Amazing autumn walks at the National Trust
Autumn is officially here! The air is chilly even when the sun is shining, and leaves are turning dazzling shades of yellow, orange and red before falling to make a colourful natural carpet on the ground below. This week we dug out our knitted hats, snuggly scarves and wooly gloves to prepare for the cold months ahead, as we put away our summer clothes for another year. It’s not yet winter hibernation weather, where we hunker down at housesits with roaring fires, and Christmas decorations signal the end of another year of housesitting and travelling. But it is that time of year where the air is fresh in your lungs and you can enjoy getting out for an autumnal walk, if only to relish the cosy feeling of returning home to a nice cup of hot chocolate.
While National Trust places closed completely when the UK entered lockdown, the majority have now re-opened, with a new online booking system in place to control visitor numbers. Many of the properties themselves are still closed while the National Trust works to ensure a safe indoor environment to allow social-distancing, however the grounds and stunning gardens that are synonymous with the National Trust have re-opened. Over the past few months we’ve enjoyed getting back to visiting National Trust places, and even more so now that beautiful autumn colours have arrived in nature.
Whenever we arrive at a housesit, we always check the National Trust app to see the properties in our area, especially if we’re in a totally new location. We love exploring new places, and the expertly maintained grounds of National Trust places make for easy and enjoyable walking. Their volunteers work tirelessly to create perfect picturesque gardens and views for the public to admire and it shows in spades. As we have been fortunate enough to receive lifetime National Trust membership as a gift from Suze’s parents, we visit lots of their properties up and down the country. As the change of season is in full swing, we’re sharing our top three choices for an NT autumnal walk!
We’ve visited Stourhead, in Wiltshire, more than once and it’s different each time. This landscape garden is home to many varying species of trees, including Japanese Acers, North American Maples, and Oaks, which all begin to change colour at different times in the season. While that makes it difficult to choose a ‘good time’ to visit Stourhead, it means that whatever time of year you go there will always be something to see! The National Trust have purposely designed a planting scheme which allows the colours to flow through the landscape over a two month period in autumn so you won’t miss those rusty autumnal shades.
This autumn the garden is open with a waymarked one-way route around the lake to allow for social distancing. On our most recent visit with our friend and lifestyle blogger Jenna Fifi, we booked an afternoon slot for a dog walk and we still had plenty of space to explore this beautiful garden and its various monuments. Biscuit and Macintosh (our doggo pals for the week as we were housesitting near Bristol), plus Maisie and Jack (Jenna’s sweet rescue dogs), all had a great time toddling through the Grotto, around the leaf-covered paths and over the bridge by the Pantheon marking the halfway point. After a long walk for little legs the seven of us relaxed with a cup of tea under shelter in the courtyard cafe, as September rain pitter-pattered on the parasol above us.
We recommend booking from now til mid November to see Stourhead in all its autumnal glory, and go for scenic walkies as dogs are permitted in the grounds from 2pm onwards. We were absolutely surrounded by other dog-owners on our visit, and with so many four-legged pals around you’ll never be short of company for your pooch!
2- Fountains Abbey
This was one of our most recent National Trust trips, while looking after Murphy the African Grey parrot at a housesit near Harrogate. Upon visiting Fountains Abbey we both decided it’s one of our favourite NT properties to date! We could have easily spent all day there – it’s a vast place with multiple purpose-built view points over the Abbey ruins and gardens, as well as stunning architecture in the Temple of Fame and Octagon Tower and of course the Abbey itself!
The Abbey was once home to devout monks, and the colossal ruins that remain provide a glimpse into the past and what their lives would have looked like day-to-day. It’s easy to see how this place has established itself as a World Heritage Site. A pristine riverside path runs parallel to the water, snaking its way from the Abbey to the High Ride path and aptly named Surprise View – a natural window through the trees provides a picturesque view of the Abbey from afar. From here you can visit the deer park which is home to Fallow, Sika and Red deer, or simply carry on along the shady tree-lined woodland path as we did, watching the countless squirrels darting amongst fallen conkers. We found this winding path perfect for a peaceful autumnal walk – we crunched through the plethora of orange leaves along the way, and took a moment to look up into the trees above as dappled sunlight warmed our faces despite the chilly October air.
Paths along the Moon Pond below, so named because of its half moon shape, are dotted with benches to simply sit and enjoy the tranquility of your surroundings, while the tree line back towards the Abbey from the Cascade reservoir is home to dozens if not hundreds of pheasants, almost camouflaged in the red-orange leaves.
Visit the Fountains Abbey page of the National Trust website for more information and to book your visit. For more photos, check out our Instagram post from our visit, which featured on the National Trust Yorkshire social media!
3- Sheffield Park
We’ve visited Sheffield Park many times over the years but it’s safe to say the best time to visit is autumn! On our most recent visit this week we agreed that it is one of the National Trust places that definitely benefits from the new booking system – limited numbers means it’s less crowded at this popular time of year, and you’re therefore less likely to have people on the other side of the lake photobombing your pictures of the trees!
As you enter the Park, passing the large, golden Bitternut hickory by reception, there is a one-way path to follow down to the lake that will take you in an anticlockwise direction around the water. The path forks in multiple places and the one-way system sort of goes out the window, but this means you can enjoy the walk at your own pace and take whichever route you prefer.
Strolling around the lake, we saw Oak, Beech and Sweet Chestnut trees showing a full spectrum of colour, as well as the bright red Tupelo ‘Sheffield Park’ trees for which this place is well known. In the more shaded areas, vibrant scarlet holly berries punctuated dark green bushes, and equally bold-coloured Fly Agaric mushrooms (think Alice in Wonderland) have spored in abundance this year and line many of the pathways, seemingly undisturbed by the dozens of ducks, geese and moorhens that inhabit the lake. We were told that kingfishers have been more active in their fishing habits due to the milder weather this season, though unfortunately we didn’t spot any!
From now until the 8th of November, Sheffield Park will open earlier at 9am to create extra booking slots, allowing more guests to see the famous autumn display. As school half term is upon us, it might be wise to try and bag one of these early slots to maximise the tranquility and calm atmosphere of your autumnal walk.
Visit the Sheffield Park page of the National Trust website for more information and to book your visit. For more photos, check out our Instagram post from our most recent visit this week!
Our absolute top tip for booking a visit to a National Trust property in current times is choose the earliest slot possible. Don’t worry – most places we’ve visited recently open at 10am so you’re not in for a super early start! As there are a limited amount of tickets available for each timed entry, we always book the first slot of the day to ensure the least amount of other people will be at the property with us, making for a more peaceful and relaxing walk (and ensuring Chris’ photographs of the landscape and property feature as few people as possible). You are given a thirty minute window in which to arrive, but after that you’re welcome to stay all day at most properties.
Ticket sales for any given day tend to close the afternoon before, so it’s good to be prepared and think about your visit a few days in advance, which gives you time to look at the weather forecast – our second top tip! While we’re used to walking in all weathers on our dog walks, and National Trust maintain their pathways well to best allow accessibility for all, it’s much more fun to go on a leisurely stroll while appreciating your surroundings instead of spending the day sheltering in the cold!
Thanks for reading our top three autumnal NT walks! Visit the National Trust website for more information about all their properties, including opening times, facilities and booking system, or head to our blog for more travel tips! We’d also love to know your favourite autumnal walks in the comments below, or chat to us on Instagram and Facebook where we post more photos from our adventures!