Some gardens are all about effect. Created in the 18th century near Bath, Stourhead is a Palladian ideal of a landscape, augmented by temples, grottoes and follies – it’s magnificent. But explore beyond the oaks and fiery beech trees and there’s a sense of wildness and abundant autumn fruits on this National Trust estate, including rosehips and crab apples.
Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey
Britain’s native trees look pretty enough, but it’s the US imports that offer those extremes of reds and golds we associate with autumn. So, in the 18th and 19th century, tree collectors searched the world for more exotic species. This arboretum near Godalming was specifically designed by founder Wilfred Fox to look its best in autumn. It boasts Japanese, American and Norwegian maples, hickory, tupelo and child-pleasing katsura, which has leaves that smell of toffee.
Photograph: Peter Packer/Alamy
For all its manmade origins, Rutland Water, in England’s smallest county, is a noted nature reserve and a perfect place to see the seasons changing. A complete loop is a 24-mile walk, but there are smaller strolls, too, including a wheelchair-accessible route on the south shore. Enjoy picturesque autumn views with Normanton church rising above the water, oak and horse chestnut trees, plus all sorts of wild birds flying in for winter.
Clent Hills, Worcestershire
A perfect spot to witness autumn colour, the Clent Hills are easy to reach from Birmingham by train or bus. Enjoy lush grasslands, glades and views over to the Black mountains in Wales, while the woodlands have the possibility of late blackberries, bilberries and spotting deer as well.
Lackford Lakes, Suffolk
Photograph: Kumar Sriskandan/Alamy
This nature reserve near Bury St Edmunds is a serene place for a stroll, especially when migrating birds start to arrive, including lapwings and bitterns. Their winter home covers 131 hectares, including reeded ponds and a variety of trails, including the 3.2-mile East Lakes walk. Enjoy the low-lying landscape and big East Anglian skies, on a very reserved reserve.
With free-roaming pigs rustling through the leaves for acorns and fungi at every turn, the New Forest feels otherworldly in autumn. The village of Brockenhurst is home to a series of quintessentially, oak-centric forest walks with some spectacular scenery, glowing with flaming reds and oranges, mellow yellows and greens.
Queenswood Country Park, Herefordshire
Between Hereford and Leominster, and often overlooked in favour of Westonbirt, this 18-hectare arboretum punches above its weight when it comes to colour. There’s an avenue of 40 different species of oak, as well as Californian redwood trees and a spangly collection of Japanese maples that transform into a riot of reds and oranges as temperatures start to dip. Entry is free if you don’t have a car.
Skipton Castle Woods, Yorkshire
In the heart of this affluent town, the 12th-century castle is still privately owned, but the land behind it is managed by the Woodland Trust. It marks the start of the 100-mile Lady Anne Way walk to Penrith and leads on to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, but its woods should be savoured. There are two miles of paths (many stepped) that lead you through a richly dense woodland of moss, ferns and fungi as well as tumbling streams.
Loch Lomond, Dunbartonshire
Glasgow’s most beautiful autumn hideaway is easy to reach even without a car – getting to Balloch on Loch Lomond by train takes just under an hour. Joining the John Muir Way takes you up on to Gouk Hill and Ben Bowie, with wide-angle views of the loch’s native woodlands. You’ll find a stunning spread of golds and russets in the ancients forests and glens.
Rivington Terraced Gardens, Lancashire
Photograph: Michael Rawsterne/Alamy
In the 1920s, soap magnate Lord Leverhulme decided to create an Asian-inspired garden near Bolton replete with Japanese lakes, pagodas, archways and Romanesque bridges. Rivington Wood is perfect for an autumn exploration with its richly coloured canopy and deep carpet of fallen leaves.
Covering almost 25km2, Grizedale is the perfect place for an autumn stroll with views of the mountains and lakes from the clear trails laid out through the coppery beech trees.
West Dean, Sussex
If you like nature to come with a touch of surrealism head to West Dean where Edward James, its last owner, was patron of several surrealist artists, including René Magritte. One of his legacies is a landscape where woodland, including tulip trees with their yellow gold leaves, blend with the odd fibreglass tree. Near Chichester, at the base of the South Downs, you can enjoy a range of walking trails.
Sutton Bank, North Yorkshire
Photograph: Richard Burdon/Alamy
With full Yorkshire confidence, James Herriot called Sutton Bank near Thrisk – a hill in the North Yorks national park – the finest sight in England. And it’s particularly spectacular in autumn, especially if you head there late in the day as the sun starts to set. It’s a brisk walk, but climbing to the top offers an exceptional view across the Vale of Mowbray as well as the Vale of York.
Golitha Falls, Cornwall
These ancient woods – with hazel coppicing, lichen and beech trees – are one of the best known beauty spots on Bodmin Moor and have a series of stunning cascades and waterfalls flowing through them. Autumn showcases the beauty of Golitha Falls perfectly and if you’re lucky you may see some otters, too.
Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
With extensive orchards, autumn at Hardwick sees late-ripening crab apples on show even as their season comes to an end. In the hedgerows, sloes will remain until November. There are a number of walks around the estate, including visiting surrounding villages, mixing leaf-strewn woodland paths with open countryside.
Plas Power Woods, Denbighshire
Photograph: Damian Waters/Alamy
The perfect place to see autumn leaves with a river theme. Conifers and other non-native trees are being removed from this wood to allow native species to breathe alongside the orangey, iron-rich river that runs through Plas Power. An idyllic combination of waterfalls, golden ferns, sycamore and beech trees make this an autumn landscape to savour.
On the estuary of the River Tay, as it heads to the North Sea, Tentsmuir Forest offers a bewitching combination of sand dunes and woods. At this time of year, when the mornings are crisp and clear, the trees are laden with pine cones and beech nuts and you can enjoy sightings of the forest’s favourite residents – a colony of red squirrels.
Alderley Edge, Cheshire
A lush landscape that’s easy to reach by public transport from Manchester. Away from the footballer mansions, this National Trust land, with ancient mines, was planted in the mid-18th century. Head to the top of the Edge and you’ll see Cheshire unfold with views as far as the Peak District.
Ness, Every and Burntollet, Northern Ireland
Ancient woodlands dripping with mosses and ferns, as well as a gorge and spectacular waterfall, this nature reserve is the perfect autumn destination. Vast oaks and ash trees, fungi and lichen all add to its appeal, but alongside conservation work, the Woodland Trust has also started planting new native trees, including elder and wild cherry to ensure its appeal continues.
Wakehurst Place, Sussex
Photograph: Keith Mayhew/REX
More than 200 hectares of the world’s plants in the heart of Sussex, this is Kew’s lesser-known home-counties outpost. Easy to reach by public transport (there are buses from Haywards Heath train station), you can lose yourself in the atmospheric woodlands here. Coates Wood will transport you to Australia and New Zealand with its ochre-red bark, silvery foliage and eucalyptus, as well as Wollemi pine and southern beech. The “world in one garden” theme continues with Himalayan and South American gardens, to choose from, too.