For much of the UK, November represents the height of autumn. The stag rut is in full flow, forests sing with seasonal colour and fires burn in cosy country pubs. It’s also a month of mystery; a time when strange creatures – witches, monsters and fairy folk – haunt our woodlands, coasts and hills.
We’ve come across some spectacular landscapes, wildlife highlights and rural stories while putting together the November issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine, from magical ruins and leaping salmon to the gilded woodlands of Perthshire.
So, without further a do, here are a few November highlights from the British countryside.
Autumn woods, fells and heaths reverberate to the bellows of red deer stags. Bedecked with a full set of antlers, the male deer calls out his battle cry – a disconcerting primal groan – staking a claim on a harem of females (hinds) and defying rivals to challenge him to mating rights. He will hope that this is enough to dissuade other stags from a physical confrontation.
Autumn trees and leaves
Autumn brings gold, rust and ochre colour to Castle Howard’s grounds in Yorkshire, as the lowering sun glints through beech trees. The 404-hectare estate is the jewel in the crown of the Howardian Hills AONB.
November marks the start of the salmon run up both the Derwent and Rye rivers. The weirs at Howsham, Kirkham, Nunnington and Duncombe Park offer your best chance of seeing them leap as they swim upstream to spawn (above). Otters love salmon and a good population thrives on both rivers – best seen very early in the morning.
Bats (top right) are still on the wing on warm evenings in late October. Try Ryedale Windypits, Nunnington Bridge or the old, hollow oak and chestnut trees of Castle Howard for sightings.
Autumn is the time for fungi, with mushrooms and toadstools (above right) sprouting up in woodlands, especially those with ancient trees, such as Duncombe Park. Late November sees the arrival of winter wildfowl to Castle Howard Great Lake and Newburgh Priory Lake.
A moment of golden tranquillity at one of the Lake District’s most visited sites. Tarn Hows is a small lake tucked in the hills just north of Coniston Water and is associated with Beatrix Potter, who lived nearby and walked the lake shores and surrounding hills for inspiration. Tarn Hows is also called The Tarns as it was once three separate bodies of water. There is a gentle but beautiful walk around it – it’s best to go early to avoid the crowds that are drawn here in homage to Potter.
Britain’s landscape is covered with spectacular hills, from the Cambrians in Wales and the Chilterns in southern England, to Northern Ireland’s Mournes and Scotland’s Southern Uplands.
One of the best ways to explore this bounty of ridges, knolls and uplands in on foot. There are thousands of paths to choose from – here are a few our our favourites.
Native to Scotland and introduced to several spots in northern England, mountain hares reside most commonly on upland heathland. They are a little larger than rabbits with a white winter coat that helps conceal them from predators.
Look for these hilltop dwellers in autumn, along with many more upland animals.
The Callanish Stones at sunset on the Isle of Lewis. Situated on a low ridge above the waters
of Loch Roag, the late-Neolithic standing stones were erected by prehistoric farmers between 2900 and 2600 BC.
This vantage point over long and narrow Loch Tummel in Perthshire was said to have been Queen Victoria’s favourite view on her route to Balmoral. But today’s vista is not what the Queen would have seen; the construction of Clunie Dam at the eastern end of the loch in the 1950s raised the water level by 4.5 metres.
Vast numbers of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges are released into the countryside each year by the shooting industry. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) puts the figure at between 41 and 50 million birds. Of these, around 15 million are believed to be shot; a similar number are killed on roads. The rest enter the food chain, eating reptiles, insects, grain and shoots or being eaten themselves by foxes, corvids and buzzards. The majority don’t survive more than 12 months. There is increasing concern among conservationists that the release of such large numbers of non-native game birds into the ecosystem each year negatively impacts native British species and the local environment.
Forests are the lifeblood of the planet, providing habitats for myriad animals across the UK as well as helping to maintain the balance of the air around us.
Ancient woods make demands on us: walk slower, be quieter, be still, listen to the age-old wisdom of trees. Age matters in nature, it fosters continuity. Continuity matters in nature, it fosters stable ecosystems. Stable ecosystems matter in nature, they maximise opportunities.
Explore some of the UK’s most spectacular trees and woodlands, from wildlife-rich Kielder Forest in Northumberland to the giant pine trees of Scotland with our guide to the best forests and woodlands in the UK.
In Britain we have become so used to ancient forts in our back gardens that we forget about the sheer variety on offer. White towers, fairy-tale mansions, mountain fortresses and haunted spires – the stuff of fantasy books is only a short drive from anywhere in the UK.
One great example is the broken hilltop tower and walls of Corfe Castle, a ruin loaded with stories.
Perched high on a rocky peninsula, with sheer cliffs rising up from the crashing North Sea on all its sides but one, Dunnottar is perhaps the most dramatically located castle in the entire British Isles. A small wooden church – one of the first Christian buildings in all of Pictland – was built at Dunnottar during the 5th century AD by the missionary St Ninan. By the 9th century, King Donald II ruled here from a small fort, until Vikings killed him and razed the buildings to the ground.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a still from The Lord of the Rings film set: the Wallace Monument rising in low autumn light from the volcanic outcrop of Abbey Craig just north of Stirling. Built in the 1860s in Victorian Gothic style, it commemorates William Wallace’s victory over the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297. From Abbey Craig, Wallace was able to watch his enemies slowly cross the bridge, and so was able to time his attack when “as many of the enemy had come over as they believed [they] could overcome”. Some 5,000 English troops were trapped and slaughtered.
The Mourne Mountains are deeply ethereal, where cloud shifts and pulses around fractured peaks and light paints patterns in the sky. One display sometimes seen is the Brocken spectre, the enlarged shadow of an object or person cast upon cloud within a spectrum of light, one of many spectacular autumn spectacles to be seen in Britain.
There are more than 40 accessible caves in Devon, including Kents Cavern in Torquay. Drop deep beneath the town into the Labyrinth and the Bears Den, and walk among 400-million-year-old rocks decked with spectacular stalagmites and stalactites.