Winning tip: Calderstones Park, Liverpool
For a feast of autumn colour visit Calderstones Park, in south Liverpool. This large park boasts a collection of native and exotic trees whose autumnal spectacle of crimson, vermilion, russet and ochre assaults the sight. Visit the Japanese garden for a taste of oriental autumn, where colours and textures touch the senses. Stand in the Pinetum and marvel at these giant beauties. Wander across to visit the Allerton oak and reflect on how its moss-laden, gnarled branches have witnessed 1,000 autumns. If all this makes you peckish pop along to the Reader cafe for suitable autumnal fare.
Lews Castle, Isle of Lewis
The gardens at Lews Castle light up like embers in the ashes of an otherwise barren landscape in the Outer Hebrides. In autumn, there is a carnival of colour, with reds and russets, coppers and golds from the ash, elm, beech and rowan trees that have thrived here. The castle and grounds were built in the Victorian era for Sir James Matheson, who made his fortune from the Chinese opium trade. Lewis chessmen guard the pathway to this coastal woodland, parks and gardens, where this elevated spot provides panoramic views over Stornoway and out to sea.
Wallington Hall, Northumberland
Wallington Hall near Morpeth has enough to fill many autumn days. Both house and grounds are open to the public. Covering 20 miles, the estate offers a range of walks, from gentle strolls to more challenging rambles through woodland leading to the moors. The formal gardens include the Walled Garden, a haven for autumn colours, where salvias, tagetes and asters display seasonally vibrant colours. In the Hot border, golden stars of rudbeckia contrast against russet petals of helenium. Wallington is child friendly, with plenty of space to run and play, and the Clockhouse Cafe provides suitable sustenance for all. Free to NT members.
Luss, Loch Lomond
Luss is advertised as Scotland’s prettiest village, and it doesn’t disappoint. “Take the High Road” round the village then treat the tots to the beautiful Loch Lomond Faerie Trail starting from Luss car park (Luss, G83 8NY; we booked ahead for £5 and £4 via lochlomondfaerietrail.com). You’ll enchant them with the autumn woodland wonders of fairies, unicorns and trolls in a world of delightful wood carvings, cobwebs and magic. The site has been returned to nature from a former quarry path and trail ticket revenue supports its maintenance. Beware Parking Eye fines if you are late back to your car!
Virginia Water, Surrey
The Valley Gardens beside Virginia Water Lake in Surrey are a perfect autumnal walk. A quieter and more peaceful area of Great Windsor park, with an array of wildlife, flora, fauna and large trees to watch the falling autumn leaves. I have many memories of visiting here with my mother when I was a child. Crisp autumn air, dewy grass and a low morning fog over the lake, drinking a hot chocolate from the cafe.
Singleton Park, Swansea
A tranquil pocket of colour, Singleton Botanical Gardens have been part of Swansea’s largest park since 1919. Free to enter and home to one of Wales’ largest plant collections, the gardens are lovingly maintained by a team of volunteers and showcase dazzling seasonal displays. Autumn brings a cacophony of colour as sunshine yellow heleniums, fiery chrysanthemums and soft purple asters are at their best, and jewel-toned cyclamen grace the Wellbeing Garden. Weekly plant sales run throughout autumn, with knowledgable gardeners on hand for advice. On cold days, the tropical warmth, orchids and epiphytes of the glasshouses are an unexpected treat.
Rhian Wolfe Robbins
Penrose Estate, Cornwall
Not so much a garden, more of a parkland, the Penrose Estate near Helston in Cornwall offers walks and trails around the vast Loe Pool (Cornwall’s largest natural lake) and in autumn the trees put on a display of colour. The collection and variety of trees is remarkable, and best seen on the walk from Helston Drive to the Stables cafe, which is less than a mile and well surfaced for bikes and prams. If you’re lucky you may also see the starlings, who sometimes perform a murmuration in late autumn above the Pool, before settling in the reedbeds for the evening.
Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
The parklands of Calke Abbey are probably at their richest in the autumn. Potter around the walled orchard with its variety of fruit trees, quirky pumpkin display and a bounty of windfall apples (sometimes sold to visitors for crumbles and pies). The formal gardens have spectacular displays of dahlias in September, standing tall in joyful border beds. If you’re small or adventurous fill your pockets with conkers and acorns, then take the spooky tunnel to the deer park. Here, the rutting stags parade around under the changing trees, bellowing loudly with moss, twigs and clumps of grass adorning their antlers, trying to look their best for the ladies!
Sheffield Park, East Sussex
I love visiting the historic garden of Sheffield Park in autumn; the colours and reflections of the shrubs and trees are breathtaking. The trails are well-marked and easy to navigate, circulating through the glades and wooded areas. The area is home to wildlife, including kingfishers, birds of prey and butterflies. It is truly a special place for all ages to enjoy, and changes throughout the year. After a long, enjoyable walk we usually stop off at the Coach House Café on site, to have a cream tea and enjoy the tranquillity.
Alderley Edge, Cheshire
Autumn is calling, and with that, the russet, burnished wonder of Alderley Edge. Jump into this leafy wonder and get lost in the magic and folklore that inspired Alan Garner. With iron-age caves, a wizard tree and even its resident hermit, Alderley certainly doesn’t disappoint young and old alike.