12 local arboretums and forests to visit this autumn
Now the seasons are shifting, it’s time for a change of scene, right? Tug on those wellies, grab the dog lead and head out to one of these arboretums and forests in Hampshire and Isle of Wight.
We’ve all been pacing the same dog-walking and running routes for months, so mix things up with one of these 12 local haunts. There’s no better time for a muddy stomp through woodland and appreciate those red, orange and yellow leafy landscapes.
Bolderwood Arboretum, New Forest
Spanning 566 square kilometres, the New Forest is quite frankly huge. Head to the Bolderwood Arboretum for some autumn tree gold, as the ferns turn a beautiful rusty red below. This area was originally part of the Bolderwood Lodge until 1833. Now, it’s open for hikers and bikers, plus there is the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary viewing platform for wildlife spotting. Keep your eyes peeled for giant redwood trees, which are among some of the tallest trees in Britain. Free parking but £3 donation suggested. Dogs welcome.
Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Romsey
Armed with a grand plan to cultivate the best garden in the UK, Sir Harold Hillier hasn’t done a bad job of it. 180 acres of trees, plants and shrubs make up this a beautiful Hampshire gem. For bright orange leaves, head to the Acer Valley where Japanese maple trees line the way. They are also developing a new Valley of Fire, which will add a dramatic, showy blast of colour to the area near the Visitor Pavilion, thanks to the North American maples and liquidambar trees. If you have the kids in tow, stomp through piles of leaves before taking them to the Wobbly Bridge. Adult tickets £11.60, children £3.10. No dogs.
Borthwood Copse, Sandown, Isle of Wight
This medieval forest, owned by the National Trust, was once part of an old hunting ground, like the New Forest. Now you can stroll between the ancient oak and beech trees without worrying about being shot by a bow-and-arrow. Keep your eyes peeled and you might see a flash of red disappear up a tree – this is prime squirrel territory. Dogs welcome.
West Walk, Forest of Bere, Wickham
West Walk is the largest remaining fragment of the Forest of Bere, another ancient woodland that once stood in Hampshire (we’re spoiled for choice here). Made up of 350 hectares, you can swoosh through the leaves here on an autumn morning and feel the sun beam through the canopy, plus it’s a great dog walking spot. Park at the Hundred Acres Road car park and there’s usually a coffee van parked up on weekends for your caffeine fix. Parking from £1.80 for two hours. Dogs welcome.
Exbury Gardens, Southampton
Exbury’s bucolic woodland and garden originally belonged to a branch of the famous Rothschild family. Now it is home to literally thousands of trees, plants and a steam railway (a good way to tempt the kids). Head to the Bog Garden and Azalea Drive, ablaze with orange maple leaves in the autumn. Come back in the spring to see the rhododendrons doing their gorgeous pink thing. Tickets are £11 for adults, £4.40 for children. Dogs welcome.
Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Horndean
Just a short cycle ride down from Petersfield is the 600 hectare Queen Elizabeth Country Park, the largest country park in Hampshire. As a result, it’s a popular spot with walkers and mountain bikers. Climb neighbouring Butser Hill, the highest point in the South Downs, to gain leafy views down to the sea as the leaves turn golden yellow. Stop in the Beechwood cafe for a cuppa after. Parking costs from £2.50 for an hour. Dogs welcome.
Medina Arboretum, Isle of Wight
Stroll around the two large ponds and wind your way through the oak trees at Medina Arboretum, as your little ones collect acorns. It’s a little off-the-beaten-track, but you can access the woodland from a public footpath near Little Fairlee Farm. Seaclose Park, next door, is home of the renowned Isle of Wight Festival each June. Sorry, you won’t see Jay-Z walking his dog around here. (Not this year, anyway.) Free entry. Dogs welcome.
Blackwater Arboretum, New Forest
Yes, we’ve mentioned the New Forest already, but it’s so vast, we couldn’t help adding it in again! Blackwater is another tree-haven in the heart of this wild expanse. Take a stroll through the forest, brought to life with fiery yellow and crimson red leaves, and spot the wooden sculptures dotted around the trees. Handy hint: it has its own car parking spaces and toilet. Free parking but £3 donation suggested. Dogs welcome.
The Vyne, Basingstoke
Stop off at our favourite Tudor mansion for an Insta-worthy view of the autumn leaves. American liquidambar trees set the landscape on fire with their bright red leaves that change to yellow and orange as the seasons shift. The dahlias will still be in bloom too. Call a friend, go for a leisurely walk before a cuppa or hot chocolate at the kiosk. Adult tickets £8, children £4. Dogs welcome.
Ventnor Park, Isle of Wight
Award-winning Ventnor Park occupies a sheltered nook between the sea and the Undercliff. Walking through trees on the Isle of Wight was believed to be good for the soul, according to the Victorians, thanks to the mild climate – we won’t argue with that! If you’re lucky, you can play a round of mini golf before the end of September. Head to nearby Ventnor Downs, the highest point on the island, for stunning views over the sea and woodland. Free parking along Park Avenue. Dogs welcome.
Moors Valley Country Park and Forest, Ringwood
96% of people said autumn colours improve their mood, according to a recent survey by Forestry Commision England, and there’s no better place to watch the beech turn golden or the ironwood transform to deep purple than at Moors Valley Country Park. With 1,000 acres to explore, we recommend following the 3km trail from the totem pole near the Cycle Hire Centre. Parking from £2.80 for an hour. Dogs welcome.
River Hamble Country Park, Southampton
Misty morning walks are extra magical at River Hamble Country Park. Meander through the woodland towards the river and see if you can spot the wreck of the Grace Dieu, a naval ship that sank in 1439 after it was struck by lightning! There are dozens of well-surfaced trails, so you shouldn’t get too muddy here. Although, kids are natural mud magnets… Book ahead to visit the Manor Farm with the littlies. Parking costs from £2.50 for an hour. Dogs welcome.