How to make the most of the woods this autumn

The Guardian Traveling 1 month ago

Autumn colours, Gloucestershire

Westonbirt Arboretum near Tetbury is one of the best places in the UK to view a huge variety of autumn colours. The arboretum has 2,500 tree species from all over the world, including a national collection of maples. This autumn is predicted to be spectacular, thanks to a wet June and a sunny July, which provided trees with the right balance of sunlight and rain to produce the sugars that create the colours. Visitors can call the autumn hotline (0300 067 5691) to find the most vibrant areas to visit on the 600-acre site, and follow two seasonal trails through the Acer Glade in the Old Arboretum (one mile) and the Maple Loop in Silk Wood (two miles). There are free guided walks every day throughout September and October, and three autumn photography workshops (£125 on 15, 23, 25 October,
Adult £10 adult, child £4, until mid-November,

Leaf drive, Forest of Dean/Wye Valley

The meandering Wye. Photograph: John Husband/Alamy

The UK’s first “leaf peeping drive” has been mapped out through the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, offering domestic vistas to rival fall foliage tourism in New England and Japan. The 50-mile drive passes oak, ash, birch, beech, larch and sweet chestnut, and has 10 hotspots to stop at for the best views. Visitors can also explore the area on foot, by bike or by canoe, kayak or paddleboard; there are guided walks on 27-29 September (£5, and 26-28 October (

Pig spotting, New Forest

Photograph: Joana Kruse/Alamy

Ponies and cattle roam the New Forest in Hampshire all year round, but in autumn visitors can spot another creature: pigs. Up to 600 pigs and piglets are released each year to eat the fallen acorns, beechmast and chestnuts, an ancient practice called pannage – acorns are poisonous to horses and cows. Good places to spot them are around Bramshaw village, near Bolderwood deer sanctuary and on the northern edge of the national park. But don’t get too close – they bite.
Until 10 November,

Activity day, Kent

Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Bedgebury pinetum in Kent has one of the most complete collections of conifers in the world: 610 of the 810 species that exist worldwide. Some that are particularly colourful in autumn are sweetgum, maidenhair tree, golden larch, cypress and redwood. Bedgebury also holds regular events, from children’s treasure hunts to bat walks. This month, there is an activities taster day, when visitors will be able to try Nordic walking, Pilates, zipwiring or campfire cooking. There are walking, cycling, running and orienteering trails all year round.
From £10 for parking, entry and activities free, 28 September,

Running series, England

Photograph: Islandstock/Alamy

A series of 10km runs is being held in 16 English forests this year. Still to come are runs around High Lodge in Thetford Forest, Suffolk (6 October); Salcey Forest, Northamptonshire (12 October); Sherwood Pines, Nottinghamshire (20 October); Thames Chase Forest, Essex (10 November); and Jeskyns Community Woodland, Kent (7 December). The routes are largely flat with even paths, making them suitable for novices as well as those looking to set a new off-road PB.
£20 each,

Forest festival, Borders

Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

The annual Tweed Valley forest festival celebrates the woodland culture of the Scottish Borders. It includes the Peebles food festival and wood market; the Scottish conker championships; Carvefest – a showcase for chainsaw carvers; and lots of woodland walks and activities.
Free, 19 and 20 October,

Photography exhibition, Dorset/Cumbria

The Earth Photo shortlist includes David Rippin’s Forest Depths (2018) taken in a woods above Blea Tarn in the Lake District. Photograph: David Rippin/Earth Photo 2019

Fifty shortlisted entries in the annual Earth Photo competition are being exhibited in two English forests until the end of April 2020. Images fit into one of four categories: People, Place, Nature and, new this year, Changing Forests. The exhibit is at Moors Valley country park near Ringwood in Dorset from 30 September to 15 December, then moves to Grizedale Forest in Cumbria (19 December to 28 April).

