Where to enjoyAutumn Colourwithout a car

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Sunlight slanting through fiery maples, woodland walks under golden beeches, bronze and ochre forests reflected in a misty lake… autumn colour is one of the compensations for approaching winter (along with fireside pints in country pubs). This guide to car-free autumn trips kicks off with Westonbirt, Forestry England’s awe-inspiring arboretum in Gloucestershire (with thanks to John Ealing for the picture above of the famous Westonbirt maples). With kids: don’t miss the tree-fringed pathways round Great Missenden, home of the Roald Dahl museum (see 9 below).

  • County: without a car
  • Great for: bird watching | bluebell woods | Picnics | scenic bus | wildlife | woodland |
  • Refreshments: pubs, cafes and restaurants
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch: features@goodjourney.org.uk
  1. 4. Epping Forest, Essex

    With its wild open spaces and ancient woodlands, epic Epping Forest stretches from the edge of London up into Essex. There are lots of options for getting there car-free, but it’s easy to get lost in so you’ll want a map (Ordnance Survey Explorer 174 is good) and boots – it can be seriously muddy in wet weather!

    • How to get to Epping Forest: For a stroll around the deep woods, deer parks, and prehistoric castle earthworks at the northern end of the forest, catch the central line tube to Theydon Bois.  You can also walk into the forest quite quickly from Loughton or from Chingford overground station, which is close to the more open southern landscapes. The map below shows the quickest way into the forest from each of these stations. Near Chingford, visitors can also see Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, where Tudor visitors once watched royal hunts. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • Eat and drink: there are several pubs dotted around the edges of the forest. In a restored barn next to the hunting lodge, the Butlers Retreat offers good food and hot drinks.
  1. 5. Wyre Forest, Worcestershire

    Wander through the bracken-bordered paths and under the leafy branches of Wyre Forest for a chance to spot interesting birds like flycatchers, warblers and even long-eared owls. Containing a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Scientific Interest, this six-thousand-acre wood is a beautiful place for a family stroll or cycle. You can hire bikes, explore the Go Ape adventure walkways, play in the playground or simply walk the dog.

    • How to get to Wyre Forest: Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • Eat and drink: from ices creams and milk shakes to pies and doughnuts, the Forest Cafe will keep your energy levels up for a woodland excursion
    • For more ideas in the area, see our guide to car-free Stourbridge, which is 10 minutes from Kidderminster by train. And look out for a guide to car-free Kidderminster – coming soon!
  1. 6. Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire

    Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Tourism have devised a guide for “leaf peepers” with short walks and cycle rides past iconic sites like Tintern Abbey. Overlooking the River Wye, this twelfth century abbey has been perennially popular poets and painters. It looks particularly good in Autumn and the bus journey there, along the wooded Wye Valley, is also spectacular.

    • How to get to Tintern Abbey: Bus 69 leaves regularly (less regularly on Sundays) from Stand 1 at Chepstow bus station, heading for Monmouth. Tintern is a pretty village, deep in the riverside woods, with a choice of pubs and cafés. Walk over the footbridge and up through a steep bank of trees to reach Offa’s Dyke footpath and the Devil’s Pulpit viewpoint (it’s an energetic mile or so each way with signs to the viewpoint). Walking routes to the abbey and viewpoint are shown on the map below. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • From this viewpoint: Wordsworth was inspired to write his poem about Tintern Abbey, where he described the waters, “rolling from their mountain-springs/ With a soft inland murmur” and the steep, lofty cliffs: “That on a wild secluded scene impress/Thoughts of more deep seclusion”.
    • On the way there or back: the bus goes through the village of St Arvans before it reaches Tintern. For more walking, get off at Moss Cottages, opposite the car park for Lower Wyndcliffe Woods, and climb 365 steps, through golden beeches and coppery oaks, up the winding woodland path to the Eagle’s Nest viewpoint overlooking the Wye valley (thanks to Gemma Wood for the photo). On a clear day you can see all the way to the River Severn and the Cotswolds.
  1. 7. Dalby Forest and Yorkshire Arboretum, Yorkshire

    In the Howardian Hills near Malton, you can visit the Yorkshire Arboretum and enjoy autumn colour at a discount when you arrive by bus. Dalby Forest, on the southern slopes of the North York Moors, has more than twenty different trails for running, walking and cycling, exploring the forest’s high wooded plateau and series of valleys. You can hire bikes, brave the treetop ropeways at Go Ape or stop off at cafes and picnic sites. Look out for rabbits and roe deer, pheasants and woodpeckers.

