Viscid leaves squish underfoot. New arrivals flutter then crunch as they kiss the asphalt and press with plimsolls. Oranges and yellows. Bare boughs and piles of mulch. Houndstooth scarves and pumpkin lattes. Brace yourself for a fall – autumn is coming.
We feel the changing season in our bones, but we also see it, fluttering through the parks and woodlands. Our smartphones and smart cars can tell us the temperature, but they can’t tell us when the time is right to celebrate autumn with the first woodland walk of the season. When it comes, you’ll know, just as you’ll know to wrap the kids up and pack a flask of hot cocoa – with an optional nip, just for the adults.
Not all woodland walks are alike. Just as every tree is unique, so is every trail. Some are twistier. Some are leafier. And others are irreducibly enchanting. We’ve picked five forest walks that are family-friendly and utterly beautiful. Step into your wellies and wind that scarf up tight – it’s time to kick up some leaves.
1. Ramble through the pines
When it comes to exploring the countryside, Britain’s walking charity knows more than most. Ramblers are on a mission to get as many people as possible out walking, and who can fault their goal?
The charity lists great coastal, moorland and forest trails the length and breadth of the country along with advice on keeping safe while out and about. One of the most enchanting routes it cites traverses Scotland’s ancient pinewoods, while a stunning trail can be found at Glen Affric. This Forestry Commission-owned plot has graded trails that rise into the mountains and plummet to pass lochs and glens woven with purple heather. Keep your eyes peeled for golden eagles soaring overhead and listen out for the familiar tap-tap of woodpeckers.
As you stride deeper into the woods, the sweet scent of pine needles will linger in the air, mixing with the wood pulp and organic aroma of ant nests, the soil resonant with petrichor. The crooked skeletons of the ancient pines resemble prehistoric fossils, dipped in amber and frozen in time.Discover Inverness
The mist-laced trails are wet with leaves. Autumn is here and it sure feels good
2. Follow the way of the woods
The 75-mile National Forest Way spans parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire, and explores the varied and fascinating landscape of The National Forest. Try the central section through South Derbyshire’s ancient woodlands, where you can learn about the transformation of the area from clay extraction and coal mining to beautiful new woodlands.
Children will enjoy the boardwalks though Hartshorne Bog and the dingly-dell woodlands at Carvers Rocks, where sheer lumps of gritstone rear out of the ground, bringing weekend climbers seeking to try their skills. Continue through to Foremark Reservoir with its sparkling expanse of water complete with waterfowl and sailing boats, wide green spaces to enjoy and a play area to let off steam.
At this time of year, The National Forest is at its best. As the early morning mist dissipates through the trees, the golds and reds of the changing foliage shine through. The mist-laced trails are wet with leaves. Watch your breath hang in the air. Autumn is here and it sure feels good.Holiday homes in the heart of Derbyshire
3. Conquer Nottinghamshire’s oak forest
Autumn is all about colours and sounds. The urgent insistence of a stiff breeze; the to-and-fro of leaves, raked into piles and then swept every which way by capricious gusts. There’s nothing stopping you from venturing into Nottinghamshire’s woodlands alone, but they’re best conquered as part of a team. Bring reinforcements, because exquisite experiences were made to be shared, and there’s nothing prettier than acre after acre of mature English oak, dripping autumnal colours as they brace themselves for the onslaught of winter.
Families visiting the East Midlands county are spoilt for choice, with some of England’s best walks just a picnic hamper and a pair of stout hiking boots away. Clumber Park’s lime tree avenue, the longest of its kind in Europe, is special at this time of year, though Highfields Park at the University of Nottingham also warrants a mention. This lakeside route winds through the woods before finishing up at a quaint cafe where the scones are as fine as the scenery. Finally, no visit to Nottinghamshire would be complete without taking a prowl through Sherwood Forest. As the oaks start to turn, this magical woods exudes a dappled calm.
You’re not limited to merely walking through the county’s forests either. Families can experience a Segway tour at Sherwood Pines or cycle a popular route around Sherwood Pines forest before checking into a luxury forest cabin. A wood-burning fire and hot tub will complete a tranquil weekend that’s all about nature.Holiday rentals in Nottinghamshire
Here’s autumn, announcing its arrival with all the subtlety of a deranged Jack Nicholson
4. Delve into the Forest of Dean
Some trails were made to hiked. Others were made to be biked. There’s nothing stopping you from walking through one of England’s most ancient woodlands, but biking is much more fun. No one knows their way through this dense arboreal triangle better than Forest of Dean MTB. The biking crew live for the thrill of pelting down trails and bouncing over tree-stumps, but that doesn’t mean they’ve only got an eye for gnarly stretches. FoD MTB recommend trails that are suitable for riders of all abilities, including a number of family-friendly routes.
You can take it sedate, with a languid Sunday cycle through the forest or you can up the gears and brace yourself for a punishing ride over cross country trails. You pick the route and you dictate the pace. The Forest of Dean’s byways, bridleways and single track were made to be explored. Get in the saddle, pack some provisions and prepare for an epic family ride through the Gloucestershire countryside.Forest of Dean rentals
5. Branch out and explore the Brecon Beacons
Another woodland, another plea to visit at the height of autumn. Birdsong, wild flowers and babbling brooks will accompany your peregrinations through the Welsh woods and up into the snow-capped mountains. From the highest peak in Southern Britain to the depths of caves that yawn like chasms amidst the verdant forests, the Brecon Beacons are full of wonder. In this idyllic part of the world, the flora is pretty and the fauna is plentiful. Look out for Welsh mountain ponies, horseshoe bats, red grouse and, hovering silently overhead, red kites.
One of the most picturesque Welsh woodland walks lies in Coed-y-Cerrig National Nature Reserve. The small woods of Coed-y-Cerrig is tucked away at the foot of the valley. A bustling railway once wound through this unusual alder woodland before burrowing into the mountain, its carts laden with materials for the Grwyne Fawr reservoir that was under construction.Powys and Brecon Beacon holiday lets
Summer may be gone, but look on the bright side – here’s autumn, announcing its arrival with all the subtlety of a deranged Jack Nicholson. Embrace the elements, feel the wind rustle the trees, kick the leaves, cherish time with your family, love life.
Enchanting family forest walks
Chase the leaves
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