See all stories
8 Nov 2021

Highlights of the season

Written by Rich Rowe
A woodland path, covered in fallen orange leaves, wends through trees. A rocky bank rises to the right of the path.
Colourful, evocative and full of interest, autumn is a spectacular time to head outdoors – with a feast of experiences to enjoy at Trust properties around the country.

Autumn colours

It’s fair to say that trees have a special magic at this time of year. Triggered by a combination of reduced light levels and lower night-time temperatures, the verdant greens of summer give way to every possible shade of red, yellow, gold and russet. The leaf colours are best where there is a mix of deciduous trees – beech, birch, oak, horse chestnut, rowan, hazel and more – with the mosaic of colours thrown into even sharper relief by the piercing light of a blue-sky day. With a cluster of properties in the heart of Perthshire’s ‘Big Tree Country’ – the Hermitage, Dunkeld, Killiecrankie and Linn of Tummel – we have plenty of hotspots where autumn splendour can be enjoyed at its fullest.

Also at: Brodick Castle, Glencoe, Fyvie Castle, Crarae Garden and Threave Garden & Estate

A white foaming river rushes over glistening rocks in an autumn woodland, with hills rising either side.
The Falls of Tummel

Fabulous fungi

It can sometimes feel as if fungi appear overnight, with mushrooms and toadstools pushing out of the ground in woodland settings throughout the country. But in truth they never really went away. Autumn just offers a glimpse of organisms that spend much of their lifecycle out of sight. The weird and wonderful bits we see above ground – the cups, brackets, puffballs, coral-like shapes and jelly-like blobs – are the reproductive structures, or the ‘fruits’, of an often vast network of microscopic structures. This year has been a particularly good fungi ‘fruiting’ year at Mar Lodge Estate, with rangers spotting unusually high numbers of the impressive wood cauliflower fungus – a massive species that grows at the base of pine trees and can weigh in at well over a kilogramme.

Also at: Brodick Country Park and Inverewe

A large, off-white, cauliflower-shaped fungus grows at the bottom of a tree. It is surrounded by clumps of moss.
Wood cauliflower fungus (Sparassis spathulata)

Leap of faith

There are few more impressive sights in the natural world than a huge Atlantic salmon leaping clear of the water as it fights its way up a near-vertical waterfall. Some soar and succeed; others flop and fail, only to try, try again. All are driven by a natural instinct to head upstream to spawn in their rivers of origin. Given the energy expended to do so, the majority of salmon have nothing left to give: most die after spawning, although a small proportion will spawn again following another trip to sea. The Soldier’s Leap at Killiecrankie offers an excellent vantage point for this remarkable natural spectacle.

Also at: The Hermitage, Linn of Tummel and Crathes Castle

A large salmon leaps up a rushing waterfall. The water is white, brown and foaming. The fish is shiny and grey.
Salmon leaping up a waterfall

Getting fruity

As those lucky enough to have fruit trees in their gardens will testify, autumn is a season of bounty with damsons (all too briefly), apples and pears all ripe and ready to be picked. The Trust plays a key role in preserving ancient varieties of apples. In the orchard at Priorwood Garden, more than 90 kinds of apple are grown, including 70 heritage varieties – all against the magnificent backdrop of Melrose Abbey. Elsewhere, the orchard at Pitmedden Garden is home to apple varieties that are believed to date back to the 17th century. Here, the harvest begins in August, although the high point of the season is Apple Sunday in late September when people come from far and wide to sample and buy some of the heritage varieties grown in the orchard.

Also at: Brodie Castle and Falkland Palace

Close-up of red-green apples hanging from a tree, with Melrose Abbey in the background.
The orchard at Priorwood Garden, Melrose

Spectacular fly-bys

It’s hard to imagine, but a Scottish winter feels positively balmy to some species! Every autumn, tens of thousands of pink-footed geese from Iceland and Greenland arrive on Scottish coasts and estuaries to overwinter or rest up en route to wintering grounds further south. One favourite spot is the House of Dun & Montrose Basin Nature Reserve – a vast tidal basin that attracts more than 60,000 geese as well as many thousands of other wintering wading birds and wildfowl. The geese feed on farmland during the day and return to roost on the mudflats at dusk where they settle down for the night, safe from predators. Well worth getting up for early in the morning, the sight and sound of their wonderfully noisy mass flights is something to behold.

Also at: Threave Garden & Estate

A flock of geese fly across a blue winter sky.
A flock of geese fly across a blue winter sky.

I love this place

By joining the National Trust for Scotland, you can protect the places that matter to you and experience the best that Scotland has to offer.

Join today
A young woman walks along a clifftop path, with binoculars around her neck. >