Best of the British countryside in November

From golden woodlands and crashing waterfalls to incredible wildlife spectacles, we've come across some amazing seasonal highlights while putting together our November issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine – here are a few of the best

Mushrooms reflected in water
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Published: November 1st, 2021 at 2:51 pm
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For much of the UK, November represents the height of autumn. The stag rut is in full flow, forests sing with seasonal colour, rivers flow with vigour 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.

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We’ve come across some spectacular landscapes, wildlife highlights and rural stories while putting together our November issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine, from magical ruins and leaping salmon to the gilded woodlands of Perthshire. 

So, without further ado, here are a few November highlights from the British countryside.

Salmon and trout falls

Waterfalls and old flour mill on river
The waterwheel on Cenarth’s old flour mill drove two pairs of millstones – one for barley, the other for oats./Credit: Mark Llewellyn/Alamy. Alamy

After a deluge of heavy autumn rain, nothing prepares you for Afon Teifi’s roar as it crashes over Cenarth Falls. Such is its force through this narrow, wooded gorge, you can feel the vibrations through your boots as the river punches its way through. Yet on another autumn day, fallen golden leaves dance gracefully on the river’s tranquil surface as they glide daintily through the cascades. Afon Teifi is a creature of contrasts. 

Yet, despite its force, there are animals prepared to battle the Teifi’s might, giving rise to one of the world’s greatest natural phenomena – thousands of salmon and sea trout hurling themselves into the air, leaping Cenarth Falls as they head upstream to spawn. The average Teifi salmon weighs four kilos, although nine-kilo salmon are not uncommon. Seeing these shimmering, muscular fish negotiate the falls is a truly thrilling sight.


Quay to the river

River and autumn trees
Greenway Quay on the easter bank of the River Dart in Devon./Credit: Carolyn Eaton/Alamy. Alamy

For a small river, the Dart makes a big impression. Rising from the blanket bogs of Dartmoor, it slips under clapper bridges, rushes through the Dart Gorge, becomes tidal at Totnes, and then flows elegantly past three castles to the sea at Dartmouth.

The peaceful wooded banks between Kingswear and Greenway really come into their own at this time of year. The 12.4-mile Dart Valley Trail is a linear walk that joins Totnes and Dartmouth, but that is a long trek on an autumn day. Try a shorter circular walk that includes ferry crossings at Dartmouth and Dittisham and offers outstanding views.


Flow of the mountains

River in countryside
View along the River Avon, near Tomintoul, Moray, Scotland./Credit: David Robertson/Alamy. Alamy

Silver birch and mountain ash combine on the banks of the effervescent River Avon, which carves and curves its way through some of the least-visited mountains in the Cairngorms.

The valley through which the Avon flows has grandeur and a wonderful sense of space – fit for a queen. Queen Victoria, wrapped in her tartan shawl, used to gaze across the uplifting landscape over her royal estate from a spot now known as the Queen’s View.


Toadstool heaven

Mushrooms reflected in water
Fly agaric mushrooms./Credit: Mike Hudson/Getty Images. Getty
Of fairy-tale fame, the poisonous fly agaric grows in woodland among birch, pine and spruce. It was traditionally used as an insecticide, to attract and kill flies, which is how it got its name.

Mountain hares

Two white mountain hares box on snow covered slope
Mountain hares boxing in the snow-covered Cairngorms mountains./Credit: Christophe Ruisz

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.


Leaping salmon

Leaping fish
Migrating salmon (Salmo salar) leap upstream to return to their breeding grounds before they die. UK./Credit: Wayne Hutchinson/Alamy. Alamy

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 are still on the wing on warm evenings in late October/early November. 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 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.


Autumn lakes

Autumn lake
A view across Tarn Hows in the English Lake District in autumn, with the sky reflected in the tarn. /Credit: Rory McDonald/Getty Images.

A moment of golden tranquility 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.


Autumn hills

Sunbeams down onto mossy mountains
Part of the Cambrian Mountain range at Llyn Brianne, a man made reservoir in Mid Wales, UK. /Credit: Lieghcol/iStock/Gerry Images Plus

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.


Fabulous pheasants

Male cock pheasant
Male cock pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) in full breeding plumage. /Credit: Wild Dales Photography - Simon Phillpotts / Alamy Stock Photo

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.


Autumn woods

Dering woods, Egerton, Kent
Aerial view of mist over Dering woods, Egerton, Kent. /Credit: Flyby Photography/Alamy Stock Photo

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.


Coastal castles

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire
Dunnottar Castle on an Aberdeenshire headland. /Credit: 2630ben/Getty

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.


Autumn monuments

Stirling, Scotland
The Wallace Monument, Scotland. /Credit:Drew Buckley

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.


Deer ruts

Deer in autumn
A large red deer stag one early misty morning. /Credit: MarkBridger/Getty
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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.

Authors

Daniel Graham of COuntryfile magazine on a hike with wet hair and blue coat and hills in background
Daniel GrahamSection editor, BBC Countryfile Magazine

Danny is the Section Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, responsible for commissioning, editing and writing articles that offer ideas and inspiration for exploring the UK countryside.

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