Best places in Britain to see autumn colours

As the temperature falls, enjoy the warmth of the autumn colours with our guide to Britain's spectacular woodlands, arboretums and waterways.  

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Our pick of the best places to see the autumn glow with tips from the Canal and River Trust and National Trust.

England

From the south coast to North Yorkshire, England is ablaze with magnificent colours of seasonal splendour.

Wildlife walk: Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

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Wicken Fen, a tranquil setting at sunrise and sunset ©National Trust Images, Justin Minns

The mosaic landscape of reed bed, grassland and open water at Wicken Fen means the diversity in which autumn colour presents itself at this reserve is intriguing . In September the sedge turns russet, which becomes golden in the evenings as the setting sun shines through the leaves. This time of year is also ideal to spot some of the resident wildlife with Orb-weaver spiders spinning their delicate webs and bright blue flashes of Kingfishers diving into the waterways. Visitors may also hire bikes instead and take a long cycle around the fen, making the most of the autumn sun.

King Alfred’s Tower walk: Stourhead, Wiltshire

This is one of the most celebrated sites for autumn colour. A 5 mile walk takes you up through beautiful mixed woodlands to King Alfred’s Tower, a 160ft tall folly designed for Stourhead’s owner Henry Hoare II in 1772. On a crisp, sunny autumn day you’ll be able to catch the sunlight gleaming through the trees, making the autumn foliage even more fiery. As you return, don’t forget to take a detour through the famous landscape garden to see deep hues of red, russet and yellow reflected in the lake. After, enjoy a warming drink at the Gothic Cottage nestled among the trees.

Autumn colour walk: Croome, Worcestershire

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Autumnal reflections in the water at Croome Court ©Getty

Croome has plenty to explore during the autumn months. Take a stroll along the lakeside and you’ll be rewarded with a rich swathe of colour, from the bright orange horse chestnut leaves dipping into the water, to the berry-red rose hips and golden birch trees. Listen to the rustle of leaves under foot and set on a mission to find shiny conkers. This is the perfect time of year to slow down.

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Cardinham Woods, Cornwall

Cardinham is a beautiful mixed woodland. Stroll aside the riverbanks and enjoy the sight of the oak, alder, rowan and willow trees in strong surges of reds, oranges and delicate golds. For families this Autumn you can enjoy The Forest Commission’s Gruffalo trail, whilst those seeking a more active visit can set off on the 12km Bodmin Beast cycling trail.

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire

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Tintern Abbey set against a contrasting backdrop of rich burgundies and soft oranges ©Getty

Travellers have been flocking to this riverbank in the Wye Valley for hundreds of years to admire the grace and beauty of the ruin of the 12th-century Tintern Abbey. The surrounding wooded slopes are particularly lovely in autumn, while close up, the ancient woodland, with gnarled trees and moss-covered boulders, looks like the setting for a Grimm fairytale. You can enjoy sensational views of the seasonal colour by climbing to a limestone outcrop high above the river.

Westonbirt National Arboretum, Gloucestershire

​Revel in the colourful autumn glow at Westonbirt National Arboretum, Gloucestershire/Credit: Getty

Home to more than 16,000 types of trees and shrubs over 600 acres of woodland, Westonbirt is a great place for a leisurely meander. Take in autumn’s natural firework display as the arboretum’s acers (Japanese maples) become ablaze with reds, oranges and yellows, while its delicate Chinese spindle treen turns a vibrate pretty pink.

Dove Crag in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland National Park

This autumn, take a walk through the beautiful oak woodland from Holystone to Dove Crag. Weave through the forest, rising to heather moorland scattered with stunning juniper and birch trees, which glow red and yellow against the heather. On a clear day you can see as far as the Northumberland coast.

Bodenham Arboretum, Worcestershire

This tranquil arboretum holds more than 3,000 species of trees from across the world. At its centre is a large pool with many rare and ornamental trees adorning its banks. Autumn brings a riot of leaf colour ranging from deep butter yellow through to orange, reds and crimsons as well as an abundance of berries. The many varieties of acer are particularly vivid.

Thorp Perrow Arboretum, North Yorkshire

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Thorp Perrow, a dramatic scene at Autumn time ©Getty

Thorp Perrow holds no less than five National Plant Collections – of ash, walnut, lime, laburnum and cotinus (which has leaves the colour of red wine in autumn). The arboretum also holds 51 Champion Trees (this national scheme records details of exceptionally large, historic, rare and remarkable trees growing in Britain and Ireland). This collection of exotics results in a stunning seasonal leaf display of golds, oranges, reds, browns and purples.

