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21 Sept 2022

Autumn highlights in Scotland

A man and woman walk together along a woodland path above a river. It is autumn and the surrounding trees have golden leaves.
As the season turns and the glow of summer begins to fade into the golden splendour of autumn, this is a wonderful time to explore Scotland’s many treasures.

Whether you love wandering through grand castles and historic houses or prefer spending time on purple mountains and in deep forests, the National Trust for Scotland offers inspiring days out across Scotland. Spending time at our places is good for the body and soul. This autumn, reconnect with old favourites and find new places to love.

Ayrshire & Arran

Children playing on Culzean beach, in front of the castle

A stroll in Burns Country

If you head to the picturesque village of Alloway, you can enjoy the Burns Country Walk, which begins at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Pass through the Memorial Gardens beside Burns Monument and cross over the Brig o’ Doon, made famous by Burns in Tam o’ Shanter.

The route takes you down to the coast, where you can experience the fresh sea breeze and enjoy views across to the Isle of Arran. On the way back, stop in at the museum to see many artefacts from Burns’s life, admire the sculptures along the Poet’s Path and explore the humble cottage where the Bard was born. Perhaps it will inspire you to write a few lines of your own!

Plan your trip to Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

A very large stone statue of a mouse sitting on its hind legs stands on a patch of grass beside a long, straight path. In the background, a couple walk arm in arm along the path. A large hedge borders the path to the other side.
Poet’s Path at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Spotlight on: Culzean Castle and Country Park

There’s nowhere quite like Culzean, outside the pages of a fantasy novel. Gordon Nelson, Head Guide and Collections Care Officer, has worked at the castle for 25 years and loves to welcome folk to this beautiful property. He has a few special highlights for you to look out for when you visit:

  • Hundreds of flintlock pistols and swords
    All of the weapons have been used, although we're not sure in exactly which battles. We have weapons from the Jacobite period in Scotland, the Napoleonic Wars, the Peninsular War, the East India Company and the American Revolutionary War as well. Each will have a story – maybe it’s a good job they can’t talk!
  • Teak propeller from WW1
    This came from the aircraft that first shot down a German airship, just outside London in September 1916. The aircraft was a B.E.2c night fighter, flown by Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson. He won the Victoria Cross for that action and later became a captain before being shot down, captured and badly treated by the Germans. He fell ill in the 1918 influenza pandemic when he returned to Britain and tragically died at just 23 years of age.
  • Llamas, deer and starfish
    If you’ve got little ones with you, they’ll love the adventure play parks and looking out for all sorts of creatures in the country park.

If you feel like a really luxurious visit, book to stay in the castle wing where President Eisenhower himself stayed.

A view looking up at a large collection of pistols mounted on a wall, arranged in the shape of a wheel. An ornamental drum stands in the foreground.
The Armoury at Culzean Castle

Scotland in miniature

A short ferry ride from Ardrossan on the mainland and you’ll be immersed in the rugged beauty of Arran. Whether you’re seeking quiet contemplation, walking, climbing, wild swimming or nature-spotting – we have something for you.

  • Visit Brodick Castle to admire its impressive art and silver collections, as well as play the interactive games in the Victorian-style arcade.
  • Take a walk through the gorgeous Glen Rosa. This dramatic glen was carved by glacial action thousands of years ago. Keep an eye out for golden eagles soaring above, and delicate emperor moths and adders to be spotted closer to the ground.
  • Feel like more of a challenge? Goat Fell is the highest point on the island, and its splendid craggy shoulders certainly dominate the view. Experienced walkers will enjoy the climb – but take particular care over the last 200m of ascent. The breathtaking views are well worth the steep scramble.

Edinburgh and Glasgow

A view of the grand exterior of Newhailes House, seen from beneath leafy horse chestnut trees. A large gravel drive sweeps up to the stone entrance staircase.

A breath of fresh air at Greenbank Garden

Visiting Glasgow for a short getaway? Scotland’s largest city is known for its delightful green spaces – perfect to grab a breather in your busy sightseeing schedule.

Greenbank Garden is beautiful year-round, as this urban oasis is home to over 3,500 species of plants. The property is surrounded by tall swaying beeches, which flame a spectacular gold in autumn. It’s hard to believe you’re barely 2 miles from the bustling centre of Glasgow here.

