Autumn at the National Arboretum at Westonbirt
Undoubtedly, Autumn is a fabulous time for walking in the United Kingdom. Firstly, the weather. It’s often still quite warm at this time of year but also not too hot for long walks. Moreover, many of the trees are turning from green to red, orange and yellow and that makes a wonderful sight. Accordingly, one of the best places to go to see the English autumn in all its glory is at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire.
Getting to Westonbirt Arboretum
Firstly, some practical issues. Of course, probably the easiest way to get to the National Arboretum at Westonbirt is to drive. They have a large car park and also there is no charge for parking. Basically, you need to head for Tetbury in Gloucestershire. For your Sat Nav, the postcode is GL8 8QS.
When you’re approaching from the M4, exit at Junction 18 onto the A46 towards Stroud. Continue for a few miles then turn right onto the A433 to Cirencester. Then keep driving along the A433 for about 3 miles and look for the arboretum on your left.
If you approach from the M5 then you need to exit at junction 13 onto the A419 towards Stroud. Then immediately, take the A46 signposted Bath. Continue through Nailsworth until you come to a crossroads. Turn left onto the A4135 to Tetbury and when you get to Tetbury, look for the A433 and turn right onto it. Keep going on this road for about 3 miles and then look for the arboretum on your right.
By Public Transport
It’s also straightforward to visit the arboretum by public transport. They like car-free visitors and so they give you a discount on admission if you arrive by both public transport or by bike. You can take a train to Stroud then bus on to the arboretum. There is a bus stop right outside the arboretum so it really is easy. Check out this guide to arriving at the arboretum by train and bus.
Alternatively, you can take a train to either Kemble or Yate stations. Both are approximately 15 minutes drive from the arboretum or you can take your bike on the train and then cycle.
Small children are allowed to take their bikes inside the arboretum but bigger bikes are not allowed. There is plenty of space outside the visitor centre to lock them up securely though.
Westonbirt Arboretum Practical Information
The arboretum is open every day except Christmas Day.
The main Arboretum is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
Here are the opening hours for the various facilities within the park:
Visitor Centre: 10am to 4pm
Restaurant: 9.30am to 4pm
Cafe: 10am to 3pm
Shop 9.30 am to 5 pm
Peak Entrance (March to November):
Students/Jobseekers/those arriving by public transport £7
Children (5-18) £4
Under 5s are free
Off Peak Entrance (December to February):
Students/Jobseekers/those arriving by public transport £5
Children (5-18) £3
Under 5s are free
Dogs at Westonbirt Arboretum
Dogs are allowed on the central Downs and also in the Silk Wood part of the Arboretum but not in the Old Arboretum. This makes up most of the total area so it’s an ideal place to take your dog. Your dog should be on a lead on the Downs but can be let off the lead while you are in Silk Wood. However, to be off lead your dog must come when called and be under control at all times.
The Arboretum is large and if you have restricted mobility you may want to take advantage of some of these facilities so that you can fully enjoy your time here.
Wheelchair & mobility scooter hire:
Wheelchairs and mobility scooters are available at the arboretum but do book ahead in order to be sure of geting one. You can hire these by calling the visitor centre prior to your visit on 0300 067 4861. There is no charge for hiring mobility scooters and they are allocated for either morning (10 am to 1 pm) or afternoon (1.15 pm to 4 pm) time slots.
During the summer months, there is a shuttle which runs from the main entrance to the restaurant and shop. If it’s important for you to use it, however, you should ring before your visit just in case it is not running.
Exploring Westonbirt Arboretum
I first visited the Arboretum at Westonbirt years ago and we were really surprised how much it had grown when we visited recently. It’s really a very large area now and full of amazing trees and shrubs. Their collection is extensive and includes many trees from all over the world as well as those native to Britain. Some of them are very rare but many you’ll recognise as you explore.
There are several different areas to explore: the treetop walk, the downs, Silk Wood and also the Old Arboretum. You’ll notice as you move from area to area but there’s no need to worry about where you are specifically. We just like to wander and so I’m going to take you through the Arboretum as we walked it from the visitor centre at the entrance.
