Scotland’s stunningly diverse landscapes are breath-taking at any time of the year, but in autumn the views are arguably the most spell-binding. A riot of reds, crimsons, oranges and yellows magically transform vast forests and woodlands. Where evergreens intersperse deciduous plantations, the added contrast of bright hues and deep greens is all the more dramatic.
In glens and on moorlands, a tapestry of richer hues add depth to the scenery – and give cover to the red deer stags as they begin their annual rutting ritual. The eerie roar of these great beasts is a transfixing sound.
The lochs, rivers and sea frequently appear more dramatic beneath darker and brooding autumnal skies, especially when a sharp slice of sun is glimpsed through a parting in the clouds. Bright blue skies and calm weather are not uncommon during a Scottish autumn – it is these blue bird days when many people choose to enjoy time outdoors.
With a little planning and the right mode of transport, whether on foot, bike or on the water, there are countless highlight locations to discover. Here are five of my favourites.
After the general hubbub of preparation and launching, it’s the silence of stand-up paddleboarding that is so remarkable. On a calm day, when the water lies still, there can be heard hardly a whisper or a breeze around you.
If the light is right, too, you’ll paddle “over” the surrounding landscape, as well as amid it. Like a super-sized mirror, the loch’s surface reflects the hills, mountains and trees in mesmerising clarity, giving the sense that you are floating on top of them.
Loch Faskally is a sheltered stretch of water, located between steeply wooded hills in Perthshire. Around three kilometres in length, the waterway was built as reservoir in the late 1940s to stabilise river flows below a dam near the town of Pitlochry. Faskally is fed by two rivers, the River Tummel and the River Garry, which offer further SUPing exploration for the more adventurous.
With more than 200,000 acres of woodlands, Perthshire is better known as Big Tree Country. The choice of picturesque locations, especially in autumn, can be bewildering but if I am to choose one for an afternoon stroll, it’s The Hermitage, near the town of Dunkeld.
Follow in the footsteps of notable past visitors, including Wordsworth, Queen Victoria, Mendelssohn and Turner, on an easy-going walk, which is peppered with places to sit a while and admire the views.
Paths head through woodland, home to high-rise Douglas firs, including one of the tallest trees in the country, and to the quaint folly, Ossian’s Hall, overlooking the Black Linn waterfall on the River Braan.
The hall was refurbished in 2007 with sliding panels and mirrored artwork to recreate the illusions of surprise and amazement, which were the aims of its original design. It’s possible to extend the walk along the river to the famous Rumbling Bridge, which sits high above the wooded glen, before retracing your steps.
A couple of hours of walking on the rugged but accessible island of Skye are easily rewarded with spectacular views, especially in the far north at the strangely named Quiraing.
The Quiraing is part of the Trotternish mountain ridge and was created by a series of huge landslips. Adding drama to the other-worldly landscape of pillars, cliffs and tables is the fact that the Quiraing is still moving, albeit very slowly. The road at the base near Flodigarry is repaired annually.
From a roadside car park, near the villages of Staffin and Uig, a rough path leads you towards the dramatic geological formations on a circuit that offers highlights including a 37 m pinnacle, The Needle, and the Prison, a pyramidal rocky peak that looks like a medieval keep. The circuit walk of around 6.5 km takes in a high point at 540 m.
The name Quiraing comes from Old Norse “Kvi Rand”, meaning "Round Fold". Within the fold is The Table, an elevated plateau hidden among the pillars. It is said that the fold was used to conceal cattle from Viking raiders.
Just a dotted line on the map, yet surprisingly well-laid, the traffic-free tarmacked road that hugs the shores of Loch Katrine in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park is a joy for cyclists.
The 21 km stretch of road is open only to vehicles for access to homes (there are very few), cyclists and walkers between Trossachs Pier at the southern tip of the loch and the wonderfully named Stronachlachar on the north-west bank. Bikes are available for hire.
It’s an undulating ride that gives mostly easy pedalling and occasionally a short, steep hill. Getting off to push is no problem as it allows even more time to soak up the wide-sweeping views.
The loch is nestled amid a gorgeous landscape of hills, loch and forestry. In autumn, when fewer people are on their bikes, it’s sublime. Start the ride at the pier, on the A821 north of Aberfoyle, Stirlingshire. The return ride is 42 kilometres.
Situated at the gateway to Glencoe, the striking mountain ridge of Buachaille Etive Mor is one of the most photographed in Scotland. Rising to two summits, the pyramid-shaped Stob Dearg at 1022 m and Stob na Doire at 956 m, it provides a challenging hike for even fit walkers.
Arguably it is better to stay in the Glencoe valley for views of this mighty landmark, and other lofty peaks, which is why you will see plenty of cars and coaches perched in laybys on the side of the A82 with passengers gazing at the mountainscape.
Yet just a little way off the road is the West Highland Way, a waymarked long-distance route from Glasgow to Fort William. On a mountain bike you can experience the wilderness surroundings without a great deal of exertion and travel from just a few, to dozens of kilometres, depending on your energy levels. In autumn, the hues of orange, ochre and brown of the glen’s lower flanks rise to mountain tops brushed with new snow. It is a sight to behold.
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