(UPDATED FOR 2019) Whilst my fellow Brits are lamenting the end of summer, I’m secretly thrilled about the seasonal change. Call me crazy, but I love packing my flip flops and sun cream away for another year and getting out my chunky knits ready for Autumn.
And when it comes to those glorious autumnal colours, South West England is one of the best places for leaf-peeping in the UK. Even a journey down the M5 can seem like a scenic road-trip at this time of year!
Why Westonbirt Arboretum?
If you’re looking for somewhere to catch the best of the fiery foliage this year, then head straight to Westonbirt, The National Arboretum.
Located just a few miles from Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and conveniently situated at the gateway to the picturesque Cotswolds region, Westonbirt has one of the most breath-taking botanical collections in the world.
Planted in the Victorian era, The Arboretum now boasts more than 15,000 trees and 2500 different species from all over the globe. It’s an incredible place to visit at any time of year – with outdoor concerts in the summer and a tree-lit winter wonderland at Christmas – but Autumn is when the forest really explodes into life.
Planning your visit:
The Arboretum is open to visitors every day from 9am-5pm, with last entrance at 4:30pm during the autumn months. Late October is often the best time to visit but peak leaf-peeping time varies each year.
Admission is £10 per adult/£4 per child (under 5s go free) (as of Autumn 2019). Or if you’re local, you can sign up to become a Friend of Westonbirt Arboretum and visit as many times as you like for £39 per year. The Arboretum is managed by Forestry Commission England and becoming a Friend also means supporting vital conservation and education work.
Parking at The Arboretum is free but the car-park fills up quickly during peak season, so turn up early or be prepared for a walk to the entrance. Even better, cycle or use public transport to get a discounted ticket. The Cotswolds Conservation Board have published a handy free guide to exploring the region by public transport.
Once on-site, there is a cafe and shop where you can buy food, refreshments and gifts – or simply pack a picnic and enjoy the views.
Canopies of colour:
A number of seasonal trails will take you around some of the best trees in show – from glittering golden birches to Japanese Maple Trees and Red Acers.
All trails start from the main Welcome Building and free maps are available on request. The main trails are as follows:
The Old Arboretum Autumn Trail is a mile long but you’ll want at least a full hour to appreciate the beauty of this loop. A slight detour along the Circular Drive will take you to the Bird Viewing Shelter, where you can visit some of the forest’s residents.
The Silk Wood Autumn Trail is a 2-mile dog-friendly loop, which means your canine friend can appreciate the colours too! At the start of this trail is the new Treetop Walkway, which provides sweeping views of the forest’s rich colours.
There is also a Family Trail Map with a range of activities for kids to enjoy along the way.
Dog-friendly Westonbirt Arboretum
Westonbirt Arboretum is the perfect place to bring your furry friend for the day. Dogs are welcome everywhere, except the Old Arboretum and inside the restaurant, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on the magical tree displays!
The Silk Wood Trail is the best dog-friendly loop and takes about an hour to walk (allow 1.5 hours with sniffing stops!) Dogs are allowed off-lead throughout this area and Marnie was in her element chasing the other dogs through the crunchy leaves!
Although dogs aren’t allowed inside the restaurant itself, there’s plenty of outdoor and covered seating for you to take a break with your pooch. They even serve up Marshfield Scoops Doggy Ice Cream at £2 a tub and doggy treats at the till-point.
Alternatively, why not head 5 minutes down the road to the Hare & Hounds Hotel – a charming English country house, serving up a dog-friendly menu, from braised venison to banana & peanut butter ice cream! Plus plenty of delicious dishes for humans too.
However you choose to explore, Westonbirt Arboretum is an absolute must-do this Autumn.