Top spots to escape the everyday this autumn

Looking for a spot of leaf peeping? It’s another of those American phrases catching on here, and we love it…

As autumn arrives, a blaze of golden colours sweeps across our woodlands, gardens and parks, while ‘the great outdoors’ offers the perfect opportunity to escape the everyday and enjoy wide-open spaces before the winter arrives.

Here are a few ideas for some top spots to take in the nature’s autumn spectacle.

Big skies, golden tints… and candyfloss scents

Boasting Capability Brown parkland, woodland walks, a mile-long lake and award-winning gardens, Trentham Gardens – on the edge of Stoke-on-Trent – has long offered a colourful seasonal spectacle. Stretching over more than 700 acres and set in a valley, Trentham enjoys big skies and open vistas, with a dramatic “floor to ceiling” range of autumnal colours reflected in the lake, creating a photographer’s dream. Along with displays from native and North American oak trees, beech trees, Tulip trees with butter yellow foliage and 250 year-old sweet chestnut trees, floral planting adds yet more colour. For the smell of autumn, there are woodland fragrant walks and flowering dogwoods’ foliage, but the remarkable Candyfloss Tree offers the true spectacle. When the weather conditions are right – a certain level of frost is needed to trigger the fragrance – it has a candyfloss, or rich burnt sugar, scent. Autumn also provides a stunning backdrop for the growing sculpture installations within the gardens – including the magical Fairy Trail – which take on a seasonal look with dew and mists adding to Trentham’s line-up of photo opportunities.

An ‘Ode to Autumn’ in Hampshire

Hampshire is once again set to become a focal point of the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. From one of England’s favourite autumnal poems, to the spectacular autumnal parkland of an ‘18th century David Attenborough’ marking his 300th anniversary in 2020, Hampshire offers the perfect spot for celebrating nature’s seasonal show. Keats’ Ode To Autumn – inspired by the scenery the poet saw during a stay in Winchester, in 1819 – has helped to make Hampshire synonymous with a season famous for its falling leaves and spectacular colours. Winchester not only offers a base for walks directly from the city centre into the South Downs National Park, but also a chance to a follow in the poet’s footsteps ( Gilbert White’s House in nearby Selborne, meanwhile, is yet another autumnal attraction – and has been under the spotlight this year with the 300th anniversary of the birth of the man regarded as the world’s first ecologist. With restored gardens recreated using the notes Gilbert White kept in his ‘Garden Kalendar’, the site is bordered by the Selborne hanger, a great beech clad hill, which turns spectacular shades of red and orange in autumn (

Explore a glimpse of America’s ‘Fall’… in Derby

You may find bigger parks in Britain with colourful displays, but few boast the history and legacy of Derby’s Arboretum – the country’s first public park, and one of the inspirations for New York’s famous Central Park. You’ll find more stateside favourites here too, thanks to American tree varieties the Red Oak, with large pointed leaves – displaying red and russet autumn colours – which distinguish it from native oaks, and Red Maple, with crimson and gold autumnal foliage. Other autumn displays include the attractive yellow and gold leaves of the Silver Pendent Lime, the yellow of Caucasian Lime – with the Arboretum boasting some of the tallest of these trees in the UK – and a Copper Beech, planted in 1889, with its coppery leaves. Created as a haven for textile workers in the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Derby Arboretum Park – celebrating its 180th anniversary in 2020 – was laid out by John Claudius Loudon at the request of local cotton mill owner Joseph Strutt and given to the city of Derby in 1840 to provide an area for ‘exercise and recreation in the fresh air’ at a time when industry dominated – and polluted – towns and cities. As the first specially designed urban park in Britain, it was created as a botanical tree garden for instruction as well as leisure.

Journey around a world of colour

Wander Staffordshire’s amazing Biddulph Grange Garden and the world is your oyster… in a horticultural sense. Take a round-the-world trip in this masterpiece of Victorian garden design, which takes visitors on a global journey from Italy to the pyramids of Egypt, a Victorian vision of China and a re-creation of a Himalayan glen. A quirky, playful paradise, the garden was created by horticulturist James Bateman for his collection of plants from around the world, and autumn is perhaps when the gardens are at their most striking. Autumn colour is spectacular and probably most stunning in the Chinese garden where the golden larch is truly golden and the acers are ablaze with reds and oranges, while in ‘Egypt’, a beech hedge – the only non-evergreen hedge in the garden – comes alive in autumn too.

Stately spectacle

While the House closes in October, a blaze of golden leaves around the sweeping parkland provide a colourful autumnal backdrop to Lincolnshire’s Burghley House, on the edge of the Georgian stone town of Stamford. Designed by ’Capability’ Brown in the 18th century, the parkland is open all year and free (except on event days), providing walks and open-air family fun all year round – as well as home to a herd of fallow deer. Rich in ancient trees, including Queen Elizabeth’s Lime – said to have been planted by Elizabeth I – as well as an oak and a lime planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when they visited the House in 1844, the estate also boasts sweet chestnut and Sycamore Maple, the leaves of which turn intense in autumn, from gold-yellow to red. Today’s parkland was shaped by Brown to reveal natural planting and vistas towards Burghley in one direction and the spires of Stamford in the other. The 6th Marquess instructed in his will that the Parkland should always be available free of charge for the benefit of the local community.

East Yorkshire natural gem

East Yorkshire’s 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. The clear waters of this 200-year-old canal reflect the changing colours of the autumnal trees that line the towpath, with its picturesque locks and elegant bridges adding to the natural beauty of this Canal and River Trust waterway. Once threatened, the canal was saved by the work of energetic local volunteers and campaigners. 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 ( Just a short drive away, enjoy autumnal colours in the picturesque Millington Wood.  Declared a local nature reserve in 1991 in recognition of its wildlife value and its importance to the local community, it is now regarded as the best ancient ash woodland in the Yorkshire Wolds. Stride up to the top of the wood in autumn for a panoramic view across the gold, red and yellow treetops.

Pig spotting anyone?

For a more unusual autumnal sight, how about heading to the New Forest, Hampshire, for the annual pig pannage? Seeing ponies and cattle may not be unusual here, but during the autumn months, you can spot pigs roaming the forest floor. Pannage is the ancient practice of releasing domestic pigs into a forest, and the New Forest National Park is one of the few places that still carries out the tradition, which dates back to the time of William the Conqueror. In those days up to 6,000 pigs were let loose, but today it’s around 600. Pigs and piglets work their way through the forest eating acorns and nuts, many of which are poisonous to horses and cows.  It is the only time of year that the pigs are allowed to ‘roam’ the open forest, the rest of the time they are kept in their smallholdings. You can often spot pigs and piglets around Bramshaw village, on the northern edge of the National Park or roaming around near the deer park at Bolderwood, normally until November. But don’t get too close – they may bite. During the pannage season local artisan bakeries, farm shops and shops also sell piggy-shaped biscuits.

Most garden attractions require pre-booking, so please check websites before travelling for the latest updates and any restrictions. 

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    Burghley in autumn - photo credit Lee Hellwing

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    Trentham Lakeside Deer sculptures

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    Biddulph Grange Gardens China Temple

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    Derby Arboretum

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    Ode to Autumn in Hampshire