    • How to get to Dalby Forest: Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • On the way: The Coastliner bus 840 (voted Britain’s most scenic bus route in 2018) runs from York to Whitby every couple of hours and stops at the Fox and Rabbit Inn, near Dalby. On the way from York, the bus goes through Malton, a lovely market town with a growing reputation as a foodie destination. For lots more ideas about things to see from the Coastliner buses, have a look at our guide.
    • The Yorkshire Arboretum, near Castle Howard on the far side of Malton, is another fabulous place for autumn colour – stroll by the lake through colourful acers and look out for autumn crocuses and bight berries. Get there using Good Journey’s directions. And don’t miss the fabulous café: hot soup or cake and coffee could be what’s needed after a bracing autumn stroll!
  1. 8. Thetford, Norfolk

    Herons, kingfishers, egrets and gliding swans: there’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the Little Ouse River. The banks are pungent with water mint and meadow sweet; huge poplars, oak trees and scotch pines tower over the landscape. After a little stroll around the town of Thetford with its impressive priory ruins, the Little Ouse Path leads along the river and through the varied scenery of the Brecks: forest and heathland, marshes and villages.

    • How to get to Thetford: Take the regular train from Norwich or Cambridge to Thetford. It’s a short walk to the priory ruins and, from there, a riverside path leads through the wooded acres of Britain’s largest lowland forest (see map below). The Little Ouse path is signed from Thetford to Brandon, ten miles away. Or simply ride through it on the railway and admire the autumn woodland from the window, before exploring the town!
    • In the area: There are lots of interesting places to explore car-free by train, bus or foot around Thetford.
  1. 9. Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

    “On a hill above a valley there was a wood. In the wood there was a huge tree. Under the tree there was a hole. In the hole live Mr Fox and Mrs Fox and their four Small Foxes” Roald Dahl’s simple scene-setting in Fantastic Mr Fox is deeply rooted in the Chiltern countryside. The hilly beech woods west of London are a beautiful place for an autumn stroll; combine a woodland adventure with a visit to the Roald Dahl museum and story centre, just five minutes walk from Great Missenden station.

    • How to get to Great Missenden: Follow Good Journey’s directions. The 40 minute train journey from Marylebone passes through part of the Chilterns AONB.
    • Eat and drink: in the museum’s imaginative cafe or one of Great Missenden’s pubs.
    • Explore: the village where Roald Dahl lived and wrote for nearly years. The museum has a range of village and countryside trails that introduce visitors to the local landmarks and landscapes that inspired the well-loved children’s author. You can also have a look at some more of the suggestions in our car-free guide to Aylesbury.
  1. 10. Gosford House, East Lothian

    A gem of an estate with colourful trees reflected in the ornamental lakes, Gosford House is a neoclassical stately home, designed by Robert Adam, with 5000 acres of grounds stretching out through woods, golf courses and parkland to the East Lothian coast. The grounds are open all year round and are a well-kept local secret. Buy a permit from the farm shop to visit the dreaming woods and limestone curling house, reflected in peaceful lakes.

    • How to get to Gosford House: catch bus 124 from Edinburgh and ride an hour along the scenic coast road, with views left across the sea. Soon after passing Gosford’s lodge, the bus turns inland. Get off at the Pleasance, walk a few steps back along the road, and walk along the signed drive to the Bothy farm shop.
    • Eat and drink: in the Bothy café. There’s lots of farm-fresh produce, sustaining pies for lunch and hot drinks to warm you up after a brisk autumnal stroll.
  1. 11. Attadale Gardens

    Red maple leaves on a white wrought iron bench. Mosses and lichens wreathing the tall tree trunks. An avenue of gold-leaved silver birches. A multicoloured autumn patchwork backed by white turrets, lochs and mountains. Unmissable Attadale Gardens on Loch Carron near Scotland’s West Coast are full of seasonal splendour. There’s a fernery, hidden animal sculptures, and a tea room with legendary home made cake. Come back in spring to see the rhododendron walk in flower!

    How to get to Attadale Gardens: The gardens are just a five-minute stroll from Attadale Station with direct trains from Inverness, the Kyle of Lochalsh, and stations in between – one of the UK’s most beautiful train journeys with spectacular Highland scenery. Follow Good Journey’s directions.

  1. 12. Old Court Nurseries

    Picton Garden at the Old Court Nurseries near Malvern must be the UK’s purplest October garden. The nurseries have the National Collection of Michaelmas daisies, with 430 different varieties blooming shades of pale lilac, violet or magenta in the densely-packed acre and a half of Picton Garden.

    How to get to Old Court Nurseries car-free: The gardens are a ten-minute walk from Colwall station. Head away from the station along Lockyear Close and turn right up Walwyn Road. To get even closer, bus 675 from Ledbury to Great Malvern (another scenic journey) stops at the Winnings just outside the entrance.

  • Epping Forest - from our Autumn colour car-free trips
  • Wyre Forest - from our Autumn colour car-free trips
  • Tintern Abbey - spotted on our Autumn colour car-free trips
  • Wye Valley - Autumn colour car-free trips
  • Epping Forest - Autumn colour car-free trips
  • Riverside path - Autumn colour car-free trips
  • Sunlit Autumn trees - Autumn colour car-free trips
  • Tree in sunlight on Ridgeway - Autumn colour car-free trips
  • Gosford House lake reflection - Autumn colour car-free trips