While we might not to be able to compete with Fall in New England, this small isle of ours still likes to put on a show as the woods and forests begin the long slow decline into winter. Here are some of the top places in the country to drink in the autumn colour, from tiny golden woods to the vast fiery swathes of mixed forestry. I’ve even thrown in a few places that are a bit off the beaten track for those of you who prefer to enjoy the season away from the crowds.
Bonus tip: check out the Forestry Commission’s autumn colour tracker to see what’s happening across the UK, and pick the best time to visit – www.forestry.gov.uk/autumn
Horner Wood is noted for its ancient trees, including one oak which is over 500 years old. Once a working wood, the trees would have been used to produce wood for fuel and tools, while the wood itself was grazed by livestock or used for hunting deer. Today it’s a tranquil place for a stroll, especially in autumn when the leaves begin to turn. If you’re up for a walk you could also incorporate a stroll to Dunkery Beacon – the highest point on Exmoor and a great spot for stargazing after dark.
Watersmeet marks the point where the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water merge together on their journey to the sea. This dramatic river gorge is surrounded by ancient woodlands, creating the perfect opportunity to photograph burnished leaves drooping towards the rush of water. And if that’s not temptation enough, why not visit the picturesque old fishing lodge beside the river – which has been serving teas since 1901. Now run by the National Trust, it serves the best cream tea around – especially if you opt for the Exmoor speciality of whortleberry jam.
Lying on the eastern edge of Dartmoor, the Teign Valley is easy to reach yet still retains an air of tranquillity. The return section of this walk meanders along the bank of the river, which in autumn is lined with bright fiery foliage. It also passes over the picturesque Fingle Bridge, where hungry travellers can stop off at the inn for a bite (or a pint). About 4 miles further east along the river is Dunsford Wood which consists mostly of sessile oak – another autumn colour favourite. If you’re lucky you might spot otters or kingfishers along the Teign, or badgers in the wood.
If you’re seeking out the perfect composition for autumn photographs, you could do worse than head to Golitha Falls. Here the River Fowey tumbles down a series of spectacular cascades, surrounded by the ancient boughs of Draynes Wood. Consisting mostly of oak, this is one of the best beauty spots on Bodmin Moor, and provides a stark contrast from the surrounding bleak windswept heathland. The wood has stood the test of time as well, as it was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Set on the edge of wild Bodmin Moor lies scenic Cardinham Woods. There are four waymarked trails here, winding their way through the 650 acres of mixed tree species that put on a stunning display in the autumn. After a refreshing hike, you can cosy up in the snug Woods Café: a centuries-old woodsman’s cottage with an open fire to warm your toes, and a menu of filling stews, soups and sandwiches.
Savernake is the only privately owned forest in Britain, having passed through 31 generations of the same family since the 11th-century. One famous former resident of the estate was Jane Seymour – third wife of Henry VIII. Today the forest covers around 2750 acres full to the brim with oak, beech and other native broad-leaved trees – the perfect spot for an autumn stroll.
No prizes for guessing what the main tree species is here. Burnham Beeches is all that remains of a once vast forest that once covered almost the entire county of Buckinghamshire, and was a favourite haunt of thieves and highwaymen during the Middle Ages. Today it’s generally much more tranquil, although the outstanding beauty of the woods does tend to attract location scouts for productions such as Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, The Princess Bride and Harry Potter.
It might seem quiet from the outside, but Brede High Woods are brimming over with life. Buzzards, water voles, newts and glow-worms are just a few of the creatures that call this place home, along with lamprey eels in the streams. When walking through Brede you’re actually travelling between ten different woods, moving from conifer to broadleaved and sunken lanes to heathland. The huge variety of trees means that the autumn colour is often spectacular, with displays of gold, crimson, brown and purple well into November.
You’re guaranteed beautiful autumn colours just about anywhere in the New Forest. One of the best places is the Tall Trees Trail which traces both sides of Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, where many non-native trees were planted alongside conifer, beech, sweet chestnut and oaks trees to deck out the road leading to Rhinefield House in the 1800s. Blackwater Arboretum is at the southern end of the trail – another must-see spot for autumn.
The Chilterns are famous for their beech woodlands, and one of the best places to head is the Ashridge Estate. Whichever way you turn you’ll find bright autumn colours, but the real highlights are often in some of the less well-trodden areas of the estate where sweet chestnuts, beech, oak and lime grow in abundance. If you are lucky you may even catch glimpses of muntjac deer through the trees or see the fallow deer rutting.
