Autumn is here again and the leaves are changing colour for a few short weeks. I love this season for its beauty and fresh air, and who doesn’t love the crunch of fallen leaves beneath their feet? While we in the UK may not see the beautiful colours on the same scale as New England or Japan there are still some lovely places to enjoy the best of the season.
Westonbirt is the National Arboretum and is located just outside the Cotswold town of Tetbury in South West of England. It is known for its collection of Japanese maples and I was keen to see these, remembering their spectacular colours from a trip to Japan. There are acres of woodland, paths and open spaces, perfect for the children to tear about in. We seized our opportunity to catch the best of the autumn on a perfect October day.
When we arrived, we turned left from the entrance and made our way straight to the new Treetop Walkway, a 300m long bridge that takes you up into the treetops to get a closer look at some of the species found here. There are plenty of educational stations dotted along the walkway, some of which go into a fair bit of scientific detail for older children and adults.
For younger children there are rope bridges, crows’ nest lookouts and peepholes to get a closer look at items hidden amongst the branches. The Cub had a great time clambering about, and wasn’t bothered about the height of the walkway at all.
From the far end of the walkway you can continue into the dog-friendly area of the Silk Wood and either follow the autumn trails marked on your map or just wander about as you like, but we chose to turn back and head to the restaurant area.
There are plenty of dining options at Westonbirt. You can pack a picnic and eat at picnic tables, buy food from the stalls set out along the path (we saw fish and chips, burgers and more), or eat hot or cold food from the restaurant. My vegetarian bean stew with cheese scone was delicious and seasonal, and the children and husband had sandwiches. Next to the restaurant is the shop and an adventure playground for children.
From the restaurants we decided to walk through the dog-free area of the Old Arboretum. Our map was helpfully marked with the best places to spot autumn colour. You don’t have to stick to the trails, however, and are free to walk off paths wherever you like.
The most beautiful part of the Old Arboretum was the Colour Circle. We left the path here and walked through the acer collection. Some of the trees had turned completely but others were just beginning their colour change.
The children were able to wear themselves out just running about and collecting all the different coloured leaves they could find. We were there on a busy weekend but Westonbirt is so large that it never feels crowded walking about. If you are also visiting with children be sure to check in the visitor centre for kids’ seasonal activities and things to spot on the trails.
If you are not restricted by tiny children, you could take a 2 hour guided walk through the Westonbirt. You can join the walks at 11am and 2pm at weekends and bank holidays from outside the Great Oak Hall, and on Wednesdays at 11am from the Welcome Building. Events and workshops here change with the seasons so it’s worth taking a look at the Westonbirt events page to see what’s on before you visit.
Those interested in finding specific trees and looking at National Collections can pick up maps detailing where to find them at the visitor centre. Trees of special interest are marked and there are information boards dotted throughout Westonbirt so you won’t miss anything, unless like us, you are chasing after two determined small children.
You could easily spend the whole day at Westonbirt; walk over the skywalk and through the Silk Wood in the morning and through the Old Arboretum in the afternoon. There are more acers in the Silk Wood area but we found that the Old Arboretum was big enough for us on this visit.
Westonbirt Arboretum is perfect for visiting year round but it definitely has a special quality in the autumn, and I couldn’t think of many better places in the Cotswolds to enjoy the season.
What are your favourite places to visit in the autumn? Let me know in the comments.
Know before you go
It is best to reach Westonbirt by car and there is plenty of parking on site. The nearest big town is Tetbury.
The paths are buggy friendly – we took ours all round the Old Arboretum and over the Treetop Walkway.
Autumn admission is £9 for adults and £4 for children aged 5 – 18. Prices change with the season. Check the Forestry Commission website for up to date pricing and admission.