Knightwood Oak Trail, New Forest

This stunning woodland offers up colours of red, orange and yellow in the autumn months, which look stunning against the backdrop of open heath and moorland. Hunt for the Queen of the Forest, the largest oak to grace the woodland with a girth of 7.4m (24ft), or visit the New Forest’s deer sanctuary at Bolderwood.

Arley Arboretum, Worcestershire

Arley is one of the oldest arboretums in Britain. Among its 300 species of trees is an old tower covered in creepers, which turn magnificent colours of red, yellow, orange and pink. There are few displays more stunning than acers (Japanese maples) in autumn, and Arley boasts a fine collection. They make beautiful focal points in the arboretum’s autumn display.

Pocklington Canal, Yorkshire

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Arching branches and autumnal reflections make Pocklington Canal a favourite for weekend strolls in Autumn ©Getty

Pocklington Canal is one of the country’s best canals for nature and virtually the whole length falls within one of three Sites of Special Scientific Interest. It runs from Canal Head near Pocklington to the River Derwent in East Cottingwith. Its over-hanging trees give way to colourful woodland pockets and hedgerows. As you travel along its length you’ll be able to hear wildfowl on the nearby nature reserve and spot late autumn dragonflies from the towpath as you admire the changing leaves.

Grizedale Forest, Lake District

Grizedale Forest consists of ten square miles of natural woodland in the Lake District near Coniston Water. It is famous for the many sculptures by internationally renowned artists, using natural materials such as stone and wood, made in response to the forest landscape. These can be discovered on an extensive network of walking and cycling trials, offering spectacular trips deep into the forest as it turns deep shades of red and gold in autumn.

Kennet & Avon Canal, Wiltshire

The Avoncliff Aqueduct is a stately spot to view the beautiful autumn colours of the Bath Valley. There’s a handy, but tiny and picturesque, railway station at Avoncliff and a riverside pub, The Cross Guns The woodland here is a rich variety and includes oak, ash, sycamore, hazel and hawthorn. There are great views from the top of the 100m long Bath stone aqueduct taking the canal over the river. It’s a great spot to see bats flying at dusk to and from the tall arches of the aqueduct and wandering deer feeding on hedgerow leaves and berries.

Grand Union Canal, Hertfordshire

Veteran trees provide bright patches of colour along the Grand Union Canal as it passes through formal pleasure garden at Cassiobury Park, Watford. The canal follows the River Gade along the western side of the park separating it from the ancient woodland of Whippendell Woods. Its oak, beech, silver birch and ash, with areas of hazel, hornbeam, holly, hawthorn and wild cherry, create a superb display of autumn colour.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal, North Yorkshire

As the mill towns drift into countryside follow the Leeds & Liverpool Canal as it snakes from Bingley towards Skipton. At Farnhill there’s a sheer wooded cutting that provides an impressive ravine to journey through. With the North Yorkshire moors in the distance, each side of this tiny wooded valley and Farnhill Wood provide displays of beech, oak, silver birch, sycamore interspersed with some evergreen holly bushes.

Trent & Mersey Canal, Staffordshire

Fradley Junction is the meeting place of the Trent & Mersey with the Coventry Canal. Fradley Pool Nature Reserve is surrounded by native trees and offers a circular walk or a wooded canal side walk. Tree sculptures are dotted among the falling leaves and there are pond dipping platforms. The Junction is home to a number of listed buildings including the Swan Inn, cottages, bridge locks and a small warehouse with original wharf buildings – now an information centre and café.

River Trent, Nottingham

Enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the beautiful rural location of Stoke Lock and Woods. Planted by returning sailors and soldiers after the First World War, the trees were used to protect barges from the wind; now it is an excellent site for walkers and nature lovers. Stoke Woods, a combination of ash, hazel, beech and grey poplar, is full of wildlife.

Glenariff Forest, County Down

Delight in the seasonal fireworks of ash, oak, beech and hazel that light up this wooded glen – and discover dramatic falls and pools. Glenariff Forest Park is set in Glenariff Glen, considered to be the most stunning of all nine of the Antrim glens. Its 1,185 hectares include two beautiful rivers, the Glenariff and Inver and a couple of truly impressive waterfalls amid the trees.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland presents not only the turning of colour in stunning native foliage displays, but also walkers can witness the visual response exotic trees and shrubs from 3 different continents make at this time of year.

Castlewellan Arboretum, Northern Ireland

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Castlewellan Forest Park is an enchanting environment at Autumn time ©Getty

In a breathtaking setting of mountains and sea, Castlewellan offers the chance to catch vivid glows of international colour from trees and shrubs as far afield as Japan, Chile, Australia and China. A red squirrel, pine marten or otter may even be exploring amongst the vibrant scene. Visitors wishing to enjoy the environment more actively may enjoy the walking and mountain bike trails on offer.

