Bring it on. Bring on the rich red leaves and the bright yellows of the birch. Bring on the ground covered in bright crimson toadstool. 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 to start planning a few autumn walks?
The Pass of Killiecrankie knows how to show off its autumn clothes, as, at this time of year, its leaves turn through their many rich shades. One way to take them in is on the walk from the Killiecrankie visitor centre to Soldier’s Leap, the spot where a Redcoat soldier jumped across the raging River Garry, fleeing the Jacobites. This, of course is the site of one of the goriest battles in Scottish history, but it is also more than that. The National Trust for Scotland, which cares for it, describes it as a site of special scientific interest for its semi-ancient woodland. The Gaelic name for Killiecrankie (Collie Creitheannich) is thought to translate as ‘wood of the trembling trees’, referring to quaking aspens.
Loch Garten Trails, Abernethy
Anyone who has watched Springwatch or Winterwatch will know the Abernethy National Nature Reserve very well, since it’s the spot in the Cairngorms where the show’s team based themselves over several years. The reserve encompasses one of the largest remnants of Caledonian pinewood. As Chris Packham once put it, “If you’re into wildlife in the UK, it’s an absolute Mecca. It’s a magnet for me. When you are a kid and into natural history, a lot of the sexiest stuff is there.” Among its best trails are those around Loch Garten. There, a half-mile, Big Pines trail takes the hiker past some of the forest’s tallest trees, its massive “granny” Scots pines.
Smeaton Estate Arboretum, East Lothian
Smeaton’s arboretum is a bit of a secret treasure, hidden away near the coast in East Lothian. Created in the 1830s, and continued and conserved by the Gray family, it has such a varied collection of trees it has earned a place in the National Tree Collections of Scotland list. A short walk round a small lake takes you past giant redwoods, a sweeping sycamore, lime and ash. A delightful nursery is also housed in the walled garden, selling plants and trees, and a tea room offers lunches and treats.
Dog Falls trails, Glen Affric
Glen Affric’s pinewoods represent one of the largest and last remaining fragments of native pinewood forest in the UK and it was declared a national nature reserve in 2002. But its story even before then is remarkable. Forester Finlay Macrae took a pioneering approach to managing it in the mid twentieth century. Rather than cover it in dense plantations of commercial trees, he collected Scots pine seed and grew the on, ultimately planting some 8 million trees. From the car park at the Dog Falls picnic area, it’s possibly to take one of three routes, a viewpoint trail, a circuit of the loch and a visit to Dog Falls itself. Whichever you choose you’ll find yourself wandering between gnarled granny Scots pines, silver birch and oaks covered in beards of grey lichen.
Ariundle oakwoods, Ardnamurchan
In remote Ardnamurchan, near the rushing Strontian river, you can walk through the kind of oak woods that once cloaked Europe’s Atlantic coast. It’s just the trees themselves that are a wonder but the abundant biodiversity these woodlands support. Over 200 species of lichen have been recorded, some rare and scarce. A circular walk takes you through a woodland rich with liverworts and mosses. You are trekking through the lush wonder that is Scotland’s rainforest.
Carrifran Wildwood, Moffat
The woods at Carrifran are still young, so don’t expect grand, ancient trees. The oldest you’ll find here is the lone rowan they call “the survivor”, which projects out over the hillside and which inspired the Carrifran Wildwood project to plant a million native trees and bring forest back to the Southern Uplands which was once, before the arrival of sheep, a wooded landscape. A walk through it, though, is an inspiration. The planting here is the work of a volunteer group and is one of southern Scotland’s most important sites of ecological restoration. Start from the Carrifran Wildwood car park and follow the rough and informal paths.
Dollar Glen, Ochils
Near Dollar is a spot in the Ochil hills where two streams, the Burn of Care and the Burn of Sorrow, run down, converging in a dramatic tree-lined gorge, just below Castle Campbell. The trail here, a 3.1km loop, takes you under a canopy of trees, over bridges and to views over cascading waterfalls. It’s also a site of special scientific interest due to the 100 species of moss and over 190 species of lichen it hosts. Autumn brings bright berries to its rowans, hazel nuts scattered over the ground and a shimmer to the leaves of its birch.
Chatelherault Country Park, Hamilton
If you want to put life in perspective, then Chatelherault Country Park is the place to do it. Its Cadzow oaks are some of the oldest in Scotland at over 700 years old and worth pausing as you contemplate the changing times they’ve seen. Chatelherault, however, has more to offer than these gnarled ancients – a wooded gorge, giant redwoods, badgers, otters, bats, and 10 miles of walks. To see the oaks, head for the also fascinating Cadzow earthworks, though to date back even further, to at least the 12th century.
Beinn Eighe woodland trail, Loch Maree
Beinn Eighe, the UK’s first National Nature Reserve, offers several different trails starting at its visitor centre, and its shortest the woodland route is an easy gem, rising high enough though for some spectacular views over Loch Maree and up to the towering peak of Slioch. The pines at this reserve, some of which are over 350 years old, have been found to be genetically different from those in the central Highlands. Information leaflets are well worth picking up for the story they tell about the flora and fauna, the birch, the pine, the dragonflies and the sphagnum moss.
Loch Ard Sculpture Trail, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park
Queen Elizabeth Forest park has walks to offer for people of all abilities, but the most family-friendly is the short route to the Little Fawn Waterfall, a double-drop fall, which tumbles from 55 feet. The route can be accessed from the Lodge Forest Visitor Centre in Aberfoyle and is designed to accommodate wheelchairs and buggies. The park boasts 17 different species of conifer alongside remnants of ancient oaks, as well as red squirrels, pine martens and water voles. It’s even possible to go art-spotting along the Loch Ard sculpture trail.
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