Of course, the first thing we spotted as we walked out of the visitor centre was treetop walkway. I love these and so we headed straight over. As you can see, it was a cold autumn day and so everyone is wrapped up well against the cold. There were still plenty of people about though and the arboretum is obviously very popular which is great to see.
The treetop walkway gives you a chance to see the arboretum from up amongst the tall trees.
You also get some fabulous views across the arboretum and this was my first glimpse of the amazing autumn colours. Autumn really is a great time to visit the arboretum although it’s lovely all year round.
Autumn Colours at Westonbirt Arboretum
As I have said, autumn is a wonderful time of year to be here because the colours are just amazing. So I’ve dedicated this section to some of my photos of the fabulous autumn colours at Westonbirt. These are taken in Silk Wood as we walked through after exiting the treetop walkway.
As can be seen in some of the photos, there is a gravel track through the trees. This walkway makes Silk Wood very accessible for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
This also forms part of the seasonal trail which showcases some of the best reds and oranges of autumn. Westonbirt offers two suggested seasonal trails, the main one and a family version also.
Westonbirt isn’t all about autumn colours though. There are also some wonderful green trees to see. Specifically, the arboretum has a collection of native trees. In fact, they have specimens of nearly all the native British tree species. One of them, a small-leaved lime is over 2,000 years old. How cool is that?
One of the things I love about walking through the arboretum is the varied landscapes you encounter. There is always something new to look at whenever you visit. Particularly, look out for what they call champion trees. Basically, these are the tallest or widest trees and there are 140 to see.
Although it’s all natural, a place like Westonbirt Arboretum doesn’t just grow all by itself. There’s a whole team of people making sure everything runs smoothly. That also includes ensuring that new trees are cultivated and ready to add to the collection.
Did you know that some tree species are actually endangered? In fact, Westonbirt has many species which are threatened with extinction. One of the things I discovered during our visit to the arboretum is that there are many, many species of trees which could be lost from the earth entirely. That would be very sad. Fortunately, places like Westonbirt are working hard to keep them alive.
In the propagation area, you can see some of the behind the scenes work that goes on here. It gives a glimpse into the way that new trees are grown for the arboretum.
As you come out of Silk Wood, look for this pretty cottage. There is a path to the left and if you walk along it you will come to the greenhouse area.
Inside the courtyard, there is also this cool sign which shows Britain’s plant hunting legacy.
Also, this fabulous and very informative book tells you all about the different species of trees at Westonbirt. It sits on a pedestal with quotes about trees etched on it. In the photo below you can see this quote from Alexander Smith: “Trees are your best antiques”.
We finished our visit with a stroll through the old arboretum. This is the original arboretum and much smaller than Silk Wood although still well worth the time.
Follow the pathway through the trees for a real English woodland experience. You feel as though you are miles from anywhere here.
These horses looked very relaxed in the field adjoining the woodland. A very English country scene.
I thought I’d finish up with some of my close-up photographs of the trees. This different perspective is quite fascinating and really highlights the many colours even in one leaf. This beautiful yellow tree was one of my favourites. When you get up close there are so many shades that make up the overall colour.
Holly is such a beautiful plant and these bright red berries look amazing up close. It’s a plant that personifies Christmas for me so it’s always lovely to see it at its best. Look at the deep green of those leaves, all shiny.
Finally, a note about the more practical facilities at Westonbirt. Overall, I was impressed with the visitor facilities at Westonbirt. It’s kept very clean and tidy and there is a good range of facilities available. The visitor centre as you arrive is small but has a small shop and toilets. You can pick up information here or catch the shuttle service from the nearby stop.
Between Silk Wood and the Old Arboretum is this lovely restaurant with views over the woods. The perfect place to rest your feet and relax with a coffee or some lunch. I love the design which really fits in with the surroundings. You can sit outside on the wraparound balcony when the weather is nice or there is plenty of seating inside.
There is another shop and also several food outlets at the entrance to the Old Arboretum. So plenty of choices although the queues were quite long on the day we visited.
In summary, Westonbirt makes a great day out in the UK. Whether you go in autumn or at another time of year, there is plenty to see here and it’s very accessible for an outdoors venue. I’m sure it would also look wonderful in the snow so if we do get any this year I will head back and take a look.