As the temperatures drop and the days shorten, something magical is happening in the New Forest.
The solid green canopy of our trees – we have over a million of them – start exploding with colour, from bright gold to hot pink, to flaming orange, vermillion and scarlet.
Our heathlands are covered in flaring yellow gorse and drifts of purple heather, while our hedgerows are spangled with red hawthorns and shiny blackberries.
Yes – it’s autumn, THE New Forest season, packed with colour, forageable food, bright, sunny days and cosy, fireside nights.
One of the reasons we’re one of the UK’s best places to experience autumn is because the New Forest has the highest concentration of ancient woodlands in Western Europe. We have more than 1,000 ancient trees with their giant canopies, some of which were around when Queen Elizabeth I sent out the Armada and when autumn comes, they put on a spectacular show.
Add to this the speckled gold and chocolate of the aspen leaves and the ornamental conifers and there’s only one thing to do – strap on your boots and stride out to indulge in a little leaf-peeping, the delightful American term for the agreeable pastime of travelling to photograph and marvel over nature’s fireworks.
Our Knightwood Oak Trail (a mere 0.25 miles although you can easily extend it) has been listed as one of the UK’s best for autumn colour – Countryfile Magazine describes it as ‘stunning’. When you’ve had your fill of the breathtaking autumn hues, pay your respects to the fabulous Knightwood Oak herself. At 24 feet in circumference, no wonder we call her the Queen of the Forest!
Take a stroll or a cycle through the Ornamental Drive at Rhinefield (around 10.8 miles). You’ll find out - in the most glorious way - why this route, planted in 1860, is regularly listed as one of the top UK leaf-peeping locations and it also has what is considered to be England’s tallest tree.
Beautiful colour can be found everywhere but our favourite places to look include the ancient woodland at Bratley Inclosure, Ocknell Inclosure, or the walks around Stoney Cross.
Mark Ash Wood near Emery Down is another top spot, or why not pop up to the National Trust’s Northern Commons to spot the yellow flare of birch leaves against the brooding heathlands?
For a short stroll, try the Bolderwood Radnor trail (1.9 miles) This fantastic medium walk passes through woodland featuring sweet chestnut, oak and beech dating from the 1860s. Head towards the beautiful Bratley Water, which makes for the ideal spot to rest and enjoy a picnic. The trail will then lead you to the Bolderwood deer viewing platform where you can often see Fallow Deer and, at certain times of the day, you can see them being fed by the local rangers.
The Copythorne and Cadnam Common Walk (4 miles) will take you from Moor Road bus stop past St Mary's Church before winding through Copythorne Common and its interesting mix of woodland and open glades. The route then follows rhododendron and woodland edged tracks to the Cadnam River and the northern commons. Here you can watch ponies grazing before returning through Newbridge and Copythorne Common back to the start.
Head over to Ashurst for a great walk (2.8 miles) that takes in a variety of New Forest landscapes. From Ashurst railway station this short and easy walk explores a variety of views that characterise the New Forest. The route takes you past open forest lawns where ponies graze and through Churchplace Inclosure, a timber plantation, before crossing the railway into Ashurst Wood. Then continue along a road that winds pleasantly through ancient pasture woodland and across a grassy lawn to the historic remains of a saltpetre house. Return via a roadside cycle track to Ashurst village.
If you’re bringing the kids, let them rush along the forest floor, kicking up leaves or traying to catch them as they fall. Teach them how to play ‘helicopters’ with the seeds of the sycamores; throwing them skywards and watching them twirl and drop. Or hunt under the Horse chestnut trees for the last of the conkers.
And, once your outing is over, don’t forget to stop by one of our cosy pubs for a pint or a hot drink and something comforting to eat whilst you warm up by the fire.
- You’ll find plenty more autumn inspiration at thenewforest.co.uk