What better way to spend an October afternoon than by wandering through the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire and seeing the leaves in all their autumn glory?
Westonbirt Arboretum, hidden away in the Cotswold countryside, plays host to one of our most magical seasonal sights. Each autumn, this internationally important collection of trees is ablaze with a fabulous array of fiery colours and two special trails have been created to help visitors get closer to this stunning, natural spectacle.
The Silk Wood Trail starts with Westonbirt’s new treetop walkway – a 300m-long path (suitable for wheelchairs, mobility scooters and buggies) that gradually ascends into the leafy canopy at a height of 13 metres, with breathtaking views, seven high-tech ‘interactive hotspots’ and an (even higher) crow’s nest for the kids to climb. The route then weaves its way for a further two miles through ancient woods – where traditional management techniques, like coppicing and charcoal burning, are still practised – before arriving at Maple Loop.
The Japanese maples that were planted here just ten years ago burst into a vibrant rainbow of red, orange, yellow and even purple hues over the autumn months and lure in large crowds of eager treespotters. Other eye-catching species include Persian ironwoods, which turn a whole palette of pigments all at once, and black walnuts with their luminous, lemon-coloured leaves.
The Old Arboretum Trail is a more leisurely affair, making a one-mile circuit through ornamental, landscaped woodland with long forest rides, stately avenues and more marvellous maples at Acer Glade. On both walks, look out for Westonbirt’s ‘champion trees’– the tallest or widest specimens of their type in Britain (you’ll know them by their special blue labels).
Predicting the precise time that Westonbirt will be at its most wonderful, colour-wise, is tricky. Check the leaf-colour indicator, which tracks how far the trees have ‘turned’ (from ‘going yellow’ to ‘golden’) and is updated daily, at forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt.