Best places for autumn colour in Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 12:20 24 October 2014 | UPDATED: 12:22 24 October 2014
Buckinghamshire’s woodland is about to put on a show, and experts say this year we can expect a fabulous display, so Venetia Hawkes picks five treats of the season
‘The mellow autumn came, and with it came the promised party’ – Lord Byron, probably one thing you could trust him on was to spot an opportunity for a good time. And surely autumn is the best of times. Glowing leaves, crisp skies, bright berries urging us to get out there and snatch the last golden days before the winter dark. New England may have ‘leaf-peeping’ hotlines, but the beech-woods of Bucks have their own enchantments. Even when it rains.
Stowe Landscape Gardens
National Trust Gardens and Parks advisor Mike Buffin says: “We’re set to see some dazzling displays following a mild winter, good spring and warm summer.” Stowe Landscape Gardens is a favourite of Buffin’s to enjoy autumn colours in a spectacular setting. The landscape gardens have drawn admirers since the 18th century. In 1730, James Thomson wrote after visiting Stowe:
“Oh lead me to the wide-extended walks,
The fair majestic paradise of Stowe!
There let me sit beneath thy sheltered slopes,
And with they converse blest, catch the last smiles
Of Autumn beaming o’er the yellow woods”
Over 40 follies and temples are scattered through the 250 acres of lawns, lakes and woods, with neoclassical monuments to Ancient Virtue, Friendship and British Worthies, professing eighteenth-century political ideals. The old Stowe family motto Templa Quam dilecta (how beautiful are thy temples), is testimony to the picturesque landscape. Alongside a ‘Lust and Illicit Love’ walk tracing the Path of Vice, there’s an ‘Autumn Amble’ trail taking in some of the highlights. Picture-perfect scenery in the Grecian Valley, butter-yellow field maples and fiery liquidambers reflected in the lakes. Dodging a rain shower in The Temple of Venus or Temple of Concord and Victory provides beautiful views whilst keeping dry.
This autumn, Stowe hosts ‘Gather – Festival of Food’ on 4 and 5 October, with food stalls, craft activities and entertainments for children. Half term sees a pumpkin-hunting trail and the chance to magic up a witch’s wand or a leaf crown.
‘The Gruffalo said that no Gruffalo should,
Ever set foot in the deep, dark wood’
But they have been seduced by Wendover Woods. The 800 acres are home to muntjac and roe deer, the remains of an Iron Age Hillfort, deep track-ways carved by charcoal workers, the highest point in the Chilterns and a Gruffalo, a giant wooden figure looking out over the tree-tops across the valley. From 3rd October there will be a ‘Gruffalo’s Child’ trail inspired by the popular children’s books, with activity boards and characters hidden along the path.
Wendover Woods has a range of well-marked and surfaced trails. Forester Jo Mason suggests the Firecrest Trail, designed to take in a range of habitats. She advises keeping an eye out for crossbills at the tops of pine trees or coming down to drink from puddles. The ancient woodland may once have seen more exotic animals. The woods used to belong to the Rothschilds, who used a zebra and cart for their excursions. A photo can be seen in Tring Museum. If you don’t have a zebra to cart along a picnic, the Café in the Woods is a great alternative - full of home-made cakes and hot chocolate, a Hansel and Gretel hideaway in the heart of the woodland.
October is usually peak time for leaf colours, and the children’s adventure playground at Wendover Woods is surrounded by the green-gold-bronze of turning beech leaves. While a grown-up Go Ape playground zip-wires through a mix of evergreen pine and broadleaf trees.
Further north, Waddesdon Manor could be the castle to complete the Café in the Woods fairy tale world – an elegant French renaissance style chateau, complete with spiralling towers fit for a sleeping beauty. The formal gardens, with flashes of scarlet maples amongst the gold of horse chestnuts, overlook the Chiltern Hills and Vale of Aylesbury. Head Gardener Paul Farnell recommends the views from daffodil valley near the rococo aviary with its exotic birds, and the early snowfall of white autumn crocuses below the parterre. For a different view of the grounds, or to beat the rain, there’s a temporary pin-hole camera at the top of the house, where upside-down trees waving in outside winds are projected onto the walls.
October is the last chance to enjoy a couple of Waddesdon’s exhibitions. The array of animals and sharp-toothed sea creatures in a late Roman mosaic is its only UK appearance of a world tour that’s taken in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Louvre in Paris. Waddesdon’s portrait bust exhibition was described by the Telegraph as “not only the most original exhibition of the year, but one of the most enjoyable.”
From 12 November there will be special light installations in the garden by Bruce Munro. Huge glowing sea-anemone or ice-crystal-like art-works. Children can make their own paper lantern at the stables to take round the ‘Winter Light’ trail. There are also events for children during half-term, including Halloween crafts and a day in conjunction with the Roald Dahl museum, inspired by classic book The Witches.
Chiltern Open Air Museum
In the south of Bucks lies Chiltern Open Air Museum, described by judges as a ‘hidden gem’ when it won bronze for best small visitor attraction earlier this year. Over 30 reconstructed buildings, from Iron Age Roundhouse to Victorian public convenience blend into the 43 acre site. Several buildings are arrayed round a village green, complete with a huge oak tree circled by a wooden bench-seat. There are RAF uniforms to try on in the Nissen Hut; vintage toys to play with in the 1950s Prefab; a working forge; heavy horses, sheep, hens and two cows – Clarabelle and Clementine. Woodland walks loop round the site. The Iron Age Roundhouse and the Toll-House often have fires for extra cosiness if warming up is required.
Chiltern Open Air Museum celebrates Harvest Festival on 18 and 19 October. The little tin church is decorated with home-grown vegetables. Costumed living history re-enactors demonstrate harvesting in the Victorian farmyard. Craft activities include creating corn dollies - traditionally made from the last sheaf of harvest for the field’s corn spirit to live in over winter before being ploughed into the first furrow the following spring.
The highlight of autumn is the Halloween Spectacular, a chance to visit the museum after dark on 31 October. “Halloween is our favourite event of the year,” Siân Hammerton-Fraser, Visitor Experience Manager, confessed. “There’s a friendly competition between staff and volunteers to create the spookiest exhibit and I won’t even talk about the best pumpkin-carving battle!” There’ll be trick-or-treating round the decorated buildings, craft activities, a ghost walk through the woods, competitions for best Halloween costume, face-painting, storytelling and hot food and drinks on the village green.
Hughenden Manor, just outside High Wycombe, was recently revealed as a top-secret World War II map-making base, code-name ‘Operation Hillside’. Over a hundred people worked covertly at Hughenden piecing together maps of Germany from aerial photographs for bomber command, crucial for the Dambusters raids. ‘Hillside’ was apparently top of Hitler’s bombing list, but never located, hidden amongst the beech-woods.
October is the last chance to see the ‘Watchmen’ in Hughenden’s parkland – haunting tree-trunk sculptures of World War II soldiers by artist Ed Elliott, commemorating the newly discovered ‘Hillside’ history. Permanent displays about ‘Hillside’ include a recreation of the ‘Ice-House Boys’ work: aerial photographs to peer at through magnifying glasses, a half played game of dominoes, wireless music, an ashtray full of Woodbines and a telephone ringing with urgent messages.
The charismatic 19th-century Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, made Hughenden his home and loved to “spend a week sauntering about my park, examining all the trees.” In autumn he admired how “the golden beeches flame in the sun.” For a saunter among flaming beech trees, Piers Horry, one of Hughenden’s rangers, recommends the German Forest Walk, which takes in views across the valley. His top tip for if it rains is to admire the autumn landscape from the newly opened third floor of the house, which is equipped with binoculars, armchairs and a soundtrack of morning birdsong recorded in Hughenden’s woods.
Apples have long been symbols of autumn, encapsulating the fruitfulness of the season. Their association with magic and harvest goddesses echoed in divination games such as throwing apple peel over a shoulder to reveal the initial of a future spouse from the letter the peel seems to form on the ground. Hughenden is celebrating all things apple over the weekend of 18 and19 October. Fifty-seven varieties of apple grow in the walled kitchen garden and orchard at Hughenden – from Egremont Russet to Hoary Morning.
There’ll be apple and cider tasting, juice making, apple crafts and games. Year-round in the kitchen garden there’s a bug hunt trail, insect hotel, mini wheelbarrows and watering cans to play with and in autumn, windfalls to collect. As delighted three year old Sophie Hawkes-Rockall explained: “I picked up an apple from a tree and I ate it!”