Every year, as September gives way to October, MrElaineous and I start to have heated discussions about a very important topic: when do we go to Westonbirt, the national arboretum? Too early and there’s not much autumn colour. Too late and the colours are faded and most of the leaves are on the ground instead of on the trees. It feels like we need the prognostication skills of Goldilocks to pinpoint when will be just right.
As it was, October had turned into a busy month for both of us, and the window of opportunity was starting to close. But, just last week, the stars were in alignment: a free day and good weather coincided, sending us scurrying into the beautiful Cotswold countryside.
We decided to shake things up a bit and go a different route than usual, which took us along country lanes and narrow backroads. Even with an unexpected diversion (US readers: detour), it was the right decision. Not only is the countryside stunning, but leaving the main roads took us through tiny, picturesque villages and allowed us to see flocks of pheasants, who added their own splash of colour to the journey. [As an aside, this distinctive bird of the British countryside is actually a native of China and East Asia; I’ll let you make up your own mind as to what constitutes Britishness.]
We arrived early, beating the crowds and having the stars of the show—the brilliantly coloured Japanese maples—more or less to ourselves. If you’re thinking of visiting Westonbirt yourself this autumn, a few words of advice:
- Stop thinking and go!
- If possible, go on a weekday. Visit around opening time at 9:00 am or an hour or two before closing to get the best light and the fewest people.
- If your time is limited, visit the Acer Glade in the Old Arboretum. If you have more time and energy, then try to fit in a trip to the Silk Wood as well, and be sure to see the treetop walkway along the way.
- [Since this was originally written in 2018 and it is now 2020, I must add one more point: make sure you book your visit in advance.]
As we headed to the restaurant for a well-earned breakfast, my attention was caught by a flowering bush that was absolutely swarming with bees. The deep, buzzing thrum was almost hypnotic, and for a moment I felt like I had been transported from autumn to spring. And that’s part of the magic of Westonbirt—it’s just right any time of the year.