The garden team run regular guided walks so you can appreciate the history and horticulture of the garden. Autumn and winter are often a season of preparation for the year ahead, so why not quiz our gardeners and volunteers on tips and tricks for your own garden? Don’t forget to stop off for a delicious at our café before you leave – after all that wandering, you will definitely have earned it!

A close-up view of Foam, the bronze fountain statue in Greenbank Garden. The sun shimmers through droplets of water from the fountain.
The beautiful statue of Foam at the centre of Greenbank Garden

Spotlight on: Newhailes House and Gardens

Just outside of Edinburgh, Newhailes House is a Palladian mansion set within a beautiful estate. With strong links to the Scottish Enlightenment, Newhailes was once said to have the best library in Scotland. It’s a popular place to spend time wandering along the peaceful woodland walks, taking in the glorious views across the Forth.

The kids are sure to love Weehailes Adventure Playpark, which takes inspiration from the fine library and the Enlightenment period in its cleverly designed features! The stables and courtyard have also been recently refurbished. The café has loads of delicious warming options that are just perfect after time spent enjoying the fresh air and relaxing atmosphere.

A child in a sun hat sits in a swing seat, while behind her a man with grey hair and sunglasses reaches out to push the swing for her.
Enjoying Weehailes | Image: Stuart Attwood

A true taste of history

Food often offers a powerful and relatable way to connect with our past. The Tenement House in Glasgow showcases the apartment of two ordinary working women who moved into the building in the early 20th century. The house feels as though you’ve stepped back in time 100 years, even down to the still-functioning gas lights. Ana Sanchez, Visitor Services Supervisor, says: ‘Everyone’s favourite room is the kitchen – which is also my favourite room – and that would have been the heart of the home. We know that Miss Toward really loved to cook because we have all of her recipes’. As well as the recipes, we also have a large collection of homemade jam, which includes Victoria plum jam from September 1947, strawberry from 1961, and rhubarb and ginger from 1963!

Over at Gladstone’s Land in Edinburgh, we can travel even further back in time through the building’s relationship to food. The Trust commissioned research from Lindsay Middleton, PhD researcher in food history at the University of Glasgow and University of Aberdeen, to understand more about how food and history combine in this unique property. She explained: ‘Historical food is something we are becoming increasingly interested in, whether it is history week on the Great British Bake Off or reading recipes in historical cookbooks and marvelling at strange ingredients and cooking techniques. Scottish food does have a rich and varied history. In the harsh climate, Scottish people have had to be creative with food.’

Innovative traditional foods included the likes of bannocks sweetened with fruit, sugar or honey; parlies, a type of ginger biscuit named because they were a favourite with members of the Scottish parliament; and ‘donkey tea’, toast steeped in hot water.

Check the Gladstone’s Land Events page for food-related tours

North East

A close-up view of the legs of two young children, wearing wellies, jumping in a large muddy puddle on a path.

Dandering through the Old Wood of Drum

Drum Castle is one of the oldest tower houses in all of Scotland – over 700 years of history have played out in this place. Robert the Bruce himself gifted the Royal Forest and Tower of Drum to the Irvine family in 1323. Step outside the historic castle and you’ll be in an ancient oak forest. Home to roe deer, red squirrels and badgers, this woodland is truly special.

There are three trails to choose from – each showing a different aspect of the Trust’s work at Drum. The Woodland Walk winds through the Old Wood, where dense stands of birch give way to more open woodland and grand old oak trees. On the Drumhill Trail, you can see how the Trust is encouraging natural regeneration. Finally, the Farmland Walk takes you through a patchwork of fields and woodland.

If you have little ones with you, look out for the hidden playground in the woodland! They’ll love dashing through the willow tunnel, hopping along the Snakes and Ladders Trail, or playing the wooden drum kit.

Stay a little longer in the beautiful Courtyard Cottage

A view of a woodland clearing, with old oak trees in the background. In the foreground are heaps of bracken and ferns.
The Old Wood of Drum

Spotlight on: House of Dun, near Montrose

House of Dun, a stunning Georgian mansion house, offers tours from costumed guides who are inspired by former residents. The recently renovated Courtyard is now home to the Angus Folk Collection, which tells the stories of the people of Angus.

Jason Robertson, Visitor Services Manager, has picked out some highlights:

  • If you love period dramas like Gosford Park or Downton Abbey, the complex life of the servants is sure to be of interest. Each room has a bell with a unique sound, to help with the smooth running of the house. The question that fascinates me is, how long did you have to work here before you knew which bell was ringing without checking the label beneath it? There are 20 different bells and 20 different sounds!
  • Other items in the house tell us more about the family who owned House of Dun, including a stuffed parrot. Next to the parrot you will see a photograph of Lady Augusta’s daughter holding it – that’s a beautiful link to the past. The picture shows that the stuffed parrot wasn’t a trophy, but a memorial to a treasured family pet.