The birthplace of Anne Boleyn (probably), Blickling Estate is now said to be haunted by her headless ghost. Don’t let that put you off visiting though, because the autumn colour here is truly spectacular. Follow the 4.5 mile estate walk to see all the best bits of Blickling’s ancient woodland – and keep an eye out for barn owls, often seen hunting for food across the park.
First recorded in the Domesday Book, Foxley Wood faced a long period of neglect in later life before being restored and revitalised by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust in the late 19890s. It’s now a beautiful spot brimming over with flora and fauna – but still surprisingly quiet. In autumn a weird and wonderful selection of fungi spring up underfoot, surrounded by the brightly-coloured coppices of hazel, ash, field maple, sallow and small-leaved lime.
Everdon Stubbs is a deciduous woodland covering around 100 acres. The land used to be grazing land for wild boar, through which the woods get their name; the Old English eofer-dūn meant ‘boar hill’. Despite that, the woods that grew up are still old enough to be classed as ‘ancient’. Take a wander through the winding pathways and enjoy the mixed colours of common and sessile oak, lowland birch, sweet chestnut and sycamore.
Despite the name, Harlestone Firs mostly consists of Scots Pine trees. These provide a beautiful evergreen backdrop to the woods’ other residents – birch, sycamore and sweet chestnut. The best spot for autumn colour is probably the ancient beech tree avenue, which displays rich golden colours during the autumn season. The woods are popular with horse riders and bikers, but you can usually find a peaceful corner somewhere for a walk – and only a short distance from Northampton.
The Outwoods is part of The National Forest – created about 20 years ago to show the importance of woodlands and help to regenerate the area by planting trees and creating new habitats. In autumn, the 100-acre Outwoods make the perfect environment for fungi and amazing displays of autumn colours. The whole wood is criss-crossed with footpaths and cycleways, giving you plenty to explore.
Wandering through Padley Gorge on the Longshaw Estate, it’s all too easy to imagine you’ve stumbled into some mystical fairy glen. Trees cling to the rocky slopes; their branches twisting and intertwining overhead, while below the rushing Burbage Brook tumbles its way down the gritstone gorge. In autumn the dense woodland turns to burnished red and copper, perfect for a seasonal stroll. The heathland across the rest of Longshaw also turns a beautiful rust colour in the autumn, while the Visitor Centre makes a good pit stop for a cuppa and slice of cake.
People have been visiting Aira force for over 300 years, drawn by the impressive sight of the 65ft waterfall that thunders down over the rocks. Yet there’s plenty more to discover here, from the views over Ullswater to the resident red squirrels and woodland glades that are spectacular in autumn. Arrive in style by taking a boat from Glenridding to explore the falls and woods, before strolling back through Glencoyne Park and along the lakeshore.
Take a ramble along the river at Beckmickle Ing, and you’ll be spoilt for things to look out for. The broadleaf woods are home to roe deer, great spotted woodpeckers, otters, and red squirrels – although you’ll have to walk quietly to see some of these. The oak-dominated canopy also includes ash, alder, cherry, beech and elm, while the under-storey is home to hazel, holly, hawthorn and goat willow – a great mix for autumn colour.
Moss & Height Spring is believed to be at least 350 years old, and the wide track that dissects it may have been an old coffin route used by the people of Bouth village to reach the church at Colton. Set amid the Rusland hills, the 48 acre wood is dominated by oak yew and birch, and is home to red squirrels. The whole wood conjures a sense of remoteness, but civilisation is never too far away with a pub and a seasonal tea room nearby at Bouth.
Nestled between Windermere and Coniston lakes, Grizedale Forest is a 6000 acre swathe of woodland, criss-crossed by walking and cycling trails. Grizedale is a working forest with large areas of conifer trees grown to produce timber, but there are also areas of broadleaf woodland managed for visitors and wildlife. This mixed woodland provides a great range of colour in the autumn, with the best views found from the top of Carron Crag. At 314 metres the Crag is the highest point in the forest, but well worth the climb to see the sea of orange and bronze spreading towards the distant lakes and mountains.
This peaceful woodland is at least 400 years old – dominated by beech, ash and oak trees, with a sprinkling of Scots Pine and Douglas Fir providing an evergreen backdrop. People have walked here for centuries, and there is still a good network of easy-going paths leading through the wood. Keep an eye out for roe deer and birds such as woodcock, kestrels, tawny owls and redstart.
