Experts predict a dazzling autumn display that can boost wellbeing

  • The National Trust reveals its top walks for spectacular autumn colour
  • Autumn display expected to peak mid to late October
  • Spending time in a forest or woodland has been shown to help reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels

The sunny spell towards the end of September, together with six months of high levels of sunshine, have boosted the chances of a ‘spectacular and prolonged’ autumn display of colour, according to experts at the National Trust. 

These autumnal colours don’t come about by accident – behind the hues lies a careful balance of natural environmental reactions, resulting in the palette you’ll see in special places this autumn.

Throughout the year, factors like temperature, moisture and sunlight all contribute to the vibrancy of the autumn colours.

Warm summers with lots of sunshine, help to increase the leaf sugar content which, in turn, results in a range of pigments – from reds and oranges, to greens, golds and browns – as leaves turn.

A wet spring, a hot summer, followed by sunny autumn days and frosty nights usually makes for a dazzling leaf display. But, weather patterns will need to remain favourable through the first half of October for a memorable display, with enough sunshine during the day, cold conditions at night and no intense storms or rainfall.

Simon Toomer, Plant Specialist at the National Trust, said: “The primary trigger for trees to begin the process of shutting down for the winter and shedding leaves is day length but weather conditions through the summer and early autumn affect the rate of leaf loss and intensity of colour.

“We’re just starting to see some of the maple trees begin to turn – from greens to reds and oranges.  And, judging by how the weather had been over the past few weeks I’d expect our autumn colour to be at its peak in mid to late October.

“The falling leaves nourish the soil and produce a habitat of their own, supporting billions of microscopic organisms that provide the building blocks for all life in the forest. It’s also a special time of year to appreciate the amazing natural architecture of our trees as their branches are revealed for the first time in months.”

There’s plenty of wonder to be found under these autumnal canopies too. As well as providing a sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife, trees help to clean our air and bring balance to our fragile landscape. Spending time in a forest or woodland has also been shown to help reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and improve concentration and memory. This means a stroll through the woods is a great way to relax and boost your sense of wellbeing too [1].

The National Trust has picked out some of its top locations for autumn colour, so you can get outdoors and into nature. What’s more, every visit you make helps the conservation charity to care for these places for generations to come.

Don’t forget to share your adventures with the National Trust on social media using #EveryoneNeedsNature. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/ni to find out more.

Top autumnal walks from the National Trust in Northern Ireland

To avoid disappointment please book in advance at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ni , especially at busier times such as weekends and bank holidays.  However, where space is available on weekdays, pre-booking may not always be necessary, but please call in advance to check availability.

Mount Stewart, County Down

Within the Mount Stewart estate there close to 60 acres of woodland around the lake and sitting within the wider demesne landscape, both featuring any number of beech, oak and pine interspersed with more specimen planting.  Particularly admirable at this time of year are the acers, deliberately sited so that they are reflected upon the calm waters of the lake; the smoky purples, bright scarlets and yellows create a sumptuous display, best enjoyed on a cold, crisp morning

Castle Ward, County Down

The first sign of the seasons turning at Castle Ward is the ivy in the courtyard, kick starting autumn with a blaze of pinks and reds. Follow the path to the farmyard and out to Temple Water where the Japanese maples will be in full colour. From here, go off the beaten track to the Lime Tree Walk which has turned from green to gold and is a magical place to stroll along.  From 5 October, take part in the autumn a photo challenge – find the six picture frames across the estate and capture some of the best views you’ll find at this special place.

The Argory, County Armagh

Follow the Lime Tree Trail and go on a foraging hunt as you explore nature’s larder. Seek out sweet chestnuts, blackberries and shiny conkers among the fallen leaves. See what fungi you can find and keep a look out for king fishers diving for their dinner in the river.

The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Always breath-taking whatever the season, the rugged coastline and hexagonal cobalt stones that make up this World Heritage Site are especially atmospheric in early misty mornings or against a fiery sunset in the late afternoon.  Step onto the grass roof of the Visitor Centre, renamed the ‘Cloud Deck’ and go cloud watching to see what magical shapes unfold before your eyes.

Rowallane Garden, County Down

Throughout October keep your eyes peeled for fungi lookout zones across the woodland areas and discover the world of weird and wonderful fungi. They come in dazzling shapes, colours and sizes and can be found in the gardens, fields and woodlands at Rowallane Garden. Take yourself on a self-led journey of exploration and discover the hidden nature all around you. Explore the garden in search of different leaves and seeds, examine their shape, size and colour and try to identify which type of tree your discoveries have come from. Need a little help? Look out for our identification stumps across the garden during your visit.

Florence Court, Fermanagh

Going for a wander in the woods is particularly special in autumn. The Blue Trail at Florence Court is where you will find a gentle walk through native Irish woodland. During autumn the tree canopies become richly coloured mosaics and leaves crunch under your feet. For kids, it means that puddles ask to be jumped in, weird and wonderful fungi rear their heads and there are signs of wildlife everywhere around the estate.

Crom, Fermanagh

Crom is a beautiful place to walk at any time of year; a patchwork of water, islands, woodland and historic ruins. It’s also one of Northern Ireland’s most important nature reserves, brimming over with everything from otters to pine martens. The estate is home to a herd of fallow deer, which can often be seen in the autumn during the rutting season. Red squirrels are easier to spot as they come down from the trees scavenging the floor for nuts ahead of winter and the bird hide provides the perfect setting for watching large flocks of tufted duck, mallard and teal – don’t forget to bring your binoculars.