Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount
What you might see on a Local strollin Autumn
With Covid restrictions continuing, lots of us are walking and cycling in the countryside near home. Here are a few things to look out for this autumn and winter that you can spot almost anywhere: in parks and fields, in woods or by water. The most obvious signs of autumn are colourful leaves, but there are also berries, late flowers, striking seed heads and overwintering birds.
1. Autumn leaves
This year’s autumn displays are particularly spectacular after a sunny spring and September. Trees respond to shorter days by preparing to survive the winter on stored energy, getting rid of green chlorophyll and turning yellow and orange. Different trees change colour at different times, but there are usually grand displays across the UK, starting earlier in Scotland and the North, until late November.
- Blazing beech trees are some of the most beautiful and areas like the Chiltern hills are cloaked with gold and copper. Tall with smooth-barked trunks, they shed little nuts called beechmast onto park and woodland paths.
- Maple trees (or acers) can turn extraordinary red colours as cold nights and sunny days produce sugars in their leaves. Unlike in North America, where red is major part of the legendary fall colours, British autumns tend to feature more ochres and yellows. The best places to see colourful maples are generally parks and public gardens with ornamental planting. The first UK maples were introduced in the 17th century. If you’re lucky enough to live near Westonbirt or Yorkshire Arboretum, they both have some lovely acers and are both (currently) open during lockdown.
- The leaves on silver birch trees turn gold in autumn providing another magical show, along with pale yellow limes and russet oaks.
It’s not only leaves that are colourful at this time of years. Look out for orange rowan berries, tiny plum-like sloes, and late-hanging apples that start to look like Christmas baubles on the trees’ bare branches.
- It’s a great year for holly berries, already glowing red among the shiny green leaves. And poisonous spindle berries, which are bright pink and orange – colours it’s hard to believe are natural.
- Scarlet rosehips and crimson hawthorn berries are making a splash in the hedgerows too. Blackberry season may be mostly over, but dark blue sloes are perfect for making purple sloe gin after the first frosts have made their skins permeable.
- Little sour crab apples are falling off the branches already. If you can find enough undamaged ones, they make a great basis for hedgerow jelly, using whatever edible fruits you can find.
3. Flowers and fungi
Look out too for classic fairy-tale-style white-spotted, red fly agaric or the heart-shaped pink flowers of cyclamen hiding under the trees.
- Foraging for fungi can also provide free food, but you need to know what you are doing as some of them (including the amanita pictured) are deadly. You may prefer simply to admire their interesting shapes and colours in situ, along with autumn mosses and lichens and the last few flowers.
- Michaelmas daisies are named for the feast of St Michael in late September, but their pretty mauve flowers can continue into November, along with other hardy stragglers.
- People on twitter might like to join @wildflowerhour every Sunday 8-9pm, which has just started its seasonal challenge #thewinter10 to find ten wild or naturalised plants in bloom.