Britain's best autumn walks: 21 routes through colourful woodlands

At this time of year, there’s a palette of seasonal colours waiting to be enjoyed across breathtaking landscapes. Discover woodlands of golden leaves, glistening blue lakes and, if you're lucky, some red squirrels along the way. The National Trust suggests some of its most colourful walks to inspire you this autumn.

19th September 2017
Brownsea Ferns ©National Trust Images Chris Lacey

At this time of year, there’s a palette of colours waiting to be discovered across breath-taking landscapes. Discover woodlands of golden leaves, glistening blue lakes, green flora and if you're lucky some red squirrels along the way.

Here are 21 great routes offering views of colourful woodlands

1. Stourhead, Wiltshire

The 5 mile walk King Alfred’s Tower walk (5.5 miles/8.8 km, 2 hours) takes you up through beautiful woodland to King Alfred’s Tower, a 160ft high folly designed for Stourhead’s owner Henry Hoare II in 1772. There are truly spectacular views from the top, with the deep autumnal hues of red, russet and yellow from surrounding forest. It is not open to visitors every day so try to time your visit for when it is accessible

2. Castle Drogo, Devon

The Teign Gorge Walk (3.5 miles/5.6 km, 2.5 hours) is perhaps the most famous walk on Dartmoor. From the imposing bulk of Castle Drogo the route takes you through areas rich in history, with incredible views and abundant wildlife. Built in the 13th century as part of a packhorse trail, Fingle Bridge is a popular focal point for budding photographers, while kids will love using it to play Pooh sticks in the river Teign. The return journey follows the river’s path through dense oak woodland, where the foliage turns vibrant shades of yellow and orange. If you look up you might just catch a glimpse of the castle above the trees.

3. Kingston Lacy, Dorset

The Beech Avenue and Droves Walk (3.8 miles/6.1 km, 1.5 hours) takes you round the beautiful network of droves, along the stunning 1835 Beech Avenue and back along the outskirts of the Kingston Lacy parkland. The Avenue began life in 1835 when William John Bankes planted 731 trees along the side of the road. The tree canopy now forms a beautiful tunnel of russet colour during the autumn months. The National Trust is working to conserve this stunning visual landmark by replacing lost beeches with hornbeam trees, which also provide beautiful autumn colour, but are more suited to the British climate.

4. Brownsea Island, Dorset

Brownsea Ferns, Dorset
Brownsea Ferns ©National Trust Images Chris Lacey

On Brownsea’s easy Lake and Heath Walk (1 mile/1.6 km, 40 mins) there are a whole range of bright hues to enjoy, from sweet chestnuts and beeches to hazel trees and scarlet oaks from North America. Even the local wildlife adds to the vibrant atmosphere, with migrant redstarts and the local population of red squirrels as the stars of the show. This easy walk will take you round the island to enjoy all the delights of the season, with sweeping coastal views thrown in for good measure. Combine your visit with a Poole Harbour Boat Cruise for one of the one of the best autumn and winter bird spectacles in the UK.

5. Heddon Valley, North Devon

Heddon Valley/National Trust images, David Norton
Heddon Valley/National Trust images, David Norton

Nestled on the West Exmoor coast, Heddon Valley was a favourite with the Romantic poets. In autumn the Heddon Valley to Woody Bay Walk (6 miles/9.6km, 3 hours) is full of vibrant yellow gorse, which scents the air with the smell of coconuts all the way down to the sea at Heddon’s Mouth. There are also plenty of walking routes higher up, including an historic 19th-century carriageway and part of the South West Coast Path, which run across some of England’s most dramatic coastal cliffs. Those prepared to brave the challenging terrain will be rewarded with stunning coastal views across the Bristol Channel to Wales.

6. Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey

Winkworth Arboreum ©National Trust Images John Miller
Winkworth Arboreum ©National Trust Images John Miller

During the autumn months Winkworth comes to life with rich, blazing colour from the Japanese, American and Norwegian maples. The Winkworth to Oakhurst walk (2.5 miles/4km, 1.5 hours) weaves its way through the woodland to the top of Hydon's Ball, where you can enjoy spectacular views across the Surrey landscape. From here the route carries on to the charming village of Hambledon where you will discover Oakhurst Cottage, a delightful 16th-century labourer's home which has remained largely unchanged for the past hundred years or more.

