Bring it on. Bring on the rich red leaves and the bright yellows of the birch. Bring on the ground covered in bright crimson toadstools. Bring on the berries lighting up the rowan. The leaves are only just starting to turn now, a reminder that autumn is a time of promise and glory, of rich colours and high woodland drama. What better time, writes Vicky Allan, author of For The Love Of Trees, to start planning a few autumn walks?
Cammo Estate, Edinburgh
On the edge of Edinburgh is a country park that feels like an experiment in what would happen if we let nature take over. Fallen trees lie slumped on the ground, home to countless other lifeforms, others twist and wind around each other. To the north of the ruined house is a grove of five old yews. It’s host to one of the oldest ash trees in the city. Giant redwood, cedar and Douglas fir also tower here. Now a wildlife haven, it was once a manicured and ornate estate and is said to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s House of Shaws in Kidnapped. Particularly wonderful is a figure-of-eight route running through the estate and back via the tree-lined River Almond to Cramond Brig.
Since 1757, generations of the Dukes of Atholl have been planting trees in this landscape along the River Braan and its roaring Black Linn Falls. They were creating a “pleasure ground” for themselves and their visitors which still gives plenty of joy today. It was host, until 2017, to one of the tallest trees in Britain, a Douglas fir, until it toppled, in a storm, into the River Braan below but there are still plenty of giants. One of the groves there is often described as “the cathedral” because it gives that sense of being inside a towering, sacred space. Trunks tower like the columns of a church. Visit the folly of Ossian’s Hall or take a longer walk to Rumbling Bridge. Autumn is also the perfect time to catch sight of salmon leaping up the falls as they head to spawning grounds further along the river. Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, it has a car park just off the A9 which costs £3 for non-members.
Glenmore Forest Park, Cairngorms
The waters of the magical An Lochan Uaine (the Green Loch) are such an extraordinary rich shade of emerald it’s been said that it has turned that colour because the local fairies wash their clothes in it. The route to that remarkable loch also takes the walker through a remnant of ancient Caledonian pine forest that is being restored. Take the Ryovan trail from the Glenmore visitor centre out through stands of ancient pines, one of which is over 300 years old, and, in autumn, shimmering gold-leaf birch and red-tinted rowan. But this is just one part of the Cairngorms’ ancient pine country, there’s plenty more in Rothiemurchus, as well as all the wildlife that lives in it. Be on the watch out, while you’re in Glenmore, for red squirrels, and, if you’re very lucky pine martens or a wildcat.
Faskally Wood, Pitlochry
Most famous for its night-time light and sound show, the Enchanted Forest, Faskally Wood, is equally as enchanting by day, particularly as its beech leaves bronze and birch turns a dazzling yellow. Walk round Loch Dunmore, taking in its boat house and wooden bridge, and see the foliage amplified by reflection in the water. This woodland was created by the owners of Faskally house in the 19th century and later became a school for young foresters. The Pitlochry Boating Station, a cafe by the loch, is also the perfect pitstop for home baking or lunch.
Pollok country park, Glasgow
Pollok Country Park’s most famous tree, of course, was the Pollok beech, a wishing tree” named as one of Scotland’s 100 Heritage Trees in 2002, but it was set on fire by vandals some years ago, and the damage was so great it was split in two. But there are plenty of other magnificent trees to admire in its extensive woodlands, from beech groves to dawn redwoods, over 15 metres tall. Trails take the walker past Highland cattle, grazing against a woodland backdrop. Conker collectors will find treasure beneath the Horse Chestnuts too. It is also set to be home to the National Covid Memorial.
Wood of Cree, Newton Stewart
You don’t have to go to the Highlands to see ancient woods. The Wood of Cree is the largest ancient oak woodland in southern Scotland, thought to date back over 5000 years to the last ice age, and an RSPB nature reserve. Pass by waterfalls and visit the otter pool on the River Cree. The oaks here, however, are not themselves ancient, just the woodland itself. Around 140 years ago, the wood, which was coppiced for centuries, was almost clear-felled. What grows there is a younger generation of its former ancients.
Ardkinglas woodland garden, Cairndow
On the shores of Loch Fyne, this woodland garden, started in 1875, is a place to discover the full drama of trees at almost any time of year, but particularly in autumn. Its champion European silver fir, “the mightiest conifer in Europe” at 10m girth, towers over everything. But there are also, for autumnal glory, ancient beeches and a collection of mountain ash that provides a range of berry colour: white, pink, yellow and orange-red. There’s even entertainment for the kids in the form of their Gruffalo Trail.
Dalkeith Country Park, Midlothian
See some of the oldest oaks in Scotland as their leaves start to turn golden-red. The Old Wood walk takes you past trees that are thought to be the last remnant of the ancient forest of the Lothians, these are also host to an incredibly rare species of beetle, which give the site a SSSI designation. For my book, For The Love Of Trees, I talked to dendrochronologist Dr Coralie Mills who studied the tree rings of the fallen dead oaks and found they dated back to the 16th century. She said: “We have to look after and expand more the tiny fraction of ancient woodland we have. Such trees are so precious for both their natural and cultural heritage.” Stop for coffee at the Restoration Yard café or let the kids run riot in the park’s Fort adventure playground.
Dawyck Botanic Garden, Peebles
This Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh-run arboretum in the Borders, home to one of the finest tree collections in Britain, comes into full technicolor glory in autumn. Maples, rowans, beech spindle trees, golden birch, all shifting through the spectrum. Even the ground is bejewelled with bright toadstools, fungi and the scatterings of fallen leaves. Some of the magnificent conifers here date back to the 1680s. It’s in the autumn months too that the Japanese katsura or candyfloss tree, emits its scent of burnt sugar, and heart-shaped leaves turn through the colours, yellow, orange, pink and red. Open daily, entrance by admission fee, see www.rbge.org.uk
Cashel Native Forest, Loch Lomond
Home to the “Forest for a thousand years”, a native working Scottish forest, that began its creation when Cashel Farm was acquired in 1996 by the Royal Scottish Forestry Society. The banks of Loch Lomond are brought to arboreal life by fragments of native sessile oakwoods, as well as English oaks planted for charcoal between the 17th to the 19th century, and birch. The long term aim of the project is “to demonstrate the restoration and regeneration of Scotland’s native woods through sound forestry practice for the benefit of the public.” Follow one of their well-marked trails. The more adventurous can take a boat out from Balmaha village to Inchcailloch, a fairy-tale sland of trees.
For The Love Of Trees by Vicky Allan and Anna Deacon is published by Black & White
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