As the nights draw in and the morning dew gets heavier, I know I am not the only person to have ambivalent feelings towards Autumn. As a self-confessed SAD sufferer, I often ruin the end of the summer holidays with my dread of the long, dark crawl towards Christmas.
Bu when the sun shines is there anything like that liquid amber poured out over every single leaf? The good news is that this autumn is set to be a cracker. Experts at Forestry England are predicting a spectacular autumn, thanks to the right balance between sunlight and rain over the summer months, producing the all important sugars which are responsible for the colours in the leaves. So, if you need a fix of apple bobbing, conker polishing and some good old nature-table therapy, here are six suggestions to get you out there, luxuriating in our glorious autumn…
Osterley Park and House (National Trust), Middlesex
This Georgian estate in west London has it all; from its highly photogenic ornamental vegetable garden, which is still full of colour, to the Robert Adams landscape giving classic vistas of the house across its lakes, here there is space, colour and tranquility right on the capital’s doorstep. There is also a subsidised bike hire to get you out into the 350 acres and along its re-surfaced bike trails; all ages and stages are catered for. Oh, and they are also hosting that new (ish) Half Term distraction: a pumpkin festival!
The Savill Garden (part of Windsor Great Park)
This is a 35 acre ornamental garden, created in the 1930s as part of the wider Royal Landscape, comprising 1000 acres of lakes, gardens and parkland accessible to the public, all of which has been developed over the last 400 years! Considerable clearing and replanting has ensured that Autumn Wood glows at this time of year, thanks to its Japanese maples, acers and cherries, parrotias and stewartias, as well as its deciduous conifers. Then, move on to the Winter Beds where the fiery dogwood canes seem to be literally glowing in the low sun. As if that isn’t enough, the garden is also hosting 64 pieces to mark the 25th anniversary of the Surrey Sculpture Society, and out in the wider park, the deer are busy rutting – an autumn sight and sound that once experienced is never forgotten!
Marks Hall Gardens and Arboretum, Essex
The Marks Hall Estate is a landscape extending over 2200 acres of the Essex countryside, including farmland, woodlands, arboretum and garden. Most notable, and sporting a massive 28 foot girth, is the Honywood Oak; thought to have been around in Henry V’s time, and one of 300 oaks which records show graced the old deer park. The arboretum’s North America zone is the most colourful in autumn thanks to its acers, sumachs, liquidambars and red oaks, while outside the arboretum are 3 circular woodland walks which are both dog and bike-friendly. The Millennium Walk was designed in 1999, with a specific remit to give colour and scent during the autumn and winter months. And on a clear day, the dogwood stems and birch bark create a stunning reflection in the upper lake which does not disappoint.
Thorp Perrow Arboretum, Yorkshire
Arguably the most important arboretum in the north of England, Thorp Perrow was created in the first half of the 20th century by Sir Leonard Ropner, whose family is still in residence. The arboretum covers 100 acres and is home to 5 National Plant Collections and 51 “Champion Trees” – a term for England’s largest and rarest trees and shrubs. A walk through the arboretum’s trails and glades at this time of year is a colourful journey of discovery that takes you through the reds, golds and oranges of trees sourced in the Far East and the Americas, as well as Europe. To help you get the most from the stunning scenery there is also a programme of ticketed events which include curator-led Fungus Forays and Nature’s Bounty tours, and even Mindfulness Walks and an Autumn Colours Photography workshops… With its Birds of Prey and Mammal Centre discreetly tucked into the walled garden, this is a destination with something for everyone.
Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
No piece about autumn colour in the UK is complete without mentioning the National Arboretum that is Westonbirt. Home to 2,500 species from all corners of the globe and 5 national tree collections, including maples, this is the place for you to savour, explore and learn. Acer Glade and Maple Loop are a must for the autumn visitor and sunlight permitting, it will prove to be the site of the most sensational photographs. For those who want to go up into the canopy, there is a tree top walkway and back on the ground, seasonal trails are sign-posted to get the most spectacular route, as well as free, guided walks twice a day during weekends in September and October. Being the national arboretum, it is well set up for visitors, which it gets in huge numbers, especially during the autumn half term, so be warned!
If you are wanting something less imposing, and more low key and local, then Batsford Arboretum, also in Gloucestershire, is perhaps more to you liking.
Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Among Batsford’s illustrious occupants were the infamous Mitfords, though the huge running costs meant they sold it fairly promptly! Today, the arboretum is home to a wide range of trees, but especially those from the Far East, thanks to the fact that its founder worked there for the foreign office, and was no doubt further helped by his friendship with three successive directors of Kew Gardens! Since 2002 Batsford also holds the National Collection of flowering cherry trees and among its other substantial collections are its acers, both of which are crucial to its display of spectacular autumn colours. On a completely different note, there also happens to be the Batsford Falconry Centre, literally on its doorstep, as well as a deer park (did I mention this is the rutting season?) so given Batsford’s, and neighbours’, quirky charm, guaranteed colour and the fact it is in the heart of the Cotswolds, (on the escarpment overlooking Moreton-in-Marsh), this could well be the perfect autumn day out.