Film screening, Northumberland

‘The film is being shown in a wooden, solar-powered installation deep in Kielder Forest.’ Photograph: Neil Denham

The Custody Code, a film by artist Amanda Loomes, tells the story of sustainable timber production and the men and women who work in the industry, from the seed bank to the sawmill. The 25-minute film was commissioned as part of Forestry England’s 100th birthday celebrations – the organisation was founded as the Forestry Commission in 1919, and now looks after more than 1,500 forests. Fittingly, the film is being shown in a wooden, solar-powered installation deep in Kielder Forest, Northumberland.
Free, until 1 December,

Sculpture trails, Forest of Dean/North Yorkshire

Threshold by Natasha Rosling. Photograph: David Broadbent/Alamy

The Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail has a new permanent sculpture, Threshold by Natasha Rosling, next to a woodland pond. Visitors can walk through the artwork – two curved, interlocking red walls – which was inspired by the area’s mining history. There are now 16 sculptures on the trail, which opened in 1986 with work by Cornelia Parker and David Nash (free, daily, Sculpture fans can also visit Rachel Whiteread’s Nissen Hut in Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire, which was installed last year to mark the centenary of the first world war (free, daily,

Forest bathing walks, Powys

Forest foraging, Northumberland

Northern Wilds forest foraging, Kielder

Autumn is a great time to go foraging in the forest for mushrooms, nuts and berries. Unless you are an experienced forager, though, it is best to go with an expert to ensure anything harvested is safe and sustainable. One such company is Northern Wilds, which runs foraging days in Kielder Forest. The hunt ends with a feast prepared in the “wild food wagon” – a former military truck now powered by biodiesel and equipped with a wood-fired Rayburn. The day is based at Kielder campsite, handy for spending a night stargazing in the forest (Kielder is a dark sky park).
Adult £65, child £45, 5 October,

Beaver walk, Highlands

European beaver foraging at dusk, Knapdale Forest. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Knapdale Forest in Argyll & Bute is known as Scotland’s rainforest – the oak woodland is bisected by lochs and backs on to the sea. It is also home to a population of beavers, which were reintroduced in 2009. The Argyll Beaver Centre runs weekly guided beaver walks through the forest, viewing the work of “nature’s ecosystem engineers”, and hopefully a glimpse of the rodents themselves.
Adult £6, child £3, Wednesdays until 30 October,

Sound and light shows, Perthshire and Cheshire

Photograph: Andrew Ross/Alamy

Every autumn, for the past 18 years, Faskally Wood in Highland Perthshire has been transformed into an Enchanted Forest by a sound and light show. The 2019 show is called Cosmos, and takes its inspiration from the skies above the tree canopy. Visitors follow an illuminated trail past Loch Dunmore, deep into the woods, with laser shows, video projections, pyrotechnics and a soundscape. A new feature this year is an inflatable geodome hosting an immersive experience that makes audiences feel as though they are flying through space (adult £20, child £10, 3 October-3 November, In Cheshire, the Magical Woodland is a similar show (adult £17.95, child £14.50, 12 October-3 November,

Forest adventures, UK

Night zips at Go Ape Aberfoyle, near Stirling.

Garvagh Forest, 11 miles south of Coleraine, County Derry, opened new walking and biking trails this summer. The three walks include a 5km Agivey River route and a 6.9km circuit that skirts the perimeter of the forest, with great views. There is an easy circuit for family cycling and three mountain bike trails, from a short skills loop to a 4.7km technical trail ( For more high-octane adventures, Go Ape has some new night-time activities in forests this autumn. Sundown Segways take visitors speeding through the forest on Segways with only a head-torch to light the way, while Night Zips feature tree-top crossings and zipwire flights in the dark. Locations include Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire and Aberfoyle Forest near Stirling (selected dates in October and November,

Woodland Trust events, nationwide

Photograph: Alamy

The Woodland Trust is the UK’s biggest woodland conservation charity, working to protect and restore existing woods, and plant new ones. It runs lots of guided walks and talks in its woodlands: upcoming events include a bat walk (soprano pipistrelle pictured) on the Smithills Estate in Bolton (free, 26 September) and a magical lantern walk in Plas Power Woods near Wrexham (£2 children, adults free, 12 October). It also runs short courses, such as a two-day introduction to hedge laying at Hedley Hall Woods near Newcastle (£80, 4, 5, 17 and 18 October and 18 and 19 November).
Find an event at

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