7. Emmetts Garden, Kent

Weardale Walk (5 miles/8 km, 3 hours) is a beautiful circular walk links Emmetts Garden and Chartwell (formerly home to Winston Churchill), passing through the woodland areas of Toys Hill and Hosey Common.  Emmetts garden has a beautiful display of autumn colour due to its variety of exotic trees and shrubs, all surrounded by acres of wild native woodland. Keep an eye out for the acers and katsura trees (sometimes called the candyfloss tree, the latter takes on kaleidoscopic colours in a good autumn, from creamy yellow to pink and oranges, and fills the air with a sweet toffee scent).

8. Devil’s Dyke, West Sussex

Devil's Dyke Sussex©National Trust Images John Miller
Devil's Dyke Sussex©National Trust Images John Miller

The Devil’s Dyke is full of stunning vistas, including a panorama which the Romantic painter John Constable described as 'the grandest view in the world'. The Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Walk (1.5 miles/2.4 km, 1.5 hours) offers plenty to see in this downland landscape, from a working farm nestled among rolling hills to the remains of Iron Age ramparts and old chalk pits. A colourful habitat all year round, in September the hill-barrows at Newtimber become even more vibrant when the flowering devil’s bit scabious transforms the hillside into a haze of purple: the autumn equivalent of bluebells in a wood.

9. Ashridge, Hertfordshire

Ashridge estate woods ©National Trust Images Michael Caldwell
Ashridge estate woods/©National Trust Images, Michael Caldwell

The Autumn Colour Trail (5.9 miles/9.4km, 3 hours) at Ashridge leads you through some of the most spectacular woodland and parkland at Ashridge. Every corner you turn or hill you climb will give you more breath-taking views of autumnal colour. The final stretch of the trail offers a stunning palette of colours provided by the beech, oak and lime trees, and if you have the time to climb the monument, the views are dazzling. Lucky wildlife spotters may catch a glimpse of the resident Muntjacs or fallow deer herds through the trees. In autumn the fallow deer are particularly active as the bucks are busy trying to attract during the rut.

10. Blickling Hall, Norfolk

The Blickling Estate Walk (4.5 miles/7.2km, 2 hours) passes through or beside several sections of woodland, providing ample opportunity to enjoy the autumn colour. The Great Wood is a particularly good spot to pause and take in your surroundings. The wood’s mix of English oaks, groves of beech and ancient sweet chestnuts, and small-leaved limes all combine to form a sea of vibrant russet hues. If you’re in need of refreshment after your walk then Blickling Hall has a café, or you can head to the National Trust-owned traditional former coaching inn – the Buckinghamshire Arms http://www.bucksarms.co.uk

11. Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire

Wicken Fen ©National Trust Images Justin Minns
Wicken Fen ©National Trust Images Justin Minns

Wicken Fen may not have any woodland, but it’s still possible to see stunning autumn colour on a walk around the reserve, on the Wicken Fen Boardwalk Trail (0.7 miles/1.1 km, 50 mins) In September the sedge turns an amazing russet colour, which becomes golden in the evenings as the setting sun illuminates the leaves. During the Second World War Dig for Victory campaign, the war office turned the fen into arable land. Restoration of the area is now being carried out by the National Trust for the plants and wildlife that have made a home here.

12. Attingham Park, Shropshire - Autumn Light Walk

Attingham/Credit Sean Hattersley
Attingham/Credit Sean Hattersley

Explore the changing colours of the deer park with a walk taking in views over the open landscape to the river, and of the orange-gold trees that mark the start of the woodland. On the Autumn Light Walk (2 miles/3.2km, 1.5 hours) kids will love crunching leaves underfoot or trying to catch them as they fall from the trees. Keen-eyed adventurers might also be able to spot some of the resident fallow deer herd camouflaged among the brown bracken and ferns.

13. Belton House, Lincolnshire

Belton Credit: Rika Gordan
Belton Credit: Rika Gordan

Autumn reds, yellows and golden browns can be found all over Belton, from the adventure playground and parkland to the tranquil views overlooking the boating lakes. The magical misty mornings and crisp, clear days of autumn are an ideal time to enjoy the wonderful succession of changing colours. As you explore the estate on Belton Park Walk (3.2 miles/5.1km, 1.5 hours) you can rustle your way through fallen leaves and enjoy the gorgeous golds and yellows of the lime trees along the cobbled drive. Closer to the house, rich ruby and russet creepers clad the honey-coloured walls of the West Courtyard, where the sharp but sweet aroma of ripening quinces lingers on the air.

14. Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire

Lying just west of Halifax, the valleys of Hardcastle Crags offer more than 400 acres of peaceful countryside to explore, with scenic views of deep ravines and tumbling streams. Try the Railway Trail (3 miles/4.8 km, 2 hours). There are stunning views along the route, but take care as even in dry weather it can be wet, muddy and slippery underfoot. Down in the woodland, the oak, beech and pine trees provide vibrant bursts of autumn colour. Stepping stones and picturesque footbridges arching over the river provide great focal point for that perfect autumn photograph.

15. Gibside, Tyne and Wear 

Buzzing with wildlife, Gibside is home to red kites, roe deer and many other rare animals. During the autumn months you can see the colours changing on the trees below as you rise out of the Derwent Valley on the challenging circular Valley Views (Skyline) Trail (4.4 miles/7 km, 2-4 hours). With plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy panoramic views, this is a great chance to get out and about on a crisp autumn day.  If you need somewhere to warm your toes afterwards then pay a visit to the National Trust’s Gibside Pub open on Friday and Saturday evenings – it’s the perfect place to relax with local ales or tuck in to delicious fresh pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven.

16. Nostell, West Yorkshire

Nostell’s Menagerie House and Garden were created in 1743 by Robert Adam to house exotic species, from monkeys and colourful birds to lions. While the animals are no longer here, in autumn you can still marvel at the garden’s vibrant flame-coloured acers. On the Autumn Menagerie Garden Walk (1.4 miles/2.2 km, 45 mins) you’ll find mesmerising viewpoints over the lakes, with gold, red and orange hues reflected in the water. This route uses all-weather paths which are suitable for wheels, offering a fully accessible route for bikes, wheelchairs and buggies.

17. Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Dunham Massey ©National Trust Images Paul Harris
Dunham Massey ©National Trust Images Paul Harris

Dunham Massey is home to some of England’s finest veteran trees, and autumn is the time to take in the long avenues of ancient copper beech trees as they turn into pathways of golds, reds and yellows.  On the Dunham Massey Ancient Trees Walk (2.5 miles/4km, 1.5 hours) look out for groups of fallow deer gathering for the rut in one of nature’s greatest annual spectacles.

18. Nant Gwynant, Gwynedd

Nant Gwynant ©National Trust Images Graham Eaton
Nant Gwynant ©National Trust Images Graham Eaton

Step out this autumn and explore the lower slopes of Snowdon and Nant Gwynant valley, where you'll discover a landscape steeped in history and rich autumnal colours. The Autumn Colour Walk (3.8 miles/6km, 2-3 hours) will take you through wooded glades in a tranquil valley, passing the orange canopy of oak leaves above while a variety of fungi grow below. The route then ascends the famous Watkin Path out into the open fields of fading green, dotted with the rust of bracken die-back at Cwm Llan. From here you can explore the intriguing ruins of Cwm Llan House before heading towards Craflwyn, watching out for feral goats as they start to descend the hills and seek shelter in the wooded glades.

19. Dinas Island, Pembrokeshire

Dinas Head ©National Trust Images Joe Cornish
Dinas Head ©National Trust Images Joe Cornish

The Dinas Island Spectacular Walk (3 miles/4.8km, 2 hours) boasts some of the finest views anywhere on the Pembrokeshire coast. In early autumn the coastal slopes are cloaked with the yellows and browns of fading bracken, while on the headland the pinks and purples of common heather are just coming in to bloom, alongside the yellow gorse flowers.

20. Castle Ward, County Down - Castle Trail

The Castle Ward Castle Trail (1.8-miles/2.9km, 1.5 hours) is just one of the walks that wind through atmospheric woodland, parkland and gardens, with impressive views over Strangford Lough and the surrounding countryside. You’ll also wander through a series of colourful woodlands, from evergreen conifers to russet beech and golden larch. The quirky 18th-century house adds to the charm to the walk, while the old farmyard gives fans of ‘Game of Thrones’ the chance to experience life at Winterfell in the courtyard that was used for filming.

21. Linn of Tummel, Perthshire

A stunning riverside walk in the heart of Big Tree Country. Keep an eye out for glimpses of red squirrels, otters, kingfishers or even a pine marten. Linn of Tummel is where the rivers Garry and Tummel meet – linne is Gaelic for ‘deep pool’. The slow, calm Garry and the crashing, fast-flowing Tummel feed into Loch Faskally, surrounded by woodland. The property exemplifies the much-lauded Highland Perthshire landscape, magnificent in autumn.  There is a good network of paths in and around Linn of Tummel, including the Trust’s circular walk (3 miles/4.8km, 2 hours) www.nts.org.uk/Visit/Linn-Of-Tummel

 

Main image: Brownsea Ferns ©National Trust Images Chris Lacey

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