Stay in the renovated old stables and explore the beautiful surrounding estate

A costumed guide dressed as a Victorian cook is stood in a traditional kitchen holding a large mortar and pestle. Copper pots and pans, kettles and jelly moulds of all sizes sit on the shelf or hang on the wall behind her, and on the wooden table in front of her is an assortment of earthenware mixing bowls, a jug, and scales.
The cook in the kitchen at House of Dun | Image: Stewart Attwood

Spooky spots for Halloween

As the weather begins to cool, traditionally we begin to look for other chills too. Across the North East and Angus, there are many tales of the supernatural, including some strange ghostly sightings.

Crathes Castle
The Green Lady’s Room at Crathes is named after the spirit of a young woman, who has often been seen by the fireplace wearing a green dress and cradling an infant in her arms. Queen Victoria is said to have seen the Green Lady during her stay here.
When the castle was renovated in the 1800s, the bones of a child – presumed murdered – were discovered under the hearthstone of the fireplace. The true identity of this poor child, and the Green Lady, remains shrouded in mystery.

Fyvie Castle
Venture inside this 800-year-old Baronial fortress if you dare – Fyvie has been plagued with tales of murder and betrayal. You may feel the temperature drop and smell the strong scent of roses – if so, you could be in the presence of the ghost of Lilias Drummond. Lilias was starved to death by her husband, Alexander Seton, for failing to provide an heir. When he married again, it is said that on his wedding night, the sound of wailing was heard outside of the nuptial bedchambers. The next morning, Lilias’ name was found scratched into the wall. It can still be seen there today.

Craigievar Castle
Behind the romantic pink façade lies a dark history. Stories of betrayal, murder and ancient clan feuds linger around Craigievar. If you’re searching for a wandering spirit, you’re most likely to meet the ghost of a fiddler, who fell into the castle well and drowned. You should also listen out for the eerie strains of his fiddle echoing through the castle ...

Find more ideas for spine-tingling days out

Highlands and Islands

Two young women walk along a path in Glencoe, with tall mountains ahead of them. They are both jumping over a drain in the middle of the path.

Take a walk through history at Culloden

As autumn rusts the heather, this is a great time to visit the solemn battlefield of Culloden. It was here, on 16 April 1746, that the final Jacobite Rising came to a brutal head. The Jacobites, who hoped to restore the Stuart monarchy, faced the Duke of Cumberland’s troops, but the battle was devastatingly swift - around 1,600 men died in less than an hour. Nearly all were Jacobites.

This tragic day marked the end of the Jacobite campaign and represented a shift in the history of Scotland. Visitors to this historic place never fail to be moved; a visit here lingers long in your memory. Our visitor centre uses a blend of technology and archaeology to bring the history of the battle to life. Items include the Brodie Sword with images of dolphins and Medusa on its hilt – as well as more commonplace objects such as musket balls and a delicate pewter cross.

While you’re walking across the battlefield, you may also see our special grazing team – our Highland coos, along with 12 Shetland cattle, six primitive goats and two Highland ponies play a key role in looking after the battlefield. Raoul Curtis-Machin, Operations Manager at Culloden, explains: ‘Our grazers are doing exactly what we want them to: eating the birch, willow and rowan scrub and helping keep the battlefield look like it should. This means that we can control the vegetation growth whilst keeping the use of machinery and chemicals to a minimum.’

Find out more about our conservation grazing team

A view looking across the expanse of Culloden Moor, with a pretty much uninterrupted view of grass all the way to the horizon. There is a line of red flags running across the field.
Culloden Battlefield

Spotlight on: Brodie Castle & Estate

This impressive castle was the ancestral home of the Brodie clan for over 400 years. It's a place which allows you to travel through time. From the defensive 16th-century wing to the cosier 17th-century family section through to the sprawling Victorian extension, the castle has evolved as ways of life have changed. The paintings also give us an insight into changing tastes. The collection includes dark and austere 17th-century Dutch masters, in contrast to the vibrant works by 20th-century Scottish Colourists.

