blenheim Palace ticket at London Paddington Station, it includes train travel to Oxford station, a No.500 or S3 bus to Blenheim, and entry to the palace and grounds.
Windsor: A peek into Her Majesty's weekend home
Just 30 minutes from London, Windsor is an attractive combination of history, river, countryside and excellent boutique shopping. The must-see, of course, is 1,000-year-old Windsor Castle, the world's oldest and largest occupied castle, where the Queen spends most weekends. Highlights include Queen Mary's Doll's House and St George's Chapel and climbing the Round Tower to look out over the autumn colours. Make the most of Windsor's lovely Thames-side location: choose a gentle boat trip, or for maximum fun, the amphibious Windsor Duck that tours the city streets, then slips into the river to see Windsor's sights from another perspective.
Getting there: GWR trains run from London Paddington to Windsor & Eton Central in under 45min, with up to 3 trains an hour.
Mortimer to Aldermaston and Henley-on-Thames to Pangbourne: Two exhilarating autumn countryside walks in around an hour from London
If you love a long bracing walk through beautiful golden countryside, with a pub lunch stop, these two routes are perfect for tramping through the falling leaves.
Mortimer to Aldermaston follows a stream and passes the remains of Calleva, a Roman town. After a pub lunch at Silchester Common, weave through Scots pine forest and cross the River Kennet's weirs into Aldermaston.
Getting there: GWR trains run from London Paddington to Mortimer in under 2hr 30min, with up to 2 trains an hour. For the return journey, GWR trains run from Aldermaston to London Paddington in under 2hr 15min, with up to 2 trains an hour.
Henley to Pangbourne follows ancient streets, open fields, beech woods, pretty villages and even an alpaca farm before you cross the Thames into Pangbourne. There are plenty of country pubs along this walk for refreshment stops.
Getting there: GWR trains run from London Paddington to Henley-on-Thames in under 1hr 30 mins, with up to 3 trains an hour. Also from London Paddington GWR trains run to Pangbourne in under 2h 10 min, with up to 3 trains an hour.
*Savings correct as of August 2017. Average saving calculated by comparing Advance Single Standard Class ticket prices to the equivalent price of a Standard Class Super Off Peak ticket bought on the day of travel. Advance fares are subject to availability. Selected GWR routes only. Advance fares available from up to 12 weeks prior to travel. Terms and conditions apply.