If you’ve ever watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, you’ve already seen Aysgarth Falls from the scene where Little John and Robin fight over a river crossing. The falls are much more spectacular in person though – especially after the rains have turned the river into a rushing torrent that flows thick and fast over three sets of limestone steps. In autumn the tree-lined banks take on a russet hue, adding to the magic of this Yorkshire beauty spot. An easy walk across fields lies the next village of West Burton. The waterfall here has less bravado than the Aysgarth Falls, but is arguably even more beautiful – emerging from among the dense tree cover to cascade into the plunge pool below (good for a dip if you’re so inclined). Once back at Aysgarth, grab a cuppa from the Tourist Information Centre.
Clinging to the steep cliffs and slopes of Yorkshire’s Nidd Gorge are five broadleaved woodlands – all linked by pathways and rides. Light-footed walkers might spot roe deer, tawny owls and herons – but even those with loud clumpy boots will be able to enjoy the fiery colours filling the gorge at this time of year.
19th century Gibson Mill lies at the heart of this beautiful wooded valley –now a bit more peaceful than it used to be at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Now you can grab a cup of tea from the café – and rest easy in the knowledge that the entire Mill is self-sufficient and run on green energy. At this time of year a stroll along the river offers stunning views of the oak and beech trees turning red and gold overhead, while colourful fungi emerge underfoot.
The woods at Hackfall have long been renowned for their beauty: Turner came to paint here, along with a load of 19th-century writers seeking inspiration. Recorded in the Domesday Book, the woods were passed around several knights of the realm as a reward for supporting their Monarch, until they were eventually purchased by the Aislabie family. In the 18th century William Aislabie added follies, grottos, waterfalls, and a spectacular fountain – which are all now being restored by the Woodland Trust after they fell into disrepair. Take a wander through Hackfall and see if you can find any of them hidden beneath the colourful canopy.
Carved out of rock by the River Allen, this deep gorge is also home to the largest area of ancient semi-natural woodland in Northumberland – the perfect setting for an adventure. Sadly the picturesque plank bridge across the river was damaged in 2016 flooding, along with many of the west side paths, but there are still woodland walks aplenty on the East side that are all ablaze with colour in the autumn as the towering oak and beech trees take on gold and red tones. The River Allen attracts Goosander and Dippers to feed, and you might even catch a glimpse of a kingfisher or an Otter.
In autumn the lower slopes of Snowdon and the Nant Gwynant valley become flooded with rich oranges and reds of the oak woods. This walk will take you through tranquil wooded glades, under the fiery canopy with fungi at your feet. The route then climbs the famous Watkin Path out into green fields, dotted with the rust of bracken die-back at Cwm Llan.
There are several walking trails through the ‘Forest of Kings’, but the best one for autumn is the Waterfalls and Goldmines trail starting from Tyddyn Gwladys. From here the forest track heads north along the river Mawddach, passing relics of a gunpowder factory and the Gwynfynnydd gold mine. Intrepid adventurers can even swim in the plunge pool by the waterfalls when the river is calm enough (but maybe take a wetsuit to help with the cold).
St Mary’s Vale is dominated by oak and beech trees, but it doesn’t look quite like your average wood. While a few trees have attempted to grow straight, the vast majority abandoned that long ago and have taken on strange, twisted forms that resemble something out of a Tolkien novel. Listen out for the gentle trickle of the Nant Iago stream, before taking the steep climb up to the summit of Sugarloaf – where you’ll be rewarded with views over a sea of burnished reds, oranges and golds.
Glen Affric is probably one of Scotland͛s most scenic spots (which says a lot). The landscape includes deep lochs, high mountains and moorlands along with swathes of pine, birch and oak. Dog Falls is the first car park you’ll reach as you enter the Glen, from where the trail leads you through the golden colours to the spectacular waterfall, with its whisky-coloured water rushing down through the canyon.
Craigvinean Forest was created in the 18th century by the 3rd Duke of Atholl, and it’s easy to see why it’s been a popular place since the Victorian era. Now the mature woodland hosts a mix of beech, larch and Scots pine, and is home to some of the tallest trees in Britain. Follow the paths winding alongside the River Braan to look out for salmon leaping up river and red squirrels preparing for hibernation, or enjoy stunning views over Dunkeld and the mighty River Tay.
The Woodland Trust’s largest site, Glen Finglas lies at the heart of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Once a hideaway for whisky smugglers and cattle rustlers, today the woods are a haven for walkers of all abilities. Whether you’re after a 15 minute stroll through Drum Wood, or a long climb up the one of the mountains (Ben Ledi and Ben Vane), you’re sure to find something to suit you. And most importantly, the Brig o’ Turk Tearoom is on hand for some refreshment when you need it.