Warm oranges, fiery reds and uplifting yellows. Autumn is king of colour – and 2020 is set to be even more vibrant than most.
This year’s warm summer will lead to a “spectacular” autumn season, according to the National Trust, because the sunny weather will have increased the sugar content of the leaves. This results in a variety of colours, from reds and oranges to browns and golds, as the green chlorophyll breaks down in the autumn.
“Autumn in the northern hemisphere is one of the natural world’s great spectacles,” says Simon Toomer, plant specialist at the National Trust. “It starts in the far northern deciduous forests and progresses southwards to the warm temperate regions over about a 10-week period. Our northern gardens and woodlands are therefore a week or two ahead of the most southerly.”
Want to make the most of the sights? Below you’ll find 23 places recommended by National Trust and National Trust For Scotland.
While all of the gardens and parks listed are open at the time of publishing, this is subject to change due to the pandemic. Some sites also request that visitors book in advance to help manage numbers and enable social distancing, so do check each individual website before traveling.
East of England
Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk
Take a stroll down the beech-lined ‘Victory V’ avenues, where the towering branches create tunnels of colour over your head. It’s worth making a detour down the ‘Lion’s Mouth’ as well, where the narrow winding lane flanked by trees really does feel like it’s entering the jaws of a fire-coloured lion.
If you’re a bit short on time then the easy two-mile Albana walk will offer you plenty to see at Ickworth, with maples, chestnut, beech and oak trees ranging from bright yellow to deep red at this time of year. Alternatively head off the beaten track, where remote areas provide likely spots for deer sightings.
Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
Wicken Fen’s stunning autumn colours can be seen on a walk around the reserve’s mosaic landscape of reed bed, grassland and open water. This is also the best time of year to spot some of the resident wildlife, from Orb-weaver spiders spinning their delicate webs to the bright blue flash of Kingfishers diving into the waterways.
Longshaw, Peak District
Take a colourful stroll among ancient oaks in Padley Woods, meander along historic packhorse routes lines with heather and gorse, or head up onto the rugged moors for spectacular views over the Hope Valley. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of majestic red deer in the distance.
Carding Mill Valley, Shropshire
From heath-covered hills to the valley stream, there’s plenty of autumnal colour to enjoy at Carding Mill Valley. If you’re lucky (and get up early enough) you might even be rewarded by an autumnal cloud inversion, where the valley fills with a sea of fog at your feet.
Clent Hills, Worcestershire
Sitting only eight miles outside Birmingham, the Clent Hills are the perfect place to blow away the cobwebs with a ramble. Autumn is well known as the season of fruitfulness, and the Clent Hills are a forager’s dream with blackberry and bilberry bushes among other tasty treats. Just remember to leave some for the wildlife – and don’t pick anything that you can’t confidently identify.
Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, Yorkshire
The World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey and the Georgian water garden Studley Royal make an impressive sight, especially when they’re surrounded by bright reds, oranges and golds from the autumnal foliage. This route will take you through the medieval deer park with its panoramic views, through the sprawling water garden and up the riverside with wide autumnal views of the abbey to finish.
Quarry Bank, Cheshire
Explore the outdoors on the Southern Woods walk, which takes you along the meandering River Bollin and through the woodland which was once the pleasure grounds of the mill owners. Crunch through leaves along rugged paths, and enjoy the sights of the season.
Aira Force and Ullswater, Cumbria
From the tumbling 65ft waterfall surrounded by fiery autumnal colours to the wooded glades and open vistas from the summit of Gowbarrow, there’s plenty to look out for. Maybe you’ll even spot some of the local red squirrels.
Chilterns Countryside, Buckinghamshire
This landscape is a classical Chiltern blend of hills topped with beech woodlands, gently rolling valleys and farmland divided by hedgerows. In autumn you can wend your way through trees covered in fiery hues, and make the most of the seasonal display.
Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent
Sissinghurst is the place to experience the best of the autumn months. When Vita Sackville-West designed the planting scheme for the garden she wanted to ensure year-round interest with seasonal planting. Her legacy continues to this day, ensuring that the gardens are full of colour right up to the end of autumn.
Morden Hall Park, London
Crisp autumn days are the time to visit Morden Hall Park. Its avenues are planted with limes and horse chestnuts and become a riot of colour crisscrossing the park as the weather changes. With so much open space to roam, the former deer park is a breath of fresh air in the London suburbs.
Stourhead is one of the South West’s most celebrated sites for autumn colour, and it’s not hard to see why. This walk takes you up through beautiful mixed woodlands, and on a crisp, sunny autumn day the light streaming through the trees makes the foliage even more fiery. Don’t forget to take a turn around the famous landscape garden as well to see deep hues of red, russet and yellow reflected in the lake.
Buckland Abbey, Devon
The best autumn displays can be found on the red and blue walking routes, which both start by leading you along the Beech Avenue, with its beautiful gold and orange foliage and views over the Tavy valley. You’ll also get to explore among the oaks and beeches in Great North Wood – which happens to be a brilliant spot for blackberrying if you get hungry on your journey.
Autumn explodes into a riot of colour at Dinefwr. The path you’ll follow on this walk was designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown when he visited Dinefwr in 1775. Along the way you’ll wander among veteran trees burnished with gold, red and orange leaves. You might even catch sight of some of the fallow deer that live here too.
Plas Newydd, Anglesey
Take a stroll to some of the estate’s hidden corners and you’ll be treated to sweeping vistas across the Menai Strait, and beyond to Snowdonia. The landscape really comes into its own in autumn, when the woodlands will be blazing with colour, and the red squirrels will be hard at work foraging for nuts to last the winter.
Powis Castle, Powys
As the evening light begins to fade and the cooler air arrives, the garden at Powis Castle comes alive with a dazzling array of reds, yellows, burnt oranges and golds. Explore borders brimming with shrubby salvias, sedums, asters and tall, deep blue aconites, and from the Great Lawn admire maples and acers glowing in striking shades of gold, orange and yellow in the low autumnal sunshine.
Killiecrankie, Scottish Highlands
Head to Killiecrankie’s famous green footbridge to walk among the red leaves in the Scottish Highlands. Expect some wildlife to join you on your adventure, with red squirrels, woodpeckers and pine martens hidden among the trees.
Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve, Moffat
The waterfall at the Grey Mares Tail is one of the UK’s highest in the UK, plunging 60m from Loch Skeen into the Moffat Water valley. You’ll find a range of breath-taking shorter walks and longer hikes, made all the more spectacular lined with autumn shades.
Corrieshalloch Gorge, Scottish Highlands
Take a stroll over the suspension bridge at Corrieshalloch to see the Falls of Measach at its best. This walk is unforgettable any time of year, but the yellow trees add extra drama.
Crom, County Fermanagh
Crom is one of the UK’s most important nature reserves, with the largest area of oak woodland in Northern Ireland, perfect for wandering beneath the canopy of russet leaves. You’ll also find hedgerows stuffed with autumnal fruits like blackberries. Look out for some of the wildlife that’s often about at this time of year, including wading birds, otters, and red squirrels gathering food to see them through winter.
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 a sea of golden leaves. If you’ve still got some energy left then why not explore further through the riverside woodlands? If you keep a look out, there could be some fallen conkers to collect.
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. The Red trail is the estate’s main circular walk which loops its way through both fields and woodlands, flanked by bright fiery colours the whole way round. You’ll also get to take in some beautiful views over Strangford Lough.