Younger visitors will love the chance to romp in the Playful Garden. With quirky sculptures and play equipment to explore, the garden is also home to Scotland’s biggest bunny sculpture! You won’t be able to miss him lounging on the lawn.

Brodie also boasts beautiful grounds - from formal gardens to natural woodland. It’s a fantastic place to get in touch with nature, with trails and hides offering great opportunities to spot some wildlife during your visit. As well as red squirrels, deer and pine martens, the estate is home to herons, otters and even badgers.

Extend your stay and sleep in the luxurious accommodation of The Laird’s Wing

A view of the Playful Garden at Brodie Castle, showing visitors playing on various installations. Children run around a miniature Brodie Castle on the right. In the foreground, children play on giant spinning bobbins.
The Playful Garden at Brodie Castle

Winter and autumn wildlife watching

Pack your binoculars and camera, and take a cool weather safari through Scotland’s beautiful countryside to spot the ‘Big Five’: red squirrel, red deer, golden eagle, otter and harbour seal. Spotting all five is the ultimate achievement for wildlife enthusiasts. The National Trust for Scotland works tirelessly to protect habitats that are home to many different animal and plant communities.

Glencoe NNR offers the chance to tick off two of the Big Five: golden eagles and red deer. Keep an eye out for eagles soaring above the peaks or nesting in the remote hilltops and corries. Autumn is rutting season for deer, so listen out for their throaty calls echoing in the glen. Give them plenty of space – they might be battling for a hind’s affections. Glencoe is also home to a rich variety of birdlife – from water-loving dippers, hopping from rock to rock beside the River Coe, to whooper swans, who spend the winter at Loch Achtriochtan.

At Inverewe you can cross another Big Five animal off your list: the charismatic red squirrel! Red squirrels were reintroduced here in 2017. Squirrels build their homes in the forks of trees to provide shelter and to rear young. You might be able to spot their dreys (squirrel nests) in the garden and surrounding woodlands. The building of dreys indicates that the red squirrels are thriving here. We’ve set up some feeders and boxes in the garden and on the Pinewood Trail to help you spot this shy and beautiful creature.

Kintail’s dramatic landscape includes craggy mountains, a rocky coastline and salt marshes, making the perfect home for many different animal and bird species. In this wilderness, you might spot two more of the Big Five: otters and harbour seals. Keep an eye out for them along the coastline, as well as in Kintail’s rivers and lochs. Autumn is the best time to go looking for harbour seals. There is plenty of food around and the sea is a tiny bit warmer – the seals will use this time to put on bulk for the cold months ahead. Make sure you give the seals plenty of space and keep your dog on a lead.

Where to enjoy autumn colour

A black and white dog playing among leaves on a green lawn.

The gorgeous flash of gold and copper in the autumn makes this one of the best times to visit Scotland. We know that spending time in nature is good for our hearts and souls as well as our health. Here are some of the best places to appreciate the colours of autumn in Scotland.

Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve
Corrieshalloch is truly spectacular in autumn. A beautiful Victorian suspension bridge allows you to gaze down over a series of crashing waterfalls. As well as the pines, Corrieshalloch is filled with beautiful native woodlands that really show off the best of autumn colour.

Dollar Glen
From the ruins of Castle Campbell to the tumbling waterfalls of the Burns of Care and Sorrow, the thickly wooded slopes of the glen make this a perfect place to appreciate autumn foliage.

The Hermitage
Perthshire has long been known as Big Tree Country – and the star of this gorgeous area is the Hermitage. As you make your way along the tracks, you’ll hear the thundering of the Black Linn falls – a dramatic waterfall at the heart of the Hermitage. As you appreciate the blazing colour of the trees, keep an eye out for red squirrels jumping from branch to branch and salmon leaping in the water.

Just down the road, Killiecrankie is truly spectacular in autumn as the gorge’s woods take on the burnished glory of the season. As well as the beautiful leaves, take care to look for rare and unusual fungi – the Pass is known for being a hot spot for rare mushrooms and toadstools.

Threave Garden
This beautiful garden is designed to make the most of each season, and is home to the Trust’s School of Heritage Gardening. Keep an eye out for the purple Japanese maple and the beautiful katsura tree – this plant has a delicious burnt sugar scent as its leaves turn in the autumn.

An aerial colour photograph of Killiecrankie in autumn, showing the trees in their autumn colours. The rivers runs through the centre of the image, with the footbridge in the distance.

This article was first published in the Spectacular Autumn Days Out guide in the Daily Mail.

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