Red Trail: Mount Stewart, County Down

Voted one of the top ten gardens in the world, Mount Stewart was designed by Lady Londonderry to be full of colour. Everywhere you’ll find flares of red and gold foliage, whether you’re taking a short stroll around the gardens or exploring the wider demesne. The Red trail is the estate’s main circular walk which loops its way through fields and woodlands, both flanked by rich colours the entire way round. Be mesmerised by beautiful seasonal views over Strangford Lough.

Lime Tree walk: The Argory, County Armagh

In summer the Argory’s lime tree walk is lush and green, but as the year winds down the avenue begins to turn, and soon you’ll find yourself strolling underneath arches of golden leaves. For the more adventurous, why not explore further through the riverside woodlands? Keep a watchful eye for some blackberries to eat or fallen conkers to collect.

Glenariff Forest, County Down

Delight in the seasonal fireworks of ash, oak, beech and hazel that light up this wooded glen – and discover dramatic falls and pools. Glenariff Forest Park is set in Glenariff Glen, considered to be the most stunning of all nine of the Antrim glens. Its 1,185 hectares include two beautiful rivers, the Glenariff and Inver and a couple of truly impressive waterfalls amid the trees.

Scotland

A treasure trove of natural colours have been spilled across Scotland’s woodlands, mountains and valleys. The historic landscape provides some of the finest sites for pocketing some autumnal gold.

Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire

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Turning colours at The Birks of Aberfeldy ©Getty

The Scottish Highlands and more specifically the Birks of Aberfeldy in Perthshire is aflame in autumnal shades. The colours of an artist’s palette for their perfect autumn scene prevails closely with a walker’s actual view here in Perthshire. The Birks of Aberfeldy, a woodland split in two by the soaring gorge of Moness Burn is a hotspot for autumn delights this season and conveniently is located near the vibrant town of Aberfeldy itself.

Craigvinean Forest walk, Perthshire

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Sunlight peering through the spectrum of autumnal colours on display at Craigvinean Forest, Perthshire ©Getty

If it’s Scotland’s characteristic wildlife you’re destine for this season, then Craigvinean Forest, also in Perthshire, offers the opportunity to spot fantastic autumn fauna and flora native to the country. Trailing through one of Scotland’s oldest managed plantations, you’ll enjoy a riverside walk with some of Scotland’s tallest trees that tower next to the waters home to spawning salmon and red squirrels. The location’s moss-encrusted stone bridge which spans across deep pools of swirling black water is a tranquil, yet bold image to take in amongst the outpouring of golds and reds that this 18th century forest provides.

Wales

Spillages of pastel colours are widespread across Wales. During this season, the canal walks in both the north and south of the country are particularly captivating.

Llangollen Canal walk: Denbighshire

Starting at the Horseshoe Falls above the quaint village of Llangollen itself, follow the Llangollen Canal through to Chirk. Gaze across to the dramatic arches of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which provide a picture perfect frame for the eyes. As you wander along the vale of Llangollen, the valley will be cast in a crisp orange and yellow hue of Wales’ autumn trees and shrubs.

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Llangollen Canal, Llangollen, Denbighshire, North Wales ©Canal & River Trust

Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, Brecon, Wales

This canal is the most popular attraction in the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park, being one of the Canal & River Trust’s most tranquil waterways. The navigable section of the canal runs for 35 miles from Brecon to the Pontymoile basin. However, arguably the gem of this walk is the wooded landscape of beech trees which provide a mesmerising golden backdrop to the huge views of the Usk Valley.

Stackpole, Pembrokeshire

Experience Autumn’s fireworks by the sea. A grand private estate now fully open to explore by the public, Stackpole provides access to some of the UK’s most beautiful stretches of coastline. Discover the clear water and sandy dunes of Barafundle Bay, take a bracing stroll along the wind-swept clifftops, or meander your way among the woods at the edge of the Bosherston Lily Ponds. Branches will be erupting with bright autumn foliage and if you’re really lucky you might even spot an otter.

Sugar Loaf circuit: St Mary’s Vale, Monmouthshire

St Mary’s Vale is not your average wood and in the lead up to the Halloween season, this circuit is ideal for an eery autumnal walk. Few trees have attempted to grow straight with the vast majority abandoned long ago. Towering trunks 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 flooding sea of burnished reds, oranges and golds.

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Main Image ©Canal & RiverTrust